Acing Your First Business: Lessons from Anna Magalona of But First, Coffee

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What started as a passion project has now turned into a successful coffee business with over 40 branches nationwide! Anna Magalona, owner of But First, Coffee, proved that nothing is impossible as long as you believe in yourself and work hard to reach your goals. 

The Birth of But First, Coffee 

In August 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Magalona thought that maybe it would be a good idea to run an online cafe as a side hustle since she had some time to spare while working at home. “I was still employed when I first started the cafe kasi syempre I was also considering my future. I wanted a stable job and ‘yong cafe was meant to be a side hustle lang talaga initially.” 

Magalona, who was only 24 years old back then, started But First, Coffee with only a Php6,000 capital. “What can I start with my 6,000 na dapat low maintenance, na everybody would love, and dapat necessity?” The huge coffee fan immediately found the answer. 

On her first run, Magalona didn’t even have her own espresso machine. All she had was a coffee maker at home, a kilo of coffee beans and milk. Her first customers were her family, close friends, and colleagues. 

“First few days, it was okay as you can feel na there are lot of people supporting you, especially your friends and family, but then along the way, you would notice, na parang how are you gonna move forward if family and friends mo lang ang customers mo? How will you challenge yourself to level up, getting other people to know your brand more,” she shared. 

She did her product shoots using only her phone and marketed the brand to various Facebook groups all by herself. Soon enough, But First, Coffee was able to catch the attention of several coffee lovers because of its quality taste, affordability, and free delivery services. 

“People learned to love the service, since it’s free delivery, and they came back for the taste and how affordable it is. We took all opportunities to make it to where we are right now,” she said. 

Two years since its inception, But First, Coffee is now among the most popular coffee brands in the country today. Magalona and her team are looking into opening more branches and making it available in various tourist destinations in the next two to five years. They are also eyeing to launch new coffee flavors and pastries soon. 

The Makings of a Successful Entrepreneur 

Magalona has always seen herself as a businesswoman ever since she was young. She sold bangus, which were sourced from her grandfather’s fish pen; as well as wallet and clothes. “Everytime na may opportunity to sell or resell something, I really do it,” she added. 

In fact, even the entrepreneurial itch has hit her at a young age. “Even before I started working, sinasabi ko na why not mag business na lang ako? But then, I’m still not ready at that time.” 

She knows she needs to learn how to run a business first, and her full-time employment has prepared her for her business endeavor. She was able to apply all the things she learned from her bosses to her current company and employees. 

“I’m grateful that I got to work with companies and startups because it helped me create my own processes din. So basically ‘yong skills, and ‘yong right diskarte. I was also able to improve my communication skills, having talked to several clients before,” Magalona shared.

With this, she realized the importance of right timing when it comes to entrepreneurship. “For sure you’ll be able to feel it talaga, if that thing is for you na talaga, if it’s meant for you, if ito na ‘yong palalaguin mo.” 

In April 2021, Magalona has seen the potential of expanding the brand and opening it for franchise. Already managing four branches at that time, she decided to quit her regular job and started to invest more time, knowledge, and preparation to ensure the success of her business. 

Biggest Challenge 

But First, Coffee is now focusing on expansion. And while they are on the process of growing the business, they realized the need to hire more people so they wouldn’t have to compromise the efficiency and productivity of its core team. 

“No’ng una kasi, [sabi ko] tayo na lang mag HR, tayo na lang mag accounting, tayo na lang maging manager. When we started to grow, nahihirapan na kaming lahat kasi syempre, if you want to move forward, you need to have a systematic process here and as a team, we need not to overwork each other,” Magalona said. 

“We have to value hiring other people, training them to be able to properly manage the business and have zero to minimal errors na lang moving forward,”  she added. 

And Magalona’s philosophy on hiring? Focus on the work ethics and personality of the person. According to her, experience and skills can always come after but what really matters is their capability to work well with other people. 

Advice to Aspiring Business Owners  

Even if you feel like everything is going well, you just don’t stop there. You need to constantly improve, innovate and grow. Magalona said, “Always invest in yourself. Even just basic research or courses online, it can really help you in your business.” 

According to Magalona, challenges are part of the process so there’s no need for you to get discouraged. “Believe in yourself, trust yourself that you can do it. Enjoy the journey and give your 100% percent.” 

Success won’t happen overnight, but it will happen someday. 

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Nenette Dizon
Nenette Dizon is a professional writer whose works focus on PR and SEO content creation. She graduated with a degree in Journalism from the University of Santo Tomas.

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