Meet Michael Riady of Tentera Coffee Roasters.
Briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today
It was a series of events over a long period of time for me to conclude I wanted to go into coffee. I was a former CEO and Vice Chairman of South East Asia’s largest shopping mall owner and analyzed a lot of tenants/retailers’ businesses during my 14 years tenure. I learned a lot about coffee just being in the mall business. Secondly, my distant cousin back in college pitched me the idea to open a coffee shop on our campus in 2001 but never made it because he passed away inside the plane crash WTC Tower 2 during 9/11. Third, my family is one of the largest coffee owners in Indonesia and we have very deep relations in the country, so I had somewhere to start with. I spend a lot of time over the years going to coffee plantations and learned about the whole vertical supply chain whenever I could. Fourth, I went to Scotland one day and saw how the Scottish was great at promoting the best Scotch Whisky from all parts of the country. And in the whisky industry, it was like Scotch, vs. Japanese vs. American whisky specialists. Same in wine, it goes by country of origin first. And I was like, why don’t they do this in coffee industry? The coffee industry needs to go through a massive turnaround and I believe serious coffee lovers wants the best coffee and it can only be delivered if someone is specialized in a specific region and keeps its authenticity. And for me, it was like Why go all over the world to source coffee, when I’m five-generation Indonesian, and I already come from the world’s most diversified and 4th largest coffee producer since the Dutch brought Indonesian coffee to Europe many centuries ago? Lastly, I love coffee myself. It’s a passion. I love Indonesian coffee, and I wanted to share with the world about Indonesian coffee in an official way and give Indonesian farmers a chance to share their story to the world. People already knew Sumatra, Java and Bali but people do not realize those islands are part of the 13,000 tropical islands of Indonesia. Money was not the primary reason but giving back and helping to advance Indonesia is more important to me and I wanted American consumers to taste Indonesian coffee directly without middle men. So finally, in 2017, I moved back permanently to the US after spending many years in Indonesia and started officially the new venture, and I sold all my Ferraris and invested in a coffee roaster. In fact, I purchased the industry’s state of the art roaster brand Loring because I believe in consistency quality for my customers and helping the planet due to its lowest carbon emission. In just less than two years, we have completed our roasting facility, build a team, launch our online business, secured many restaurant clients, and now on the shelves of natural grocery chain like Bristol Farms, Farm Shop in Brentwood, Vicente Foods, Pinks Dot, Jensens San Diego among others. I got to where I am today just by executing what I have been dreaming since 2001 and that means taking concrete steps, and don’t let anyone stop you. Anything is possible if you want it badly, and I quit my CEO job, moved to America, sold my cars and start putting the pieces together.
Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The execution has not been smooth for sure. I would say 2018 was my toughest year in my whole career physically and mentally. I’m the only shareholder so I have no one to bounce ideas during difficult times. It was very lonely. I worked 18 hours a day and slept at 4am frequently. I was dealing everything myself from selecting the raw green bean, importing, storing, construction, setting up the team, permitting, marketing, financing, accounting, etc. All the burden of the company was on my shoulders. I got rejected so many times. I got stood up couple times. I had to get up every morning with a new fresh attitude and also be very patient because things don’t come overnight. It’s all about grinding and not giving up and believing in yourself. I was very lucky even in the last two years, I’ve met people that have really been there for me because they believe in my mission, my product and kept fighting for me. Where I am today is not because of me, but because of the people who believed in me and they still there today. And with Covid, its also a blessing in disguise. Although our cafes had to shut down and tough for a lot of my staffs, but we received so many new customers at our online store and our repeat customers have been the most amazing. They are so loyal and I’m so grateful to them. I don’t even know where people hear us from, and so many people come to our online and started buying and we have customers that started buying extremely large volumes and it blew my mind away. I just thank Christ for leading my life, the business and empowering me to keep going.
What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of as a company?
Tentera comes from the Indonesian word Tentara, a soldier that does good causes. I like nature, wildlife and I wanted to help conservation projects find a recurring and sustainable source of income. Coffee is the second largest most traded commodity in the world after oil and it reaches everyone everywhere. Coffee has no boundaries. So I said to myself we should use coffee to help spread the story of conservation and ultimately fund conservation projects. Each time coffee sells, we give back a percentage to conservation and now we have a recurring source of income. I grew up being taught about stewardship and impacting lives, so Tentera is a mission project based on what my family has taught me. Tentera specializes solely on premium Indonesian focus specialty coffee from the 13,000 islands archipelago. We want to showcase the finest varieties coffee to American consumers and we want people to try coffee that they never heard of or tried because most traditional coffee company in America are mass market or generic lower end quality. Tentera is exclusive, premium and limited in batches and we target coffee lovers who can wants authentic coffee directly from authentic Indo-family owned businesses. We are Indonesian roots, we only sell what we know and exceed customer expectations. I do not want to sell Brazilian coffee to Americans when I’m not a Brazilian. It’s like going to eat Sushi without a Japanese chef at the bar. So I say to my customers, I’m sorry we cannot service you and its better you find a Brazilian. But if you want the best Indonesian coffee, you are at the right place at the right time. We are not only about the packaging but seriously, we are about quality of our coffee and ingredient source. Tentera is proud to say we only rely on two sources in one country for our raw ingredients, which means that we can control, monitor and manage our supply chain very easily and ensure our quality remains the highest standard. In many cases, other coffee companies goes through multiples brokers and global suppliers and blends and they cannot get consistency because coffee depends on mother nature and complex supply chain. We avoid all of that, because why make it harder when it does not have to right? Tentera coffee must be excellent in its own single-origin format otherwise I will not offer to my customers. We avoid blending coffee because blending is the simple way to lower business costs and offer mediocre coffee. And our coffee factory goes through rigorous machine sorting of raw green bean by color sorting, density sorting, shape sorting, plus sorting by manual labor to cross check and minimize mistakes. It’s very intense to make the finest coffee. As of today, we do not spend money on marketing. I have zero marketing budget. It’s only organic, word of mouth and you have to find us to know us and try it to be surprised.
How do you, personally, define success? What’s your criteria, the markers you’re looking out for, etc?
Success is when all my stakeholders are 100% happy. I’m the last person to think about. My customers must be very happy with our product and story and if they do, they repeat again. So repeat business is an important factor. Secondly, my conservation partners can accomplish their duties because we are contributing to them is important. We need to show we are reliable and they can count on us. And this applies to our 1.5 million farmers that grows coffee too, we want to ensure we can support their livelihood and they can rely on us. At the end of the day, Tentera is about stewardship. We are just trusted to do something excellence. And we handle that with care. I feel happy when I see the same customers re-order over and over again, and how much when we all add up the coffee purchases, we can all hold hands and make a significant impact on conservation and the planet Earth. Wow, coffee is powerful and most people don’t even realize we can utilize coffee to make an impact.