Cover Photo: Flash Coffee

With over 250 coffee kiosks across seven countries, Flash Coffee has quickly dominated the coffee space. Here’s how its CEO David Brunier pulled it off

9 to 5 is a weekly series in which Tatler speaks to influential individuals about their unique journeys and what keeps them going.


At the tender age of four, David Brunier already knew that he wanted to invent things. He had no idea what an entrepreneur was but knew he wanted to create products. Today, Brunier is the founder and CEO of Flash Coffee, one of Asia’s fastest-growing tech-enabled coffee chains. Having opened over 250 coffee kiosks across seven countries in just two years, Brunier is living out his dream.

However, Brunier’s journey to starting Flash Coffee was by no means easy. From very nearly quitting school to making multiple mistakes, here’s how this spunky entrepreneur got to where he is today.

Don’t miss: 5 Reasons Why You Need to Try Flash Coffee

Brunier’s entrepreneurial journey began with a deep desire to drop out of school.

“I was studying at EBS Business School, a prestigious university in Germany and I was doing a double degree in General Management and International Business and I was actually doing well in school. So it wasn’t about that. I wanted to quit school so I could start building a company,” Brunier explained. 

Of course, as with any decision like this, Brunier first consulted his parents who, though reserved, understood Brunier’s vision for his future and were willing to support him towards his goals. 

“I figured out that the earlier I start, the sooner I’ll succeed and I didn’t want to waste any time,” said Brunier. While Brunier did not end up dropping out of school, his parents made a deal with him and agreed that he could study during the day and work on building his first start-up in the evenings as long as he committed to finishing university and excelling at it.  

Don’t miss: 9 to 5: How Rivero Delgado Rose From Being an Intern to the Area Vice President of Marriott International

The deal worked and during this time, Brunier started his first company, Wine Genius, with a friend and co-founder, Lucas Bast. 

Wine Genius, which was started in 2014, sourced limited-edition and premium wines and marketed them at a significantly lower price. 

“We brainstormed around a hundred ideas or so that we could actually execute them while we were in school,” said Brunier. “We figured that it was super expensive for students to have a good bottle of wine from time to time, so we decided to find a way to democratise high-quality wines.”

While Wine Genius gave Brunier irreplaceable knowledge about setting up a business from the ground up, he eventually found other more lucrative opportunities and decided that it was time to move into an established company. 

In 2015, Brunier joined the food delivery service Foodora as a business development manager. 

“We moved from a small company that we bootstrapped ourselves into a heavily funded, Rocket Internet-backed food delivery company that we both thought we could learn a lot from,” Brunier said.

“It paid off a million times,” he continued with a smile. “It was a major learning opportunity, a great place to meet like-minded and inspiring people, and even the place that introduced me to the woman I married several years later.”

Don’t miss: Meet Keith Tan, the Man Behind the Robot Barista You Will Soon See All Over Singapore and Japan 

His hard work and skills quickly paid off and within months, Brunier found himself climbing the ladder. By 2018, he was the CEO of the Austria team at Foodora.

In 2017, Brunier moved to Singapore where he became the chief marketing officer (APAC) for Foodpanda. However, Brunier was not satisfied. He still harboured dreams of creating his own business and wanted to see if he could still pursue it. This was how he came up with the idea for Flash Coffee.

“It all began with a consumer problem. After working in various leadership capacities in the F&B tech industry, I came to realise that coffee, especially from well-known brands, is extremely expensive and rather inaccessible to the middle class,” Brunier explained.

He went on to elaborate that the average Indonesian’s daily income is equivalent to two to three lattes from a traditional coffee chain but that consumers were not being given the service and convenience that they were paying for. 

“The majority of the coffee industry is still run fully offline and lacks convenience, which leaves incredible opportunities for digitisation and optimised processes,” he said.

“I’ve also noticed that customers were constantly paying high prices for coffee from large outlets with extensive seating in expensive neighbourhoods when in reality, the majority of orders were grab-and-go.”

Don’t miss: Psychologist and Clinical Sexologist Dr Oberdan Marianetti on the Power of Ice Baths and Meditation

Seeing the opportunity they had in the space, Brunier decided to team up with a friend, Sebastian Hannecker, to revamp the business model of a coffee chain to allow it to be more efficient, save costs for consumers and to still serve up a high-quality cup of joe. 

