David Donde is the Founder of Truth Coffee Roasting, which specialises in sourcing and roasting some of the world’s most exclusive coffees. Truth Coffee in Buitenkant street, Cape Town, was named the world’s best coffee shop by MSN Travel in 2013 and again by The Daily Telegraph in 2015 and 2016, and was also nominated in 2015 for the Boschendal Style Award. In 2018 the FNB Coffee Magazine Awards nominated Truth for Best Café Design and Excellence in Coffee. Their steam-punk interiors by lauded designer Haldane Martin won a Golden Loerie award in 2016.
With their well-known adage of “no sugar required”, David has applied his team’s combined expertise in coffee roasting to chocolate making with his most recent endeavour, Minimalist Chocolate. Minimalist chocolate contains no sugar and relies on the roasting process to bring out the sweet flavours in the cocoa beans.
In David’s own words, his coffee roasting career followed the traditional trajectory of humble beginnings in chicken farming 😆🐔 He is also an avid motoring and biking journalist, a marketing specialist and a radio talk show host. Throughout his journey in business he learned two valuable lessons:
1. To get away from commodity, you need to build brands.
2. Find great people and stay out of their way.
On the question of how he began Truth Coffee, David tells the story of how he needed a new income and was down to his last 15 bucks, and on his way to get some fast food he received a phone call from his first investor. From there on, he focused on strategic brand building and figuring out what it was that made Truth Coffee different from others.
“Brand without culture is worthless, and vice versa.”
When one visits Truth Coffee, you’re not only buying a meal or a beverage; you’re experiencing a culture of amazing customer service. For David, achieving this employee buy-in comes from helping employees understand what exactly it is that Truth offers customers. And it’s not coffee. It’s by giving people the opportunity to discover things; to be surprised and delighted.
“By having employees understand the drug that we sell, and it’s not caffeine. It’s endorphins.”
Truth Coffee’s current byline is “The joy of the extraordinary Truth”, and it’s every staff member’s job to live up to this. Their culture strategy is to win hearts one customer at a time, and David firmly believes that culture cannot be driven by HR or some kind of “culture team” — everyone in the company is part of the culture team!
“Anyone who thinks that their company is bigger than their people, is delusional.”
Another important learning that David shares is how, looking back, he would have wanted to hire more people earlier in his career who were not afraid to speak their minds and stand up to him.
“The danger of a strong personality is that you end up being your own echo chamber.”
In speaking of culture, productivity and what work entails as a leader in a company, David notes that one type of culture that one will often see, especially in startups, is the “busy” culture — where people are rewarded for putting in the hours and ‘working hard’, but not necessarily based on outputs. This kind of culture infuriates him, as he’s seen time and again how projects get to 90% completion but never see the light of day.
Moments of genius hardly happen in the office.
0:10 — Introductions
1:08 — How David got into coffee
1:56 — How David built the Truth Coffee brand and created a successful business in a crowded market
2:35 — Does brand and company culture go hand-in-hand, and how do you ensure employees buy into the culture?
4:33 — Making company values more than words on the walls
6:13 — How South African cellular provider CellC got it all wrong with their Trevor Noah campaign
7:37 — Learnings through the process and what David would have done differently
8:55 — David’s experience working at an “extremely autocratic” company
10:00 — Advise for hiring
13:00 — How to become the best waiter in the world? David reflecting on Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence
14:15 — An average day for David
15:10 — On productivity and ‘busy’ culture
19:23 — On the function of middle management and their role in building the culture
20:43 — What David’s been reading and listening to: The One Thing by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan
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