It may sound strange, but it was specialty coffee which got me into community management. While doing my post graduation I was introduced to specialty coffee by a friend who lived in Seattle. She’d sent me coffee beans from Starbucks.
Simultaneously cafes started to pop up in India. One fine day I walked into a speciality cafe named Qwiky’s , which was started by two NRIs who had returned from Bay Area, USA. Though I ended up ordering the cheapest offering, I liked the ambience and also managed to chat with the cafe manager. I was a cafe convert to the cafe culture. With time I struck conversations with friends, got friends over there to discuss ventures and concocted plans to never apply for the financial sector jobs.
My interest in coffee kept growing. I started reading up the blogs and educating myself about the co-anchorffee. I learned to brew coffee in different ways. I requested friends and relatives to get me equipments. I poured time and effort in knowing more and more about coffee.
I figured out that the world of coffee is something special. There are people who are challenging the status quo, which is the domination of Starbucks such as Ritual, Stumptown, Elysiam, 49th Street Parallel, Counter Culture, Blue Bottle etc.
Then there were people who worked in these places, who shared an amazing camaraderie. These people blogged about their experiences, used various social media platforms such as Flickr (The First Cup Project), ELGG Platforms (Barista Exchange) and met often for friendly contests and banter. Then every year there was a world barista championship, cup of excellence and SCA events all around the world. It was here that I first experienced live blogging and live video blogging.
I started talking to these people and asking for tips, tricks and techniques. And emulating my coffee heroes I became active on the social web, blogs, video sharing, photo sharing, forums and eventually twitter.
Naturally I started following how these brands or cafes built small communities and took pains in nurturing and cherishing them. All this while I did independent gigs such as marketing research, business process re-engineering processes for SMEs, teaching assignments at colleges and repairing generators of TV channels.
While the third wave of coffee was the new phenomenon in the world of coffee, social web was hitting the world of web. People started to share things such as videos and pictures. Gradually someone came up with an idea to share their couches with people and called it Couch Surfing (It’s Air BnB, sans money). I got involved with New Delhi Chapter and developed it into a thriving community (I still have my account there with badges and all).
I used to organise meet ups, write about the meet ups, moderate the groups and also brew coffee at times. In the process I became a pseudo coffee experts, became a part of the community and built a local travel community. You see I was working as a community manager, just that without being conscious of the fact.
As coffee and travel happened, similarly an epiphany happened towards the end of year 2006. I said to myself if I loved coffee so much and loved interacting with people so much, then why don’t I open a cafe? I had found what I had really wanted to do. The only problem was that I did not have the capital to start one.
I looked around for opportunities to earn. I had three options. One, teach in colleges and earn a fixed income. Two, work as a coffee professional with a fixed income. And three, take risks and dream of unearthing treasure. I thought of going for the third, just that I did not know what risks did I have to take?
Opportunity knocked on my doors and a friend of mine who worked in a Digital Agency was looking for a web development agency. He thought that I could do web development. He had faith in me. I also did not say no and plunged into it as it made sense to me. I had my ticket to open the cafe finally. All I needed was a year worth of hard work.
Due to my past experience things came naturally to me. I could connect how brands were using Digital Media to connect with their customers. Due to my experience of building communities I could suggest brands to use Social Media. Gradually I got more work and with time I got interested.
Meanwhile, I had worked for some of the bigger brands in India. Finally, I got an opportunity to set up a cafe and run it. While I go excited and rushed to do it, I found out that I loved digital and community management as much as I loved brewing coffee.
I had already been running the business for nearly three years and had started to bag really great clients who believed in our solutions for building brand communities such as Yahoo, Unilever, Pepsico, Philips, Reebok, Goodyear etc. So, finally I took a call and decided to carry on with building communities for the brands. Eventually I also set up a community for coffee lovers called Beanbuffs.
I still love coffee as much as I loved before and conduct workshops. However, community management is something which takes up most of my time. Recently we have launched Build Your Community, a SAAS tool for community management. It’s only been a month on this new journey of helping my co-community managers from around the world and equipping them with a tools which is built keeping us in mind, and not some analytics ninja.
In hindsight, I would not have become a community manager had I not wanted to learn about coffee.
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