Really Good Goods is a social enterprise that sells mainly Really Good Coffee and Really Good Tea from Timor Leste. Not only do the coffee and tea farmers benefit from this, 100% of Really Good Goods’ profits go towards helping educational causes there. And all thanks to its founder, Lock Hui Min.
Inspiration for Really Good Goods
Hui Min’s inspiration came from a big Australian social enterprise, Thankyou. She was struck by how effective their marketing and business model is. At that time, Hui Min has been going on volunteer trips with her church to Timor Leste and realised how good their coffee bean is. Most social enterprises sell craft, and people buy because of the social cause which may end up in a drawer somemore. But coffee is something that people will appreciate and drink, which makes it a perfect product to start with.
But as a little-known country, the superb quality of its coffee beans has gone largely unnoticed by the world. And bingo! Her yearning to do something meaningful with her marketing skills + high quality coffee from the farmers of Timor Leste = Really Good Goods!
It wasn’t an easy decision for Hui Min though. She thought long and hard about it for a couple of years and looked at the different business models she can adopt, but was held back by the seeming-impossible plan.
“At first, our intention was to make Singapore the distribution hub for the coffee beans. But logistics will be a huge issue and I will need to ship a whole container to lower cost. 18 tons of coffee beans! That will mean distributing it to other countries as well. I didn’t have the expertise nor time to do it. It felt really scary to even start.”
After 2 long years, what made Hui Min finally gather her courage for the benefit of the unprivileged in Timor Leste?
“It’s really the encouragement from my friend in Timor Leste. On one of my trips as I was talking to him about the many challenges the business will face, he reminded me of a bible verse to trust in God to do good. He said that if my intention is to do good, trust in God that he will open the door. I didn’t have to think so far. Wah 18 tons of coffee. I can just start small. And that really encouraged me more.” She recalled.
“So I went home and calculated the figures again to see if it’s feasible on a small scale. And yes, if I start small, it is doable, but it may not be sustainable. But I decided to just try and see where it goes.”
She decided to partner Bettr Barista to roast the beans and package it for her. “I like Bettr Barista because it is also a social enterprise. They run programs to teach disadvantaged women and youth various skills, both in coffee and life management. I thought it is a really good synergy between us.”
And as expected, challenges abound for Really Good Goods. “Competitors are everywhere in Singapore. You have your supermarkets selling cheap coffee beans. Then you have the mainstream coffee chains like Starbucks and Coffee Bean. And now we have specialty coffee like Chye Seng Huat and Lawn. It is easy to start, but not easy to sustain. And honestly, it is not sustainable now,” Hui Min lamented.
Besides marketing her business on social media, like Facebook and Instagram, she tried to reach out to the public in various ways.
“So last year I decided to host an event where I got one of the baristas from Timor Leste to come down to give a demonstration. I invited influencers to try the coffee, but the turnout rate was not very good.”
“I also went for a couple of bazaars, but it was very demoralising. I had to take annual leave for one of it, and I only sold enough to cover the cost of the rental,” Hui Min said, looking dejected.
“I’m currently supplying OTC cafe at National Library plus the sales from my website. Discounting the sunk cost that I’ve invested in, the sales can cover the costs for now, but with no profits.”
Sunk cost? If she was able to donate her profits to help build St Paul Methodist School in Dili, Timor Leste in 2017, doesn’t that mean she should have recouped her initial investment?
“Not really. It is not really profitable yet. When I started Really Good Goods, I was already ready to invest part of my savings and treat it as sunk cost. As part of my faith, I believe that we should not be overly dependent on worldly possessions. I was ready to invest my money, time and skills for a meaningful cause.”
In that case, how did Hui Min decide how much profits to donate to the school building fund?
“I struggled with it a lot,” she admitted. “I felt that people supported me for the cause, that I was doing good things. I wanted to be accountable to these people who supported me. So I took the profits from the coffee that I’ve sold and donated it to the fund.”
“I learnt to hustle,” she laughed. “I really dislike asking people for help. But I had to thicken my skin and asked one of my friends, whose family deals in logistics, for help in securing the import license as I did not know anything about it.”
One thing she is still lamenting about.
“One of my goals is to let the public know more about Timor Leste and get the word out how good their coffee is. But I still think people are buying from me for the cause.”
Future of Really Good Goods
As demoralising as it can be to run Really Good Goods, Hui Min has not stopped thinking of ways she can help the people in Timor Leste.
“I’ve thought of teaching them how to do polymer clay jewellery. But the market in Singapore may not be very feasible for it. I don’t want to get them to make 100 pieces of jewellery and end up not being able to sell them. But no matter what, it is low cost and can still be a useful skill for them to pick up.”
The real question now is, how long can she sustain Really Good Goods for?
“I want to use the profits to sponsor children to stay in a hostel closer to their school. Currently, they take 2 hours to get to school from their village because it’s a mountainous region. The hostel is only 10mins from their school and they offer enrichment programs too. High school is typically 3 years. I’m thinking of sponsoring 2-3 children or maybe more, so if I stop, there will be no one to continue this pipeline.”
Then she left me with a teaser.
“This year I’m doing a collaboration with Chye Seng Huat to promote Timor Leste’s coffee. The people at Chye Seng Huat are very kind,” She smiles.
Head down to Chye Seng Huat on 29th Sep (Sat) 10am to hear Hui Min share about Timor Leste and grab some Really Good Coffee before they are sold out!