Ever had a class assignment turn into more than a final mark? You might want to dig up the old ideas that you had when you were young and hungry.
Max Rivest and Arnaud Petitvallet took an idea that came to them when they participated in the global business plan competition in January 2013. A single idea took them to work in Nicaragua and to return to Vancouver as business owners.
Wize Monkey is their passion project, developing a way for coffee farmers to keep a more stable income by harvesting the leaves for drinking. A cultural drink in Ethiopia for 200 years, Max says that their product “doesn’t have a taste that you have to sweeten with sugar or milk.” Moreover, it kicks green tea’s behind when it comes to antioxidants.
Max told us about their vision and how a pitbull helped lead him to his destiny.
You must have done pretty well on your business school project.
I found an article about a study that antioxidants in coffee leaf tea were higher than in green tea or coffee. We started doing more research and we realized that the coffee industry is so volatile. It’s dependent on coffee exports. They live and die by it. It sounds really bad, but it’s true. This product not only tastes good, but can also help Latin America so much. After a few months of doing the project, Arnaud and I were convinced that it was going to work.
How did you meet the coffee farmer you now call your friend?
It’s the epitome of the butterfly effect. We had chosen a certain hotel to stay at because they were the only ones to pick up the phone. We got invited by a couple to go to a waterfall because we spoke Spanish. At the waterfall, a pitbull bit me. The owner of the pitbull had a cousin who we met a week later. He asked us what we were doing and we told him we were looking for a small to midsize coffee farm. He said, “I know this guy Armando. You have to come meet him.” The rest is history. Armando is the expert of experts.
We’d call that more the pitbull effect than the butterfly effect.
We had already met with two dozen coffee farmers. We had gone through the fair trade co-ops. It was difficult to find a reliable source that was willing to spend time on this project and find efficient solutions to make it happen. Most farmers were reticent to the change suggested by two kids from France and Canada. Armando is the best guy we could have found and it happened so randomly – from a dog bite!
Will you live?
I’m fine. He chomped on my knuckle. I have a scar on my hand, which is a nice reminder.
That’s a way to look on the bright side. How are you able to supply fair trade conditions to the workers on the farm?
We pay double the industry average. The working conditions are pretty good. Armando runs the farm and it is super clean and well equipped. It’s still manual labour, though! Coffee leaves are a less hectic process than beans.
Were the stakes high by the time you drank your first cup?
I was so nervous. If it had tasted really bad, we were screwed! Luckily, it was amazing, naturally sweet with no aftertaste. Everything flew from that point. We came back to Vancouver. We got all our paperwork approved.
We have to ask: why Wize Monkey?
We did a survey with 20 different names. At the last minute, I thought of Wize Monkey. The motivation was because wisdom is sought after, and monkeys are clever animals. There are also a lot of monkeys in Nicaragua so it tied in nicely. Wize Monkey ended up having the highest results in our survey! We designed everything around that.
Wize Monkey’s slogan asks, “Why do some good when you can do some awesome?” To help them on their awesome way, consider tossing a few bucks towards their Kickstarter campaign.
Soon we can have a healthier and less caffeinated coffee alternative…with good intentions to boot.