IT project manager-turned-cat café owner Mr Jefferson Soh (Engineering ’09) has no regrets since taking a career leap of faith.
What do you do when you really love cats and coffee? You set up a café with 15 felines, and which serves freshly-brewed coffee, naturally — or at least that is what NUS alumnus Jefferson Soh decided to do with his wife after being inspired by a café of a similar nature in Taiwan. Providing a clean and safe environment where customers can interact with cats over coffee and pastries, TheCatCafe, as theirs is named, officially opened in May 2014. It was a jarring departure for Mr Soh, then 30, who was an IT project manager working on mobile and web apps.
“My wife and I are café-hopping cat-lovers ourselves so it made sense to us to bring this idea to Singapore,” says Mr Soh, an Industrial & Systems Engineering major. The café’s 15 cats have all been rescued from animal shelters, which means they were once strays or abandoned breeder cats.
Being a small enterprise, a typical day at work can be rather hectic. Mr Soh is involved in every aspect of running the business from managing human resources and putting in place an IT system to caring for the cats and tending to customers, which, he confesses, is his biggest challenge. “There’s a wide spectrum of customers with various levels of needs,” says Mr Soh, a father of a two-year-old boy. “This key soft skill has to be imparted to the café’s crew as well, so we have to ensure that our staff are trained to recognise and address these requirements.”
“Be prepared — financially, emotionally, mentally — knowing that it will be a tough journey ahead and whatever might go wrong, could go wrong.”
Co-founder of TheCatCafé Mr Jefferson Soh’s advice to aspiring business owners
The knowledge gained in his time at NUS has put Mr Soh in good stead when faced with obstacles however. “Engineering laid down the foundation for critical-thinking and business planning,” says Mr Soh, whose participation in the NUS Overseas Colleges programme also gave him the opportunity to work in a local start-up. He says, “I’m glad I took the plunge into the unknown in setting up this cafe. If I had not, I would always be wondering ‘what if’.”
TheCatCafé (241B Victoria Street Level 3) supports the adoption of cats over buying them from breeders or pet shops. As such, from time to time, selected cats in the café will be put up for adoption.
Text by Fairoza Mansor. Photo of Jefferson Soh: Courtesy of Yellow Pages