Propeller Industries

This CPG Brand was Ready to Accelerate Growth and Secure Funding

Equator Coffees was born from a desire to produce great coffee with a great impact. Although high-quality coffee was much in demand when Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell founded the company 28 years ago, few coffee producers were talking about sustainability or social responsibility. Equator helped make coffee’s origins and supply chain — including details like pricing transparency and story-telling focused on their farmer partners — an integral part of its value.

About Equator Coffees

Now a Certified B Corp, Equator meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance, using its business success as a force for good.

Equator Coffees-1

Before Propeller

Shifting from Wholesale to Omnichannel Required Strategic Financial Guidance

Equator Coffees spent its first 10 years successfully bootstrapping the business with no reliance on outside financing. It was focused on selling wholesale to restaurants, cafes, and resorts. But the company had not yet capitalized on other sales channels, such as digital, grocery, or retail. They realized it was time bring in a strategic CFO.

At the time, Equator employed a tax accountant and bookkeeper and had a strong grasp on profits and processes. With Propeller, it realized it had an opportunity to “graduate from high school and move on to college.”

The best decision I have ever made in my 28 years of running a business was engaging with Propeller Industries. With Propeller behind us, there was no opportunity we could not participate in. When we went out to raise money for the first time, we would have made serious missteps without Propeller to assist us.

Helen Russell

Co-Founder & Executive Chair

Propeller Solutions

When Equator first partnered with Propeller Strategic CFO Jeff Gustafson in 2011, it was averaging $5M in annual revenue; now the business has grown to well over $20M. Equator has weathered stock market fluctuations, battled strong competition, and realized the challenge of new channels like retail storefronts. Throughout everything, Jeff has served as a partner, advisor, and confidante who understands startups, entrepreneurs, and their unique needs.

  • Developed product pricing models, annual operating budgets, and long-term forecasts
  • Evolved software stack from Peachtree to QuickBooks to NetSuite
  • Assisted in outside capital raise (made investor introductions, led deal negotiations, and managed due diligence and documentation):
    • First round in 2013 to help expand into retail
    • Second round in 2017 to build infrastructure for scale
    • Third round in 2020 from a strategic investor for product and channel expansion

Propeller offers the opportunity for businesses to access this intelligent group of people who have high integrity and depth of knowledge in this space. Otherwise, you’d be in business for 15-20 years before you knew you needed this team and could afford it given the value they’ll bring.

Helen Russell

Co-Founder & Executive Chair

Results with Propeller

Propeller Drove Profitability and Enabled Rapid Revenue Growth

• Built the business from wholesale-only to omnichannel

• Increased profitability targets from 3-5% EBITDA to 10-15% EBITDA

• Grew revenue fourfold by 2019, and despite the pandemic impact, grew 2022 revenue back above pre-COVID levels

• Created a professional board of directors with institutional and strategic investors

• Became a Certified B Corporation in 2011

• Named 2016 Small Business of the Year by the Small Business Administration, the first LGBT-certified business to earn this honor

• Currently operate nine retail cafes and work with over 400 wholesale partners including Chefs Thomas Keller, Dominque Crenn, and Tyler Florence

Are you a CPG or DTC brand that needs a more sophisticated financial model to support your growth? 

Let’s start a conversation today.