Emanuelis Ryklys on creating the kind of world you want to live in
Emanuelis Ryklys is known for his love for coffee. After spending over ten years in advertising he felt it’s time for a new beginning. We talked about creating change, starting a business and the mysterious and magical role community plays in our personal and professional achievements.
In conversation with Rasa Jusionytė.
Before coffee you worked at top advertising agencies - Milk, Not Perfect, just to name a few. What was your early beginning like?
After my studies I was able to do two things: sell stuff and code stuff, so I was fully geared for digital marketing. When I got my first job in Kaunas, I managed to sell a client a website and then I had to go and create it too. I worked there for around two years and I used to say I wouldn’t move to Vilnius without a very good reason. That reason ended up being a job at a big advertising agency.
"WHEN I LOOK BACK NOW, I’M CONVINCED MY INTERVIEW WENT WELL BECAUSE I WAS SO RELAXED. I DIDN’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THE ADVERTISING WORLD, I HAD NO IDEA WHO I WAS TALKING TO EITHER, SO I HAD NO REASON TO FREAK OUT OR TRY TO PRETEND TO BE SOMEONE ELSE."
Although, once you’re in that world, it becomes really small. You end up going from one agency to another. I’m glad Milk was my last agency - I had great clients and the money was good too. I travelled a lot and had a comfortable lifestyle. However, something inside me wasn’t right. I felt like the time had come to push pause. I also wanted to play a bit.
Such fundamental changes often result in a really tough time emotionally. I’ll ask you straight: Were you scared?
If fear is stronger than you are, the change will never happen.
I think the most important thing is to learn to step back. Right at the end, I kept going on holiday and traveling. I even spent half a year living in Portugal. I might be a bit more spontaneous compared to other people! On a more serious note, I felt that I need to create change in my life. I needed a new direction. In moments like that, you need to have a support network, people you can trust and openly talk to.
Without sounding arrogant, I used to get a lot of good feedback when I worked in advertising. It inspired confidence in me. That was essential too - you have to trust yourself enough to truly follow your gut. Although, there’s no magic formula. Right at the beginning I simply worked a lot.
Pretty much everyone right now has at least a few side projects going on. These conversations are no exception, we talk to people about managing their workload, not burning out and staying motivated. Your story is completely different - you’ve committed to doing one thing. Work itself is your dream. What is your attitude towards work?
I like having a direction and clear focus. In my case, coffee is what makes everything go round. I spent 10 years in advertising prior to Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories. Back then, I tried to have a few really big projects instead of loads of small ones. Simply put, I believe that focus brings clarity, everything else is just noise.
After a while in advertising, I started to long for tangible work. I wanted to be able to say what I do in one word. Like, for example, "I roast coffee". It was actually a question my dad asked me ages ago that got me thinking about this. When I just started out in advertising, I thought we were doing great work. It was all so new and cool, and there was no point to even try explaining it to my dad. He wouldn’t get it anyway. 10 years in, I started asking myself that exact same question: "What am I doing?". I'd get so tired during the week that I’d have no energy to do anything over the weekend. What have I achieved? Sent 300 emails and spent 10 hours on the phone? I started to sense bad things gathering inside me. It was about time to push pause and take a break.
What was the beginning of Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories then?
As I said, I was starting to lack patience for advertising. Maybe I was a bit bored too, so I decided to buy myself a coffee machine. That’s how I became interested in coffee. It helped me to step back from the daily grind. The more I did, the more I saw that something was not right at work. So I decided to gift myself with some free time and and go travelling. Finally I had time to read, so I picked up a few books on coffee. I got really into it, to a point that I started thinking about opening my own coffee shop one day. It was a scary thought though - somehow a business like that seemed very similar to the one I tried to run from.
Weird! So many of us dream about an easy and peaceful life after opening a bakery, wine bar or a coffee place…
Right from the beginning, I had a feeling that it’s not what it looks like. Yet, my holiday was coming to an end and I really didn’t want to go back to the office. Autumn was around the corner, which meant Christmas was not far away either, so I picked up a pan and tried roasting coffee at home. That’s how the first 100 packs were made and then pretty much immediately sold at the Christmas market. It took two hours for us to sell out. It all sounds good, but in reality I almost gave up. The green bean delivery was super late, I got the raw material 3 days before the market... I barely slept and got really stressed.
Losing motivation is dangerous. What did you do to keep up good spirits?
Simply put, my motivation was genuine, not money or fame oriented. I wanted to do a little bit of good in the world, and that feeling was stronger than a few sleepless nights.
What kind of money were you spending? Did you have savings and lived off that for a while? I imagine starting a business like yours requires expensive stuff like equipment, location, good coffee machine.
I started with a frying pan. That’s it. I used it to make that first batch and at the end I completely ruined it. So it was my first investment and a first loss too!
I also had to buy green beans. That was a bigger expense, I think I paid something like 5,000 litas, which isn’t much in euros, still it had to come out of my pocket. I made a conscious decision not to buy a coffee machine, I believe it’s the people that make coffee truly good - you don’t get that same emotion from a machine.
You keep mentioning emotions. Right at the beginning, did you sit down and really think about a business model, cash flow, scale and then make the decision to go into business?
