Former Australian cricketer Ed Cowan talks about his life after a major sporting career, as well as his new business venture – biodegradable coffee pods.
Introduction: Life after cricket
Ross Greenwood: Now, I’ll tell you what, it’s really interesting as we contemplate this transition we go through our working career into our ultimate retirement. As I’ve told you many times, whether you’re in the arts or whether you’re playing sport, often your retirement comes much earlier than for most people. Most people have to change perhaps careers a couple of times during their lives but they don’t have to really have to think about retirement and then try and work out what they do next. The truth is it doesn’t matter whether you’re maybe a dancer, for example. Think about some of them they have to suddenly find a new career at age 35. They can– Sometimes for them not necessarily be the obvious career out there. For sporting people the same thing.
With me right now is one of Australia’s, well, great recent cricket players. Get this, he won last year’s Steve Waugh Medal, scored 959 runs and an incredible average of 73.76, played 18 Tests between 2011 and 2013, scored 1001 runs at 31.28. That’s Ed Cowan. I’ve got to tell you, it’s good to have him on the program today. Ed, many thanks for your time.
Interview with Ed Cowan, Former Australian Cricketer
Ed Cowan: Ross, what an absolute pleasure to be here.
Ross Greenwood: Look, the reason I wanted to have a chat with you is because you’ve had to contemplate your future and your career at a very early stage of your life but even when you’re playing cricket, I got the sense at least anyway that you’re already having a bit of an eye on what was beyond the sporting field. Do I get that sense right?
Ed Cowan: Well and true. You’ve absolutely nailed it. My transition out of cricket has probably started five years ago when– Even when I was in the Test team, there’s a sense of fallibility in a sense that this is going to end at some stage and you hear some horrific stories. Having seen many people transition well, I thought, if I’m going to get organized, it’s going to be a bit of a long-term project rather than retiring, finishing cricket, and then scratching my head for three years. I thought why don’t I get active now, get something off the ground so when I do start winding down the cricket, I’ve got something to move to straightaway.
Ross Greenwood: Here’s the interesting side of it, go back 30, 40 years, players then didn’t get paid and weren’t expected to be the full thoroughly committed professional they need to be today to earn the money they do as professional sports people. They might have had other jobs, they might have gone to university. In your case so, you were quite determined to try and match up the education you were receiving and, if you like, that future career with the sporting career. That must have been a really tough juggle.
Ed Cowan: Absolutely and it was something that was probably ingrained in me by my dad. He said, “Cricket can finish at any point mate. You need to get organized. He made me go to uni. While I wanted to focus on cricket, he was passionate about me going to uni and getting a commerce degree. I went and did that and juggled study with cricket and then I’ve been doing my Master’s for the last eight years at Macquarie Uni in Finance and that’s taken its toll as well. The big picture has been, “Let’s enjoy the ride of cricket. It is a passion. It is your job but at the end of the day, it’s going to finish.” When you’re so passionate about something, you throw all your energy into it. If at the end, you’re only left with a cricket career, you’ve really missed an opportunity.
Ross Greenwood: The other side of it is that cricket, let’s be honest, business is about contacts. You make some astonishing contacts playing professional sport at that type of level. As you’re doing your Finance Master’s, all that type of thing, the ideas are starting to blossom and then you’re starting to work out ways that you might be able to create a business post-cricket. I mean that must have been even part of the enjoyment of the game, just trying to figure out how your ideas could come to fruition.
Ed Cowan: Absolutely. Also, having the opportunity, I guess more so than other people in their 20s, to have a little bit of capital behind them to do that because cricket, let’s be honest with it, at stages in the Test team, you’re earning money that can be a bit ridiculous at times. To start a business, it sort of made sense to, as you say, use the networking. Everyone wants a piece of the cricketers. Everyone wants a piece of the sportsman. They want to know you so in return you write down their name, you remember their name and you know that in two or three years time, you will be knocking on their door.
Ross Greenwood: The beautiful thing is being a former Test cricket player and also with that profile, 9 times out of 10, the door will open and at least you’ll get heard. Which can be very tough for a lot of business people, trying to get in there and trying to get their foot in the door.
Ed Cowan: You couldn’t have said it any better. It’s amazing how many times people will actually answer the phone and then from there, to be fair, things are done on merit but to have your, as you say, to get your foot in the door is such a huge leg-up and then you have to sell yourself and sell your product accordingly.
Ross Greenwood: All right. After those various nights as an opening batsman that you had-
Ed Cowan: [laughs] More than you could ever imagine.
Ross Greenwood: Yes, that’s right. You wake up and that’s it.
Ed Cowan: The stress.
Ross Greenwood: The first thing in the morning, I’m presuming as you walk in, that you’re looking around and go, “Where is the coffee?” Is that pretty much the way in which it worked?
