How This S’pore Coffee Subscription Startup Grew Into A Regional Brand

“Durability and profitability are complementary,” presumes Faye Sit of Hook Coffee in her interview with Vulcan Post.

In just four years, the co-founder of the electronic coffee brand has grown from a two-man start-up to “Singapore’s largest online coffee business and the largest in Southeast Asia”, she said.

The secret? A socially and ecologically responsible company that does not compromise on its values.

Traveling for the greater good

A coffee drinker for a long time, Faye’s love for specialty coffee was cemented when she watched the 2014 documentary “A film about coffee”.

Image credits: Hook Coffee

Faye described with admiration “the love and care placed in the processes, preparations, traditions … which come together to create the best cups”.

However, Hook Coffee would not be what it is today without Faye’s passion for empowering the disadvantaged.

Inspired by his travels abroad, the entrepreneur recounted a crucial meeting with a 10-year-old girl in Shanghai.

(She said) the city would never have a place for her, no matter how hard she studied … poverty meant destitution and unreachable opportunities.

– Faye Sit, co-founder of Hook Coffee

Fueled by the desire to have an impact on the world, Faye undertook a series of journeys to seek sustainability and engage in volunteering.

During a research project in Latin America, Faye noticed how poor farmers struggled to maintain their livelihoods and fell into a cycle of debt.

“We cannot save the environment without fighting poverty, and vice versa,” says Faye. “I felt compelled to make a difference.”

Premium coffee delivered to your door

Faye’s response was Hook Coffee. In partnership with its co-founder, the brand was created to promote socially responsible business practices and the art of house specialty coffee.

Hook Coffee offers the widest variety of freshly roasted specialty coffees from around the world. The variety of choices includes original flavors such as Rum Baby Rum and Kopi Sutra.

Their business model is simple: simply order coffee online and a package will be delivered to your door.

There is also a no-obligation subscription service for coffee to be delivered at varying intervals.

Hook Coffee personalizes the customer experience by introducing quizzes and coffee preparation guides so that customers know better which coffee to choose.

Their coffee is sold in three varieties: whole or ground beans, drip bags, Dolce Gusto compatible capsules and Nespresso compatible pods.

All specialty coffees sold on Hook Coffee are of ethical and sustainable origin, and coffee producers earn up to 10 times the market price.

A good company pays

Surprisingly, the Covid-19 crisis saw an increase in demand for Hook Coffee.

Image credits: Hook Coffee

More people are drinking coffee at home now … We have also noticed that our subscribers have increased their subscription delivery frequency.

– Faye Sit, co-founder of Hook Coffee

Subscription services could be a particularly lucrative business model during the pandemic. In foreclosure orders, people choose delivery rather than leaving their home to buy consumer goods.

However, online coffee subscription services cost around ten dollars in Singapore and most use the same sustainable philosophy to appeal to target populations.

Companies like Nylon Coffee Roasters, Arrow Coffee and Perk Coffee offer similar subscription packages at the same price.

Hook Coffee also has no first-mover advantage. Nylon Coffee started in 2012, two years before the arrival of Hook Coffee.

Perhaps the key to Hook Coffee’s commercial success is its ability to make specialty coffees – a niche product – attractive to everyone.

The personalized journey of the customer experience on the website lowers the threshold of customer acquisition. Specialty coffee does not seem quite as bourgeois when there is a “coffee match” quiz offering playful choices according to one’s tastes.

In addition, Hook Coffee has divided its marketing between commercial and corporate customers, adapting the subscription service to professional tastes.

Perhaps because of its success, Hook Coffee is able to consider expanding into new markets despite the Covid-19 pandemic. “Our mission is to make excellent and responsible coffee accessible to everyone,” says Faye.

The brand is currently delivered internationally, with a “solid base” in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Ethical Coffee for Generation Y

Perhaps what makes Hook Coffee successful is its ability to tap into a key demographic of coffee consumption: the millennials.

Image credits: Hook Coffee

According to a report by Vice Media, one in two of its audience dominated by the millennium would always choose a brand that supports a cause.

Hook Coffee’s niche product also means it doesn’t have to compete with megaliths like Starbucks or Coffee Bean.

Specialty coffee accounts for only 3% of the world’s yield, says Faye, while the big brands get their coffee directly from the commodity market.

Today, coffee is one of the most traded products after petroleum. On average, 95,000 60-kg bags of coffee in Singapore were consumed in 2018, according to a report by Statista.

This means that Hook Coffee is strategically located – in the right place, for the right people, at the right time.

In the end, Faye attributes the success of Hook Coffee to its basic philosophy.

A combination of staying true to our brand and mission, quality products and services, leveraging technology and a little bit of luck has won us thousands of loyal customers and brought us to where we are today.

– Faye Sit, co-founder of Hook Coffee

“I was also fortunate to have a few mentors who are themselves free-spirited entrepreneurs.”

His mentors include Wong Toon King, a Singaporean serial entrepreneur; Michel Lu, entrepreneur and F&B veteran; and Hoe Yeen Teck, founder of Helpling.

And after?

Currently, the entrepreneur divides his time between Hook Coffee and pursuing a doctorate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Image credit: Supporting startups

“I have a reliable and independent team at Hook Coffee, and this gives me time to work on my doctoral research,” says Faye simply.

The decision to pursue a doctorate was inspired by the same desire to launch Hook Coffee, revealing to Faye “the importance of strong governance and political will”.

Whether teaching in developing countries or pro-entrepreneurial mentoring, Faye spends her free time giving back to the community.

It remains open to what will happen next. “I’m always looking for new opportunities to learn, create and make an impact.”

Featured Image Credit: Singapore Management University Blog

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Jothi Venkat

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