Flash Coffee was born in 2019. Armed with a strong team, it quickly began to grow. 

“Our Series A funding certainly helped to propel our growth across the region,” said Brunier. “Of course, the secret sauce to our accelerated expansion really lies in having a strong team across our management and various departments.” 

Don’t miss: Powella Founder Sital Phichitsingh on Juggling Her Own Business and Family

He continued by saying that thanks to his past experiences, he was able to set out Flash Coffee’s concept such that it was as scalable as possible from the get-go.

“This means our team has invested a lot of time and effort right from day one to ensure that we have the right in-house talent to lead and execute projects, as well as clear and streamlined processes to launch in new markets,” he said. “We are so hyper-scalable that we can have a grab-and-go store live in a matter of days.”

In addition to being scalable, Flash Coffee’s biggest selling point is that it provides affordable coffee that does not compromise on quality and utilises tech to the best of its ability. 

Consumers can simply order a drink on the Flash Coffee app and they will be provided with multiple updates right to the point where they can collect their drinks (which are all innovative and curated by renowned World Barista Champions from across Asia).

The app also allows Flash Coffee to analyse the profiles of their consumers, when they are buying drinks, how much they are spending and what their preferences are. 

Don’t miss: Karen Seah, the Woman Behind Netflix’s ‘The Apprentice’, on Breaking Gender Norms and Stereotypes

“Building out our tech capabilities is allowing us to capture all of this valuable information that can then inform our business strategy. Tech allows us to be more data-driven in our approach based on customer preferences and habits, and this allows us to make smarter business decisions,” said Brunier. 

With Flash Coffee quickly expanding across Asia, of course, it is integral that they also adapt to the lifestyles of the modern consumer by ensuring that they are sustainable. 

In 2021, the company attempted to neutralise its plastic impact for all purchases by recovering over 80,000 kilograms of plastic waste to date in collaboration with Cleanhub, a company dedicated to freeing the planet from plastic pollution.

In March 2022, Flash Coffee once again teamed up with Cleanhub to ensure that all orders were plastic neutral and that consumers had a chance to participate.

Customers now can choose to contribute a small amount when they are checking out to enable the recovery of 10 times more plastic than needed to neutralise the impact of a single plastic cup.

Don’t miss: How Elemis Co-Founder Noella Gabriel Started Her Wellness Career at 20

Today, Brunier, a self-professed coffee addict who drinks about five to six cups of coffee a day, is looking ahead to further expanding Flash Coffee’s presence in Asia while continuously leading with tech and innovative products. 

With two young children, a family and a growing business, Brunier certainly has his hands full and has to make sure he is careful with every minute of his day. Below, he shares how he does it all in his own words.

Don't miss: SocietyA Founder Pek Lay Peng on How She Launched Her Own Fashion Platform

What is a typical morning like for you?

David Brunier (DB): I enjoy starting the day ahead of everyone else, so I’m usually up before 6 am every day. I start it off by reviewing business updates, daily reports, and going over my emails to get an overview of what’s coming up for the day.

Before heading to work, I make sure I spend some quality time with my two kids and my wife. This is a very precious time of the day for me, when I play with Lego with my son, send him to kindergarten, and watch the sunrise together with my daughter.

I’ll also occasionally do some sports in the morning if the schedule for the rest of the day allows it.

Don't miss: Cheryl Han on Opening a Postpartum Clinic After Getting Retrenched

What do you usually have for breakfast?

DB: I don’t usually have breakfast. I just have coffee. My go-to usually is just an oat milk cappuccino from Flash Coffee. I also drink lots of water right after waking up to make sure I’m properly hydrated. This helps me boost my performance throughout the day.

What does a standard workday look like for you?

DB: My main focus is to continue to drive growth for Flash Coffee. As you can expect from running a young company, there’s never a dull day or a standard day, which is a challenge I enjoy.

Once I’ve had my second cup of coffee at 9 am (this time, it’s a hot Americano), the meetings, discussions and pitches begin. From taking investor calls to solving operational challenges together with the team and interviewing talented applicants for our quickly growing team, no one day looks the same, and I love that.

How would you describe your working style?

DB: In one word, I would say it’s enabling, or empowering. Instead of seeing myself as a manager, I see myself as an enabler of the teams we build here at Flash Coffee.

