Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food & bev, but not sure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Mai Gan, owner of Adventure Cafe a coffee subscription service from New York City.
Tell us all about your business...
Hi, I'm Mai, the owner of Adventure Cafe, a coffee subscription service. I never planned on opening a cafe in New York City, let alone two locations. What started as a weekend gig serving drip coffee for tours from a window in the Lower East Side; grew into a very popular membership cafe where locals could get unlimited drinks for $50 a month.
During the pandemic, We decided to close the cafe; but we wanted to continue providing our members with excellent coffee. So we started delivering coffee to their homes. The physical locations were sold in May of 2020, and we continue to roast coffee in Brooklyn and ship it all over the United States. The adventure continues by providing a new coffee from a different region each month, as well as interesting recipes to try at home!
What's your background and motivation to grow as a solopreneur?
You could say I'm a serial entrepreneur :) I've started many businesses with the help of my family. For example: in high school, I hired all my friends to make smoothies at farmer's markets around Chicago (this was pre-Jamba Juice and the juicing craze). People were paying $5 a cup for a smoothie in 2013. It helped me pay my way through college.
The concept for Adventure Cafe came after a trip to Thailand. My business partner owned an Adventure Travel company, and we wanted to provide a meeting point with coffee and bagels for the tours. The location happened to be in the hallway of a co-working space, and before I knew it, I was buying my first espresso machine and opening a cafe in the hardest city in the world.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Doing what I love daily. I am very proud of the fact we were open for 5 years with two locations in New York. We were about to open two more locations before the pandemic, but things change. We've had to be very flexible and creative in maintaining and operating a business. At first it's hard to wrap your mind around the change (selling the cafes was a very hard choice), but staying open to pivoting and to new possibilities is key. I'm so proud of how far we've come and how much I've learned in the process.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a solopreneur?
I think this depends on the business, but I'd say time. It takes a lot of time, so be sure you are enjoying what you do so you can dedicate the time necessary to succeed. Nothing happens overnight.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run or grow a small business today?
- My first tip would be: don't be afraid to ask for help! Find someone who is doing what you want to do and take them out for coffee and ask them questions, ask for advice, ask for contacts, ask for help! Don't be proud or ashamed. The truth is no one knows what they are doing and a lot of what you will learn is from experience, but if you can avoid some early mistakes, or get connected to the right people right away you will be very happy you asked.
- Be flexible and get creative. There's always a way. The times when I thought we would have to close, when we were at our lowest point, those were the times where the best ideas came. I wasn't ready to give up on my dream, on my cafe, and that was when the membership concept happen, which not only saved my cafe, bit made us more profitable and popular than before. Second time was during Covid when I was forced to close and that led me to the e-commerce subscription service which is the Adventure Cafe of now and has given me the freedom I was longing for after working day in and day out at my brick-and-mortar.
- Know your numbers. Have a good handle on your cash flow and spend. If you can afford to hire an accountant or a friend who's good with numbers I'd recommend having them send you weekly or monthly reports. That being said, don't let fear of money stop you from pursuing your ideas! If you start with the basics, start small, and grow as you go, you will feel less pressure and you will learn as you go.
If there was one thing you could do repeatedly to help grow your business, what would it be?
Marketing and partnerships. Find ways to get your brand in front of the right people, not just more people. Spend time understanding who your customer is, and find ways to connect with them and form loyalty to your brand.
Where can people find you?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share then email email@example.com, we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.