Meet the former oncology nurse who founded one of the most successful coffee roasters in the UAE, RAW
“To be a market leader, you have to be prepared to try to deal with disappointment when things don’t work, think outside the box, and be brave,” said New Zealand expat UAE-based Kim Thompson, 59, the curator. and the beliefs she developed after her father’s advice inspired her to work hard.
“My father disagreed with my mother’s work, as he considered her primary function to be the family and the home. He also did not believe in credit cards or loans, worked hard and managed his financial responsibilities, stresses and disappointments in particular, but was very careful and secure.”
Thompson does not hate risks, but he loves challenges.
You did not grow up in a privileged, wealthy, or entrepreneurial family. “I felt fortunate to have my upbringing where my parents took care of basic needs. We lived in a small town in Nelson, south of the island of New Zealand, on the coast, with beautiful beaches, mountains and national parks.”
“We had a lot of freedoms, there was a lot of fresh food, clean air and water – an excellent place to raise a family. We didn’t have international holidays, but I rode horses, did a lot of other sports, and it was a happy medium – class upbringing.”
She loved horses, and her family bought her a horse. “We rented land, and I participated in a 3 day event. This is not a cheap sport, and I was so grateful to be able to pursue this passion because I knew what it was costing my parents in terms of money and time.”
She didn’t get pocket money but worked as a babysitter occasionally to earn pocket money.
I would live daily, spending all of my salary in the first half of the month. I knew nothing about budgeting, interest rates, or savings.
– Kim Thompson
Thompson was an oncology nurse, a specialist nurse who cares for cancer patients, before he became an entrepreneur.
She left home at the age of fifteen, in a desperate attempt to escape and explore, and spent nearly four years in the old system, beginning practical training in the dam room to become a registered nurse. “I wasn’t quite ready for the adult world.
“I was going to live every day, spending all my salary in the first half of the month. I knew nothing about budget, interest rates or savings. I get annoyed when I look at how cheap it is to buy a house, for example, but fortunately the rent paid,” he shared Thomson.
“I learned about money the hard way, from living from a check to paying a check, but even at a young age, I knew I wanted a different life to explore and travel.”
The Thomson Foundation in her younger years gave her hints about how she should not live.
“I only woke up after completing nursing and backpacking across Southeast Asia across India, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia and Indonesia to realize that many women had opportunities from where they were born. Be a criminal to miss these opportunities.”
Thompson moved to Dubai in 1997 with her husband, who was then a full-time mother of three young girls, and had not worked for several years.
Her first experience was running a café inside the old Jebel Ali Sailing Club in 2005.
“It was a bustling café, and I had no prior experience in the food and beverage industry, so on the job I learned to navigate suppliers, find and retain the right team, manage the customer experience and always have cash flow. The café was financially viable but It was the hardest job I’ve ever done.”
With the development of Dubai Marina and JBR, the sailing club closed, and suddenly I had time to think and decide what I wanted to do. While the sailing club was running I was unable to get good quality locally roasted coffee or find any support for our barista or equipment. So I identified a gap in the market and have the confidence to start my own business, RAW Coffee Company, in June 2007.
What are the various expenses needed to start this business?
To start an LLC and get a business license in 2007, she said she needed 300,000 dirhams and a lease agreement. She funded the business herself using her savings.
What is a limited liability company in the UAE?
A Limited Liability Company (LLC) is the most common form of business in the UAE. An LLC can be formed with a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 50 shareholders whose liability is limited to their equity shares.
“I registered the name, found a logo design company, devised a business plan, provided the warehouse with an office, green bean store, roasting and packing facility, and meeting spaces. I bought manufacturing equipment, espresso equipment and a small inventory, hired the first team that joined me, and hired a consultant.”
“The initial amount required to open the company 300,000 dirhams became our working capital to set up the company. I got an additional 300,000 dirhams through a bank loan, did not get my salary for the first five years and reinvested any money we raised in the company.”
Matt Toogood joined Thompson as a business partner at the start of year three, and is now a 50 percent partner in the business.
He has also worked without pay for three years, focused on knowledge, organic growth, building a strong ethical supply chain and the foundation of the company.
Thomson’s work had, from the start, a constant stream of errors and temptations.
“We made many mistakes such as choosing the wrong location for our first plant (DIP or DIP), hiring the wrong consultant who repeated operating procedures, recipes and processes from a previous employer and did not have local knowledge or deep understanding of roasting,” Thompson said.
They encountered multiple delays which meant the early staff didn’t have much to do. “We had no way of roasting our green beans, so we’d buy cheap coffee from the supermarkets and make a commercial espresso machine in our kitchen so we could at least do our barista training.
“Then another new, better-funded coffee company sabotaged our early operations, tarnishing our market reputation in our early years while we were trying to solidify our reputation,” she added.
“He had a lot of investment and had no basic knowledge; I was effectively ahead of them as I had the warehouse, roasting equipment and advisor. However, they offered the advisor more money, which meant I was left to teach myself how to do everything.
We have made many mistakes such as choosing the wrong location for the first manufacturing plant, hiring the wrong consultant, etc.
– Kim Thompson
“I would never choose to repeat our early years, trying to run a company without enough cash and still do business with others. But it allowed us to learn every detail of the industry as we had to do the tasks ourselves. This gave us a solid foundation to build the company, as we have deep knowledge of every aspect of Our area of specialization.
Lessons Thompson learned during her career, the entrepreneurial journey
The lesson: Love what you do beyond budget and be prepared to incur a higher cost than you initially expected.
Thompson began her professional journey in her late teens, in her forties. Once, her three daughters grew up. Before that, she worked part-time jobs, then worked in a cafe, but she never worked.
Her friends, who owned their own businesses, often told her to expect things to take much longer than expected and to cost more.
She admitted that she was constantly putting out fires for the first eighteen months. “The setup costs were three times what I was budgeting, and there wasn’t any money.”
It was a very difficult start for her, but she said some things that got it right. “I chose to play in the right place of the market with high quality, special grade Arabica coffee, and my timing was perfect.
“I like to ignore what happened to me in the past. Every time something bad happened, I learned from it and not repeat those mistakes or bad judgments. As an entrepreneur, I would not advise anyone to start a business without a planned triple initial investment.”
The lesson: reinvest the profits in your business for organic expansion.
Once Thompson’s business started selling produce and turning a profit, she and her partner reinvested in buying a better stock of green beans, while hiring better-skilled key people in some of the top positions.
Thompson explained, “We had no investment in the early days because we were risk-takers and no one wanted to lend us money. Trade finance was not accessible at reasonable interest rates – so we grew organically, and we have complete control of our destiny.”
“I don’t think, especially with the challenges of the past two years with COVID-19, that many small and medium businesses (SMEs) have had the luxury of worrying about investments. It has been more fundamental than that, raising concern about our team’s financial viability, commitments, responsibilities, and business continuity.
We had no investment in the early days because we were taking risks and no one wanted to lend us money.
– Kim Thompson
“We were expecting to be hurt by the health crisis, and we’re starting to see that now as costs go up and we’ve moved on to another path, realizing that we’re going to have to be very dynamic and resourceful over the next year. We’ve also started two new companies during COVID-19 that have been self-funded from Through other supporting products in the field of coffee, foods and beverages.”
It is an old strategy of making a real estate investment. “I built a beautiful home in Bali as an investment property but don’t have a proper understanding of cryptocurrencies, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) or Metaverses.”
She also revealed, “I’m planning to buy a home here on a new development next year, but frankly, we’re still reinvesting back into expanding our company and we have ambitious plans for its future.”