We chat to Chamani Wong, one of the co-founders of BEAMS Co., about launching a business in the midst of a pandemic, what it’s really like to work with her siblings and her perfect day in Hong Kong…
Against the backdrop of an ongoing global pandemic, there has never been a better time to get serious about health. Enter BEAMS Co., a newly-launched local start-up bringing us eco-friendly coffee capsules enriched with plant-based nutrients and adaptogenic mushrooms. Founded by three siblings, BEAMS is on a mission to help us live an energy-filled healthy life, without having to sacrifice our morning brew. To find out more, we’re catching up with co-founder Chamani Wong for 10 questions, covering everything from business milestones, the importance of family and her favourite Hong Kong coffee shops…
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Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you lived in Hong Kong?
I grew up in Sydney and moved to Hong Kong nine years ago. I work full time for a San Francisco-based technology company during the day, and in the time I can spare, I work with my siblings on a health and wellness brand called BEAMS Co. that we started in late 2020.
Coming to Hong Kong was a way for me to explore my Cantonese roots and live in a fast-paced, vibrant and dynamic city. My parents grew up here and immigrated to Sydney for study, work and to give their kids a better future. It was not easy for them juggling three kids and creating a life in a foreign country. I think witnessing their struggle firsthand and seeing their tenacity and courage made my siblings and I value hard work and the importance of family.
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We’d love to hear more about your work. What inspired you to start your own business?
It all happened quite naturally to be honest. The idea came about after a family emergency when my brother unexpectedly found out that he had a heart issue. I think when we’re young, health is always something we take for granted. He was at the height of his career climbing the corporate ladder in Shanghai, but had to quit immediately. We were all very worried. Fortunately, after surgery, he is all better now. The outcome of this ordeal was that it changed our entire outlook on health and wellbeing.
My siblings and I decided that we wanted to create a brand that could give everyone leading a busy life a choice – namely, the choice to make a small but significant shift in their life towards health and sustainability. We decided to do this by focusing on people’s coffee habit, ultimately creating a nutritious coffee elixir that blends together coffee from Sydney and Melbourne with functional mushrooms in biodegradable and compostable nespresso capsules. We currently carry four flavours – Mind with Lionsmane, Energy with Cordyceps, Beauty with Tremella, Immunity with Reishi and a Decaf Reishi flavour coming in March.
When we created BEAMS, being eco-friendly was non-negotiable because we knew we had to serve our customers without creating another health problem by making the environment worse. That is why our capsules are 100% biodegradable and compostable. Our packaging uses recyclable cardboard and soy-based ink for printing. And our chosen packaging partner gives back by planting trees as part of their commitment to sustainability.
What has it been like navigating the launch of your start-up amidst an ongoing global pandemic?
As has been the case for all local small businesses, it has been very difficult to plan and strategise our next move during a global pandemic. There were moments when nothing went according to plan, and it felt like we wouldn’t be able to launch. The list of delays were endless, from production delays to the global logistics being unravelled due to the pandemic. But from every challenge, we’ve learned to acknowledge that nothing can ever be perfect. The most important thing has been to keep going and stay agile.
On the flip side of that, what has been your most meaningful milestone so far?
As a team, we’ve learnt to celebrate every small win because they mean so much to us. Highlights include hitting our first 1,000 followers on our Instagram, our first influencer post, customer testimonials, repeat orders from customers who have become our fans and also our first pop-up at the Soho House Christmas market – these were all huge for us. Through these encounters, we’ve been able to meet the community, coffee fanatics, mushroom lovers and friends that have supported us from the start.
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BEAMS is a family business. How has it been working with your siblings to launch this project?
I always feel grateful to have this opportunity to work and play with my older siblings on such a meaningful and impactful project. I get to spend more time with them, sharing good and tough times to serve our customers and make the dream work. We know each other so well, so it feels natural for each of us to contribute based on our strengths. We know which lane to keep in, but we’re also not afraid to come in and give each other a good kick when one of us needs it. The process has been a joy so far because we’ve found out that each of us has strengths that cover the others’ weaknesses. It makes me happy to know that what started as a project to protect our friends and family has now grown to become a community that empowers each other to live at their fullest and build a sustainable future.
What are five goals you hope to achieve this year?
- To expand the BEAMS footprint outside of Hong Kong
- Introduce three new flavours this year
- Start our BEAMS holistic nutrition coaching programme
- Properly adopt Qira my foster dog and take her on more adventures
- Visit Sydney to spend time with my family (especially my grandma!) and friends
Where are your favourite places to get coffee in Hong Kong?
You mean when I’m not drinking BEAMS? Hong Kong has so many great coffee places and I can see the coffee scene really picking up and gaining momentum! There is a growing appreciation for quality coffee, with experienced roasters now shaping the scene in the city. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by great cafes and baristas near my place. A few of my favourites are Fineprint, Ethos Coffee and Found Cafe.
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What are some things you do to maintain work-life balance in your day to day?
- I like to make sure I do at least one hour of exercise every single day. Whether it be hiking, taking Qira for a walk, an online HIIT class or running along the harbour. It’s important to keep active and release stress busting endorphins.
- I always make time to have my morning cup of coffee in silence to really prioritise what my day should look like. I’ve found it useful and grounding to give me that focus that I need to prepare for my day.
- Video call my parents and my grandma. I have to say I miss their nagging and how our conversation always goes round and round in circles, back to how important it is for me to sleep more or drink warm water. I can feel the love every time and it makes me feel so grateful.
- Take a bus somewhere. Anywhere. For some reason, riding a bus always gives me this feeling of peace. I love that I get the time and space to think and slowly reach my destination in no hurry. You get to see so much more of Hong Kong and I usually use this time to check out any new podcasts I’ve been wanting to listen to.
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Can you describe your ideal Hong Kong day for us?
It’ll be a slow morning and I’d start it off by taking a shot of our own IMMUNITY coffee elixir. It’s got Reishi mushrooms which are filled with antioxidants and help boost your immune system. I’ll then go for a walk with my dog, stop for a croissant at Bakehouse, sunbathe at Tamar Park, grab a coffee, head over to the Central Pier and take the next ferry out to any of the outlying islands to explore and, most importantly, snack on all the local bites!
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If you had one piece of advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, what would it be?
Surround yourself with people who have done it before and support your weaknesses with their strengths. It doesn’t matter what degree or expertise other people have – work with people who are able to lift you up when you most need it.
Also, believe in your mission and stay true to it. For us at BEAMS, we have a meaningful social mission embedded in our brand’s DNA that makes it worth going through the tough times.
All photos courtesy of Chamani Wong. Follow Chamani on Instagram to see more.