Think HBR

Chelsea D’aoust


A typical day for entrepreneur Chelsea D’Aoust, begins with being woken up by either seven month old Mabel or two and a half year old Lulu. This is closely followed by a strong cup of home-brewed filtered coffee. Usually two. Chelsea and partner Ross Ciaverella own three café’s and an award winning carbon neutral coffee roasting business Sprocket Roasters. “We began as a start-up in 2009, roasting coffee predominantly for use within our café” says Chelsea. “In 2010 we were Highly Commended at The Green Globe Awards, as the Most Sustainable Small Business in NSW, and we were winning medals at the industry coffee shows. The positive affirmation from industry bodies and the wider community seemed to solidify what we were doing so we’ve continued to steadily grow the roasting business since then.”

Chelsea grew up in Ontario, Canada, and while taking one last holiday before beginning work as a solicitor, she met Ross, and her career path took an unexpected turn. By 2008 Chelsea had moved to Australia, and while she was studying the equivalencies necessary to begin law practicing here, Ross had begun roasting coffee on the side with fellow chemical engineers John Winter and Nick Ciavarella using a custom made fluid bed. Together they would spend their weekends in Glenn Innes roasting coffee to supply friends and some small businesses.
The weekend trips started to take their toll and they moved the patented roaster closer to home, Newcastle’s East End. ”The East End just felt like the best fit for us at that time. Slightly downtrodden, but with heaps of unbridled potential” says Chelsea. The early days were hard work, 12 hour days, 7 days a week were standard. While also holding down day jobs they spent every spare moment renovating the space. In early 2009 with just Ross, his brother Nick, and Chelsea working as baristas, they opened their first café, Sprocket. “Needless to say, it was an interesting start, grape farmers turned MBA/chemical engineers and a Canadian trained solicitor make for unlikely bedfellows as first-time baristas and coffee roasters, but we hung in there…day jobs were put on hold temporarily and here we are five years later...”
These days Chelsea is still hard at work, but the focus has shifted and it now includes the delicate balancing act of being Mum to two children under three. “Since traditional maternity leave is often not an option when you’re self-employed, the business has very quickly become a family affair. The kids are popping into work with me every day (often several times); I love the fact that I’m in a position to spend time with them even if it is during working hours.”
It’s this flexibility and spontaneity of owning a business that Chelsea finds most appealing. ”Whilst the commitment of operating any small business is obviously huge, I love the fact that I am not locked into a set life plan. I don’t know where exactly we will be in five or ten years as there are so many directions in which we may take the business. Whilst most people may find this lack of security a bit daunting, the want-to-be-Bedouin in me takes comfort in this fact. I’m in this for the journey, not some greater end result.”