If there’s one thing you need to know about Patrick Maloney ’98, it’s that he really loves coffee. He’s been a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur for over twenty years, having been a casual drinker turned scholar thanks to his first-hand experience working with small cafes handling their own brew. It was this fascination with caffeine that motivated him to start Blue Fire Coffee Roasters, a micro-roasting company owned and operated by Patrick that bears an outstanding slogan: Coffee is our craft. People are our business.™
We spoke with Patrick a few months ago after news about a partnership between Blue Fire and Emerson College had been released. What we learned about Patrick was that he’s more than an Emerson entrepreneur: Patrick is an absolute superstar who embodies the kind of spirit unique to our friendly and creative Emerson College alumni.
What was it that originally drew you to Emerson College?
“I was actually living in Washington D.C., 1989, and I was a college dropout from a school in Ohio I went to called Denison University. At the time my parents had split up so my family life was getting rearranged… I went back to my hometown and I was hanging out and working. The words of my late father – who was still alive at the time – was ringing in my ears that if I didn’t get an education at this point, I was going to be in trouble.”
Patrick proceeded to visit the library to find a copy of Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges to follow through on a wild plan. He intended to flip through the book at random and let his finger fall on the school he’d be transferring to and attending over the next 10 years: Emerson College.
You read that right.
Patrick spent 10 years completing his undergraduate education, managing a supremely difficult balance between multiple jobs, his time in class, and the increasing responsibility of a twenty-something adult finding their way.
How did you approach the school/work/life balance?
“That was really just an internal process. When I got into school, I made a couple of phone calls to people and I said, ‘Hey, I got into Emerson!’ and several people said I’d never pull it off. They said I’d never finish school. So I was driven by the idea that I could prove my naysayers wrong… But what really drove me to finish was really this relentless part of my personality.”
To call Patrick dogmatic would be an understatement. He embodies the best traits of an aspiring entrepreneur between a dedication to seeing his vision through to an unrelenting need to satisfy his personal goals.
It was a little later in his life that Patrick discovered a passion for coffee after having graduated with a degree in Mass Communications and worked with the Boston Herald for some time. He spent some time considering his career options and his passions to eventually find destiny in a small coffee shop where he was begging to be involved with some part of the coffee-making process.
A few years later, and after several promotions, Patrick was ready to start his own business.
What were some of the challenges you expected to face?
“What I was expecting to face was a massive competition in the industry I’m in. Coffee is everywhere. But I also knew there was always going to be an inherent demand for it. There’s 400 million cups of coffee being consumed everyday in this country. I knew I was doing something that had been around for centuries and that it wasn’t a product that was going to leave the marketplace…
I knew there was going to be a lot of competition but that I could leverage my 12 or 13 years of experience in the industry to offset that. But I also knew I was basically going to be married to my business… I knew that I would be giving something up in terms of being able to segment yourself from your job.”
What were your first steps for establishing the business?
“I used social media quite a bit… I used my personal network. I did a friends and family program where I sent out an email blast to my network and asked them to recommend the business. And then I used the contacts I had from my years of doing business for other coffee companies… But at the end of the day, it really came down to the old-fashioned style of marketing that comes with face to face and door to door contact.”
Outreach and engagement were two of Patrick’s strong suits and, using his professional network, it was exactly the kind of strategy that made Blue Fire so successful in its early days.
There was also a lot of opportunity being generated by this approach. For example, Patrick went out of his way to donate to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign to make it clear that he and his business were about more than the craft or the gain. They were about the people.
This landed him an invite to a tasting event that caught the attention of Boston Magazine and eventually helped Patrick make some great strides in securing a market in Boston as well as catching the attention of Emerson’s own Lee Pelton.
Lee heard Patrick’s story about his business, his passion, and the incredible journey he’d been on as a student and the rest was history: Emerson College was proud to partner with such an incredible alum.
As I ask everyone interview, I needed to know…
If you could give your past self one bit of advice, what would it be?
“Be prepared to pay yourself a lot less than you think. Be prepared to live on very little. Take that sacrifice and know that is going to happen for a couple of years.”
As Patrick notes, starting a coffee business is determined by the success of the first two years. A company that can make it past those first 24 months has a future to be proud of. In general, Patrick believes that businesses take time and must be open to change but should never falter on one promise: Your company does not serve customers; it serves people.