Kinfolk was started with less than $10,000 cash. Thanks to the hundreds of people who contributed their time, love and energy to getting the café off the ground, Kinfolk is now a self-sufficient (and growing!) social enterprise.
One of the founders, Jarrod Briffa, sat down with the Subtle Distruptors Podcast to talk about the journey and the major lessons learned. Here's a summary of what went down.
As consumers, we need to be interested enough to ask the big questions. We need to set up real social enterprises that go beyond “corporate social responsibility” and marketing spin where the sole purpose is defined and embedded in the way the business is set up.
The Kinfolk model
The very lean start was hard work, but it puts Kinfolk in a really unique position where it is not underpinned by any philanthropy or a bigger not-for-profit. It means that Kinfolk must run as a successful business. We have to be sure that our products and services speak for themselves and provide a sustainable source of income. This was achieved in FY2015 with 99% of the turnover generated through trading activity.
If you walk in to a charity café it changes the perceived value for the customer. It’s really important for the sustainability of the business that the products and services speak for themselves. If people didn’t love the coffee and the food and the service, Kinfolk wouldn't be viable - regardless of the social stuff.
A great thing about this model is that it isn’t competing with another charity’s donation. It is only competing with other cafes. This means you can work with customers and other social enterprises to create new ways to make a social impact together. Through everyday purchases, Kinfolk can activate dollars which were not necessarily going to have a social impact.
Kinfolk donates 100% of it’s profit to its two charity partners. This has big outcomes, but the most powerful social impact comes from the volunteer program. It is maybe less tangible than other measurements but it does make the biggest impact.
About sixty people a week participate in Kinfolk's inclusive volunteer program. Everyone is here on their own volition and they are contributing for their own personal reasons. When each individual comes and contributes to Kinfolk, they do so from a point where they are part of something bigger than themselves. Kinfolk creates an inclusive environment as a methodology to support people from varying challenging situations. Social diversity is Kinfolk's biggest asset in achieving social outcomes.
The program is run to address the individual needs of volunteers with real outcomes in mind. For example, if they are looking for a job, they will be able to build up their skills and gain a reference so they can go on and achieve that goal. In the beginning, people stayed for an average of about three months but this has increased to about nine months now. This is a clear demonstration that the program is addressing their individual needs as well as those of the wider community.
It’s important for the volunteers to feel like they are part of a great café. Learning about great produce, cooking methods, how to forage ingredients and how to work in cafes and events.
Expanding into events: merging with Donkey Wheel House Events
Donkey Wheel House Events is now a part of the Kinfolk business! As Kinfolk grows, it means that there's more capacity to work on bigger events involving the wider community. From corporates to community groups and everything in between. Kinfolk is particularly proud of the large scale events held after the Nepal earthquake and for the Cathy Freeman Foundation.
It is a fantastic chance to introduce corporates to a new way of hosting an event with conscious consumption in mind. Donkey Wheel House Events provides a space where you are are surrounded by some of the brightest minds in social impact. In this environment, everyone having an event is invited to consider a better way of doing business.
The event spaces are a really good chance for collaboration and to work with people who are doing great stuff. It is great to have spaces like these which enable these collaborations. It also provides even more training opportunities for volunteer staff.
Three big lessons learned in Kinfolk's history
1. Hire the right people
The biggest lesson learned is that people are crucial. If you don’t have the right people, you don’t have the right business. Your business must make sure it is providing the right roles for the right people. Getting the right staff translates back to the volunteer experience and then to the customers. Two of the board members were long term customers. They knew about Kinfolk for a long time and became passionate about the business - now they are offering their services.
2. You will never feel ready, but you have to start somewhere
Another big lesson is that you are never ready. If you really believe in it and you have the right purpose people will find a way. You can never underestimate that blind faith in your idea. The founders of Kinfolk really believed that it would work despite the odds they were facing.
People think new ideas sound really stupid and naïve until it’s happening. And then when it’s happening everyone is like “why aren’t more people doing this?” That’s one of the battles you face when you are doing something a bit alternative, but it’s also one of the really rewarding things as well.
3. Stay true to your purpose
People are starting to realise that social enterprise is a valid way for them to not only earn an income but also achieve their own personal goals. There have been many social enterprises which have inspired people to go on and start their own businesses for social good. This is a measurable lasting impact on the community.
In the last few years, Kinfolk has made about a 5% profit. That means they are spending 95c in every dollar on running the business. What you do with that 95c is just as important as how you donate the 5c profit in every dollar. In fact, the rest of the money is often having an even bigger impact - like with Kinfolk's volunteer program.
Kinfolk operates with an ethos of conscious consumption. Everyone is expected to ask the big questions about everything they do and everything they spend money on. It has to be a balance, but you don’t need to always make a compromise between profit and purpose.
Even when expanding, like Kinfolk is, everything you do needs to contribute to your core purpose in some way. In Kinfolk's case, if it isn't contributing to creating more inclusive communities, and supporting the vulnerable within our communities, it isn't worth pursing. The answer to every question must align with your core purpose.
Listen to Subtle Disruptions here. They do really amazing work, so make sure you check out their other episodes as well!