From Africa to Asia: Meet the founder of the highest-rated coffee subscription service in Asia

By
Writers@Aspire
Published
May 20, 2021
Table of Contents

Perk Coffee, the highest-rated coffee subscription service in Asia, is Aspire’s newest user. From Africa, South America, and Indonesia, they source the freshest and highest quality coffee beans and ship them to your doorstep within 48 hours of roasting.

We were able to catch up with Paul, who founded Perk Coffee alongside his wife, Serena, to pick his brain on how he got started with coffee, why he chose to use Aspire, and what it takes to channel a love for coffee into a successful business.

Break the timeline down for us a bit. What did you get up to before founding Perk Coffee?

After studying law and finance at university, I took the opportunity to travel for 6 months. I ended up moving to Kenya when I was 23, where I lived for 15 years, and that’s where my entrepreneurial journey began.
When I first moved to Kenya, I started a commodity trading business, and then shortly after this I ventured into agriculture where I established one of the largest cereal farms in the region. During that time, I also founded a retail handbag and accessories shop.
In 2011 I met my wife Serena (who actually grew up in Kenya) and we decided to embark on a new adventure in Asia. In 2015 we moved to Singapore and started building Perk Coffee, officially launching the following year in April 2016.
I’ve also started a Kenyan-based superfoods business, Endashata, around 2 years ago. We’re the first in the region to grow superfoods like chia seeds, and a lot of our focus is on empowering small-scale female farmers with the skills and know-how to improve the livelihoods of their families and communities.

Why get into the coffee business?

I’ve always been into coffee. My first idea was to actually start my own cafe since I wanted to drink fresh coffee — ideally, coffee that was roasted within a few days. So I figured: why not start a business that could solve this? Instead of a cafe, which is capital intensive and competitive, I figured the online space would be less crowded and offered more opportunity.

What differentiates Perk Coffee from your competitors?

Perk was founded on the premise of distributing the freshest possible coffee. While a roast to order model is common in wholesale, it had never been done for consumers before at the time. When you order from Perk, you will need to wait for the next roast cycle (we roast twice a week), so that freshness is guaranteed. No one was doing this at the time - roasting to order for the home brewer, then delivering within days of roasting, so that you get the best home coffee experience in terms of peak flavour and aroma.
In addition, we put customers first at Perk. We not only ensure customers love their coffee, we help them in their coffee journey by providing educational content such as brew tips and guides, and information about our beans and their provenance.


What’s been the highlight of your Perk Coffee journey so far?

Launching Perk Hong Kong, last October. We did all of it remotely, because why not? There was no reason we couldn’t do it. It’s important to have a good team, of course. We also did a similar launch in Malaysia, back in October 2018.  
When customers love your products, thousands of people post content about it — we’re grateful they love us and our work that much! We’ve even given some incentives to content creators: we handed out a couple of 6-month subscriptions to the people who made the best videos we found in each country.

What was the toughest challenge you faced on your journey in building Perk Coffee, and how did you overcome it?

During the circuit breaker, I was stuck in Kenya for 6 months. The airport was shut down, and we had a surge in orders and a lot of new customers. Thankfully, our system was more or less prepared, and we were able to use the right software for the job.
There have been a couple of breaking points, too. At one point during CB, our last-mile delivery provider was so backlogged that normal delivery times of 1 to 4 working days became 2 to 3 weeks. We were bombarded with tickets, and our customer service team was not large enough at the time to handle the volume. We had to immediately start sourcing for more customer support, pulling all-nighters to make sure that our customers were satisfied — from refunding to last-minute changes with door-to-door delivery providers. It cost us a bomb, but we value our customers, so it was something we just had to do.

How has COVID-19 affected your business, and how has Perk Coffee reacted to the macro climate changes?

Thankfully, due to the nature of our business, we found that we went through a large spike in growth at first, to a period of stability, and back to a spike in growth.

What’s your view on the future of the coffee business in Singapore?

I believe it'll keep on growing and continue to become more competitive. The same goes for open-and-close cafes.


Hard pivot here, but what would you say are your favourite features of the Aspire app?

Definitely the software integrations and cashback on Facebook ads!
Perk Coffee Founder Paul Berthelsen uses Aspire for cashback on Facebook ads


You get cashback on SaaS spend too. What other software does Perk use?

Two programs come to mind: Klaviyo and Stamped.io.

Pro Tip: For all qualified marketing and SaaS spend on your favourite performance marketing tools, Aspire Business Account users can receive 1% cashback!


As a founder, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

You need to have a clear vision with a laser focus. But you have to keep it simple. A business can evolve later on, but starting out, you need to have that one thing that you do best.
When we started Perk, we wanted to be the fresh roast coffee subscription — we wanted people to get used to the subscription model. Back then, we only offered freshly roasted coffee, with no one-off orders. It was subscription-only, and a single product - coffee. So we had to educate people that this kind of model was ideal. Once we fine tuned our coffee subscription product, we then began to offer one-off purchases of our coffees and brew gear.

What advice do you have for other founders/entrepreneurs who are starting on their own journeys (especially in coffee or F&B)?

The coffee business is a highly competitive space. There’s COVID-19 of course, but coffee is also a retail business, and we see coffee shops open and close all the time. What we’re starting to see now is consolidation. Single, indie cafes are going to continue, with expansion for more successful cafes. E-commerce is a must. Thankfully, at Perk, we’ve been doing it for some time. But yeah, the coffee industry will continue to evolve.


What’s next for Perk Coffee?

We’re going to focus on building our brand as an e-commerce coffee player. Hopefully, we’ll launch to another country this year, and just continue to grow in general.


Paul, Serena, and their team at Perk Coffee are some of the best in the coffee game. They deserved a modern solution that could handle the growing competition in the coffee industry, so they turned to Aspire. Just as they’re passionate about getting quality coffee into your homes, we’re passionate about helping new business owners hit the ground running.

If you’re an up and coming company that just wants to focus on growing your business, look no further for a financial solution that gives you your time and money back. Whether it’s managing your team members’ accounts, safely integrating finances across software platforms, or just saving whenever you spend with cashback guarantees and the lowest FX rates available, Aspire has got it all.

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