Female Founder Feature – Dani Cone

Dani Cone is the Founder & CEO of Cone & Steiner and Fuel Coffee. Recently featured in Geekwire and Underwire, she loves her work – she’s scrappy and creative, and uses both of those traits to move her business forward into new and innovative areas (like online ordering and delivery!), but believes that nothing can take the place of that in-person customer interaction experience.

Tell us about your company. What inspired you to start it?

I have three great loves: great coffee, great food, and community. My businesses are built on basic things done well, and a mission to bring people together over good food and drink. I grew up in a family of small business owners, which allowed me to see this as a viable option, something even “regular” folks like us can do! I got to see that if there is something you love doing, and you’re willing to work hard, and then work even harder, then this IS something you can do. I fell in love with being a barista early on, and translated that love of coffee and these places for coming together to Fuel Coffee and Cone & Steiner. Cone & Steiner is based on my Great Grandfather Sam Cone’s store of the same name (in Seattle over 100 years ago, Steiner was his brother-in-law). As an immigrant who came here alone, not even speaking English, he built community through his businesses.

Who are your cofounders and what makes you a great team?

Though I didn’t have cofounders at Fuel, and don’t have them at C&S, I am very fortunate to work with an outstanding Leadership and Management Team at both companies. Additionally, I am deeply grateful for so so SO many people along the way and each day still that have been gracious and generous with their help and support. Family, friends, industry experts, investors, advisors, and groups and networks like FFA that make an effort each day to connect people and to help, share resources, and create community.

How is your company making a difference?

Fuel and C&S, although basic in their offerings (believe it or not you can actually get coffee and/or provisions elsewhere in Seattle!) are committed each day to our mission to bring people together over good food and drink, to build community “on all sides of the counter”: among our customers and neighborhoods, among our team, and on the back end among our vendors and makers as well. Parallel to that, we aim each day to create opportunity for each other and our communities, and believe that being an active member of our neighborhood, city, and the business landscape is not only our responsibility, but truly a privilege.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

Omg…only 1000 characters for this??? :). So many:  financial, maintaining and building through a recession, enormously noisy and competitive fields, building a company culture that is sustainable and valuable even while being small and shorter on resources than the biggest of the big-guys in our fields, aggressive growth w/o enough capital, capital raises, getting loans, putting a refrigerator door on backwards…..

What is your biggest win?

We’re here, we’re open, we’re growing, and every single day there are people that come in and enjoy our stores, and a team that shows up ready to make it happen, and vendors big and small that we’ve gotten to give shelf space to. That’s a win that I am grateful for each day….now we just need to throw gas on the fire!

Who is your role model?

I get to be involved with so many groups and organizations that have connected me with outstanding Founders of all sorts of companies, all sizes, all industries….and anyone who shows up each day to do this, or who has done this before me and who is coming up after me, and the orgs that connect us and see us and create visibility and voice to all sorts of Founders, and my family of business owners who set the stage….these are my role models, and so many more!  There’s so much to learn, and I seriously admire anyone who has walked this crazy f*%ng road of starting a company!

What do you wish you had known before starting your company?

Aggressive debt-funded growth that spans a recession can have serious lasting impact on future growth and earnings, and partnerships can indeed be as hard as everyone says…

What has been your experience with FFA?

I have had the pleasure of connecting with Leslie and attending a few great events, and even connected with investors through FFA, and found great resources and camaraderie.

Anything else you want people to know?

C&S just went live with our brand new delivery + online ordering platform, a whole new branch of the business, and it’s exciting! And a beast. Check it out here: shop.coneandsteiner.com

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