“Life’s too short for bad coffee” – Meet the Founder of Moving Beans Coffee

What do you get when you combine coffee-drinking engineers with a waste and material problem?

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Moving Beans.

Earth Collective’s ‘Interviews with the Collective’ series is a collection of interviews with likeminded souls from around the globe, who are working towards a better future for the planet and people in it. Today, we chat with Daniel Hardej, Founder of Moving Beans Coffee – the home of the compostable coffee pod.

What was your catalyst to diving into the world of sustainability?

To be honest, it was quite unspectacular – but it was a little funny and unexpected.

My co-founder Mischa and I met at a tech conference and were quite involved in the London entrepreneur/start-up community, especially at uni – Mischa was a professor in wireless tech at King’s College Longon, and I was doing my engineering masters at UCL (University College London). Getting on well, we went through a few ideas and attempts to start a tech company that were more relevant to our areas of expertise.

One day in 2016, I stumbled across a short article in the Evening Standard about the massive amounts of waste that is produced by coffee capsules. Since we both used a lot of coffee capsules, I thought I’d share it with Mischa, eliciting a response that was nothing more than “hmm.. someone should do something about that.”

For a while that was the end of the conversation. But a few weeks later, we had our lightbulb moment where we realised that, even though we’re not coffee experts or have any food and drink industry expertise, we are engineers who could figure something out for the waste and material problem. So we made a start, researching coffee capsule suppliers and biomaterials that you could use to make coffee capsules.

“We had our lightbulb moment where we realised that, even though we’re not coffee experts or have any food and drink industry expertise, we are engineers who could figure something out for the waste and material problem.”

Moving Beans was officially founded shortly after that in February 2017. Now, nearly four years later, here we are. Still growing our company and, step by step, trying to make better and more sustainable coffee capsules.

Tell us about your business journey so far.

I first met my co-founder Mischa at a conference in London when I was still at university. Both of us being engineers and involved with a few other startups, we went through a few ideas for companies we founded. Most were crazy and failed early on. Ironically, the only one that got any traction was Moving Beans, even though we had no experience in the coffee or food and drink industry.

After seeing the story about how much waste is produced by coffee capsules and doing what most people do in that situation – think “hey, someone should do something about that”, we realised, perhaps we were the ones who could, in fact, do something about it. We are engineers with enough knowledge to be able to try to figure out the materials and the waste problems.

Moving Beans started in 2017 just as a reseller of other brands. We’d buy in bulk from other coffee companies, then sell them on the online store we set up. It was pretty janky, but it got us started!

Being a small company that was the product of a little side hustle, no serious suppliers would even waste time returning calls or talking to us. We did have a breakthrough moment at the end of 2017, when one supplier was willing to give us a shot. This way we could get our coffee and make our own capsules through them, which helped us set up our own brand and line of biodegradable coffee capsules. The v1.0 of Moving Beans was launched in March 2018, with three varieties of coffees in biodegradable Nespresso capsules!

We started seeing a bit of growth, and started making plans to expand and start our own R&D work to create new biomaterials. Later that year, in November 2018, we closed our first seed funding round. Before that, we financed the company with a small business loan and a bit of our own cash.

Our third founder, Gemma, was working in the background but joined full time in July 2019. Getting another full time team member really helped the company grow.

The toughest things have been working internationally even with a small team, trying to make our R&D projects yield something innovative, and working in a crowded industry with so much competition.

Expanding to Australia has been one of the most fun parts. Expanding in Asia, while also fun, is really difficult. You can’t look at Asia as just one place. Every single country is very different from the others. We’ve seen some success in Hong Kong and Singapore, but continuing that has been really hard over the past year.

What has been your proudest achievement to date for Moving Beans?

It’s when we released our most recent product line, with all our new branding and all the new coffees and blends, which customers loved and helped our company grow from the janky operation we started with. That was nearly two years ago now, but we still remember it as a turning point for our company and the culmination of a lot of hard work. Another big one was we started expanding overseas in Australia and some parts of Asia, and when we raised capital to start our R&D projects.

But day-to-day it’s the small stuff: it’s great to see every time we get an email or a review from our customer telling us they loved the coffee and really keeps us going.

Love coffee, hate waste? Discover compostable coffee pods from Moving Beans

What do you think is the biggest threat to our planet and the people on it today?

I’m an optimist, but I still see that there’s no shortage of things to be pessimistic about. While most of us probably try to stay optimistic and focused on progress, it’s easy to get distracted by sensationalist news with dire outlooks that makes things look like they’re getting worse and that we’re all doomed. Things definitely aren’t all bad, and the world as a whole is getting better, but that doesn’t mean we should be oblivious to the problems that do exist. There are a couple that have been on my mind recently.

One is that the health of a lot of the world’s population is very bad, even in developed countries. It’s easy to pull up a lot of depressing stats about smoking, obesity, diabetes, cancer etc, etc. Pollution and climate change are also obvious ones. And these are indeed terrible, but there are two insidious things that I think are particularly detrimental to our planet and the health of its people today.

Social media is one of the worst things to ever be inflicted on the human race, especially for teens. It pretends to be an innovative way of connecting people, but in reality has just become a way of dividing people, spreading misinformation, invading privacy, and has effectively become a mental illness factory that has led to an increase in teen suicide.

The other is plastic waste in our rivers and oceans. It leads to micro-plastics and phthalates in water supplies, which destroys aquatic life and damages human health too. It affects the whole world wherever it happens. This then leads to endocrine problems if you drink it or eat contaminated seafood (which happens a lot) and is really hard to get rid of. Covid made this worse, with every single consumer product now being unnecessarily covered in gratuitous amounts of plastic, as well as all the extra plastic thrown out from things like masks and tests.

