He walks into his ‘office’ unassumingly and with a stifled grin, introduces himself “Hi, I am Pablo. Right, who wants a drink?!” Its 2 in the afternoon and we are in a spacious coffee house that could be in the heart of Vienna. Instead though, this is Fulham, London and we are in Caffè Nero. Co-founder of Caffè Nero along with Gerry Ford (also the CEO), Paul (Pablo) Ettinger (INSEAD MBA 85J) is himself of German-Austrian descent. The European coffee house ambience is distinctly conspicuous, even before Pablo confirms the conscious effort himself
“We had a clear strategy. We wanted to be premium, Italian style – have the best coffee, good food and sort of this welcoming coffeehouse atmosphere, which was at the time unknown”
On Starting Caffè Nero
After a 13-year M&A career in the chemical industry, Pablo got propositioned by friend Gerry Ford to buy out 5 coffee stores and start the very first European coffee-chain in the UK, competing directly against Costa Coffee and Starbucks.
On the initial struggles, Pablo recalls: “We kept running out of cash, we knew nothing about of coffee. We thought we knew everything though. We came very close to going under a couple of times and also, no one wanted to work for us”
On competition: “Starbucks wasn’t there when we started, but we woke up one morning and they had like 50 stores. At the time that really worried us, but classic MBA case – they helped develop the market in the UK, which actually helped us as well”
Today, Caffè Nero has 825 stores across the UK, Ireland, Poland, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey, the UAE, and the United States. It is known not just for its great coffee (‘best espresso this side of Milan’), but also supporting budding musical talents. It’s an aspect of the Nero brand that is particularly close to Pablo’s heart. He devotes a fair bit of his time to this, being a musician himself.
As a Serial Entrepreneur
Street Life is one of Pablo’s other co-founded ventures. The online platform encourages local communities to interact more closely with each other by offering help (be it borrowing kitchen tools or offering gardening services) or organizing events. The idea germinated from Caffè Nero’s local community-orientation, which is very much positioned to be the ‘local’ coffee house where barista knows all its clients on a first name basis. Pablo and his team successfully exited Street Life, at the time with 1.5 Million users across the UK, by selling it to US-based Next Door.
Pablo’s business interests include a family luxury leather-goods business (Ettinger), Sweet Freedom and Class4Kids. As an angel investor and mentor Pablo focuses on early-stage tech ventures among which is CitySail, founded by Yi Xu (INSEAD MBA 11), using AI to decode facial expressions.
We also asked Pablo about Brexit’s impact on business in London and his advice for people toying with entrepreneurship but don’t have THE idea, yet. Click here for Pablo’s Brexit analysis and here to listen to his wise words on entrepreneurship !
We sincerely thank Pablo for talking to us and for demonstrating that it is indeed possible to marry business interests with one’s passions (food and music in his case!)
Follow him on Twitter here: @Pabloett