He is homegrown and multi-talented. James Koh is realistic to a fault and that’s how he approaches his business ventures. He chooses the locations for his Hometown Hainan Coffee outlets based on enhancing lifestyle of a community rather than fighting with competitors.

If you get to sit James Koh down for a chat, you would find that you could hardly get a word in. And you wouldn’t need to.

James Koh, at 38, seems like he has already lived a lifetime as the events in his life includes witnessing the twin towers fell on 9/11, founding Hometown Hainan Coffee (a local chain of coffee outlets), dabbling in blockchain cryptocurrency and having a foot in the film-making 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.

Trademark foods in the restaurant includes Hainan Chicken Chop and Chicken Rice

“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.

Hometown Hainan Coffee branch in Tropicana Avenue

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 in 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. Out of 3 or 4 cafes, there will be one that won’t make money. 

“Failing forward is the best (solution) for me. We thank people for their complaints. They help to show us where we went wrong.” 

Words by Yy Chen
Photos by Rick Cheah

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