Mr. Khorn Chhundara
Director KOI Cafe
Khorn Chhundara was born in Phnom Penh and at the age of 10, his parents sent him to study in the United States. He was studying a bachelor’s degree in Business Management Economics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science (BSc). During his 10 years in the US, Chhundara was also an intern at Starbucks Coffee, a guide at university and also worked in marketing. With these jobs and the experience that came with them, he learnt about management and how to manage public relations.
“At Starbucks Coffee, I found it very interesting and the management team at every level treated their staff very well; they were friendly and it was a great working environment. Every staff member at Starbucks is happy and proud to work within the company and also to learn about American culture,” Chhundara said.
After living in the US, he spent a further two years in United Kingdom, completing his master’s degree in Management at the University of Bristol and graduated in 2011 with a Master of Science (MSc). In the UK, he worked for several marketing companies and was also a secretary for other businesses too.
In 2012, while Chhundara had to spend time taking care of his grandfather at a hospital in Singapore, he discovered KOI Café and took an instant liking to it. After researching the company, he negotiated to bring KOI Café into Cambodia in 2013.
He was 23-years-old when he began his dream of becoming an entrepreneur. He meticulously researched the market, completed the paperwork and finished the negotiations with the brand owner, a Taiwanese businessman, to bring the KOI Café franchise to Cambodia in 2013. His extensive background in business and marketing, from his education and his experience, helped him greatly for the challenge of openingthe first KOI Café operation outlet in front of the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
Chhundara explained that he didn’t have the experience that would have helped him make the big decisions, but instead he would make the big decisions based on careful analysis and consideration of all factors, and also sometimes with gut feelings and business instinct. From the start, he vowed to be as independent as possible, so he did his best to avoid any assistance from or reliance on the parent company.
“The first challenge for us was to win the decision of the brand owner to give us the rights to their brand,” Chhundara added. “The next challenge was getting registered in Cambodia. I learnt that, when starting a company, there are many levels of processing such as paperwork, documents and fees to be completed.”
“There were agents, consultants and others available to help, but at the end of the day, it was me who had to gather and prepare the all documents, process the information and make the big decisions,” Chhundarda said. “It’s never easy starting any business, but it’s an amazing experience being a young entrepreneur.”
KOI Café is a beverage shop specialized in handcrafting authentic premium Taiwanese tea. The first outlet opened in Taichung, Taiwan, in 2006. The core market of the company is teens and young adults from the age of 13 to 30. The majority of their customers are students and office workers. With drinks starting at US$1.20, however they also cater to practically all income levels.
With the first outlet beginning operations in Phnom Penh, the overall goal of the marketing section was to turn KOI into a household brand, like Coca-Cola and Colgate. It’s very ambitious, however, as most people over 40-years-old have never had any exposure to recreational tea.
“Our strategy is to start with building and increasing brand awareness, through social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, creative promotions and social contributions such as sponsorship. KOI social media posts are often funny and sometimes absurd, which on many occasions made KOI’s Facebook page go viral. Now, the page has over 40,000 likes and over 40,000 check-ins, the highest number in Cambodia.” Chhundara said.
“On the promotion side, we have refrained from giving discounts or freebies on our drinks, so as to keep the image of our products prestigious. Instead, we do more engaging promotions such as a free beautiful selfie photo prints with any purchase of milk tea series.”
“We always tell our employees, friends, family and customers that it’s not fair to compare between the different brands because each has their own unique products and specialty. Nonetheless, the most obvious difference between KOI and other brands in the market is taste, deliciousness, consistency and good service,” he said. “The second obvious difference is the quality of our ingredients and process. Our ingredients are premium and most are important directly by us,” Chhundara said. “Take our Macchiato Cream for example, it’s one of the top cream brands from Europe and we import it fresh every week. Our Grass Jelly topping, for instance, takes over 5 hours to prepare.”
In Cambodia, during 15 months of operation, KOI Café is at a relatively young stage of development. The previous operating year saw tremendous growth with four more stores opening – KOI IFL, KOI Mao Tse Tung, KOI Vattanac Capital and KOI Preah Norodom. The brand has grown from a small enterprise of roughly 15 employees to a medium-size company with over 100 employees.
“The market demand for KOI is still growing significantly, evidenced by strong sales at all the outlets and continuous requests for more stores in more areas of Phnom Penh and other provinces. Now we have plans to open more outlets across Phnom Penh by the end of the year, and possibly one or two outlets in the provinces.” Chhundara said, with capital and investment estimated to reach between US$300,000 and US$500,000.
The commitment to hospitality has driven us to create a very unique and well-maintained training program for all KOI team members to ensure exceptional customer service. Through this, we have received a warm reception and great demand from our customers. The three pillars of our training program are: ‘Welcoming’, heartfelt greetings to welcome guests; ‘Friendly’, to serve with sincere joy and smiles; ‘Warmth’, to serve with utmost care and attention, Chhundara added.
“For me, it was always my dream to start a café that is unique and special from others, a café that everyone can truly enjoy and fall in love with from day to day and year to year, forever.”
Being an entrepreneur, Chhundara said “my style of being a general manager is to be a leader with an open door policy. No one man is smart enough to be great at everything, that is why even the smartest of men needs advisers. After all, employees are hired for their intelligence, and if they don’t feel comfortable approaching you with ideas, the company would be equivalent to a one-man show,” he said. “I also try to get close to all my employees to better understand their strengths and skills. However, I’m very careful when it comes to building relationships with employees.”
He went on to say, he believes that happy employees make happy customers. That is why the company works hard to our employees with three elements: the first element is to create a safe, fair and fun working environment; the second is to provide a livable income to sustain an individual’s lifestyle; and the third element is to create opportunities for growth.
KOI has a very firm commitment to quality. Therefore, before any expansion, management will ensure that the company has enough resources and mechanisms in place to ensure quality and consistency in taste. The main objectives of last year were to: rigorously enforce training and exam modules to create a competent and skillful workforce that is capable of handling KOI’s complex formulas; build a warm and happy business culture to retain employees and minimize employee turnovers; develop various standards of operations to reduce employee’s stress, increase efficiency and push production speed; develop a quality control system to ensure customer satisfaction; and standardize departments across company ranging from HR to accounting.