With a Master of Business Administration (MBA) – or any certification, for that matter – it’s only natural to want to apply the skills and knowledge they learnt in the real world.
29-year-old Chris Mak, who holds an MBA in Marketing, decided to bring her experience to her family business.
She is the fourth generation business owner and Director of The Maks’ Coffee, a specialty coffee subscription service spun off from the main family’s business that was established in 2017.
Their traditional coffee business is currently managed by her cousin under a different brand name.
As The Maks’ Coffee prepares for its appearance at the Speciality & Fine Food Asia 2019 exhibition, we got to speak to Chris about the business and her plans for its future.
Not ‘Maks’ Of A Coffee Fan But…
Having been influenced and impassioned by his father, Chris’ grandfather, affectionately known as Grandpa Mak, started up the main business in 1965.
Grandpa Mak traded and supplied traditional coffee to local coffee shops.
“Traditional coffee differs from specialty coffee in terms of roasting. Many companies have different recipes for roasting traditional coffee; some add sugar, corn or butter, depending on their recipes,” explained Chris.
“Whereas specialty coffee is roasted with no additives added. It is purely roasted coffee using premium coffee beans.”
So how did The Maks’ Coffee come about?
Chris was working in financial services in wealth management for five years, then did her MBA for two years before joining the family business in mid-2018.
“Believe it or not, I did not drink much coffee before joining the business!” she revealed.
“Every time, I would always end up with a bad headache, or get jittery after drinking coffee at some restaurants/cafes I visited. So I didn’t learn to enjoy it back then.”
But her desire to build her “own empire” and do what she’s passionate about led her to realise that she’ll never be able to do it as long as she’s stuck in the rat race.
When the family business set up a new arm focusing on specialty coffee, Chris decided to leave the finance industry and establish The Maks’ Coffee.
“It was my idea to expand our business into specialty coffee,” she shared with us.
That was when she found out that it’s because cafes and restaurants often use a blend of Arabica and Robusta coffee beans that caused her headaches.
“Robusta, being the cheaper bean, is commonly used to add in the caffeine content into the coffee blend which was what gave me the headache,” she explained.
“Robusta coffee beans contain up to twice the amount of caffeine in Arabica (beans).”
The Maks’ Coffee only uses 100% Arabica coffee which has no acidity, suitable for customers who are sensitive to caffeine and won’t make drinkers jittery after a cup or two.
What’s Brewing At The Maks’?
What sets The Maks’ Coffee apart from other coffee subscription services in Singapore is their highly customisable process.
Understanding that every customer is different, allowing them to personalise everything from coffee grind size to tasting notes is an important aspect of their model.
First, customers pick their form of coffee – whole beans or drip coffee. If whole beans, customers can choose to grind it according to the brewing method they prefer.
Next, customers have the choice between their house beans or seasonal beans, which Chris describes as “a [monthly] coffee surprise”.
Finally, at the checkout, customers can select the delivery time that suits their schedules.
Chris shared that they deliver freshly roasted coffee right to their customers every month.
They offer three types of subscription plans: $45 for three months, $85 for six months, and $170 for 12 months.
Perhaps due to the customisable nature of the orders, the coffee is sent to customers right after it’s roasted and packaged.
They boast using no additives in their roasting process, sourcing only premium Arabica coffee beans directly from their partnering coffee farms.
“Most farms that we work with we have connection with since our previous generations,” said Chris.
“Some we struck connections by visiting their farms and building relationships with them – especially with small micro-lot farms.”
She added that they work with a number of farms that are higher in elevation so they are able to control the quality, especially when it comes to keep the plants chemical- and pesticides-free.
“A lot of farms that are located at lower elevations tend to have a disadvantage as they often get affected by neighbouring farms above them spraying chemicals,” she explained.
So they also educate their partnering farmers to go chemical- and pesticide-free, emphasising that it’s quality over quantity at The Maks’ Coffee.
“We encourage the farmers to consume what they produce and sell what is left to maintain a sustainable livelihood as well,” Chris stated.
Focusing on customers’ convenience and lifestyles, The Maks’ Coffee packs their coffee as beans or as travel-friendly drip coffee sachets, and uses recyclable material in their packaging.
As The Maks’ Coffee first established their online presence through their website, they reach out to their customers through social media platforms.
Shouldering Maks’ Responsibilities
Since Chris came from a finance background and was new to the business, she had to learn on the job quickly.
“Competition within the industry is also very high, but I’ve learnt to find value in collaborating rather than competing because at the end of the day, our goal is to build a community that supports one another,” Chris shared.
The Maks’ Coffee has worked with businesses dealing with chocolate, nuts, and flowers, and within the industry, they have also collaborated with roasters, cafes, and restaurants, she told us.
“Even though pressure is obviously high, I’m fortunate to be given the flexibility to manage this part of the business without much control from the main business,” said Chris.
“We grow when our customers’ knowledge about coffee grows, so we work hard to educate our customers about coffee,” she added.
The Maks’ Coffee occasionally hosts workshops at events to teach their customers how to brew coffee, and now that they have hit the shelves at Robinsons The Heeren, they would show customers how to appreciate coffee without any milk or sugar.
“With great premium coffee, it is best to taste it pure without any additives,” said the former non-coffee drinker.
She believes that it is essential to let customers experience the product in person and that the more they know, “the more they will learn to love it”.
Chris revealed that they’ll be launching a new line of limited edition lifestyle products and seasonal coffee beans at the end of 2019, and are currently expanding overseas.
She plans for The Maks’ Coffee to be present throughout Southeast Asia over the next three years.
“Specialty coffee is definitely a new direction for the company and a healthier one too,” Chris said.
“Consumers are becoming more aware of what they consume, the origin of the products and how they are produced.”
“Specialty coffee may be niche now but we see a potentially great growth in this market in the near future as consumers become more educated about it.”
Check out The Maks’ Coffee here.
Featured Image Credit: The Maks’ Coffee