Entrepreneur Banny Lam learned from his mistakes and hits the jackpot with his noisy Hong Kong-style cafe In 1985, 16-year-old Banny Lam was a trainee in a Kowloon hotel. Today, he is director of the Paris Cafe, a local coffee-shop chain. But it was during those early years that he learned about the food and beverage trade, laying the foundations for his future success as a business manager and entrepreneur. Mr Lam worked his way up the ladder in the hotel industry, gaining knowledge and experience in various posts, and by 1997 he was banquet manager. Additionally, he took a day release course in hotel and food and beverage management, which, along with his practical experience, gave him the confidence to launch his own business. A magazine article provided the spark behind his first entrepreneurial foray. 'I read an article suggesting that there was money to be made by running a Hong Kong-style tea shop, so I gave it a try with my business partner. Unfortunately, after two years I realised that it wasn't going to make a lot of money. There was too much competition, and food and labour costs were too high,' Mr Lam said. Coffee, however, was a different commodity, and one that remained undeveloped in the late 1990s in Hong Kong. He also took on board the lessons learned from the tea shop. 'When I launched the first Paris Cafe in 1999, I made sure that all my staff were multitrained and able to work in any position such as being a cashier, washing dishes or preparing food, and this cut my labour costs,' said Mr Lam, who started his business at the age of 30. The first Paris Cafe was in Dundas Street, Mong Kok. Initially, business was slow as the concept of a Hong Kong-style coffee shop was relatively new. 'The first month was tough because people weren't used to this kind of shop. The decor was western or fusion-style, and quite different to other cafes at the time. To boost our sales, we offered a high-quality product at a bargain price - just HK$10 for a good cup of coffee. People accepted our concept and we got very busy. After a couple of years, the street was full of similar types of coffee shops,' he said. The other cafes weren't all bad news as they also had the effect of broadening the coffee shop concept and thus attracting new customers. Mr Lam and other proprietors even had the notion of calling the street Coffee Shop Street, but this was rejected on the grounds that some of the shops were unlicensed. In a similar way, the arrival of international coffee outlets, such as Starbucks and the growth of similar western franchises such as Pacific Coffee, had a positive impact by expanding the coffee culture. Paris Cafe outlets prospered in the resulting boom, and nine years on there are now 15 shops. But Mr Lam is keen to point out that his cafes also thrive because of their distinctive local character. 'Our style is totally different. We offer table service and we are Hong Kong style - much more noisy. We target mostly teenagers and young adults. Our cafes are more colourful and we play local music such as Canto-pop. We also offer innovative drinks and more food than the western-style coffee shops,' he said. The coffee itself is also a little different. 'We use French and Italian-style coffee, but we make our taste very strong with a slightly sour aftertaste, which is how local people like it.' Mr Lam said the coffee cafe scene in Hong Kong was now mature, with limited options for further expansion. Consequently, he is looking overseas to take his concept to the next level. 'Some of the emerging markets, such as Vietnam and China, offer exciting possibilities for us to expand without having to go far from Hong Kong,' he said. But he is also looking beyond Asia, and recently went on a scouting trip to Romania in Eastern Europe and Turkey. He returned excited by what he saw. 'There are lots of chances for many different types of business and these markets are not yet mature. In many Eastern European countries there are quite large Chinese populations, but there aren't many businesses catering to them. For a small niche business like ours, the environment is perfect' Mr Lam said. 'For our Hong Kong-style cafe there is a base market of Chinese people and hopefully we can also attract the local population too.' Mr Lam is only 39, but he's already able to reflect on what factors have made his business a success to date. Chief among them, he feels, is a policy of allowing staff plenty of space. 'Essentially, I've set up a system that works. I employ staff to do a job and once they know what to do I let them get on with it so that the system almost runs itself. I trust them to do their job,' he said. Despite being busy, Mr Lam still finds time to do charitable work. He and his staff became involved in volunteering, especially with the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, and in 2005 Paris Cafe won the Champion of Volunteer Service from the Social Welfare Department. 'We are proud of this achievement, because we were competing with some big companies, including Sun Hung Kai Group and New World Group, and we are just a small company really,' he said. 1 Passion in your business is the essence of success. We must treat our business like a lover. Only with passion can love flourish and only with passion can we be dedicated to our business. 2 Don't be afraid of losing. As long as I am not afraid to lose, every time when I am required to make a decision I can make it sharp and clear. However, I will take into consideration all circumstances and consider suggestions and opinions available. I am bold but not reckless. 3 Be committed. Set yourself a goal and be committed. Your goal can be realistic, can be outrageous, can be easily achievable or can be a castle in the air. But after you have set the goal, be committed and do your best to achieve it. 4 Get the right people. Doing business is like playing a basketball or soccer game - it's team work. You have to put the right player in the right position. Your employees can only function well when they are given the right job. 5 Communicate your ideas clearly to your working partners and employees. But also keep an open mind and listen to them. Bear in mind that communication works two ways, whereas instruction is one way. Communication means a free flow of ideas between people. 6 Win people's trust by trusting them. Know the people who work for you well and delegate the right jobs to the right people. Let them do their job with the least interference. 7 Delegate responsibilities to your employees. Your employees will only commit themselves to a job when they are given responsibility. 8 Business is results oriented and results are the best tool for evaluation. Evaluate your strategy for the future based on results achieved. 9 Share your success. Firstly, I contribute to the people around me, such as my family, employees and friends. Then I make contributions to society, especially to those in need. 10 Never stop learning. Stay healthy, energetic and alert. Keep up-to-date with the latest developments in your industry. Brainstorm from time to time and come up with innovative ideas. Be ready to face new challenges.