As the city of Singapore wakes up, cafés of all shapes and sizes prepare for a busy day.
Demand for specialty, artisanal coffee has skyrocketed in recent years, thanks to a group of smart, well-travelled entrepreneurs who have brought the café culture of cities such as Melbourne, New York and London to the streets of Singapore. When ex-RMIT students Shane Lee and Diana Chew spotted a growing demand for specialty coffee back in 2010, they knew that they had to take some risks and go above and beyond to attract coffee enthusiasts from around the world.
We asked Shane and Diana to share their journey and tell us what it takes to start up and run a thriving business in the competitive coffee market.
“I had been interested in business since I was very young, and Diana and I are not afraid of going in a direction that no one has taken,” says Shane. “So in 2010, when the coffee scene in Singapore was still very quiet, we established 6oz Espresso Bar in the Tokio Marine Centre on McCallum Street.”
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This was during their second year of university at RMIT, and despite the fact that they didn’t feel completely ready, Shane admits it was well worth the risk to gain real-world experience while studying.
“We learnt the hard way, getting our hands dirty,” he says. “We also travelled to Melbourne, Seattle, Tokyo, Sydney and New York to learn from the best in the industry, and uncovered new ideas at trade shows and conferences.”
Taking a practical approach to learning new skills was something Shane also benefited from during his time studying for a business degree in Marketing at RMIT.
“I think that some things can’t always be taught sitting in a classroom or staring at an exam paper. So the hands-on projects we did at RMIT were great because they gave us the opportunity to look at realistic situations and learn valuable lessons along the way,” he says.
“The course also meant collaborating with people from different backgrounds with various capabilities, as well as learning to manage a team. This helped boost my people skills, and has been really useful in training our baristas and liaising with suppliers.”
The award-winning cafe has gained a loyal following, and is now satisfying the coffee cravings of even more locals thanks to two sister venues – one at the Fuji Xerox Towers on Anson Road and another one at OUE Downtown Gallery. But Shane says they are not even close to slowing down.
"The coffee scene here is increasingly crowded, so we are always looking for ways to create experiences worth talking about. I think consistency is one of the things that really sets us apart,” he says. “We have strict quality control processes and our training and operations systems mean our baristas can handle the fast-paced demands of the CBD while producing great drinks with speed and precision.”
In addition, his quest for the perfect cup of coffee has led to Shane to source new beans and also visit coffee plantations to learn about harvesting methods.
Through careful planning and a grounding in good business practices, 6oz Espresso Bar continues to grow.
“We plan to open more stores locally over the next three years, and also expand around the region,” says Shane.
This success, however, took lots of late nights and determination. Shane suggests budding entrepreneurs should be prepared to work around the clock to keep things running smoothly.
“Entrepreneurs are the crazy people who work 100 hours a week so they don’t have to work 40 hours for someone else! But the independence we have makes it all worthwhile,” he says.
Shane left us with this advice: “Chase the vision, not the money. And always go with the choice that scares you most, because that's the one that is going to help you grow.”
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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer
Acknowledgement of country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.