How Bob Marley’s Son Learned From Failure And Started A Multi-Million Dollar Coffee Company

Posted on Friday, August 22nd, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Marley Coffee is still a relatively small company, having churned out $6 million in revenue in 2013. But founder Rohan Marley, one of Bob Marley’s children, has big plans for his Jamaican-born coffee business.

In 1999, Rohan Marley was 27. He had played linebacker for the University of Miamibefore moving on to the Canadian Football League. Now he found himself in New York City, wanting to do more with his life–to make a name for himself as a Marley.

In a serendipitous twist, a friend contacted Marley about an opportunity to purchase a property in Jamaica. Though he’d only lived in Jamaica as a child before moving to the U.S. at age 12, Marley had recently received $200,000 in royalties from his father’s music. So he made a trip to Jamaica to look at the property and couldn’t believe what he found.

“The first thing I saw was all the fruits–apple, starfruit, pineapple–tons of fruit growing wildly, and I was seeing all the food going to waste,” he recalls in his thick Jamaican accent. “While I’m walking, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this land is really fertile.’ When I approached the river, I couldn’t believe my eyes that this property was in Jamaica. Here’s this beautiful piece of property for sale–I thought it was a conspiracy.”

On impulse, Marley forked over his $200,000 and bought the 52-acre property. As he was walking off the land, he noticed an entire community of people standing there, trying to figure out what he was up to. “The only thing I could think to say was, ‘What’s the community known for?’ They said coffee, and by the time they knew my name, I was saying, ‘Well alright, the community is known for coffee, so let’s get down to specifics,'” he says. “My next question: ‘Do you know anything about coffee? They said, ‘Yes, Mr. Marley, we’ve been farming all our lives.'”

It didn’t take long for him to decide that he wanted to start a coffee business–one that was emphatically organic. “I’m a Rasta man, and I can’t have a piece of land that isn’t something I want to eat from,” he explains.

It was a long haul from Marley’s initial coffee-growing idea to creating a functional business. Marley spent eight years applying for an export license, organic certification, and a coffee-growers license. The learning curve was steep.

“I gave my coffee to a roaster in Jamaica–I gave him 1,000 pounds–and he never returned the bag. He said it was all bad coffee,” Marley remembers. “I decided this wasn’t working for me. I told the farmers, ‘Take all the raw materials, sell it, do what you need to do to keep the farm going.'”

Between 2004 and 2006, Marley helped his sister start a clothing company, which eventually ran out of money and shut down. Marley once again needed to reevaluate his life. He packed two duffel bags and headed to Ethiopia.

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