Dakota Dirt Coffee Company is a business you want to root for. As a North Dakota based company, its products are a direct result of its founders and the American heartland. Their coffee is delicious but also signifies the hard-working North Dakotan whether they are working on the farm or in a cubicle.
Much of that is thanks to the founder’s upbringing. Wyatt and Landon Mund and Beau Goolsbey all grew up in Milnor, North Dakota. Becoming quick friends at a young age and into college, the trio always dreamed of starting their own business together. They wanted that business to be a representation of them and their small-town roots.
What they all seemed to bond over is their love for coffee. So, the Mund brothers and Goolsbey decided to start their own coffee company in September 2020. With little to no experience in roasting coffee, the young entrepreneurs had their work cut out for them in the early going. However, it was their commitment to hard work and success that has guided them to where they are now. Even if it meant working 80 to 85 hours in a week.
The end product is a budding e-commerce coffee business that takes pride in its freshness. The trio gets beans at market price from Minneapolis and roasts them the day they are to be shipped to a customer. That freshness has helped the company succeed despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
One thing is for sure, these three are North Dakotans you want to see succeed. Not that they are going to see themselves fail anyway.We discussed all things coffee and more with the Mund brothers and Goolsbey.
How did you get to the point where you wanted to start a coffee company? Especially in North Dakota?
Wyatt Mund: Honestly, we all really liked coffee and we’ve all really wanted to start a business together for a couple years. One day, we kind of put two and two together. Let’s start a coffee company.
Beau Goolsbey: What happened was is we all hang out as a group. We play basketball together and a lot of times, it’d be Thursday night league at the wellness center, or whatever and then we go out for beers after the league. We’d always toss around the idea of starting a company of some sort. Finally, one day, it kind of clicked that we all love coffee and we should experiment with it. That’s why we started experimenting with it and then it just led to a business idea.
I think some people when they want to start a coffee company, specifically, it’s either we do a brick and mortar front or just sell it online. How did you guys kind of go about deciding on e-commerce as your foundation?
BG: One of the factors was that we all have full-time jobs. Both me and Landon, it’s like we have two full-time jobs before this company. We couldn’t spend the time setting up a shop and being there every day. Wyatt is really good in the marketing field and he knows how to push a product online. That was one of his strong points. We figured me and Landon could work on the roasting part and Wyatt on the marketing, website and everything else. We tried it that way first and it was kind of a no-brainer for us to start with e-commerce and see how it goes.
How did you guys go about the roasting process? Because I think people probably look at it and say ‘oh, it can’t be that challenging’. Is it something that you guys have experimented with before starting the company?
Landon Mund: We first started researching, that is the first thing we did. During the time we were putting together the plan of how we were going to launch we really started just researching. We were roasting down in my basement in Fargo on this popcorn roaster. We realized quickly upon both the research and the actual experimenting with it that it wasn’t going to be a good result.
So we ended up graduating to a one kilogram roaster. We really spent hours and hours just trying to practice different techniques.
WM: I mean, there’s a rabbit hole of information on coffee roasting, right?
BG: It’s that sort of thing where you get caught up and all that sort of stuff. The thing is, too, is all these different master roasters, they have all these different techniques. It was kind of challenging because we were looking at all this information and going, ‘wow, this is complicated’.
I remember the first time we roasted a small batch on that little roaster we had, it tasted great. We were thinking that maybe it’s got a lot of people over-analyzing this process. We thought maybe it’s not as hard as we actually thought it was. Then we really dug into putting the hours into it and feeling out the roaster because that is has a lot to do with it for a successful batch. Just your level of experience behind the roaster.
LM: There’s a learning curve with each roaster too because now we have had three different roasters and they’re all a little different. That takes a little learning as far as the roaster itself goes.
BG: We have two of them right now that are one kilogram. We have put 1000s of hours behind these roasters and now we’re going to go and get a bigger roaster that’s 10 kilograms. That will probably end up being a whole new learning curve. So that’ll be a challenge for us.
