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Steve Benitez to entrepreneurs: Learn fast, unlearn faster

Steve D. Benitez (right) visits a coffee farmer in Sagada, Mountain Province. (Photo from Bo's Coffee Facebook)

June 28, 1996 was a Friday. On this day, Steve D. Benitez opened his first Bo’s Coffee cart and sold P300 worth of cups of coffee.

On the exact same day 23 years later, also a Friday, Benitez was honored by his peers in the Cebu business community as the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year in the Grand Chamber Awards.

He accepted the award with his feet on the ground, recalling the many sleepless nights and failures he encountered before reaching this stage in his entrepreneurial journey, and acknowledging the “painstaking work” of his baristas, operations people and management team.

He took pride in the personal achievements of his employees - former baristas who are now living their dreams outside the Bo’s Coffee network and baristas who rose through the ranks to become part of the company’s management team.

Bo's Coffee founder Steve D. Benitez delivers his acceptance speech during the 2019 Grand Chamber Awards on June 28, 2019. (Ventures Cebu Photo)

During his entrepreneurial journey of more than two decades, Benitez said one of his biggest realizations is that he needs to adapt to changes quickly and future-proof his business amid the rapid technological advances in this digital age.

“One of my biggest realizations is that if I want to take my business to the next level, I should be willing not only to learn fast, but also and more importantly, unlearn faster,” he said in a speech after accepting the award.

“The ability to unlearn releases me from my prejudices. What took us to where right now is not necessarily the same thing that will take us to the next level,” he added.

Over the last two decades, Bo’s Coffee has grown to a chain of more than 100 stores with over 700 employees.

A partner in Qatar, the ALMAJED Group, opened the first overseas location of Bo’s Coffee in late 2018.

Benitez, who visited Qatar in April 2019, announced that 5 more stores were to be opened in that Arab country on top of the two existing outlets.

“Reception is good. The strategy is to start with the local Filipino community because they know the brand,” Benitez said in a press conference shortly before the Grand Chamber Awards on June 28, 2019.

Patronage by foreigners has also increased to 30% of Bo’s Coffee’s clientele from the estimated 10% last year.

Based on a five-year plan drawn up in 2017, Bo’s Coffee is set to go global while continuing to promote Philippine coffee grown in the country’s highlands, tap social enterprises as suppliers and impact countryside communities.

WS & Landin, Inc., the company that operates Bo’s Coffee, is in talks with potential partners in two other countries.

“We’ll be ready three years from now. But we will not open (a store) until we’re 100% sure that everything is in place,” Benitez told reporters.

Bo’s Coffee has been working with social enterprises in the past eight years, promoting coffee grown in Sagada in Mountain Province, Benguet, Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon, Mt. Apo in Davao and Mt. Matutum in South Cotabato.

Indirectly, Bo’s Coffee has impacted the lives of hundreds of coffee farmers.

The coffee shop chain has also created jobs, touching the lives of hundreds of people as it continues to expand. The target is to open 20 to 24 more stores by the end of 2019.

“As entrepreneurs, we have a powerful tool in our hands to positively change people’s lives,” Benitez said in his speech.

The next level is to adopt small coffee farms, hopefully by the end of the year or in early 2020. Harvest is from October to February. This early, he said plans have to be drawn up for the planting season which is April to May.

Promoting Philippine coffee has allowed Bo’s Coffee to stay relevant despite the entry of global coffee shop chains in the Philippines.

“I don’t have a formula. I know that we stand for Philippine coffee. We stand for Philippine ingenuity, creativity, resourcefulness and resiliency. We are proud of our Filipino heritage and we believe in Filipino talent and ability to be world-class,” he said.

“We don’t have to be the biggest. We just have to be the best at what we do,” he concluded. (Ventures Cebu)

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