"I SPENT A LONG TIME THINKING ABOUT OPENING A COFFEE SHOP: WHAT’S OUT THERE? WHAT’S NEEDED? WHAT CAN I DO SO IT’S NEW? FIRST OF ALL, I HAD TO ANSWER WHY SHOULD THERE BE ANOTHER COFFEE SHOP? I ALSO THOUGHT ABOUT MY OWN DIRECTION - WILL COFFEE TAKE ME DOWN THE RIGHT PATH? DOES IT INTEREST ME ENOUGH?"
I was inspired by old Japanese coffee shops called “kissaten,” which are about to go extinct. I was curious to learn more and so eventually we had an old Japanese coffee master visit us so we could learn more. He still owns a traditional “kissaten”, but opened a new trendy place too. I was inspired and also felt sad the culture I admire so much was fading away.
So “kissaten” is a bit like our Lithuanian canteens?
Yes. Exactly. It’s really hard to talk about hospitality in Lithuania, the industry is taking it’s first baby steps.
In my eyes, the more coffee chains there are, the better for you. They do the general market education and then those, who really get into it, come to you for something more. 10 years ago your concept wouldn’t have succeeded.
It’s a good question. I’m not sure what the answer is though. In my eyes, they are two parallel worlds. I can say with confidence that coffee right now is extremely fashionable in Vilnius. A few years ago that same thing happened with wine bars and pubs. To many, it’s a business opportunity. People look at it and go: "Ok, let’s open a coffee shop, if things don’t go well, we can try our luck elsewhere, maybe open a bakery?"
"PERSONALLY, I’M MORE INTERESTED IN PEOPLE WHO GET CRAZY PASSIONATE ABOUT THINGS. IF THEY DO SOMETHING, IT’S BECAUSE THEY CAN NO LONGER LIVE WITHOUT GOING AFTER IT AND THEY LOVE THE IDEA OF IT BEING A NICHE PRODUCT. THEY WANT TO DEEPEN IT, BRING MORE KNOWLEDGE TO IT, RATHER THAN TAKE IT AND MAKE A MASS PRODUCT OUT OF IT. SIMPLY PUT, IT MIGHT BE THE SAME BUSINESS, BUT THERE ARE TWO DIFFERENT MOTIVATORS THAT BRING PEOPLE TO IT."
I was thinking about your stubbornness. I imagine you receive quite a lot of complaints from first time customers - you don’t do Latte or Capuccino, one can’t even get a Flat White! I can see you saying a lot of “no’s” and from experience I know it can be really hard to say “no” right at the beginning when money is tight. Was it hard to stay true to your vision and yourself too?
Not in our case. We started with a strong vision and every decision had to be based on that. They still are. I see Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories almost like a restaurant. At least mentality wise. When you go to eat at a new place, you go with an open mind. You read the menu, select a thing or two you want to try. Same in a new bar - you talk to the bartender, he’ll ask you a few questions and will create you a cocktail. Here we try to do exactly the same.
Your business and personal philosophy go hand in hand. You don’t just talk about ideas, you truly live them and so every detail here is rooted in you ideology. How does it work in practice?
I really care about creating a sincere dialogue. I have a clear vision of how I want us to grow.
"THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS FOR EVERY CUSTOMER TO LEAVE HAPPY. IF SO, HE OR SHE WILL BRING FIVE MORE FRIENDS. FIVE MORE NEW CUSTOMERS. I LIKE THAT SORT OF GROWTH, IT FEELS GENUINE."
All “Ką žmonės dirba?” conversations have one thing in common. Everyone talks about how important it is to keep growing and learning constantly.
In my case, it’s openness. I’m not sure if it’s a question of mentality or inner culture, but openness is my one and only way to react to new things.
EVEN IF TOMORROW FROGS START FALLING FROM THE SKY, I WOULDN’T GET SURPRISED. CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT THING IN LIFE AND HAVING AN OPEN MIND IS AN ENGINE FOR PROGRESS.
Ok, let’s talk about creating a brand image. You gave Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories a minimal look. It’s also warm and inviting. At the same time, minimal brands are taking over - some are super cold and it seems they’ve built a glass wall around themselves and can only be touched by the very few. I’m exaggerating, but you get what I mean…
You have to be welcoming. That’s the most important thing. Look at Lithuanian families, they always greet you with tables covered in food. We’re good hosts! I won’t lie, sometimes it’s hard and there is a difference between being nice and pissing people off.
You also have to learn how to say “no”. We are not always open for public, even though the passer by can see us working. So when people are trying to come in, I never say “no” in an arrogant way.
Interior wise, we wanted it to be clean. The thinking behind it was simple: coffee and people will bring warmth.
You seem to have a crystal clear focus and commitment to an idea you truly believe in. Do you not get temptations to just do something else one day?
You should make changes when you need them. They are not necessary. I think working somewhere for 18 or more years is a nice thing. It’s only nice if your environment is healthy and nurturing. I’m scared to wake up one day and be completely disinterested in coffee. That said, Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories is my playground and has the flexibility to change with me.
Photos: Justė Kulikauskaitė
Proofed: Rima Garsys