“I am a social media professional and a coffee entrepreneur. These are the 2 things that I really love to do. I have been in coffee since I graduated from college in 2003. I worked for a coffee company and then for a foundation supporting Filipino coffee farmers. When the coffee company opened a branch in Shanghai, I moved there to manage it. After 4 years I came back to the Philippines and got involved in social media and digital advertising. I started organizing a lot of meet-ups and events for developers and social media practitioners met over twitter. Then in April 2013 I opened Commune, my own coffee shop in Salcedo village and at the same time I launched my own social media outfit. I do a lot of online marketing and the café offers me a physical space to connect with the people I meet virtually. That’s why it’s called ‘Commune’”

“I am an advocate for Filipino coffee and we only serve local coffee. The market here is still not as sophisticated and advanced as places like San Francisco, Melbourne or Singapore where people get really particular about where the coffee comes from and how the beans have been roasted. There is a lot of educating to do about what type of coffee is available here and what good Filipino coffee is. Many people think we only have Barako but that’s actually just one variety that grows in a specific area and we have lots of other varieties in the Philippines. Some people have this image of Philippine coffee as bad coffee so we need to re-educate the market.”

“My main goal is to propagate spaces with Filipino coffee but I don’t want to become a chain and I am not looking at the franchise model. We have been approached to supply coffee for existing restaurants and to set up a Commune corner in different establishments. It’s a more collaborative, less capital-intensive way to scale and promote Filipino coffee. Coffee shops are now opening everywhere and there is definitely more competition but that’s a good thing because it’s making people more conscious about good coffee.”

“Coffee is an all-day beverage in the Philippines and drinking coffee is an actual social activity. People choose between a bar and a café on a Saturday night. But we also have food because in the Philippines you cannot serve just coffee, you always need to have food with everything.”

“The biggest challenge with Philippines coffee is sourcing. The country consumes more than it produces so it needs to import a lot of it. Fortunately, we work closely with the Philippines Coffee Board so we get to go to the farms where farmers are trained on proper production techniques. Of course it ends up being much more laborious than just using imported coffee that has already all the proper certificates. But for us it was important to promote Filipino coffee and it turned out to be a really good brand decision. With so many cafes popping up everywhere, the fact that we only serve local coffee is a great differentiator and has become our main selling proposition.”

“How to delegate and how to deal with staff effectively are the two most important things I had to learn as an entrepreneur. At the beginning when you are running a business, you are doing everything yourself but that’s not efficient so you need to learn to let go of some of it and delegate. But delegating comes with trust and you need to be confident that your staff can handle it. It’s a very tough thing to learn. Also, you need to be really firm with your staff and strike a balance between being strict and being approachable. If you are too accommodating, people might take advantage of it. In China, work is work and my staff never came to me to talk about their personal problems but in the Philippines it’s very different. If a sibling is sick, employees might ask for cash advances or to change their work schedules. Before I used to talk to all my staff directly but it was quite challenging because they know I am the final decision maker and they take things personally so if you say no, it becomes an issue. But with a middle manager in between, that’s ok, they can say no to those requests.”

Company: Commune
Location: Manila
Founded: 2013
No of Employees: