The alarm rang. I jolt out of bed, slipped on my bedroom slippers and slid right into the shower, not wanting to be late for an appointment.
Our meeting was scheduled at Roots, the bakery, coffee roaster and central kitchen for Roast. Over a cup of coffee, I had the privilege to speak with Tae. As he recounted past experiences and lessons, I managed to gleam some insights and thoughts from the mind of this successful young businessman.
Varatt Vichit-Vadakan, or Tae as he is commonly known, is founder of Think Beyond, a lifestyle group committed to bringing quality lifestyle to the people in Bangkok and Thailand. Think Beyond is the strength behind popular café Roast, a favourite hangout within the Thong Lo area of Bangkok. With many inspired by his successes, he has also been invited to speak as a guest lecturer at Bangkok University.
His previous work experiences
Tae spent 14 years abroad in boarding school where he developed his culinary skills after being frustrated with the food served in boarding school. Upon graduation, he worked in the States. With an absence in a sense of belonging to the place, he returned to Thailand and worked as a marketing executive for Nokia. Despite the more-than-satisfactory remunerations, Tae, feeling that he was called to do something beyond what his job offered, decided to embark on a start-up with some of his friends.
“In the beginning, I felt like it was the worst mistake I’d made to leave my job and to embark on the start-up,” confessed Tae as he recounted some of the challenges he initially faced while pursuing his entrepreneurial dreams.
Although no longer involved in the business due to divergent ideas, the young entrepreneur admits that the stint served as a crucial learning experience and also opened opportunities that sparked off his current business.
The idea behind the business
“My life changed when I was spending a lot of time in Starbucks, meeting clients for freelance jobs and projects. I just felt that the coffee was not right. Paying this price for the quality, coupled with the fact that you have nothing to eat there also didn’t felt right. That inspired me to learn more about coffee. Then I had a nice cup of coffee and I realized that all you need to put in to make a cup of good coffee is care and understanding and that costs nothing. So why aren’t people (in the business) doing so?”
With that, he began the next step in his entrepreneurial journey, one that marries his love for cooking, coffee and also business altogether. At the tender age of 24, he opened Ohana, a small cafe dedicated to bringing quality lifestyle and coffee to Bangkok after experiencing the lack of a place serving good coffee and accompanying food. From the humble ten-seater cafe, Tae has certainly come a long way.
The keys to his success
When asked about the keys to his success, Tae humbly acknowledged that the path ahead is still long and continually credits his team as being the major pillar behind the business’ success thus far.
“I think we still have a long way to go and that drives us forward. A family friend of mine who lives in the countryside grows palm trees. A palm tree starts from a little seed. When you plant the seeds, you never know which ones will grow or which ones will not. It usually takes 5 years before one sees growth and in those 5 years, you just have to put in all your effort and time in caring for all of them. I think running the business for the past 6 years is like the first 5 years in the life of a palm tree. I still don’t feel like I’m there yet, but I think that we have laid ourselves a good foundation for the next couple of years. The team is a big part of the reason why we have a really strong foundation. Everyone here is really passionate about what they do.”
There are about 90 people under the Think Beyond Group and their passion is evident, with Roast as a prime example. From the efforts in roasting their coffee beans to crafting that cup of coffee and selecting sustainable ingredients to the creation of dishes on the menu, every detail is conceived, measured and brought to life with much care. Even the interior design of Roast will catch your eye when you step into the cafe.
The importance of creativity
Did you know that Roast has a dedicated person focused on enhancing the overall customer experience? This person makes sure that every customer who walks through their doors experiences nothing but the best. From interior design to the choice of music, utensils and material selection, and even the smallest little details. Everything serves to communicate the same coherent story. The interesting menu design was first to catch my attention. With such a cheeky and funky atmosphere to boot, creativity seems to run in the blood of the business.
“Creativity is creating something unique in your own way using the things you already have around you and not trying too hard,” says Tae when asked about his thoughts about the definition of creativity. “Creativity is the most important thing in my line of work. You need imagination and creativity to get started. To sustain the business, you need good operating people, sales people, trainers, financial people, etc. But if you don’t have imagination and creativity to structure everything, then it’s just an idea.”
His words of advice
For the young people aspiring to follow in his footsteps or simply pondering over what to do after graduation, Tae has a couple of advice for you.
“Just do whatever you feel like doing, of course not something that will negatively affect others. Don’t feel like you must have this or that before you can start something. You can always start something if you wanted to.”
“Stay committed, it’s really tough especially if you want to do something on your own. Most people feel like ‘Oh I want to come out and do something on my own. It’s going to be so easy.’ but that’s not true. You probably won’t get a proper break. I haven’t had a day when I don’t think about work. Even when I’m on vacation, I’ll be thinking about work. But it’s fun when your work becomes something you enjoy.”
His personal life
While Tae is passionate and consumed with work, he reveals a softer side of himself. Tae shares that the milestones in his life include getting married and the arrival of his child. Tae is happily married for two years and his child is currently 10 months old.
“Having a child is one of the key points in my life because it makes me think long term. I mean, I’ve always looked long term too but not to the point that I know it is very important. Now, we take certain projects that is not necessarily the most profitable ones in the short term but are good for my kids to see or have other intangible value such as the urban farming project.”
The future of Think Beyond
Think Beyond is currently exploring the concept of urban farming, an idea which was put to form merely two months ago. The nature of this project is not profit-driven, but rather, motivated by the desire to contribute back to the community and to leave a legacy. In upcoming plans, Tae hopes to be able to engage local coffee farmers so as to support local produce.
As I made my way on to the next destination for the day, I couldn’t help but be thankful for the awesome time spent with such a positive visionary man with a heart for bettering the living standards in his home country.
The next time you’re in Bangkok, head on down to Roast for some wholesome food, a nice cup of coffee and an overall pleasant dining experience.