Inspiring Stories | From Banker to Owner of Kopifellas, Terry Neo
8 August 2022

“Being an entrepreneur, besides having the knowledge and skills, it is important to have passion, courage and optimism.”

Terry Neo, CEO & Founder of Kopifellas

Pursuing dreams by leaving the comfort of familiarity is not something that is easy for everyone, and for Terry Neo, CEO and founder of Kopifellas, it was no different. Having worked in the corporate world as a banker for several years, starting his own business was a risk he was willing to take.

But with courage, a good business idea, and clever strategies, Terry began his own coffee business specialising in local Nanyang coffee – also known as Kopi. 

Sustaining his business even through the COVID-19 pandemic, Terry always remained assured of himself and his team. Despite the trying times, his business continues to thrive, opening multiple outlets across the country and expanding to non-coffee drinks and food items as well.

Expanding to New York City, it’s safe to say that Terry has found his stride as a business owner and we’re truly glad to have an opportunity to interview the founder of Kopifellas.

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

Hi! I’m Terry, and I’m the CEO and founder of Kopifellas Group Pte Ltd. I used to be a banker before opening the first Kopifellas’ outlet at Timbre+ One North in 2017.

  1. What got you started in your business?

I’ve always dreamt of having my own business. I like the idea of preserving local food and hawker culture and I felt that selling Nanyang coffee and the typical local toast sets would be a great place to start.

  1. What makes your brand and coffee different from other coffee shops?

We put a modern twist on traditional coffee shop concepts that mainly stay relevant to all kopi drinkers and coffee lovers, including the younger generations. Here at Kopifellas, you can be guaranteed quality-made coffee and a great place to chill with family and friends.

  1. Who is the target audience of your brand and how do you attract them?

Our main target audiences are coffee-lovers, café-goers and kopi fans. Most of our outlets also attract office crowds across our CBD and heartland branches and I think we attract them with our cool and modern vibe. By keeping hip and trendy, we stay relevant to our customers.

  1. Why did you decide to open at Marina One?

Marina One is a very strategic location for us. It helps us attract our target audience which are people working in the offices around the central business district. 

  1. What are your thoughts on the local hawker scenes and how do you think we can preserve it?

Our local hawker culture is unique to us and it’s something we should be proud of. While we do take a modern approach to our branding, we still value the traditional aspects of kopi culture and that’s why our outlets are based in hawker settings. As a company, we aspire to bring our Singapore hawker and kopi culture to the rest of the world, that’s why we’re opening our first overseas outlet in Urban Hawker, New York City. As for preserving our local hawker culture, we can start by patronising their food or even share about the local hawker food scene through digital storytelling.

  1. What made you decide to expand to NYC?

It has always been a vision of mine to bring our traditional Nanyang kopi to the world. When we were invited to be part of a Singaporean-hawker food hall project in New York, I decided to grab the opportunity. It wasn’t easy to set up a store overseas but it was definitely an accomplishment worth pursuing.

  1. How did you overcome these challenges?

I owe a huge thanks to my team for supporting me endlessly to make our company’s vision a reality. We’ve been working on this project for months and we’re so excited about its opening.

  1. Apart from coffee, what are Kopifellas’ must-try items?

We have tea drinks and toast sets for customers to try. Our signature smoked duck lor mee is a definite must-try – it’s a product of our research and innovative ideas.

  1. How do you find your business journey so far?

It’s been 5 years since we opened our first stall and I am grateful for what we have achieved till today. Of course, there is still a lot to be done, but I do feel blessed that we overcame the COVID-19 period, expanding to 7 stores island-wide and an overseas store. We also launched other brands to support the business needs and customers’ appetite: Noodlefellas and Fellascube.

  1. What is the greatest challenge you faced in your journey?

Opening our second outlet was the most challenging phase. Facing competition around the area and with high rentals, I was in a dilemma: to focus on our first outlet or to open and expand our second outlet. Fortunately, business was good and we started growing a loyal customer base at that location.

  1. What do you love most about your career?

What I love most is being able to do what I am passionate about e.g., opening my own hawker store, supporting the local hawker scene and preserving the local food heritage. Whenever we hit milestones like a new store opening or even our expanding to New York, it gives me a sense of satisfaction and encourages me to keep going.

  1. What is one word of advice you’d give to aspiring business owners?

Being an entrepreneur, besides having the knowledge and skills, it is important to have passion, courage and optimism. Start early by joining the corporate world to get some experience, then go out and try setting up your own business. Even if you fail, just try and gain experience to avoid having regrets later.