Ed Cowan: Absolutely. I was– Part of that–
Ross Greenwood: How many coffees does an opening batsman drink a day?
Ed Cowan: It depends how stressed he is.
Ed Cowan: I think part of the reason why I start it with– I always loved coffee but you end up in some really odd places in the Test team whether it’s India or Bangladesh or the West Indies where your morning– I’m a very retained space person. You have to be too, I think, to be an opening batsman to some degree. My routine always involved a coffee and when you’re in these parts of the world, there’s no other coffee to be found or one that you really enjoy so I started taking my Nespresso machine on cricket tours and that became part of the ritual. Then I started scratching my head saying, “I’m creating such an environmental impact here by just throwing these in the bin. Surely, there’s a better way of doing it.” From that, Tripod Coffee was born.
Ross Greenwood: Okay. This is the business idea that you had but you’ve also done that with your former Tasmanian teammate Steve Cazzulino. I mean that’s an interesting thing, the two of you sitting there and workshopping because the other part about cricket as a sport is you’ve actually got plenty of time to sit down and don’t you?
Ed Cowan: You do. You have plenty and particularly we’re both opening batsmen so there are plenty of times to scratch our heads having got our big front pads in the way, there’s no doubt about that and do a crossword and other few thing out. Having opened the batting with Steve, it was almost a natural progression to go in partnership in business. There’s so much trust on the sports field of your partner and the feedback you give them and they take it on board. Batting, as you know, is about partnerships and it was just such a natural transgression to move it to the business world and it’s worked seamlessly.
Ross Greenwood: Okay. Let’s just explain Tripod Coffee to people because the capsules you have made will fit into a Nespresso machine but the beauty of those capsules is as distinct from most people who just chuck them into the bin, they will biodegrade. They will disappear to nothing which has been one of the criticisms of Nespresso of those pods in the past.
Ed Cowan: That’s right. People smarter than me have done their calculations and it’s about an Olympic swimming pool of coffee capsules going to landfill a week and that starts adding up pretty quickly. If there’s a better solution and you’re providing an option that is a cheaper solution, it’s more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and the quality is the same we feel it’s a pretty easy choice to make, as you say. We started out with a recyclable capsule but we found that people tend not to– they like the option of buying recyclable capsules, they don’t really recycle so we thought we’d take it out of the consumer’s hands. How can we do this so that whatever happens, this is a green solution and, as you say, we’ve come across a capsule that’s not only biodegradable but is compostable as well so you can stick that in your green garden bin and it will go off to a composting facility and go down to nothing in 90 days.
Ross Greenwood: What’s the key to it going down to nothing in 90 days then? What did you have to come up with the solution?
Ed Cowan: Yes. It’s not our technology but the capsule itself is made of a biopolymer and it’s got a paper lid. Basically, the heat in the composting facility, once the capsule’s been used in part, the initial heat’s been passed through as hot water, the capsule starts to degrade and then the added heat from the composting facility will—
Ross Greenwood: From the green material or from the landfill whatever it might be will break it down?
Ed Cowan: That’s right.
Ross Greenwood: How is the business going?
Ed Cowan: The business has been a great success, I guess. I mean most businesses are scratching their head after two years thinking how to make some money. Hopefully, we’ll make some money this year. We’ve had some great support from QT Hotels all around the country where we supply and Sapphire and Pumphouse Point to iconic Tasmanian hotels that we supply as well. Retail, as you know, has been a tough out game but Harris Farm, you can find our products. The thing with the business is we’ve learned so much and the business evolves on a weekly basis so these new capsules have only come out in the last week. It is Australia’s first certified compostable capsule so we’re really excited about this as a development. We feel this is where the market should go. It’s interesting to know that a lot of competitors are only driven by price and to do that, they need a product that is at the other end of the spectrum, is aluminum. We’re saying, “We think the market should move to a green solution and to match that we’ll try and work on price as well.” Our margins are pretty tight but we feel like we’re doing the right thing.
Ross Greenwood: The bottom line, the coffee, what’s it like?
Ed Cowan: The coffee’s great.
Ross Greenwood: Coffee’s good?
Ed Cowan: Yes. It’s roasted in Sydney by a award-winning roaster. We’ve got six different varieties. If it’s good enough to sit in a Sapphire Hotel room, which is an iconic Australian hotel, it’s won multiple awards, it’s good enough to drink at home.
Ross Greenwood: Can I just tell you, what you’ve just discovered is what happens inside a cricket dressing room both the Australian and all surface state teams. That is the knowledge, the ideas, they all start to bubble along and in the end, you get a compostable coffee pod. That’s what it’s about. Ed Cowan, I got to tell you, not only a great state cricketer but also an Australian Test cricketer, an opening batsman and great to have you on the program today.
Ed Cowan: Ross, thank’s for having me.
Ross Greenwood: Yes and those pods, you can pick them up tripodcoffee.com.au.