Two enterprising upstarts have boldly decided to challenge the status-quo that exists in Nepal’s coffee culture.
--BY MUNA SUNUWAR
Two college friends Kishan Gurung and Niran Shrestha embarked on a journey to provide cheap coffee for everyone and break the stereotypical concept of coffee as a luxury drink in Nepal. Gurung, co-founder of Coffee2Go Nepal says coffee is not that expensive of a drink. “Operating costs make the drink expensive,” he says. Coffee2Go is an initiation by the duo to show the youth the immense opportunities they can explore in Nepal. “We want to be an example for the youth yearning to go abroad in search of opportunities,” Gurung explains. Many people, to date, are unaware that coffee is cultivated in Nepal and contrary to popular notion, is not obscenely expensive. “We want people from every class to experience the coffee culture,” Shrestha adds. The company was registered in 2017 and started off in 2018. The startup currently employs two people.
Kishan Gurung was introduced to the concept of a mobile coffee shop when he was in Switzerland. He saw a mobile coffee shop outside a church and envisioned it in Nepal. Gurung had experience in coffee making and Shrestha was good at marketing, together, they form a complementary team. They had thought of opening a coffee shop in the beginning but they soon realised they were just going to be yet another regular coffee shop having to share customers. That is when they came up with the idea of creating a customer base of their own with an innovative twist. Turning a coffee shop into a compact mobile shop was not an easy job as they had to tackle the challenge of converting a 4300-watt coffee machine into a 300-watt one.
Coffee for everyone
Coffee shops in Nepal are mushrooming but despite such competition, people are still paying a lot for a cup of Joe. Coffee shops charge an average of Rs 160 for Americano while, in contrast, Coffe2Go sells it for Rs 60.
The motto behind the operation of Coffee2Go is “coffee for everyone”. Gurung wanted to bring forth a revolution in the coffee culture. They claim they serve coffee of similar quality to other coffee shops but at lower prices. Coffee at Coffee2Go costs from Rs 50 to Rs 100. Gurung and Shrestha have successfully minimised the operating costs by making the shop mobile and minimising the power used by the coffee machine.
The company has served at musical events, functions and programmes. The two coffee makers share that the return of investment they have made is encouraging. Shrestha believes if people don’t feel ashamed of the work they do, there is an immense opportunity in Nepal. With the coffee shop integrated into a van, they are free from expenses such as rent and furniture to accommodate customers. “Coffee prices are high because of these expenses for the shops. We thought as we are free from these expenses, we will provide coffee at the cheapest price possible,” adds Gurung. Most Nepali students seeking a foreign education take coffee making classes. Shrestha shares, “With that knowledge, they can earn a living here in Nepal. And talking about the risk, it is minimum as even if the business does not go well, they are left with the property; the vehicle and coffee machine that can be re-utilised.” Shrestha says demand during winter is comparatively higher than during summer.
Challenges and Risks
The market price for coffee in Nepal has been set by most of the prominent coffee shops. The comparatively cheaper priced coffee has been questioned by the existing market setters. Gurung and Shrestha, in their defence, say their aim is not to ruin the coffee market but to make the drink affordable to everyone.
The company started during the summer, which posed a challenge, as Nepalis have not quite developed the idea of drinking hot drinks during the summer. Arranging and setting up the coffee bar into a compact van was another major hurdle the company faced.
Gurung says had he introduced the concept two years later, people would have understood it better and it would have been easier for the duo to elevate the business. As a mobile coffee shop, it has to be portable with the ability to operate anywhere including places where electricity is not available. The coffee machine is backed up by a generator and utilises only 300 watts of electricity.
Though Coffee2Go has earned a place in the hearts of customers, they have been facing accusations of ruining the market rate for major coffee shops around the Kathmandu Valley. However, these kinds of disruptions are expected to take place when an effective startup emerges. Raising awareness regarding coffee culture and the benefits of its consumption is a challenge the startup is facing.
Operating the mobile coffee shop was a challenge as they were perplexed regarding the location where they could run the business. The co-founders visited the municipality office a few times but were informed that there were no specific rules for street vendors. “There are no rules regarding mobile stalls in Nepal because of which we decided to run our service in events and programmes for the time being,” mentions Shrestha.
The seed capital of Coffee2Go was Rs 1.2 million. “The investment is small and there is no risk of losing the money you invest as you will be left with the property that can be re-utilised,” says Gurung. Having witnessed many Nepalis working as baristas in foreign countries, Gurung believes they can start the business right away. Gurung hopes the government focuses on creating an environment where the youth can innovate and pursue their entrepreneurial journey with ease. The startup is positive they will prosper further in the years to come. As the company is operating through one mobile van, it plans to expand its franchise.