We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Riady and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michael, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family and its kinda in our blood. Before even starting my own business, I had a lot of experiences just by listening and watching my family business. And we had many businesses so I was able to learn so much. I would learn about strategies, business models, execution tactics, problem solving and enlarge my vision. When I came out of college, I worked as a real estate professional first for about 13 years. I was offered many investment opportunities during those period but I declined so my first business was not until 2017. I decided to stay focus on my job, and I was learning a lot, given responsibilities and I had a lot of room still to grow and I wanted to perform and prove to myself I can do it, so there was no immediate reason to move. More importantly, I wanted to learn a process and be committed. And I believe that’s important to go through a process of something from beginning to end. Many times, we quit or jump or lost interest and we lose focus and we have no patience for it. Completing this process was so important, that it gave me the confidence, the people networks I build over time, reputation and trust by people around you and in the community as a track record. You strengthen you resume by doing so. During the professional years, I went through various economic cycles so I was able to learn the good times and bad times and anticipate. I also dealt with a lot of people and I can read people’s character much better. When I decided to launch my own coffee business, I was more mature and ready and had the cushion savings to do so and I had a good fallback if it failed. I’m glad I did not rush. It just came naturally and fall into place by itself. I see a lot of people rush into business without experience and fail. And the business idea did not come over night. It has been around for more than a decade, but never implemented because timing was not right. I wanted to start something small but has the ability to scale. Start small but think big. And then execute the first step. And I wanted to be in a business that’s recession proof and not cyclical. At the end of the day, its a dream, passion, hobby and I am just pursuing it. But its not for everyone I have to say. I knew who I am and in entrepreneurship we have to know who we are and be truthful to ourselves. I can work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week and I love it. I can juggle over many business departments or priorities and have a broad understanding and I see the big vision while working on the small details. I feel like I have the leverage in coffee too coming from Indonesia and my family also has a coffee business. I went to coffee school to learn and I traveled the country to see coffee farms and surround myself with the best coffee people to learn before I officially launched the business. It took a learning heart and determination. But also no fear to take the first step. I made mistakes along the way but once you go through it, you will learn everything naturally and that’s the best lesson.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m currently focusing on building the #1 Indonesian-focus premium specialty coffee brand in America. Indonesian coffee was first introduced when the Dutch brought it back to Europe many centuries ago. Today, Indonesia is the most diversified and fourth largest coffee producer in the world. When people hear or drink Sumatra, Java, or Bali, those are part of the 13,000 islands of Indonesian archipelago in South East Asia. The word “Java” itself has become synonymous with coffee and that’s Indonesia. People don’t quite realize that. Coffee is only best grown on the equator and if you look at the map, Indonesia is on the heart of the equator and Indonesia spans similar distance from California to New York. So we are a big country, and we grow coffee all over and they are all different taste and character. So Indonesian coffee is extremely great, adventurous for the coffee lovers, and its not surprising why its so famous. And a true test to this I believe is look at the Australian coffee market. They are arguably the benchmark and most sophisticated coffee market in the world and they understand and consume Indonesian coffee better than us in America. So my goal is to bring the best of Indonesian coffee to Americans directly. I go to the farms every year and handpick myself. My family has been in Indonesia for 5 generations, and we know Indonesia better than anyone else. If we focus on being the best in Indonesian coffee, we can do outperform and be known well and exceed customer expectations every single time. You just cannot exceed expectations when you are not focus, and not coming from the country. The local tour guide is going to be your real experience right? And thats what we believe in… authentic coffee from authentic Indonesian family. We want the best Japanese sushi and we will see the best have a Japanese chef behind the bar. Same with the best Italian food would have an Italian family and chef. The whisky and wine world are very focus on country origins specialties and I believe the coffee world needs to head into that direction too. Scotch Whisky is brought to us by Scottish and not Japanese or Americans. Its the same analogy. I don’t buy coffee because its a cool popular brand, but I buy authentic products based on who’s behind it. And our customers get that with Tentera. If you look at the coffee industry, its complex and hard to get consistency in quality of coffee because people are importing through traders and buying coffee from all over the world and blending and trying to cut costs at the same time. When the weather changes, coffee changes too every season and makes it hard to get quality or consistency. So my question is why make it harder? Why not just focus on Indonesia itself and make my supply chain so much leaner and easier to manage and control so we can deliver the best to customer. Tentera has a lot of single origins. We know every coffee we carry are remarkable alone itself without having to blend. We want customers to taste the original authentic version of it. So this one lesson we see in the market and we improve on it. Getting to where we are today took a lot of hard work and great people around you. But most importantly our repeat customers are so high and we hardly advertise. We are just the best kept secret and people know us through word of mouth. Our customers are those that keep us excited about what each day brings. We have many celebrities and media covering us now, and Bristol Farms Southern California is the first major chain to carry us and we have been their repeat customers. That alone speaks for itself. Im really excited about sharing Indonesian coffee with Americans. Americans for the first time have the opportunity now to buy direct premium coffee from an Indonesian based locally in LA. Im happy that Im helping America’s economy and Indonesia’s 1.5 million farmers and we give back 1% for 1% for the Planet in the process. I believe we can help the planet and conservation through coffee because coffee is the second largest most traded commodity in the world after oil and coffee has no boundaries. Coffee reaches everyone everyday and as long as coffee sells, we can provide a sustainable funding to our non profit partners. Its very exciting what we are embarking on.
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
My favorite surroundings in LA are the beach and mountains. I live near Malibu so I would definitely have them stay over my place and enjoy my community. Its so peaceful on this part of town and beautiful. I would take them on a convertible and drive up and down PCH highway and over Topangan Canyon. Some of my favorite scenic drives are there. And there are no traffic too which is so great. I like to cycle so will do that along the beach too. Will visit Costco and do some steak shopping for Barbecue at home or visit some of my favorite spots in town are In and Out Burger, Javier Mexican, Kazunori Japanese handroll, Pork Chop Rice Taiwanese Food, Reun Pair Thai food in Thai Town, Forma Italian in Santa Monica. I would bring them to Nice Guy in West Hollywood for dinner or drinks or Shutters in Santa Monica which is one of my favorite hotels in town. Will go play some golf at Riviera Country Club home of the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational. Will go to OUE Skyspace LA at US Bank Tower, tallest building in LA with the outdoor slide and have a drink up there. And mybe even drive up to Santa Barbara or Las Vegas or Palm Springs for couple nights.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I can only be here today because of the support of many people over a period of time. Many credit goes to my grandfather Mochtar Riady who is 91 today and who has given me a lot inspiration and knowledge about business from the days of middle school. And it was not once or twice. It was continuously week after week. Every breakfast, lunch and dinner discussion is about business. We never talk about holiday or sports. It was quite intense but quality. Its not just business too but also the pursuit of character development. Being discipline, responsible are just examples. And they go hand in hand with business. He is still in the office everyday full time and travel for business. And he leads by example. My dad and uncles also played very similar role in supporting and giving opportunity. I was lucky to be brought up in a very harmonious family who supported each other to grow together. Its also too early to say success but everything we have accomplished were only possible to a bunch of people who worked hard and loyal in the company. Adeline Lesmana is someone who’s been with me since I was doing real estate and she followed me to help launch my coffee business and still around with me today.