You mentioned it, but you can get super overcomplicated with simple things like flavor profiles. How did you figure out what your flavor profiles would be? Was it just things that you guys liked to drink?
BG: We’d all kind of had our own coffee that we liked before we started. Our mentality was that we wanted to try and make something that tasted better than those coffees. If we did that, we knew we were on the right track. We got there pretty quick to where we personally liked our coffee better than the coffee that we were used to drinking. That was a big factor for us and a big stepping stone to saying we’re ready to sell now.
WM: We can get fixated on trying to come up with all these different varieties, flavors and signature blends. We really just said, let’s grow single-origin diverse, like Costa Rican, Colombia and really sell that idea. We’re learning a lot and coming up with our own signature lines. That way, we’re not like waiting a year to come up with these plans. Then we’re rolling out with the signature blends as we develop.
BG: We’re letting the customer decide if it is a good coffee or not too. We started with five origins and we would get feedback from the customer. While we were selling the coffee, we would get feedback and sort of know what different origins people like better. That way, maybe we can add that origin to a blend we’re working on. It’s just a lot of feedback from a customer.
This is a relatively new venture for you guys in terms of business. I mean, what are some of those challenges beyond just the roasting process?
LM: I would say the biggest thing is trying to divvy up what each of us is capable of, and what our strengths are. Like Beau said, as far as that Wyatt, he’s good at the marketing and sales side of it and customer relations. Beau and I have our own strengths too, but it’s playing to those while making sure we cover our bases too.
BG: I come from a business background. I knew a little bit about starting a business and running it. Of course, it’s a totally different business. There’s a lot of different things that go on with it, but it translates a little bit to the previous businesses. Landon, he’s been farming and so he’s seen how a business runs right and operates. Right. We just tried to translate that to coffee.
How have you gone about balancing farming, running other businesses and running this business?
LM: I also do crop adjusting, but for me it’s all about the season. It works out really well with farming and crop adjusting. It’s just something where it’s busier in the summer, whereas our farm is not so busy in the summer. We’re busier in spring in the fall and then those two paired with coffee roasting, it’s been chaos to start. It’s been long hours for sure, but it’s been flexible. It’s not like your typical eight to five because it’s more seasonal.
BG: I have a lawn care business and I also own apartments and rental housing. Like Landon, I’ve got some free time in certain parts of the year. That works well, but then again, when the busy season gets going for one of us, that’s when we’ll probably have the other pick up the slack.
LM: At some points, we’re both not very busy. The winters are really prime time to try to lift the company up for us. In the summer he’ll get busy and my workload probably will increase with the company. Like with any start-up, we all need to step up when called upon too.
WM: I work at Sunbutter full-time so I’m doing that from eight to five. We’re all doing these jobs, but we all knew it was going to happen with a doing a start-up like that.
BG: Anything I’ve started in the past, it takes a lot of groundwork to get it going. We all knew that we were gonna have to put in another 30 to 40 hours a week on top of the regular hours. None of us cut back at our original job, right? We just added on the weekend and odd hours of the day, right? I mean, roasting aside.
One good example is every day, I bet we spend an average of one hour on the phone with each other. We’re not always in the same seat together and so we’ll have a conference call or whatever.
WM: For the marketing side, I’m used to working with external partners, agencies. With this company, you have to do a lot of that stuff yourself like video editing and coming up with content. We’re doing it all. Hopefully, the plan is to hire some people and this spring we’d be looking to hire some part-time help.
Building up that social media platform is such an underrated part of starting a business. What have been some of the challenges in building a social media following to get people to your website?
LM: The number one thing for us has been working in our favor is that we’re all from the same small town. That really created a nice foundation for a company because we had a lot of support from those in Milnor. It’s built up a good, local following.
BG: Word of mouth is pretty, pretty good, too. Content is hard to come up with sometimes though.
