School of Hospitality Alumnus, Shaun Liew on Coffee and Entrepreneurship

Carine Hew who is part of the Alumni Events & Communications in Student LIFE, conducted this live interview session. Shaun Liew was a graduate in Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management (Specialising in Hospitality).

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Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Shaun was a lecturer. It was during this time where he was exposed to the “World of Coffee”, having met various coffee experts from the international coffee arena. He also gained significant interest as he attained more knowledge and hands-on experience with specialty coffee. With that, Shaun soon realised that coffee is his passion, which has driven him to leave a teaching career and focus on becoming a barista. As Shaun frequented many cafes, he met his soon-to-be business partner Jason Loo where subsequently, the idea of opening Yellow Brick Road was birthed.

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As Shaun recollects his memories, running a café and at the same time up-skilling as a barista pose as a challenge. Nonetheless, he is very thankful for his business partner who has coached him on coffee technical and sensory skills. He further added that these two skills are interconnected, and possessing good technical skills would eventually lead to better sensory skills. Sensory skills are skewed towards finding the “perfect balance” between taste, flavour and tactile. There was a lot of practice and tasting required. Furthermore as a bar manager, one should also learn up other beverage-making skills.

When asked about tips on how to start a coffee entrepreneurship, Shaun very frankly mentioned that one should always “capitalise on the opportunities”. It is also very important to remember the three “rights” – partner with the right people, possess the right amount of funds and start at the right timing. The products of the business should also be unique in comparison to what is already in the market. Shaun also added that one question which should be asked is, “Is this a trend product?”. As we may know, trend products may bring in a tremendous amount of revenue but this mountaintop success may soon end when the trend ends. Therefore, a business should also be sustainable and caters to the customers’ needs and wants, which would build loyalty.

Shaun also highlighted how innovation is important for the sustenance and continuance of a business. In general during the MCO period, small and medium Food and Beverage companies may be struggling, and are dependent on sales generated from delivery and takeaways. Given that, business are compelled to innovate and extend their product line to meet the needs of the current circumstances. With innovative ideas, business would then be able to sustain itself.

A piece of advice from Shaun to all aspiring entrepreneurs is to remain humble and not to rush into an entrepreneurial career path. Shaun also emphasised that entrepreneurship is a career built on industry knowledge, not merely passion. It is also wise to gain basic experience by working with an employer to understand how a business runs.

The live stream session ended with a Q&A session with the audiences. Heartfelt thanks is extended to Carine Hew (Student LIFE) and Shaun Liew (School of Hospitality alumnus) for an insightful session on coffee and possible pathways as an entrepreneur. Surely it was beneficial for all.