How This Man Grew the Philippines' Coffee Culture
Steve Benitez’s love for coffee began during his time at law school, fueling late-night studying sessions. When he realized that his true passion lay in coffee, he dropped out of law school and travelled to the United States to learn more about the industry. It wasn’t long until he started Bo’s Coffee, with just a single, small location measuring six square meters.
From his travels to the United States and Europe, he brought back with him a deep passion for their coffee culture, but it’s his love for Filipino coffee which truly sets apart his chain of coffee shops, which has grown to 75 stores nationwide. He sources the best coffee and products from Philippine producers and supports local communities in the process.
Here, he tells us what it means to successfully run a purpose-driven business and how mentorship by Endeavor–an organization which provides support to high-impact entrepreneurs–challenged him to think bigger.
On being a social entrepreneur.
One of my mantras is to share whatever success I have with others. Success doesn’t mean anything if we don’t take others with us. I believe in sustainability. I don’t want to just engage in Corporate Social Responsibility and find a different foundation to work with every year. That’s not sustainable for me. So, I integrated it into our business model, which is a social enterprise model.
We deal with social entrepreneurs who build and sustain communities. We procure from them, we call it social procurement, and they manage their communities. We support them not only by procurement but also in other aspects such as such financial intelligence and farming, advising them on how to increase yields, how to improve quality.
The more stores we build, the more demand we create, the more we procure from them, the more they can sustain their communities. That’s our business model. But without us necessarily getting involved, because that’s not our expertise. Our expertise is on the front end. We empower them but we focus on what we do best, which is creating demand, building more stores, building more platforms. Our stores are not just stores, they’re platforms for social enterprises, for small business people to plug in and share our success.
On running his business with purpose.
I was looking for a purpose. I thought, what’s the significance of my stores? Why do we continue to grow? Is the measurement of growth always just more stores, profit, revenue? There has to some significance to the numbers, because you can be as big as you want but you end up just stressing yourself out. If I have a deeper purpose and meaning, it gives me a reason to wake up every morning. I can say that I’m building this because it benefits people all the way down at the grassroots level.
It’s not just about doing well but doing good. And the metric there is, how many people have we impacted at the bottom. We measure that as a metric with our social entrepreneurs.
On how Endeavor has helped him grow.
Endeavor, for me, has been instrumental in making me think bigger. I would aim for a certain size and they would challenge me. Why limit yourself to a certain size? Why not think bigger? Why not take it from 200 to 500 stores? And they provide the tools to take us there. It provides mentorships, access to markets, access to funds, access to key people. They matched me with mentors who can help me with what I think I should be working on. That’s what Endeavor has done for me.
Going through the process of Endeavor was a learning experience. Nobody has grilled my business model more than them, and from angles which I’d never about before. My experience is unique because actually I didn’t make it the first time. In 2015, I met with their International Selection Panel in San Francisco, and one of the panelists challenged my strategy and approach, so I didn’t get a unanimous vote. I took it as a learning experience, and didn’t let it discourage me from going again. That gave me an opportunity to dig deeper into my business model.
They asked me, how do you segmentize your market? How do you choose locations? How do you approve franchisees? That made me think of all the aspects of my business. All the while I thought, ‘this is a great idea.’ As an entrepreneur, the worst thing is for somebody who you don’t know to question your business model. I know my business more, right? I had to be more objective, more introspective about it, with the mindset that I’m here to learn.