This young entrepreneur was up against it all when he set up his pet friendly tea and coffee house.
What’s your story?
From noob to champion, through hard work and a desire to learn. 6 years ago I started a pet friendly cafe without any skills or experience in the area. I am a vegetarian but managed to cook and serve meat dishes, including food I have never tasted before in my life. I got a proper chef before long, so that I could focus on business and skill development. I learnt about coffee in Barcelona, Spain and I became a coffee diploma holder and authorised trainer under the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe. I learnt about tea in Geelong, Australia, and am currently doing a tea master under training. In 2016, we were awarded Best Cafe by Weekender after online voting and food tasting. In March 2017, I won double national champion in the Tea Masters Cup Singapore, as well as a silver medal for the Australian International Coffee Awards in 2017 using coffee I roasted. I will be representing Singapore to take part in the World Tea Masters Cup later this year.
What excites you most about your industry?
I am excited at being able to influence customer’s taste preferences. Through customer education, we have managed to convince customers that good coffee need not be sweetened artificially. We did the same for tea, customers are encouraged to switch from artificially scented, broken, low grade teas to high quality whole leaf tea with a natural fruity or nutty aroma. Through careful sourcing, we are able to offer high quality products at democratic prices, so that everyone can afford it.
What’s your connection to Asia?
We source the coffee beans directly from farmers in Indonesia and Vietnam, after talking to them and cupping coffees with them. Similarly, we source tea leaves directly from farmers in China, Indonesia and Vietnam. We are expanding our footprint in Asia as Asian coffee and tea are primarily our interest. In fact, we have leased a few hectares in Indonesia so that we can grow the coffees ourselves. I am currently working with a farmer to offer coffee courses overseas.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I am hoping to tap into the potential of second tier cities in China like Hangzhou. I am smitten with the good scenery, the history and tea mountains of Hangzhou, China. There is a market gap in specialty coffee and tea there, and the business demand there will be attractive.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Do not let other’s inadequacy become your inefficiency.
Who inspires you?
My formation commander when I was a regular in the army. His brain capacity and steadiness were indeed inspirational. He is now Chief Executive in a Singapore government agency.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The knowledge and skills I have are actually marketable beyond the Singapore shores. I have been busy with internal operations for the past few years to realise this fact, and now that operations are more stable and we are more credible in our industry, we will be stepping out into Asia.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have sped up the development cycle by going for coffee and tea courses earlier, because I believe F&B business is competency-driven, and good competency allows better control of the business.
How do you unwind?
I unwind by going to the gym and listening to western classical music while drinking Chinese tea.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I like the military-like discipline, Zen-like patience and punctilious attitude in Japanese culture. Yet it can be very unimaginably rowdy at the same time. I find this bipolar nature of Japanese culture manifest itself in the incredible energy of Tokyo, and that’s why I like it so much and have visited it over 10 times.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Leadership and Self Deception by The Arbinger Institute
Shameless plug for your business:
We are perhaps the only cafe in Singapore or in the region that is award winning in both coffee and tea, as well as food, let alone a pet friendly one. We even bake our own bread and roast coffees ourselves.
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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