Kong Cha Founders’ story recap

In this first episode of the Asian Executives Series from VPF, we had the opportunity to talk with the founders of Kong Cha – one of the fast-growing bubble tea chains in Finland. Not the first bubble tea shop in Helsinki but shortly after the launch, Kong Cha has become a favorite brand among the bubble tea drinkers and already managed to open two shops in Helsinki, despite the challenging Covid-19 situation.

During the 2-hour webinar, we had an interesting talk with our guest speakers, Sebastian, Chun, and Jeff, about how they founded Kong Cha and what is the future plan for the business. 

Sebastian graduated with an accounting and finance bachelor’s degree at the University of Hong Kong. Upon graduation in 2016, he worked at Credit Suisse, and subsequently at HSBC in Hong Kong. Dreaming to make an impact and seeking personal growth, he embarked on his startup journey in Hong Kong with Jeff in late 2019, together with establishing Chartipedia, a data visualization platform. With the startup visa, he has moved to Finland to continue his journey, while founding Kong Cha with Chun and Jeff in 2020.

Chun holds a Master’s Degree in engineering, he graduated in 2019 from Aalto University. His parents moved from Hong Kong to Finland during the early ’90s and they have been running restaurant businesses for over 30 years. Chun is experienced with project management and he has been running a family business from an early age. Currently, he works as a key account manager in a technology company. 

Jeff holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Finance from the University of Hong Kong. Before moving to Finland, he was an investment analyst at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. As the first Hong Kong startup granted the Finnish startup visa, Jeff moved to Finland with his data visualization startup Chartipedia in late 2019. Last winter, he further found a new bubble tea business with Sebastian and Chun.

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The creation of Kong Cha came naturally to the founding team during their first couple of months in Helsinki. Bubble tea is a very popular drink for many young Asians, but Seb and Jeff just could not find any shop offering the tea that they would enjoy in the city. Back in Hong Kong (and many other Asian cities), the popularity of bubble tea shops is similar to R-kioski in Finland – you can basically find any shop on every corner. And it is getting more popular in many European countries nowadays, so the team thought: why not have a new authentic bubble tea store in Helsinki? 

Although the Kong Cha team had some hesitation about the level of acceptance for a new product in the Finnish market, they believe in the big Asian community there. After investing in understanding the market, they have come up with the receipt for success for Kong Cha: it is about the combination of high-quality product with natural ingredients, a certain level of adaptation and customization to the Finnish market, while keeping the authentic and traditional taste of the tea in Hong Kong. While the majority of the customers of Kong Cha are Asian, the team is glad to see more and more Finnish people come to their stores for this new type of drink. Fun fact about Kong Cha: the name of the brand literally means “Hong Kong tea”, and its logo represents the traditional lion dance in Hong Kong, which is believed to bring good fortune to people. 

Several lessons from the Kong Cha team have been shared during the discussion. For anyone who would like to open a new business in Finland, the Kong Cha team suggested focusing on good preparation (in terms of market research, budgeting, time allocation, to name a few) and finding local partners with a good understanding of the market. Specifically for the food and beverage business, the location is very important, but it is also very challenging to find a good one. In the case of Kong Cha, both two stores are located in the big shopping malls and are close to public transportation intersection with the aim to secure the people flow.

Kong Cha apparently does not want to stop at only two stores at the moment. The team is working on the expansion plan and would encourage any interested person to collaborate on a franchise opportunity. There is no special requirement for the partners, as long as she/he has a passion for the bubble tea business and feels excited with the idea of further promoting the drink in the market. Kong Cha is confident with their standardized operation plan, their marketing strategies with the brand, their supply chain to ensure the highest quality ingredients, and will work closely with the partners to provide support for mutual success. Maybe your next investment opportunity then?