When former wealth manager Keith Tan gave up his finance job in 2015, he was scarcely aware of the entrepreneurial journey that lay ahead.
What started as plans to launch a chain of coffee shops soon turned into a technology company with aims to improve efficiencies in the food and beverage industry.
Six years on, the company’s debut product, automated coffee robot Ella, is already serving up lattes and cappuccinos at select train stations in Tokyo, Japan. There are similar plans for his native Singapore in 2022.
But the path to success involved “a lot of learnings,” the Crown Digital CEO told CNBC Make It, sharing his best advice for other would-be founders.
First of all, it’s important to “rigorously evaluate your ideas,” and ensure that they serve a purpose.
In Tan’s case, when he designed Ella in 2018, it was not for sheer novelty. Rather, he wanted to find a real solution to the manpower shortages that afflicted his coffee shop and other food and beverage outlets.
A fully autonomous robot that could serve coffee around the clock would provide that solution, he reasoned. So he and his team set to work creating the product.
“There was no point building robots for the sake of it,” he said. “You need to back it up with a business model that’s sustainable.”
Next, you need to get buy-in for your ideas, whether it be from co-founders, investors, employees or customers.
“You need to sell the idea well and be passionate about it,” Tan said.
That wasn’t always easy, especially in the early days of a business, said Tan, recalling the difficulty of attracting staff and investors when he first launched Crown Digital. Still, it’s important to have confidence in your idea and be able to convey that to others.
“This is a robot company doing coffee. It’s a hard sell,” he said. “You need to have that hustle to sell that first idea and build that team.”
Thirdly, it’s vital to find partners who can help elevate your business and develop it to the next level.
For Tan, that meant teaming up with transport operators like Japan’s JR East railway company and Singapore’s SMRT subway network to make his product available to more consumers.