Deric Loh is on a mission to connect small roasteries across Singapore and other countries with consumers around the world. We talked to Deric to learn more about his journey.
BY JASON HUFFNAGLE
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Deric Loh is the owner and founder of Polecat, a Singapore-based monthly coffee subscription service launching later this year. In the past, Deric has built e-commerce platforms for small to medium-sized businesses; now he is leveraging this experience to connect small Asian roasteries with consumers in the United States, with plans to later expand into other markets across the globe. In this interview, Deric shares a bit about his coffee journey, his passion and missional focus on specialty Asian coffees, and his experience using technology to build and scale web-based retail enterprises.
Jason Huffnagle: Do you remember when you first became interested in coffee?
Deric Loh: It was pretty early on—I remember mornings as a kid at my grandmother’s house, waking to the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee. My morning ritual was watching the adults consume this black liquid, and I always wanted to have a sip but was told, “It’s not for kids.” One day, when my grandmother wasn’t watching, I snuck some and really didn’t like it. You would think that would have curbed my curiosity, but it didn’t; in fact, I think it fueled it.
In 2010, on holiday in Bali, my taste buds were awakened when, after many years of settling for instant coffee, I was invited by a barista at a local café to try some filter coffee. Initially unsure, my very first cup of filter coffee revolutionized my idea of what coffee was, and I haven’t gone back to instant coffee since.
JH: Tell us a little bit about Polecat, the monthly coffee subscription service you’ll be launching soon.
DL: We want to make great coffee from Asia accessible globally. When my coffee journey began eight years ago, I started trying every café and local coffee roaster I could back home and during my travels throughout Asia. I soon realized I wanted to replicate, as best as I could, my experience for others, to help them discover and try coffee from otherwise unknown roasters. This starting point developed into what Polecat is now, a service that enables adventurous coffee lovers, no matter where they are, to easily try coffee from the Asian continent—without having to worry about logistics and shipping costs and hopefully finding their next favorite roaster along the way.
JH: I love Polecat’s emphasis on discovery. So many people are stuck in their routine—inertia keeping them well inside their comfort zone. It can take a certain amount of courage to get out of the routine and try something new. So, speaking of something new, is this your first time working with coffee, or have you done something else in the industry before?
DL: This is my first venture into the coffee world, something that I guess started when I first fell down the coffee rabbit hole when I was young and has since developed into a bit of a journey, going from initially trying out different cafés, to making my own coffee at home, and finally moving into providing others with access to speciality coffees they might not otherwise enjoy.
JH: What has it been like launching your own company? Tell us a bit about your process.
DL: Even though I have started other businesses, getting to this point with Polecat has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. So far, I have experienced success in this process by quite simply breaking down business goals into actionable monthly/weekly/daily tasks and digging deeper into what needs to be implemented, [including] partnerships, marketing, logistics, tech, customer service, and finance. And finding and partnering with talented, entrepreneurially minded individuals has been key in building out these key aspects of the business too.
JH: So you’ve started your own business before. What kinds of businesses/ventures have you done in the past?
DL: I started a digital marketing agency were we helped venture-backed startups and regional businesses across Asia build and scale their businesses. I have also created two e-commerce platforms (similar to Shopify and BigCommerce) back in 2011 (Singapore) and 2016 (Eastern Europe), respectively … what I created enabled small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to build and grow their online retail businesses, providing greater access to a larger market segment.
JH: You focus on coffees grown and roasted in Asia—besides sharing your own experience with others, would you say there’s a missional reason for this emphasis?
DL: Creating relationships with farmers/roasters in speciality regions that most people might be unaware of is central to what we do at Polecat. Other than the coffee shops or roasters that are commonly featured on blogs and websites, there are many great coffee roasters and cafés in Asia that would otherwise remain unknown. Many of the micro-roasters we work with would remain that way, but Polecat provides coffee lovers around the world with the opportunity to try great coffee from exotic, off-the-map places.
JH: What did you do to establish relationships with the different roasters in your supply network?
DL: After finally deciding to make Polecat a reality, I started hopping onto planes and meeting roasters one-by-one. I spend a lot of time working with the roasters to help showcase their coffee in ways that help it appeal to coffee lovers outside of their country as well.
JH: Do you have to spend a lot of time convincing roasters that selling their product globally is a good idea? Or do people see the advantages immediately?
DL: Because of demands that come with day-to-day operations of their roastery/café, most roasters don’t have time to deal with international logistics. This is where Polecat meets a real need, and a lot of people see that right away. I work closely with the roasters, focusing right now on our initial launch in the United States. This includes identifying what works and what might not from a variety of vantage points (operations, logistics, packaging, customer service, etc.) and refining product offerings (i.e., the types of roast profiles/beans/taste profile that the customers desires). It will take a couple of years to really nail this process, but we look forward to using what we find to expand our service to other countries/regions.
JH: What do you do with your spare time?
DL: (Laughs) Right now I am really focused on Polecat’s launch, but I have been keeping my mind focused and clear with a regular workout routine. And, of course, fueling my day by trying and tasting different coffee, both from Asian roasters and beyond!
JH: Is there something in particular about entrepreneurship that you find attractive/exciting?
DL: Building a new business is a lot of hard work and takes a good deal of endurance and determination. I enjoy overcoming the unforeseen challenges and setbacks along the way as the business grows—essentially facing and resolving challenges I haven’t seen before.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Huffnagle is a freelance writer for Barista Magazine who has worked in coffee as a barista for six years. Having recently left his “adult job” in the U.S. Senate, the Alaska native spent four months traveling throughout Europe. You can keep up with his coffee-fueled exploits by following him at @jasonhuffnagle on Twitter.