Words by JE Tan

20180531_074450James Koh, a multi talented entrepreneur, is as eager to talk about his failures as he is of his successes.

That is how he approaches the concept of being successful in business. “You must be able to move forward with failure, it teaches me where I went wrong,” said the Co-founder of Hometown Hainan Coffee.

In advocating failure as an element of success, James admits that “out of 3 or 4 coffee outlets, there will be one that won’t make money.”

With a little humility to show how he is not always successful James is able to get people to teach and guide him.

At 38, James’ business life is a never ending story. He has witnessed the twin towers fall on 9/11, co-founded Hometown Hainan Coffee (a local chain of coffee outlets), dabbled in blockchain cryptocurrency and have a foot in the filmmaking business.

He confesses that there isn’t a moment that he doesn’t think about business and his mind frames everything he sees into business opportunities.

After a short-lived career in Wall Street, New York, James came home and subsequently went into business with his family to start Hometown Hainan coffee 10 years ago.

Birth of Hometown Hainan coffee

“We had intended to buy an existing franchise but found that we couldn’t afford that. Our hometown was in Kuantan and we missed the taste of the hainan coffee there. So the family decided that we should start a business to bring back the taste of good coffee and food from home,” said James.

The siblings embarked on the business venture collecting recipes from relatives and working to perfect the taste of the original Hainan coffee. Finally after two years, the business rolled out to assert its presence in the coffee scene.

“Hainan coffee has a longer history (compared with other local coffee) and we wanted to bring this traditional coffee into a local setting,” James assures that the coffee taste is similar to that of 30-40 years ago.

Quality control, he insists, is a priority and across the 14 outlets, the coffee beans are ground just before the coffee is brewed in a special machine that maintains quality.

“Strict SOP will ensure repeat customers. And we have repeat customers all through the week,” he said. The location for the outlets are selected based on whether they can bring value to the community there.

While entrepreneurs are usually wary about doing business with family members, James said clearly defining roles for each member helps. His elder brother controls the central kitchen and his younger brother, the architect, is responsible for the new look of the outlets.

Working with family

In this family business, everyone gets a chance to make decision and they do not place importance on titles. His eldest brother would have the final decision and all would support him even though it is a mistake sometimes.

“My parents taught us never to bring business to the dining table. And whatever disagree we have, we should argue it out and move on,” said James.

Before going into the coffee business James was in the IT business and eventually got drawn into Blockchain investment until his recent position as consultant for cryptocurrency investors.

“I like to play. I’m an entrepreneur. Without these challenges I would get bored,” he declared. This explains his dabble into cryptocurrency as he believes 80 per cent of youngsters he has met are interested in it.

He said Hometown Coffee outlets are looking into using cryptocurrency as a payment gateway.

New ventures

After 10 years of working at the coffee business, James found new interest in a development joint venture and the movie making business.

With such diverse business ventures at hand it’s easy to fall prey to being Jack of all trades and master of none. However, this is how James manages them.

“I have strong partners. They have the passion and are qualified for the particular business. I will just fill in the missing pieces in the puzzle and make sure the company moves forward.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t do everything. You just can’t do everything by yourself,” said James adding that in the movie business there are also many entrepreneurs.

“What drives me to achieve success is the desire to take on challenges. I don’t wait for luck and I accept that failure is part of my life. “