By Marcus Leach

For a consumer business to be successful your product has to be the hero. This was the message from Martin Dawes, founder of Coffee Nation, speaking at the latest Smith & Williamson Enterprise Index breakfast.

The latest Enterprise Index showed that 91% of those surveyed believed that the economy, which has shown continued signs of recovery in recent months, would go on to improve over the coming year. This renewed confidence in the economy was echoed by Chancellor Osborne this week, who said that the UK economy is finally turning a corner.

Dawes, who came within days of seeing his Coffee Nation business fold before it ever really got going, spoke of the need to never give up. Having opted to not go to university Dawes instead took the path of furthering his skills 'on the job', with the attitude that the jobs he had might not be the best but if he did the role to the best of the ability he would soon get noticed. His attitude proved right, and his career began to develop before any of his friends had finished university.

"I never regretted not going to university, going out into the real world taught me a lot and helped me develop on my feet. I wouldn't change anything in that sense," said Dawes.

He started his own consultancy firm in London, alongside his wife, but soon realised he wanted something bigger. It was now that he took a risk, he stepped away from the consultancy and took a small office in Soho from where he began looking for his business idea. His subsequent Coffee Nation idea was partly inspired by a photocopying business model, a revenue share model that saw an American firm supplying photocopiers into convenience stores.

With a business model and idea in his head Dawes went to New York to seek further inspiration, where he came across the idea of coffee in convenience stores, much like the idea of photocopying services that had started his thought process.

"The key thing is that I never gave up," he explained. "Whilst there wasn't any real proof that I had a business, the fact that at least some people were buying the coffee gave me the belief that I had something here.

"My realisation was that the product had to be the hero. If you are selling as a consumer business you have got to wow people with your product. The mistake I made was that I went in at the cheap end, I put cost first rather than sales. I had a eureka moment where I knew I had to have a gourmet product.

"The key learnings were never ever give up, its got to be top down not bottom up, and lastly I tired to please my customers, who really knew nothing about I had written a business plan but it wasn't a business plan, it was a hope plan. Business plans are fairly worthless without proof, so don't just write them if you haven't got evidence."

Whilst the coffee shop phenonemon was nothing new, Dawes had seen a gap in the market, and like he says 'coffee bars were a revolution, we were the evolution'.

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