Richard Koh was 54 when he was retrenched in 2016. The coffee lover decided that it was time to embark on one of the biggest dreams on his bucket list – building his brand. Together with wife Ong Bee Yan, they started a cold brew coffee company and called it 1degreeC, a portmanteau of Singapore’s coordinates (1 degree north of the equator) and coffee. “We wanted a brand name that could allow us to sell our coffee overseas without any difficulties. And having 1 in your name helps you come out first in any Google search,” Koh quips.
Their early struggles have become entrepreneurship lore, documented in the multiple articles that have covered their steady rise to the top of the cold brew coffee pile. But perhaps their biggest challenge happened last year during the pandemic. “About 85 per cent of our sales came from B2B channels – events, corporate orders, cafes. When Covid-19 hit, all of that evaporated overnight. We had to pivot,” says Koh.
Fortunately, the shift to a work-from-home culture meant more people ordered cold brew coffee to last them through the week. It helped the company to make up for the shortfall and
It also taught Koh a valuable lesson.
“Don’t just put your eggs in one basket. Build a multi-channel strategy. We now have corporate and consumer clients and have group buys. We also work with different platforms such as Grab, Shopee and even NTUC Marketplace. So, if anything happens to one of our sales channels, we still have others,” he shares.
“My wife and I just initially wanted to build a small Singapore brand which we could call it our own. But now, seeing how 1degreeC has grown, we want to do our part by encouraging recycling and to pay it forward by giving back to society.”
Entrepreneur Richard Koh on his business aspirations
It’s the same strategy that he has employed in his wealth journey. Being an entrepreneur at such an advanced age comes with certain risks, one of which was that failure could be financially debilitating. When Koh started 1degreeC, he also began his relationship with Citibank after identifying with Citigold Private Client’s values of passion, legacy and preservation. For Koh, cold brew coffee is a passion that he too hopes to turn into a familial legacy.
“Citibank has been good to me. Every individual has different ideas about how they want to go forward. My relationship manager (RM) did a great analysis of my financial situation and proposed a few solutions that met my needs and plugged the holes in my portfolio, such as planning for retirement.”
Another important missing piece was insurance, something that Koh admits he used to be sceptical about. He felt that many of the agents he met pushed their own agenda without fully understanding his needs. With Citibank, he genuinely felt the bank’s desire to listen and understand. His RM structured and customised a package that met his needs – hospitalisation and critical illness.
It proved beneficial this year when Koh had to have two operations. The first was a stomach surgery that put him out of commission for three weeks, while the second was for cataracts. In both instances, the insurance covered the bulk of the costs. Koh could focus on getting back on his feet to continue growing 1degreeC.
Now that the cold brew start-up is relatively stable, Koh and his wife have thought about the next phase. Both are passionate about sustainability and giving back to society. They recently employed a person from APSN (Association of People with Special Needs) Singapore. It has gone well, so they want to work with similar beneficiaries and continue giving opportunities to those who would otherwise have difficulty finding a job.
During the pandemic, Koh and Yan worked with a part-time soap maker to make organic soap from 1degreeC’s used coffee grounds and herb waste. The proceeds went to All Saints Home. This year, thanks to this success, they have plans to work with a social enterprise to continue this initiative.
“My wife and I just initially wanted to build a small Singapore brand which we could call it our own. But now, seeing how 1degreeC has grown, we want to do our part by encouraging recycling and to pay it forward by giving back to society,” Koh smiles.
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