Introducing Ian, Founder of Australian Warfighters Coffee and winner of Community Impact and Commonwealth Bank Business of the Year Awards
Ian Rawson was searching for purpose after medically discharging from the defence force when the idea of starting his own coffee business struck.
A RAAF veteran of almost 20 years, the 48-year-old said he was unable to return to the workforce after leaving the military.
“For the first three years, I sat at home twiddling my thumbs, not knowing what to do,” he said.
“I love coffee. I love the idea of it. I love all the science behind it. I thought well, why not do a veteran coffee in Australia, just like they do around the world?”
Ian formed Australian Warfighter Coffee as a social enterprise seven years ago, with him and his wife, Pauline, funding the startup and donating 100 per cent of the profits.
The idea for Warfighter Coffee came easily enough but turning it into a reality took time and determination.
“I cold called about seven or eight roasteries pitching my idea to them and was rejected by every one of them,” Ian said.
“I got a bit disheartened, and then found a roastery on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and spoke to the owner. He loved the idea.”
“We started with six bags of coffee. From those first six bags sold, the profit went to buy the next 12 bags and just built from there.”
Once he had the coffee, Ian then had to get his product out there.
He went back to cold calling and began collaborating and working alongside veteran groups and other organisations.
“Unfortunately, I found that some of the groups I did work with were more about themselves and profit driven than they were about the product and the idea,” he said.
“It's taken a while to find the right people to work with.”
Today Warfighter Coffee is producing 400-500kg of coffee a week, shipping all around Australia and even internationally, with profits going back to charity.
The company primarily supports Young Veterans, Aussie Frontline and Due South.
“I've never earned a wage or taken any money whatsoever,” Ian said.
“I'm medically discharged on a pension. It's just me doing what I want to do, providing the coffee, meeting a lot of people and keeping to my word.”
Ian said their customer base has continued to grow each year.
“We have about 5000 active customers online at the moment,” he said.
“Military units base-wise, I basically supply the whole east coast of Australia, and commercially, we're still growing.
“And we have Valhalla Tactical’s three shops in Darwin, Townsville, and Enoggera stocking our coffee.
“I've had my coffee deployed on nearly every deployment so far and I can boast that we're the only coffee that's had a blend of coffee fly into an operational war zone on a mission with an aircrew, signed by the crew.”
Warfighter Coffee has also taken home bronze from the two coffee competitions it entered.
“I've had so many five-star reviews saying this is the best decaf, this the best instant I've ever tasted,” Ian said.
“My return buyer number is very high, which means that obviously my product must be good because they're coming back.”
And what’s Ian’s favourite blend?
“I like the Combat Unicorn,” he said.
“It's a specially blend, it's got a nice finish to it, and everyone likes the logo.”
Ian said in the beginning, being taken seriously was a huge struggle especially in an industry full of commercial coffee businesses that have been operating for years.
But more recently, his struggles centred around getting support from big organisation in the veteran sphere.
Ian said by using Australian Warfighter Coffee as their supplier, these organisations could ensure more money was put back into helping veterans and frontline workers.
But Ian isn’t just determined to crack these organisations.
He’s got bigger plans.
“I want to be the first veteran-owned coffee in a major supermarket,” he said.
“There's not one veteran-owned product in Coles or Woolies that I've seen. They’ve got celebrities, chefs and Instagramers, but not one veteran-owned product.”
“I'm trying to get in front of the right people to push that and say look, my coffee in here would allow me to provide so much money back to (the veteran and first responder community).”
“I'd love to try and build a place to get veterans off the street - where those who are struggling have somewhere to go while they're trying to get back on their feet.
“I'm trying to do that through coffee.”
“It's a simple premise - drink my coffee, let me raise some money, let me donate it.
Ian said he was shocked to be named a finalist in the Community Impact Award at the 2023 Prince’s Trust Australia Beyond Service Awards.
“I’m just humbled to be recognised in such a large group of people,” he said.
This story was written by Courtney Snowden, freelance copywriter and current serving ADF spouse, based in Queensland.
An initiative of the Prince’s Trust Australia Enterprise programme, the Beyond Service Awards are designed to celebrate the entrepreneurial achievements of Australia’s veteran and family business community.
The2023 Beyond Service Awards are proudly sponsored by Gold Sponsor Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and Silver Sponsor Saab Australia.
For further information, contact Prince’s Trust Australia via email at: [email protected].
Ian is the Founder and CEO of Australian Warfighters Coffee, a veteran-owned and operated line of coffee dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues.
Ian is committed to using coffee for a cause, not for profit and is driven to create meaningful impact while providing exceptional coffee. The business sources coffee beans ethically and supports sustainable practices, including compostable packaging, and fair trade. Proceeds are donated to veteran and first responder charity groups working in mental health.
With first-hand experience navigating his own challenges with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ian aims to provide a space for people to connect, share experiences, and seek support for their mental health through his “Coffee for Mental Health Conversations” platform. Ian actively seeks out partnerships to help create positive change, including Variety, Young Veterans, and the Australian War Memorial. Ian also supports veterans to re-engage in employment through barista training.
Ian served 19-years with the Royal Australian Airforce and is based in Bellemere, Queensland.