About us

My interview with the TraditionalBusiness.club

Hello! What’s your name and what do you do?

My name is Michaelle, a Rwandan citizen living in Singapore with my husband and two daughters.

We moved to Singapore exactly 2 years ago from Dubai as my husband got his job transferred here. A year after we had settled in I started my company, Kawah coffee, and I import green coffee beans from my family’s farm in Rwanda to roast, pack and sale here.

It is a one woman show as I basically do it all by myself, from sourcing to selling through my website and a couple retail spaces.

My parents have had the farm for 27 years now but it started off from a tiny piece of land in the village where my dad was born in 1940.

There were a series of wars and genocide in Rwanda from 1959 to 1994 and my parents fled Rwanda. We lived in exile until 1994 and my dad was finally able to go back to his village. Between 1994 and 2000, he bought several small pieces of land around the area and grew the farm to a whole 30ha farm.

Hi! This is me – Michaelle.

Where does your passion for entrepreneurship and coffee come from?

I think I got inspired growing up by my parents. They had day jobs and always had businesses of their own through my childhood and adulthood. We moved countries several times and they always managed to reinvent themselves quite successfully.

Through the years, I learnt about coffee by spending time at the farm before I was 20. I then took a course to learn about coffee roasting at the beginning of 2020 here in SG with one of the best known Singaporean coffee masters who also owns the co-roasting space I use every week to roast my coffee beans. In Rwanda, we have a roasting plant at the farm but it was important for me to roast the coffee here in Singapore so I to always deliver fresh beans.

When did you decide to turn your passion into a business?

I started Kawah coffee officially in August 2020, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Though I had been working on this project since December 2019 and it took a few months to get around the design of the logo, the paperwork to register the company, the opening of the bank account, ordering packaging ecc…some of these steps were done when people had started working from home therefore slowing the whole process down.

My first shipment arrived in October and I sold my first coffee bags to the Rwandan Embassy here in SG which was looking for end of year gifts as well as individuals who bought bags of coffee through Lazada where I was listed that same month. In November, I started retailing at the green collective shop in Funan mall and in January 2021 my website was live!

What’s your favourite part about running your business?

My favourite part of running the business is definitely connecting with the customers. They are usually impressed when I tell them that my family has had the coffee farm from which the coffee beans they just bought for 30 years. I get to show them photos of my homeland and speak about my country which I haven’t been able to go too in a while.

In a typical week, I dedicate one day to roasting and packing coffee so that I deliver fresh beans to my customers. One day is for admins, accounts and paperwork and another day for programming my week of social media presence. I visit each retail store where my coffee is sold at least once a week and restock when necessary. Everyday I dedicate a few hours to organizing online orders and deliveries.

Who are the customers of Kawah Rwanda?

My customers are local and expats living in Singapore and are usually coffee connoisseurs. My coffee is a single origin and specialty coffee which is the crème the la crème and the best kind of coffee you can get.

Usualy they are also people who care about sustainability and the story behind my brand.

Our farm employs women in majority (90%) and has contributed largely to the development of our region and country. The coffee cherries are handpicked and selected therefore of the highest quality. The fact that I personally roast the coffee weekly to ensure freshness, also plays a big role in their purchase decision.

The Kawah Coffee farm in Kinunu, Rwanda

How long did it take you to breakeven?

To start the business I used saving made over the years and I am yet to breakeven as it has only been a year since the start of this venture.

The biggest challenge I faced was to start during a pandemic in a country where I had only just arrived and knew maximum 20 people by the time I registered the company 😊

I was not able to properly launch with an event as I had planned to but word of mouth and active presence in social media help create a community that supports my brand.

Let’s talk about the digital side of your business. When did you establish your online presence and what made you do that?

My website launched in January 2021.

With people working from home, it was only logical to sell online. I only had 2 sales in January and every months since then the sales have been growing and the numbers of online sales are higher than the sales I make through the retail stores where I stock the coffee.

How did you do that?

My website was made by a website designer and I had to take a few courses on social media during lockdown last year. I also joined the pickling club community where I get taught and given tips on everything digital marketing.

Today, how much of your business is traditional and how much of it is digital?

For me, since I do everything on my own for now, I would say it is a good mixture of both traditional and digital. Probably a 50-50 split.

Do you have a chief marketing officer or a dedicated digital marketing/tech team?

I am the Chief Marketing officer of Kawah coffee as well as the CEO!

I am able to tell people about my brand because Kawah represents a big part of who I am and my family history. I do not think anyone else at this moment could market it more than myself especially here in Singapore where not everyone knows about Rwandan coffee or Rwanda itself. Eventually, I might need help when the business has grown.

I have learnt how to use social media, send emails and manage my website through trials and fails but have enjoyed the process since day 1 and I am slowly seeing results.

What digital activities do you do to grow your business?

I do a bit of everything and recently ventured into the world of SEO 😊

My social media presence is high and even more since I started to do ads (fb and Insta for now). I try to do monthly blogging and weekly emailing.

What tools do you use in your business?

I use WordPress & WooCommerce for my website and Canva and Planoly for social media content and scheduling. I love taking photos with my Iphone too! I use ActiveCampaign for emails.

What’s your advice for someone in your industry who wants to modernise their business?

Digital marketing is the way to go and even more now during the pandemic. People spend more time and money behind their screens then ever before.

Where can we learn more about you?

4 things that make Kawah coffee unique in the UK
Great taste 2021 Award results are out!
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