On a trip to Melbourne with a friend, Keyis Ng discovered the Australian city's celebrated cafe culture. When he returned to Singapore he searched in vain online for the coffee beans he had tasted from Down Under.
"It was one of the best coffees I had ever tried but when we wanted to buy the beans online we found that the shipping was more expensive than the beans itself," he told DBS BusinessClass in an interview.
Sniffing out a business opportunity, he left the digital agency he had founded - where he used to drink three to five cups of coffee a day - and started Cafebond.com with Eugene Chen (his co-traveller on the Melbourne trip) in 2016. The business sells specialty coffee beans from around the world on the Internet.
By automatically consolidating orders in bulk he was able to bring down the shipping costs significantly. Customers, meanwhile, could get the beans to make their favourite brews sent to them. However, it took some time to convince the cafes to come on to their platform.
"We had to knock on doors and prepared for almost a year before we launched but the response has been good and we have been growing consistently. The challenge was how to expand our business," he said.
Today, the firm sells specialty coffee beans from farms globally, and roasted by its cafe and roaster partners from Melbourne, San Francisco, Singapore and Tokyo, among other places. Quest Ventures, China's leading venture capital fund, is one of the firm's investors.
Automating the finance function
As with many start-ups, one of their key concerns was managing their finances, and making sure that cash flow remained healthy. The co-founders spent a significant amount of keeping their accounts in order.
A few months ago they were introduced to Xero, an Australian-based provider of finance solutions for SMEs. The accounting system allowed Cafebond.com to automate many finance functions, from issuing invoices to sending reminders for payments. This allowed the founders to focus on the more important task of growing their burgeoning business.
"We were doing so many things, and had to worry about finance. So Xero helped with many of those issues and it was very easy to use," recalled Ng. The software even connected seamlessly to their DBS corporate account. Indeed, DBS is offering its SME customers a free trial of Xero.
The company is already in Malaysia and will be expanding their ecommerce offering to Taiwan later this year. They will also be pursuing an omni-channel strategy that will see them open a physical retail outlet in Singapore.
"We have over 100 products in our website so we can't have everything in the store. So we will use the data from our site to determine the top 20 per cent of products to display at our store," he said.
Beyond that, the co-founders are already looking at other ways to leverage technology to move up the supply chain.
Said Ng: "We are thinking of using technology to make the process of making coffee simpler, so that customers can do it themselves. The plan is to expand our presence from the supply chain from farm to cup."