But the biggest is that there are still a lot of people living under authoritarian communist regimes. The most prominent example that’s come to the forefront recently is the CCP. It’s unfortunate that a lot of criticism is misinterpreted as being “anti-China.” This is not the case. Being anti-CCP is being pro-China; it’s certainly an existential threat to western civilisation, but the Chinese people – over a billion of them – are the ones who suffer the most under the regime. Consider its brazen violations of civil liberties, freedom of speech, and human rights of Hong Kongers, or its shameless belligerent behaviour towards Taiwan and now western democracies too.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

My dog needing a walk.

Who/what has been the biggest influence in your life?

I have a few.

There’s my co-founders, Gemma and Mischa. They’re both a little older and more experienced than me, but we share a lot of values and get along really well – two really important things when starting a company with someone. They’ve been really helpful and I’ve learnt a lot from them.

But the most important ones are a couple of members of family and friends. They’ll remain nameless since they probably know who they are. I have a handful of close friends that I’ve grown up with and known my whole life. They’re also a little older and a little further ahead, but I find that it’s really helpful to have that as a source of guidance and advice. Someone you can talk to properly is priceless.

What book(s) are you reading and/or podcast(s) are you listening to right now?

I recently read Matthew McConaughey’s book Green Lights. He’s had a really interesting life and writes about it in a really engrossing way. His family life when he was a young boy sounded crazy. I’ve also just finished Gad Saad’s The Parasitic Mind. It was a Christmas gift. He’s also a great writer and this book captures the zeitgeist really well, covering serious issues with a healthy dose of satire.

Now I’m on The Real Anthony Fauci by Robert Kennedy – only a chapter in, but it’s equal parts harrowing and engrossing.

A podcast I’m really enjoying is The Prof G Show by Scott Galloway. He’s a prof at NYU business school who’s started several companies. He has some excellent guests and a great insight into what’s going on with business and start-ups, and delivers the knowledge with some dry humour.

Another is Russel Brand’s podcast. He’s great at discussing serious issues in a way that is honest and isn’t pretentious or condescending. He adds some levity and seems like such a nice guy. It’s fun to watch how he talks with his flamboyant mannerisms. He has another about mindfulness and meditation, which is also excellent.

And like nearly every other 20-something guy on the planet, I’ll tune into The Joe Rogan Experience every now and then when he has an interesting guest.

What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?

Something we’re sorely lacking now.

It’s simple – places like schools, churches, gyms, universities are the best places for community building, and have been for generations.

People have been deprived of this over the past two years. And that’s on top of all the other sacrifices people have made. It’s not just the Covid virus itself that has been really detrimental to human health.

Sure, you can do some community building online if you have to, but it is no replacement for human interaction and you can’t do it forever.

But it’s somewhere we can create relationships, work, find meaning, and make commitment with other people. Without these things, our lives feel empty and pointless.

Some people might have a perception that to make more sustainable choices, you have to compromise on convenience. Moving Beans coffee pods is one simple and convenient solution to reduce one’s personal waste. What would your top tips be for busy people who want to reduce their impact on planet earth?

I think in a lot of cases, this is actually true. Until quite recently, sustainable alternatives for consumer products were often bad and expensive.

Greenwashing is another problem – things are marketed as more sustainable, but are no better than the existing wasteful products. We’ve even fallen victim to this, which is why we’re now doing our own R&D to make sure that our products improve in terms of quality and eco-credentials.

Two easy things can help. The first is to buy groceries that have less or no plastic packaging, which more supermarkets are doing now. One bag or one wrapper isn’t much and and doesn’t seem like a big deal, but think about how if billions of people across the planet made this small change it would save tonnes and tonnes of plastic waste from oceans and landfill each year.

The second is to take buses or trains (or your bike if you can) instead of driving. I know it’s tricky for some, but good to do if you can. Personally, I like cycling. It can save you a heap of money too.

The good news is that a lot of companies are out there trying to make it easier to get better sustainable products. Competition helps. So eventually we’ll get to a point where the sustainable choice for many consumer products is just as easy, affordable, and as good as any other option (and one day maybe even better.)

Where are you heading to next in your journey?

For Moving Beans, right now we’re putting a lot of effort into our R&D projects that focus on making better, more sustainable coffee capsules. Eventually, we want to make these available for other coffee roasters who want to start making their own coffee capsules with their own coffee. I’ve personally spoken to multiple roasters that have wanted to start making coffee pods, but were put off by the lack of quality alternatives to aluminium or plastic. There’s no point making great coffee and then putting it in a crappy capsule! We’re growing as much as we can, and we’ll be launching in Germany very soon and maybe in the USA later this year too.

For me, personally, I’d like to go back to study and go to business school sometime in the next year or two.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?

We’ve become chronic consumers of bad news. Even though it’s been happening for a long time, the past two years have made people acutely aware of this. So it’s important to remember that by a lot of metrics, the world is actually getting better.

It’s hard to remember this sometimes, but an easy way to do this is to take some time to get away from your phone and laptop, get away from the news every once in a while* and remember how good things are. It’s good for the mind.

And life’s too short for bad coffee.

*(Editor: Or read Earth Collective for your daily dose of positive news, of course!!)

Daniel Hardej is one of the original co-founders of Moving Beans.

An entrepreneur and coffee connoisseur, Daniel is also an engineer with a Masters in Mechanical Engineering. You can connect with Daniel and Moving Beans at movingbeans.com, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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