Marcus Boni knows what it takes to make a great cup of coffee and he’s more than happy to share his knowledge with you. In his newest role as Head of Coffee at Trade, he’s working hard to make specialty coffee more approachable and accessible for all, one cup at a time.
Newly launched, Trade is an e-commerce destination that brings U.S. specialty and third wave roasters directly to consumers at the click of a button with convenient delivery and personalized recommendations utilizing data science and human intelligence. In other words, it’s a way to take your expensive coffee shop habit home.
And with specialty coffee accounting for 59 percent of the $45 billion dollar coffee industry — an all-time high — Trade is arriving just in time.
We checked in with Boni to learn more about this innovative, new coffee brand and how he’s working hard to encourage people to improve their daily coffee ritual.
ForceBrands: You have an impressive background. Tell us a bit about your journey to becoming the Head of Coffee at Trade.
Marcus Boni: I was introduced to Trade through my friends and former colleagues with Intelligentsia Coffee and Peet’s Coffee. My professional career in coffee goes way back to 2002, when I started as a barista at Intelligentsia’s original north side location in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Having the great fortune of cutting my teeth with such an admirable company, I advanced to several different roles within the organization that ultimately led me to become their VP of Retail.
After eight wonderful years with ‘Intelly,’ I moved on to work for the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), the international trade association that represents the entire supply chain of specialty coffee. As Director of Community Development, I was focused on developing content, events, and engagement among various membership group categories, including roasters, baristas, and equipment manufacturers. A large part of that opportunity came through producing various competitions including the U.S. and World Barista Championship.
After four glorious years with the SCA, I had a strong desire to return to retail and coffee execution. I started working with Kaldi’s Coffee out of St. Louis. From there, I spent several years at Bonavita, where I focused on developing brewing equipment from the home that yields wonderful coffee in an approachable way.
All of those very meaningful opportunities led me to my current role as Head of Coffee at Trade — a perfect combination of connecting coffee lovers who brew at home with some of the best coffee roasters in the U.S.
FB: What is Trade and how is it disrupting the $45B global coffee industry?
MB: Through our platform, we provide access to high-quality specialty coffee brands — freshly roasted-to-order — and personalized recommendations utilizing a combination of data science, human intelligence, and eager taste buds. Once a visitor builds a taste profile, Trade will match them with current coffee preferences and a preferred mode of brewing with new specialty coffee options perfect for their palette and that helps them kick off their specialty coffee journey at home.
After months (and months) of testing, we have found that a simple, easy-to-understand taste profile helps make specialty coffee easier to navigate and more accessible to consumers with a wide range of coffee understanding. By bringing the specialty coffee industry online, Trade’s platform is able to create a meaningful community of coffee drinkers, close the feedback loop between roaster and at-home brewer, and mine consumer data to understand how customers are consuming and interacting with the product.
FB: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received? Do you have any industry mentors?
MB: Great question! My sister who is a colonel in the U.S. Army encouraged me to chart my own path. Many of my friends and family have followed the traditional college-to-career path in life. I chose to explore things that best suited me while embracing the balance of professional and personal development. While I took a slower road in pursuing and completing my education, I followed a parallel path of putting effort and loyalty into companies and individuals that allowed me to learn while working — all while discovering a deep and sincere passion for coffee and the ritualistic role it plays in so many lives.
I let my career blossom on its own, rather than follow a trail that was more thoughtfully planned out before I even knew what inspired me. Sure, it was rocky at times, but I couldn’t be happier seeing people experience coffee in new and exciting ways.
FB: Here at ForceBrands, we’re people for a HIRE purpose – in other words, we believe in the power of a great team culture. How are you brewing culture at Trade, and what part does the team play in cultivating it?
MB: Our team is an exciting mix of different experiences and backgrounds. As an e-commerce company focused on offering incredible coffees, it’s important that we insert a bit of coffee into nearly everything we do. So, naturally, I’m supporting much of the coffee part of our culture. While I might bring a lot of experience to the table, the entire Trade crew has a deep respect for what we’re creating and the product we work with. They go out of their way to ask questions and learn, particularly when it relates to how a consumer might experience or perceive something. Knowing our team is fairly humble, they never give themselves enough credit in trusting their palettes and knowing all the variables involved in getting to the best cup of coffee possible.
It’s my job to encourage my team members to discover — for our customers and for their own journeys — and to champion the curiosity that comes from working with coffee.
I also have a deep love for karaoke, tap dancing, and singing awful early-2000s pop (excluding Dave Matthews) at my desk during late evenings. I like to think that contributes to the culture in a positive way, but I’m not sure the team would agree.
FB: If you could go back and do anything differently in your career, what would it be?
MB: Become familiar with your strengths early on and lean on those throughout your career. I’m generally a fairly positive individual, and in many circumstances, it’s really easy to get caught up in contributing to a negative environment. My mother called it the smile test: walk around smiling, head up, and acknowledge folks as they pass by. Find a way to make a positive impact on a team or organization, and own being that bright spot in moments where it might be a little challenging. I’ve found it’s not typically what most individuals expect so it may catch them by surprise. Had I embraced that earlier on — something I’m just naturally wired to do — I feel I’d have moved on to solutions and better engagement much sooner.
FB: What excites you most about the future of Trade and the work you’re doing to help it grow?
MB: Moving the needle in helping to brew better coffee at home! I learn something from absolutely every interaction I have with customers. This bridge between specialty and consumers is our biggest opportunity and would be an incredible feat to establish and maintain. Having an impact on someone’s daily ritual is so very precious to me. I’m confident that working hard to make this an approachable and encouraging experience based on knowledge sharing and the best ingredients can elevate the world of specialty coffee in life-changing ways.
FB: And lastly, just for fun, how do you take your coffee? Describe the ideal scene where you would enjoy it.
MB: This is an easy one for me, thank goodness: black coffee, typically a single origin from Kenya, Guatemala, or Colombia — it sparks acidity, and is clean and sweet. It’s usually brewed with a Chemex or SCA certified brewer. My ideal scene would definitely be at home, with my husband and four rescue dogs, on a Sunday with not much else to do.
FB: Speaking of Sunday routines, do you Start It Sunday?
…Learn more about Boni and his Sunday routine.
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