Starting one business is task enough, but entrepreneur Sam Coombes just couldn’t stop there. With Batlow Cider, surf label The Critical Slide Society and Will&Co coffee roasting ventures under his belt, it seems it’s a case of “the more the merrier” for Sam and his brother-slash-business partner, Rich.
Today, Will&Co has an eponymous cafe in Sydney’s Bondi, supplies coffee to dozens of eateries across the city and its coffee cart regularly pops up at events. Here, the multi-tasking businessman talks f*ck ups, family and how Shakespeare (via his dad) has led the way.
Where does your entrepreneurial streak come from?
My dad ran his own businesses from his late thirties until he passed away in his late fifties. So I was always around that entrepreneurial environment. I remember going into my dad’s office at the age of 12 and thinking how cool it was that Dad had created that environment and had brought that group of people together. I used to do a lot of freelance work as a uni student building websites and my dad was my biggest client. He was always really encouraging of me running my own business and he was always pushing me to take a punt and have a go.
You were previously director of marketing at MTV – when did you take the leap?
We started TCSS [The Critical Slide Society] in late 2009. I would finish working at MTV on a Friday afternoon, jump in the car and drive two hours to my business partner Jim [Mitchell]’s house on the NSW Central Coast. We would work Friday night over a few G&Ts, Saturday and most of Sunday. I’d head back to Sydney’s east on Sunday afternoon and then head back to work on Monday morning. This carried on for 18 months and the brand got big enough to take a punt and my brother and I had also made a decision to start Batlow Cider. Handing in my resignation letter was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve not regretted that decision once over the last five years.
What’s the biggest blunder you’ve made?
Second-guessing my own gut feeling and judgment. Sometimes I’d suppress my thoughts just to not upset certain people within the business. After a number of costly internal “I f*cking knew it” moments, you quickly learn to voice and commit to those decisions and also how to communicate those decisions to the employee without upsetting them. If it is the wrong decision, at least you can only blame yourself and you do take a [lesson] from it.
What are the best and worst things about working alongside your brother, rich, at Batlow Cider?
The best thing is that you can tell them anything, the worst thing is that you can tell them anything – and there’s no censorship.
If you could go back to the start of your business journey, what advice would you give yourself?
Something my dad recited to my brother and I regularly was a quote from Shakespeare: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” The way I interpreted that was to have a crack. I take it as more broadly backing yourself and your decisions and listening to your gut.