Joanie Wynn and her husband, Steve, have been partners in business – and in life – for over 30 years. When Covid lockdowns hit in the spring of 2020, they struggled to figure out a way to continue operating their production company. Instead of trying to make that work, the duo decided it was time for a serious change. The result? Kona Earth, their single-estate coffee farm in Hawaii where they harvest and batch-roast beans on-site before shipping them out nationwide. Wynn and her family are relishing their new lifestyle – one with fewer screens and more time outside in nature.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
Tell us more about why you started your business.
Kona Earth represents a career shift for me and my husband. We ran a production company for 30 years, and had a great run with it, but the business model was no longer viable for us. As a mom, I was also seeking a better work/life balance, with more flexibility and less time tied to a computer. Today I still run the business and administrative aspects of our coffee company, but I make a point of getting out in the fields and enjoying our beautiful farm.
We are also excited to be able to give back with our Care In Every Cup program, which donates to local nonprofits. This is a fresh chapter for our family, and though we are working very hard, we are enjoying every moment of it.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
Our single-estate, 100% Kona coffee is nurtured from crop to cup on our family farm, located on the big island of Hawaii. We micro-batch roast on-site and ship farm-direct to maximize freshness.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
Launching our e-commerce site this past Black Friday was a huge success! We kicked off our first holiday season with a bang, and are excited to see the continued growth.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Our top challenge is marketing. As a start-up, we have limited resources for promotion and advertising, so we are currently focused on organic marketing outreach through various social media channels.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Our previous production business was no longer viable for us. We were starting to feel “aged out,” and budgets had shrunk to the point that keeping the business going no longer made sense. At ages 57 and 61, we were looking for a new venture and adventure. We found both in Kona Earth.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to others with more experience in your field. There is tremendous benefit in networking and learning from others. It’s OK to say, “I don’t have the answer,” and reach out to those who might. I’ve found the entrepreneurial community to be very supportive, overall.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
Sometimes you need to step away for a few hours, or even a day or two. When you start to feel overly negative or self-doubting, that’s a sign of burnout and a signal that it’s the time to do something you love as a way to refresh and recharge.
What is your go to song to get motivated on tough days?
“Move On” from Steven Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.”
Who is your most important role model?
My mom was my most important role model. As a product of the 1930’s and 40’s, she gave up her law career to be a wife and mother. Decades later, once her children had grown, she studied for and passed the bar exam. It took tremendous grit and dedication for her to do this and it was an enormous triumph when she passed the exam. Sadly, not long after that, my father was diagnosed with cancer, so she never had the opportunity to go back to work.
My mom was smart, compassionate, hard-working, and dedicated. She was a wonderful partner to my father (also a lawyer) and a great mom. I aspire to represent these qualities too and her strength is always with me. She died five years ago and I miss her terribly. But I am confident she would be so proud of what I am doing now, the risks I’ve taken to pursue this new venture, and the consistent effort I am putting in to make it a success. ◼