A student entrepreneur gains a competitive advantage

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# 1 do your research and be flexible

Phung’s memories of drinking coffee with his Vietnamese father were the inspiration for Mai Coffee. The original plan, to pack pre-brewed Vietnamese coffee in bottles, might have been delicious, but it turned out to have a few pitfalls.

Selling any form of edible requires a working knowledge of food science. Phung’s initial research revealed an impressive number of regulatory requirements imposed at each stage of production.

“I realized that I just couldn’t gain enough knowledge to bottle coffee on my own. He shifted his research to identify a food science company that could develop his product – at a cost of $ 10,000 that was not within his budget. Adding that cost to an already expensive bottling process meant it was time for a pivot.

Phung is now focusing on selling coffee beans. Its Vietnamese beans have a distinctive taste and the potential to become a strong niche market with cafes and retailers. And its original goal is still viable. “I plan to reintroduce bottled coffee later in my business plan. “

# 2 know your numbers

A graduate in economics with a concentration in financial economics, Phung is well equipped to understand income statements, balance sheets and business plans. Its Mai Coffee business model forecasts a profit of 20-30% on a minimum shipment of one shipping container per month. But models are one thing. The real world is another.

It turns out that warehouse distributors are an important piece of the puzzle, and you can learn a lot about the profits and losses from these savvy businessmen. “For warehouse distributors, maybe 20% of the conversation is about the actual product. The remaining 80% is for making money, they want to move the product quickly. “

The old axiom “time is money” is also true. And understanding sales has become a necessity. “I’m still selling. If I talk to 10 people, I might be lucky if one or two buy from me, ”says Phung, who is always looking for new customers and ways to branch out into new markets like grocery stores. and office retailers, “places where people want quality. Coffee.”

Denison Edge, an initiative of the Knowlton Center that offers accredited programs focused on professional skills, has been a great resource. Phung takes many of these courses and learns from industry leaders about finance and accounting, sales and logistics.

# 3 keep building your network – and don’t rest on your laurels

Networking has been a core skill for Phung. These networking skills are paying off. He found a new supplier thanks to a friend who owns a cafe. And he won a big client through an online networking event hosted by Jane Palmer of Denison.

Mai Coffee is also gaining ground in other ways. Locally, the Granville restaurant Mai Chau tests its coffee for its customers. It’s a natural fit to accompany Mai Chau’s Vietnamese cuisine. Hangout Slivy’s Campus also offers aromatic beer.

More networking made it possible to connect with an import broker through David Hirsh, Executive in Residence for Denison’s Global Trade Major. Hirsh was generous with his time in other ways as well. “David gave me a crash course on importing and taught me how to import my coffee beans in bulk,” Phung said.

Phung also learned from successful entrepreneurs and Denison alumni through Denison’s Red Frame Lab, which opened doors to pitch competitions that allowed him to refine his proposal and build a nationwide network. He has achieved great success by winning pitch competitions, rising to the national level.

“Winning those pitch contests was wonderful, but looking back, there was also a downfall,” he says. “Money is good, but when you win it can over-inflate your ego. Losers must persevere. Winners may start by thinking they have a good pitch and a great product, but in reality you still get as many ‘no’s’ as anyone else. “

Next steps: a job at Amazon and continue to grow your business

Amazon has already come knocking on Phung’s door. A summer internship transformed into a job offer as area manager in charge of operations, managing 150 people. Operations are often understaffed and a large part of his job will be to motivate his employees.

“You have to determine your team. The first week is the worst, but it gets better as you get to know the people you work with. Phung finds that soft skills like teamwork and empathy can go a long way. He also tries to talk to everyone at least once a day. “You can talk briefly about work and find out what excites them. Ask questions, check in, and keep your spirits up.

And the growth of his business will always be at the forefront. “My aunt is interested in investing with me. I want to continue working on Mai Coffee, but I’m already looking beyond. I see a lot of possibilities in the import business. Once you have your contacts, you can import a variety of things.

Looks like the caffeine is setting in.


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