Hailing from The Philippines, alumnus Kevin Tang (BBM, 2009) spent four years of his university life at SMU, a decision he never regretted. Being in Singapore exposed him to the local coffee culture, leading him to start Yardstick Coffee with two other SMU alumni in Manila. Currently the President of The Philippines Alumni Chapter (an overseas alumni group for all SMU alumni living in The Philippines), he generously provided all the coffees for the SMU Industry Leaders Dialogue event in Manila in October 2017.
(Kevin above with The Philippines Alumni Chapter Exco and other guests)
You graduated from SMU with a Bachelors in Business Management (International Trading Track) in 2009. How was your SMU experience? Share with us your career journey since graduation.
Being an international student from the Philippines, the experience was really great given that I was able to enjoy the holistic education from SMU and live abroad at the same time.
The job market in 2009 was quite bad due to the global financial crisis. I was fortunate enough to have been offered a position in Credit Suisse where I worked for 2 years. I came back to Manila in 2011 and worked for our family business until I started Yardstick Coffee in 2013 with two business partners, Andre Chanco (BSc (ISM), 2008) and Jessica Lee (BSc(Econs), 2008), who are also SMU Alumni from the Philippines.
(Kevin with co-founders & fellow SMU alumni - Jessica Lee (extreme left) and Andre Chanco (extreme right))
Tell us more about the company you co-founded called Yardstick Coffee. How did the inspiration behind Yardstick Coffee come about? Was it always your dream to start your own business?
Operating under the brand of Yardstick Coffee, we are a coffee company involved in the business of commercial roasting and supply of coffee beans, distribution of coffee equipment, and café / retail operations.
When the specialty coffee scene in Singapore started to develop at around 2010-2011, I was inspired to do something similar in the Philippines. This was also the time when a lot more tourists from the Philippines began travelling to Singapore and I felt that the trend was bound to happen in the Philippines too.
I won’t necessarily consider starting my own business as a dream, but when you have the chance to do something you love with people you enjoy working with, it’s not an opportunity that will be easy to say no to.
How did you go about establishing Yardstick Coffee (funding, finding the right partners, obtaining licenses etc.)?
I’ve known my business partners, Andre and Jessica, since 2005 back when we were still in SMU. We started getting interested in coffee at around 2011 which ultimately led us to starting a business in 2013.
Having the similar experience of studying in SMU, we understood the importance of establishing a business based on good moral values and ethics. We also had different backgrounds and strengths which made the initial legwork slightly easier.
What were some of the challenges faced? How did you overcome them?
The main challenge we faced in the beginning was establishing our brand in a highly competitive and commercialized industry. The coffee beans we were supplying tasted “different” and the equipment we distributed was relatively unknown in the Philippines and was priced at a premium.
We were able to overcome the challenge through perseverance and focusing on our core values and competencies. We also invested a lot of time and effort to make sure that the quality of our products and services did the talking for us.
What are the highs and lows that you have experienced during your entrepreneurship journey? What motivates you to continue down this entrepreneurial path?
Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster journey with lots of highs and lows. Sometimes we lose a sale or encounter challenges with employees but we try to ensure that we learn from them and move forward. I always find that the balance of being realistic and being optimistic helps puts things in perspective during challenging times.
Throughout the years, we’ve been fortunate enough to have loyal clients who believe in our values and it is very rewarding to see them succeed and grow with our support.
Would you encourage other SMU alumni to set up businesses in The Philippines? Is there anything they should take note of?
Establishing a business in the Philippines is not as straightforward as setting up a business in Singapore – things are not as efficient, and traffic can be a pain. Having said that, challenges can also be seen as opportunities.
If you have a business idea that can take advantage of the 100+ million population with a growing English-speaking middle-class, the Philippines presents a lot of opportunities in various industries, especially given the positive economic outlook.
SMU has an Alumni Chapter in the Philippines and we would like to encourage our fellow alumni to visit us and get in touch! Write to me at email@example.com, whether you are in town for a holiday, if you have relocated to the Philippines for work, or have simply come home.
What advice would you give to students and alumni thinking of taking the entrepreneurship road (such as the types of business to enter into, selection of partners, etc)?
The main advice I would give to anyone who plans to start a business is to go in wholeheartedly. It can be easy to fall in the trap of idea plateaus where after the exciting planning stages, business ideas fizzle out when it’s time to execute.
The education we get from SMU definitely equips us with the right tools to succeed in business and it’s really about finding the right motivation to apply them to.
Last updated on 10 Nov 2017 .