WM: I mean, we have fun with our content too. We may have a new variety coming out or it’s a pumpkin spice season, right? These guys are good actors for stuff like that. I’ll have a script, but it is time-consuming to do all that stuff. It’s so crucial too.
Even big companies have a hard time doing that. Has a multimedia background been beneficial for you guys? Has it helped you jump into that deeper marketing water faster?
WM: I think definitely has because I love doing that stuff. A lot of the stuff I’ve learned at Sunbutter has translated quite nicely and vice versa. I’ve been able to bring things on there.
BG: It helps we’ve all been around film a little bit. I mean, these guys were making videos when they were in high school.
LM: Wyatt’s done a lot of video work as a hobby and editing and filming both. That’s probably been just as important. I feel as though marketing these videos has helped and people love the videos.
One thing that I hear from people from small-town North Dakota is that you must have this ‘grind it out’ mentality. You’re just conditioned a little bit differently. Do you guys share that sentiment?
BG: We don’t let ourselves fail. We’ll just put in more hours.
LM: I think the nice part for us is that it’s only three of us to start. We each know each other very well and we can hold each other accountable. It’s been nice that way to kind of know what each person’s role is and our expectations all around.
BG: We can handle adversity pretty well. We all come from a sports background too. I think that’s helped a little bit, too. I mean, we’re used to working hard, and stuff like that. We’ve learned how to work hard from our family. It just translates to what we’re doing now.
How do you guys want to set yourself apart from other coffee companies?
LM: We want our coffee to taste good. We want to represent the Midwest. As a whole, that is how we want to stand out in many ways.
BG: We want to be active throughout this whole process. For example, we don’t want to just hire somebody to do the video or just hire an actor. We want to be the face of it.
Are you surprised by the correlations and the parallels to coffee and agriculture? You buy coffee beans just like someone would buy crop? Were you surprised at how close those two are related?
LM: I would say I was surprised, but I don’t know why. They are both commodities, but it is surprising because you’ve got all sorts of people consuming this commodity of coffee every single day, which is just like any agricultural commodity.
What are some tangible goals that you guys have set for yourself?
BG: One big goal is that we’re going to build a facility. We’re getting this new roaster too that’s going to speed up our production probably 10 times. That’ll be the next step. After that, towards the spring, we want to build a facility and we want our first facility to be in Milnor, our hometown, to start roasting. We’ve got some plans in the works for a facility.
WM: Then we actually have new packaging that we’re working on getting here in the next month or two. We want to focus on the Midwest and we want our packaging to have those characteristics of the Midwest.
Is it a goal to find yourself in more local stores to push more distribution in the future?
WM: We do want to keep the e-commerce top of mind. We did get into SCHEELS over the holidays and we hope to continue going in there. We would like to be in at least one store in every small town. We’ve been working with all the mom and pop shops around.
Are there any specific roasts specific or flavor profiles that you want to see yourself roast in the future?
LM: I think we all saw the company as we should be plain Jane and just try to stick to black coffee. I still feel like that’ll be the majority of the company. Over the course of rolling out some of these roast profiles, we’ve messed around with different flavoring. That’s become actually pretty popular.
BG: We’re honestly open to every aspect of coffee roasting. We’re not dead set on doing one thing. We want to expand and we’ve rolled out a few seasonal blends, and we want to keep doing that.
WM: We’re gonna not go away from single origins. We’re going to sell them. We’re going to start introducing our signature blends and there’s going to be a wider spectrum.
Is there anything else our readers should know?
BG: I mean, all in all, we just want to represent hard-working North Dakotans to be honest. We want to do it with a product that we all love.
LM: I would say two things we strive for in roasting coffee. How you roast is obviously important. I think the quality of the bean we’re getting is equally as important. Also, our freshness, we’re grinding it right after we roasted it and we’re shipping that the same day. We take pride in having some of the freshest coffee around.