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(BBA in Integrated BBA 1994)

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26 June 2017

Life is Like a Cup of Coffee

Rocky Kam (BBA in Hotel and Tourism Management 2003) has suffered from farsightedness since a young age. He says the condition resonates with his personality. Even if he gets a little fuzzy about the situation before him, he is always certain about his end goal and moves forward with a fearless and positive attitude. Led by his intuition, he gave up a great career in marketing eyewear to fulfil his entrepreneurial dream of establishing his own coffee brand. Following his own instinct has been Rocky’s guiding principle in life and at work.

Rocky (left) partners with a friend who is in the coffee machine business. They established Coffee Mountain and embarked on their entrepreneurial journery in 2013.

From Hotel to Optical Shop

Throughout his undergraduate studies in Hotel and Tourism Management at CUHK, Rocky was most interested in the hospitality components of the course. They taught him how to serve customers with sincerity, boost their satisfaction, improve his interpersonal and communication skills and develop his own way of interacting with people. The knowledge would contribute to a successful career down the road.

Former Dean of the CUHK Business School and Director of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management Professor Lee Kam-hon was a major influence on Rocky. “I go through Professor Lee’s lecture notes from time to time and realise that the contents are useful for a lifetime. Sometimes, you don’t know what is your biggest influence until you’ve reached a certain stage in life,” Rocky says.

SARS struck Hong Kong the year Rocky graduated. In view of the economic downturn, he resorted to applying to as many jobs as he could. At that time, the eyewear industry was unaffected by the market turmoil. On the contrary, it was even growing and showed a lot of potential. An international eyewear brand’s timely expansion into the Asia-Pacific market offered Rocky an interview and then a job. Marketing a brand involves extensive work in public relations and project planning. Rocky learnt some valuable lessons on resource management from the experience and also expanded his personal network, which laid a solid foundation for his entrepreneurial pursuits.

Rocky is Vice-President of the CUHK BBA Alumni Association and is very active in alumni activities. He catches up with Former Dean of CUHK Business School Professor Lee Kam-hon (left) at a Chinese New Year cocktail party.

Gut Feeling Says Coffee Is the Way

Rocky worked for two different eyewear brands over a span of ten years. He started at a frontline position and was eventually promoted to brand development director, but he chose to interrupt this smooth sailing by starting his own business. “What’s so meaningful about starting your own business is being involved in every step of the way from scratch to finish. You are accountable for your own actions and take full responsibility if it turns out to be a mistake,” he says.

With a desire for autonomy and craving a challenge, going down the entrepreneur route was just a matter of time for Rocky. He set his eyes towards coffee and founded his own coffee brand on pure intuition. Lucky for Rocky that he had met people from all walks of life from his line of work in eyewear brand marketing. A chance encounter with a Belgian world barista champion through a contact led to an epiphany. “He opened my eyes to the potential of the coffee market. Although I had no data on hand, my guts told me it was the way to go.” Rocky and two business partners then established Coffee Mountain in 2013 and officially embarked on their entrepreneurial journey.

Rocky (2nd from left) won a start-up award with Coffee Mountain. He poses with presenters Mr. Allen Zeman (2nd from right) and Mr. Paul Chan (1st from left).

Cross-industry Collaboration Puts Company on the Map

Coffee Mountain started as a wholesale business and designed bespoke coffee flavours for individuals, brands, restaurants and corporations. To enhance the company’s reputation, Rocky forged many innovative cross-industry partnerships such as creating a coffee-flavoured frozen yogurt with a yogurt brand and hosting coffee-oyster matching workshops. “We look for ideas that are coffee-related. We don’t treat coffee as a product but a medium or platform to connect to other things. This direction has proven to be very successful. Without investing a vast amount of resources, we were able to generate a lot of buzz and raised our brand profile,” he says.

After gaining considerable brand recognition, Rocky recently opened his first shop Simplii Yours at K11 in Tsimshatsui in order to tap into the retail market. “As more people are showing an appreciation in coffee, the next step is the personalised market. Brewing their own coffee will become more popular amongst coffee lovers. The so-called ‘daily coffee’ will be a household staple just like rice, oil and salt.” Rocky believes the “daily coffee” positioning has huge market potential. He hopes to connect with coffee enthusiasts through this shop and lead the way in promoting the “daily coffee” culture by sharing knowledge and experience.

Rocky collaborates with CUHK Alumni Association in Shanghai to host a coffee tasting workshop and share with fellow alumni the latest in coffee news and developments.

Rocky thinks a company should take on more social responsibility as it expands. Coffee has been a part of Hong Kong culinary culture for a long time. He hopes to continue the tradition while incorporating eco-friendly and sustainable elements into the culture by developing more innovative products that meet market needs.

Networking Creates Opportunities

Rocky takes responsibility for his career, and in this path of entrepreneurship, is always grateful for help and support from his mentors and peers. Knowing he is not perfect, he humbly acknowledges his shortcomings and compensates them with the strengths of others. That makes him and his partners a dynamic team complementing each other. He understands the importance of teamwork and the infinite possibilities generated through human interaction. Therefore, he values networking highly and believes it will open doors for him.

Rocky demonstrates coffee brewing. He whips up a mean cup of coffee in minutes.

Other than interpersonal relationships, optimism also plays an important role in the road to success. “Once you’ve set your direction, you must carry on with a positive attitude. When you display strong conviction, people will naturally want to help you. Optimism is like a magnet. It attracts like-minded people who can lift you up. That in turns will bring you closer to success.” Refusing to be a follower, Rocky lives life like how he likes his coffee — unique, free-spirited, bitter at first yet rewarding in the end. Perhaps, this embodies the journey of life.

Video ― Messages from Our Alumni

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