When I first e-met Ian, I could sense great enthusiasm in his words. He is passionate about coffee and dreams about blazing a trail in the country’s highly contested cafe industry.
But it was when he told me about his plan to sell his products with vending machines instead of a physical shop that got my attention.
Vending machines are unfamiliar with most Myanmar people. And most coffee lovers prefer it freshly brewed. So, selling ready-to-drink coffee with vending machines is an exciting yet challenging concept. I dug deep into the mind of this young entrepreneur.
Ian, also known as Naing Oak Soe Latt, got his financial degree from University of Melbourne. Taking part-time jobs in well-known establishments like Calia, Plantation, and Kinfolk in the “coffee capital” of the world equipped him with extensive knowledge of running a cafe.
“I began with menial tasks from washing dishes, scrubbing trash bins to clearing tables. I slowly climbed my way up to the bar before having a chance to start making drinks and got a proper chance to connect with coffee,” Ian reflects.
So, it’s only natural that he came back to his motherland with a dream to take part in farming, sourcing and roasting specialty coffee, and ultimately a boutique roastery-cafe.
“We take on a lax approach in contrast to the notion that every business has to be a serious, profit-maximising entity. Having said that, we’re definitely not a whimsical brand, and we do take our products seriously. It’s just that seriousness may not be as important to us as a core value as compared to making our customers smile.”
If you check his business page, you would find bright, funky colours that remind you of beach walks and sunny days. The tagline “Don’t be FOMO!” itself is a fun wordplay encouraging customers to try the drinks in order to not feel missed out, he explains.
FOMO. shows a promising start, selling 1000+ bottles within the first week from preorders alone. Among his drinks, Pumpkin Spice Latte stands out, selling over 200 bottles in the first two days of its debut. He even had to close down the shop for a few days to restock the ingredients.
“Most of the drinks are not sweet, so it also came as a surprise to us when most of our customers keep returning for more. Currently, all the drinks in the menu incorporate 100% local ingredients aside from the matcha powder.
“I haven’t had a chance to conduct a proper survey on my customers, but I do plan to do a blind tasting session in the future.”
His customers encouraged him to make the drinks more widely available and the pandemic has pressured many entrepreneurs to think outside the box. This is how he started considering a vending machine concept.
It presents both opportunities and challenges. It saves rent and salary. Sure, there is novelty in it. But how does he make sure that the drinks are fresh after being kept in a machine for days?
He replies: “I do not intend to use preservatives at all. The drinks, when stored properly in the fridge, generally stay good for 5-7 days. For the vending machines, I’ve customised the temperature to keep it below 1 degree to retain the freshness of the drinks.
“Despite saying this, proper stock keeping and inventory management will be an important issue that I will have to tackle. I also have plans to model a central kitchen with a cold room to prepare my drinks in the future.”
So far, he has been talking with major mall outlets for partnership and secured a location in Junction City. Ian is also looking for opportunities to set up his machines in populated areas in town.
“It would take a while for the people to get used to buying drinks from a machine but I’m optimistic that they will love it once they realise how hassle-free it’ll become. Hopefully, I can cover most of the major malls in 1-2 years.”
COVID-19 has made us grow out of the traditional models of doing business. It is time for young start-ups to rejuvenate the country’s economy with fresh ideas. With an eye to the future, Ian reminisces the past that shaped who he is today.
“From time to time, I’d look back fondly at the memories of how I started – drenched head to toe in dirty dishes water, laughing with the kitchen crew and dancing to September by Earth, Wind & Fire.”