Expat: Mehdi Ferradj

Hong Kong, July 2016

Mehdi is born and raised in France and is now based in Hong Kong for almost 5 years now. We met hem during an event in the co-working place ‘Garage Society, where he was promoting his startup Kawa Coffee. We wanted to know more about his decision to move to Hong Kong and how he ended up starting his own business.


Moving to Hong Kong
I was 25 years old when I moved to Hong Kong. The first two years I was really focused on my job. I switched jobs a couple of times within the same bank. At some point, somewhere in 2012/2013, I started to get a little bit bored of the work because it started to limit itself. The banking industry is actually a really mature industry. Everything is well organized and processes have already been set up. What I missed the most is the ability to create new things, so I was looking for something different beside my job at the bank. 



Starting a company in HK
My decision to start something new ment that there were a lot of practical stuff I had to worry about. Luckily, it is pretty easy to start a new company in Hong Kong. On the practical level it is pretty straightforward to begin. One of the first things I did when starting this project is applying for an incubation program called ‘Hong Hong Science & Technology Parks’. After a presentation Kawa got accepted on the 18-month incubation program. They covered our expenses by providing an office space and we had the possibility to get funded up to 400.000 HKD. The hardest thing of a startup is that you don’t get paid immediately, so you have to do it aside your regular work.


The coffee scene in Hong Kong
Because coffee is such a daily thing, I thought there was really a market to start up a concept around coffee. When I was doing research on the coffee scene in Hong Kong, by reading tech magazines for example, I realized there was really a need for an initiative in the coffee scene. I analyzed that big cities were starting to look the same, with all the big franchises taking over and opening more and more stores. People are looking for alternatives because of that; there is a demand for smaller coffeeshops with qualitative better products, handmade by an artisan. 


Building the brand
At the end of 2014 I contacted a friend who was interested in working with me and so we started to build the brand. We contacted a lot of coffee shops to gather their needs and ideas. This process took 3 to 6 months. We asked them what they needed and if we could help them with our platform. A lot of coffee shops asked for different things and the Kawa app is actually built on the needs of these coffee shops.

After the research period we decided to create a different and unique concept around the pricing of coffee and integrated this into an app. The concept: instead of selling different types of coffee with different prices, we are selling cups all for the same price. So whether a costumer buys a small espresso or a large latte, it will not matter in the pricing. In the app, people can buy cups for one price and exchange it for a cup of coffee by choice in one of the coffeeshops we work with. At the coffeeshop, costumers can use the app to pay. By doing this, we want to guarantee that the price of one cup of coffee will never be more than 30 HKD, offering the freedom for people to purchase what they want based on one price.


What we really want to do with Kawa is to give the costumer an insight of coffee shops that we really like instead of just giving a top 10 list of the best coffee shops in Hong Kong. Whether someone likes a cup of coffee or not depends on the persons taste and is pretty subjective. That is why we not only seek for coffeeshops with qualitative good coffee but also those that provide a nice and special environment for the costumer. The experience of drinking coffee in a particular place should be at least as important as the coffee itself. And therefore we seek for those coffee entrepreneurs that match our approach. 


It took a year (October 2014) from idea to the launch of the Kawa app (October 2015). At first Kawa had a different name and our logo was terrible. But we had to start somewhere. After searching for different names we came up with the name Kawa. For the logo we asked a bunch of designers from the Behance database to design a logo. We wanted something very neat and clean and we didn’t want something that would be dark or brown, something that really related to coffee. Because coffee has become such a lifestyle product we wanted Kawa to express this with modern and bright colors. For the branding, we first looked for HK designers, but the results were really terrible. I always liked Japanese designers, because of there speciale eye on minimal design, so we asked two Japanese designers to work for us. It took a month and many emails before they send me a bunch of drafts and we slowly created the logo that highlighted as well the cup of coffee as the payment with the app. Eventually, art director/designer Masaomi Fujita made our logo.




Goals and dreams for the future
Kawa is an obsession for me, it is the first thing I think about when I go to bed and the last thing I think about before I go to sleep. My goal for Kawa is to create a network/platform that goes beyond one city so it can connect small coffee shops from different cities. My dream is to include the farmers in the cycle of the coffee purchase by re-introduce them in a different way. I believe that farmers should be paid, not only before the production of coffee, but also after consumption. By rewarding them based on consumption, we can change the way farmers are being paid. We want to integrate this way of doing business at Kawa. 

My inspiration
I asked myself and wondered a long time about why I was so passionate about Kawa. The story behind that is the one from my father that runs a small shop in Paris, selling electronics, satellites and that kind of stuff. He always has to compete with the big chains and with the Internet providers that provide the same products for a lower price. But my father always provides good customer service, working on Sundays and whenever someone needs him. When costumers call my father on a Sunday, my father immediately comes and fix it so his costumers can watch the football game for example. This service and personal approach can not be provided by the big electronic chains. So I think I always have had a special thing with the more artisan side of business compared to the more established corporate side. I think that is what I saw in Kawa: a coffee concept that enhances the ability for smaller coffee shops to stay independent.  


Thanks to Hong Kong, we created Kawa
When I came here I didn’t expect to stay so long. I didn’t necessarily see it as a big change of life. The most negative thing of being here is not being with my family. It is a big thing that I am trading for a life abroad. And soccer. The time that they broadcast soccer is terrible. Apart from this I am happy with the decision I have made. I don’t think Kawa would have created this impact in France because I don’t think there would be an environment in France that would have let me creating my own company, my own startup. I don’t know if it’s because France itself or about being abroad and being outside your comfort zone that leads you to creativity and creation. Either way, I am grateful for Hong Kong, because thanks to Hong Kong we created Kawa. Now it is time to launch our concept in other countries and one of them will be France! Starting Kawa is the most important thing I have ever done and I am not planning to stop doing it any time soon.


For more information about Kawa, visit their website and follow them on Instagram.