Entrepreneur

These Entrepreneurs Launched A New Startup With Zero Capital To Help Café Lovers Find Their High

If you’re a café lover, there’s a high chance you’ve heard of KopiPass.

With their launch last year on National Kopi day, this Singapore startup garnered cupfuls of attention with their promise for free coffees, and not just of the kopi or teh varieties.

We’re talking proper artisanal drinks from popular cafés like The Assembly Ground, and each KopiPass holder could redeem a free drink from their 30 participating cafés.

KopiPass hoppers / Image Credit: Meet-up

Recently, KopiPass has resurfaced as a Kickstarter project, where they’ve raised almost 200% of their $8k asking goal since August 1.

And with KopiPass version 2, the team has also introduced a slew of new perks along with a new app.

Café partners have now swelled to 60 (yep, that’s 60 free drinks), food discounts, Google Maps integration for directions and a 12-month validity period.

An extra bonus is that free drinks are no longer limited to 3-5 pre-selected drinks, but anything under $6.

At $59 a pass, it’s a small price to pay for about $720 worth of barista quality drinks as more café partners come onboard KopiPass.

If their plan was to launch Singapore’s most successful caffeine trail, consider me addicted.

But here’s another interesting fact.

Did you know that this Singapore startup actually began with a whopping $0 investment?

Coffee Dreams

KopiPass was launched by 3 avid café hoppers – Jason Su, Jerry Ng and Bob Lee – with a singular goal of finding that perfect café, while balancing the high costs every hopper is familiar with.

It was during a meeting in one such café that the idea of a trail started brewing, Jason shares.

“The main question on our minds then was ‘how do we make it more accessible, affordable and yet fun to café hop at the same time?'”

By focusing on the principles of “Lean Start-Up”, the trio kept their team lean (but mean), while “forming strategic collaborations for offline café acquisition and online customer acquisition without spending a single dollar”.

The money they came into from the pre-sales then allowed them to “launch, manufacture the physical passes and eventually mail [them out to] all customers”.

Within a month, KopiPass had gone from conceptualisation to launch, and it was a “resounding success” with 3,000 café hoppers and 50,000 café visits over the 6-month pass period.

This “vindicated our belief in launching first, learning fast and iterating according to market responses”.

And as an enhanced version of KopiPass 2017, the trio has now also launched an app to make café hopping even more convenient.

Image Credit: KopiPass

On Getting Started

The trio are all experienced entrepreneurs with past ventures together, Jason reveals.

Jerry and Jason are the co-founders behind the Singapore World International Film Festival and the Hot Tub Club.

Jason and Bob are the co-founders of Singapore Business Meetup Asia (SBM.Asia) on Meet-up, with over 5,000 members. Meanwhile, Jason is also a serial founder with a UK payment platform, a local retail business and a local paintball academy.

Together, they bring years of experience in operations, business and financial modelling, guerrilla marketing, client development and strategic partnerships – all skills that served them well.

But when it came to developing a café trail, they were amateurs.

“We really wanted to understand the concerns of independent café owners. So we approached and talked to at least 15 café owners about resolving their problems.”

Image Credit: Jason Su

Trying to convince cafés to join was an “uphill battle” as KopiPass was a novel concept that sounded too good to be true.

After all, the trio was selling the ability to attract 3,000 new café hoppers without the businesses having to spend a single cent.

“[So] we focused our efforts on drawing in reputable cafés like Toby’s Estate and The Assembly Ground.”

Their first partner ended up being The Assembly Ground, where “the entire founding team went down in full force to pitch the idea across to the marketing manager”.

“We hit it off right at the start as both our companies have similar goals in outreaching to more potential customers, and they were also receptive to trying out new initiatives in order to achieve that. It was exhilarating to have someone believe in us and in our concept.”

The Assembly Ground @ The Cathay / Image Credit: Pinky Piggu

The Assembly Ground’s endorsement also proved invaluable, helping the team convince other cafés to join as they “didn’t want to be the first to participate in a new program.”

Similarly, there were also cafés scarred by previous programs such as Sugar, and preferred to employ a wait-and-see tactic.

Choosing the right partner is crucial, Jason explains, as some cafés proved unreliable.

“We have learned to better evaluate and pick our strategic partners based not just on mutual interests and benefits, but also on a level of reliability and responsibility.”

Mopping Up The Spills

A physical pass meant café details couldn’t be updated and close to launch day, some cafés actually ended up closing down.

To deal with that, the team replaced the slots from their café waiting list, and “printed new café labels which we stuck on every single pass before mailing them out”.

Next, SingPost’s mail delivery also “proved to be a major hiccup”, Jason reveals, with almost 10% KopiPasses getting delayed or lost in the mail.

“Without an alternative solution, we [ended up] delivering the passes ourselves straight to our customers’ homes.”

“[But] in the process, we managed to garner a ton of positive customer feedback for the responsible and speedy response.”

One particular incident however, does stand out for being unresolved.

“Upon hearing we were helping cafes acquire new customers via a redemption program, this owner abruptly got up and walked away halfway. We were momentarily stunned as we weren’t sure if she was attending to something urgent, so we waited 30 minutes before realising she wasn’t coming back.”

“Till date, it remains a mystery and a talking point amongst our team.”

A Coffee-Scented Future

Given the scalability of their business model, my final question for the team was if they planned to partner all of Singapore’s cafés.

Their answer was a sweet one indeed.

“We’re adding on more cafes on a monthly basis,” Jason gushes.

And of course that means more perks for KopiPass holders, but that’s not all.

The team is also planning to break into countries Singaporeans frequently travel to, and where café hopping is on the rise.

“Johor , Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Taipei and Tokyo are all within our consideration.”

An international café hopping trail, anybody?

So don’t say bojio, here’s their Kickstarter page so you can get your own KopiPass too. And if you’d like more information about them, here’s their main page as well.

Happy café hopping!

Featured Image Credit: Jason Su

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