Earthlings Coffee Workshop co-founder Raven Kwok talks about setting up a business based on passion, and what he learns along the way.
Kwok's love affair with coffee started after sampling great coffee brews in Australia.— Pic courtesy of Earthlings Coffee Workshop Facebook Page
Raven Kwok is a psychology graduate and an admirer of the late Steve Jobs who, at 20 and with only US$1,000 in his pocket, laid the foundation for Apple.
Raven also admires the beginnings of Airbnb, where the founders started off struggling to pay rent. They soon put up an ad to invite strangers for rent and breakfast. Today, Airbnb is worth US$25 billion.
“As a psychology graduate, this intrigues me. I understand from my years of study that the neighbour of practical mind is creative mind, and both can be used to strike a balance. We all have a bit of both in us,” said Kwok at TM SME BizFest 2017 held in Kuching recently.
“I asked myself what I want and what’s stopping me from doing what I love most. And when a friend said that I should open a café since I love coffee so much, I knew what I wanted to do,” added Kwok in earnest.
It wasn’t long before Kwok surmised that he should put the idea into practice and co-founded Earthlings Coffee Workshop.
As Kwok makes frequent trips to Kuching, he decided to make the city his home and his base for the business.
It took Kwok and his business partner a year in planning and RM300,000 in capital to set up the speciality coffee café at CityONE Megamall in Kuching.
Eathlings Coffee Workshop is where you can also learn more about coffee.— Pic courtesy of Earthlings Coffee Workshop Facebook Page
Kwok, a New Zealander, studied in Australia, where he first developed a taste for gourmet brews.
Impressed, he experimented with making his own brews and learned as much as he could about the various types of coffee roasts and beans.
His education includes knowing the source of the coffee beans for the café, the processing of the beans from farming to picking, and ultimately packing and roasting.
Earthlings also has a Coffee Roastery Academy to teach its staff and anyone else who’s interested in the types of coffee beans, handling the product, as well as the fine art of coffee-making.
There’s a surprisingly wide range of nuances to coffee tasting, just like wine. While taste is subjective, Kwok strives to ensure that each cup of joe is the best although it can be pricey and time-consuming.
The flavour of coffee is complex, just like wine.— Pic courtesy of Earthlings Coffee Workshop Facebook Page
Soon, Earthlings Coffee gets mentions and reviews on renowned travel website company TripAdvisor. And the turnout became surprisingly good.
Kwok also realizes that he needs to grasp other aspects of the business such as marketing and management.
“From watching videos, I learned about design (for the company’s corporate fonts and menu layouts among others). The Internet has made it easy to learn new skills. It is important to learn a little bit of something to help make your work easier.”
Moreover, Kwok stresses the importance of getting the right people who share the company’s vision.
“The problem with workforce is that nine out of 10 employees are less engaged with their work, affecting creativity. How do we engage them? Trust is the word. Eventually, you must allow them to shine so that their strength is fully utilized. Not all staff is reliable but if employers monitor and offer the necessary support, it’s a good start.”
Employees will conduct themselves well with the right support.— Pic courtesy of Earthlings Coffee Workshop Facebook Page
The advent of the Internet brings so many benefits. For one, it makes communication faster and more spontaneous. “I keep in touch with my staff via WhatsApp groups. As a manager, it gives me freedom as I don’t need to be physically present to deal with a crisis when it arises. But then, it is just a tool. It’s important for managers to embody values that will serve the business. Show constant gratitude and respect to your staff, and they will also follow suit.”
Kwok embraces social media as well but warns of its drawback. “There might be a disconnect if one becomes too social. The Internet is so vast. As a result, people are not seeing everything they need to see. Therefore, you need to filter the information.”
“What I’m getting at is focus on the audience first. Show that you’re genuine. Then the ‘likes’ will come.”