Paper Cup Coffee is a Liverpool-based coffee shop that offers training opportunities to people who have experienced homelessness, helping them to build their confidence and get back into the workplace. Founded by Michelle Langan, Paper Cup Coffee is an extension of Paper Cup Project, a local charity in Liverpool that offers help and support to people who are homeless across the city via outreach. Through a fantastic group of volunteers, Paper Cup Project gives out food, and clothing to those experiencing homelessness to provide people with the help that they need.
We sat down with Michelle to learn more about her passion for helping the homeless, her experience as a female founder and her brand new venture: Paper Cup Coffee.
Which three skills would you say are crucial to being a founder?
Confidence is important because, even if you haven’t got the skills at the beginning, if you’re confident then that really comes through.
Another skill is passion, which is a big thing for me personally. Homelessness was an issue that I felt quite angry about, so I think my passion for my work came from my anger. If you’re passionate about what you do then that shows in your work, and it brings other people on board.
Listening is also a good skill to have when you’re starting up. For me, it’s been crucial to get advice from other people and find out about their successes and the mistakes that they’ve made. I was really keen to learn more about the kinds of obstacles that people who have done similar projects to me have faced, and how they got over them. That way, I knew that if we faced the same things we’d know how to deal with them.
“There’s no point in setting something up for people if you aren’t going to listen to their voices or create something that works for them!”
What is your favourite thing about being a business owner?
It’s all very new to me – we’re only at week four at the moment. But, my favourite thing so far has been seeing how people have got on board with the idea. It’s been brilliant seeing people say that they’ve enjoyed their experience on social media, that they’ve had a good coffee or they’ve said that they’ve had good service.
What have you found challenging about starting your business?
Everything! Everything has been a challenge. My background is not in hospitality, it’s in journalism, so the huge challenge for me has been learning loads of new things. Not only that but also recruiting staff. For us, finding the right people for what we’re doing is so important.
Obviously, the pandemic has hit the hospitality sector quite significantly so there’s been quite a lot of things that have been more difficult than I anticipated. I’ve had so many sleepless nights worrying about small things, but you get there in the end!
What are the biggest barriers you face when it comes to growing your business?
Currently, I would say our biggest barrier is just letting people know that we’re there and attracting the customers in because we’re so new. I think that, because of the pandemic, people’s habits changed a lot as well. For example, I was speaking to someone the other day who asked me how everything was going with the shop so far and I mentioned how they should pop in and visit. They made a really interesting point about how they never really travel into town anymore, post-pandemic. A light bulb went in my head when I heard that as it was something that I’d never even considered – people’s habits have changed.
It made me think about how my own habits had changed since before the pandemic, and I realised that I’m exactly the same. I don’t come into town anywhere near as much as I used to! I think a lot more people have got into the habit of doing everything online e.g. online shopping, and not coming into the city centre as much, which I hadn’t considered at all.
If you could learn more about one area of marketing, what would it be?
Everything. Whatever you do, there’s always something new to learn. I love the social media aspect of marketing – it’s something that I really enjoy. For us, as a coffee shop, the visual content seems to be what attracts people into the shop.
For example, we started selling “cruffins” (a cross between croissants and muffins) so we put some posts up on our social channels and people started to come in asking for them. I know that that could’ve only come from social media because that was the only place that we’d advertised them. It’s interesting to be able to track how people have found us!
I think that there’s always more to learn, and I’m always willing to listen to people who know more than I do about marketing.
How did you recognise that you were an entrepreneurial person?
To be honest, I don’t really see myself as an entrepreneur. I’ve never thought of myself in that way, and I imagine that a lot of women probably feel the same! For me, starting the business came from me seeing something that I felt strongly about – which was seeing how many people were homeless. I realised that I could try and do something to help and then just went for it. Now, six years on, I have Paper Cup Project and Paper Cup Coffee.
How do you fight Impostor Syndrome?
I think it’s always there and it’s something that affects women more than men. As women, we often just get on and do things and don’t realise how much we do. Whether it’s looking after families, having caring responsibilities or something else, women just get on and do it.
If you said to a woman who’s juggling all these things at once, they probably wouldn’t acknowledge just how much they’re doing. I think that’s imposter syndrome as well.
If someone was struggling to start a business due to confidence, what would your advice be?
If you feel strongly about something and you’re passionate about something, you will attract the people who want to support what you do. Stay true to your idea and don’t be distracted by what anyone else says. If you believe in your idea then go out there and tell the world!
If you could magically change one thing about your business now, what would it be?
Since we’re still so new, we’re still evolving at the moment so it’s difficult to answer. I’m happy with how things are going at the moment, but I suppose my dream would be to have loads of customers and to be busy all the time.
Tell us about another brilliant businesswoman that our readers should know about.
In Liverpool, there are so many women that I admire. It’s not just businesswomen either. There are loads of women who are doing amazing things in everyday life. We even have a strong history of women who have done brilliant things.
In fact, I’m going to choose Kitty Wilkinson who’s a figure from our history. She was just a normal woman who realised that people were getting ill because they weren’t cleaning themselves properly. So, she set up the first washhouse in Liverpool. I love her story because she was a regular woman who identifies an issue and did something about it. She saw that there was a need for something and went and did it!
Hear from other #FemaleFounders across Liverpool
Want to learn more about our local Liverpool female founders? Check out our interview with Gaby Mendes, Founder of Talk Twenties and Tracy Fishwick, Founder of Transform Lives Company.