I focus on assembling a very strong team with people who are great at what they are doing, and I see my job as moving obstacles out of their way so they can run. I also tend to have a very clear idea of what I want or what I believe the company needs and I work with tunnel vision to achieve it.

Don't miss: Meet Dr Tan Sok Chuen, the Only Female Hip and Knee Surgeon in Singapore

What time do you usually have lunch? What do you usually have for lunch?

DB: I usually have lunch around 12.30 pm because I skip breakfast, and I typically have a healthy lunch, something light and vegetarian. People who know me well know that I also love pizza so I like to add that to my lunch routine during the week when I can. You can find me at Santi’s on Fridays.

Free time: overrated or underrated? Why?

DB: I don’t believe in “free time”, I believe in taking time out of your schedule no matter how busy you are to do things that are important to you. If it’s sports, then do sports. If it’s journaling, take 15 minutes to write out your thoughts and decompress. If it’s spending time with friends and family, then make sure you take time to do so.

Arguably, it is definitely important to take some time to wind down, and I do that after a wave of projects at work but blocking out free time to do nothing, is not something that works for me.

How do you achieve a work-life balance? How do you set boundaries?

DB: As an entrepreneur, my mind is always switched on, and that comes with the job of building up a company. Saying “I don’t care” or “I’m leaving my work phone off over the weekend” is not part of my vocabulary.

Of course, it is not possible for anyone to do it all. For me, what is most important is to prioritise well and to understand how urgent or important certain tasks are that have to be executed within a certain time frame, and what can be left off til later in order to still allow for personal time with the family.

How do you chase your dreams?

DB: I believe that in order to chase your dreams, you first have to dream your dreams. I am clearly a dreamer, and I started defining what exactly I want in every part of my life from a young age. 

To make this more actionable, I chase my dreams by knowing what I want and drafting a plan that shows me, step by step, how I will get there. I also keep myself accountable with continuous checks on whether I have achieved what I have planned and by keeping my eyes on the prize.

Risks: should you take them? Why or why not?

DB: Absolutely. But you should understand what’s at stake and what your chances for success are before you take them. Taking uncalculated risks is something that I’m not a fan of.

How do you deal with your shortcomings?

DB: I reflect a lot and know that there are many things I have to improve on. No one is perfect and that’s okay. For me, the best way of dealing with my shortcomings is to identify them in the first place.

From there, I decide whether I have to improve on the shortcoming, specifically, can I be great at this if I put effort into it, or whether it makes more sense to find a person or solution that can balance out this shortcoming. I feel that it’s better to build upon your strengths to be the best in what you are already doing than to try and be good at everything.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever gotten?

DB: Only take advice from people who have mastered what you are looking at accomplishing. For example, don’t take advice about relationships from someone who is not in the kind of relationship you want, don’t take advice about finances from someone who isn’t where you want to be financially, and so on.

What is an idea/thought that you heard recently, that you thought was interesting?

DB: People always believe it takes motivation to drive action. I feel it’s actually action that creates motivation.

How do you unplug?

DB: Un-what?

How do you stay grounded?

DB: By realising that I am still very far from where I want to be.

How do you manage stress?

DB: By zooming out of the situation to see the bigger picture. This helps me understand how relevant certain things that would typically cause stress really are to me and how much weight they should have in my life. It also gives me guidance in tough situations. Sometimes stress might just be part of growing into what you want to become.

I also feel that tackling stressful situations swiftly instead of procrastinating is often already a major stress relief.

How do you stay motivated?

DB: By remembering why I started. If your goals are bigger than your fears, there is no reason to ever stop.

What is one item that has changed your life for the better?

DB: My family. There is nothing more fulfilling and motivating than them. A lot of people told me that I had to choose between my career and my family before I had children and I couldn’t disagree more.

I have always been self-motivated and my wife and children have managed to unlock a new level of determination in me that made me shift gears and floor the pedal even harder.

Do you have moments of doubt and how do you overcome them?

DB: Doubt stems from negative self-talk and I don’t have space for this in my life. If I ever doubt myself or where I am headed, I share my thoughts with the people who know me best to understand whether I am just self-sabotaging or whether I have to rethink what I’m doing.

What would you consider your greatest accomplishment to date?

DB: Being happy with who I am, what I am doing and who I am doing it with.

What would you still like to accomplish?

DB: I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are a lot more things that I would still like to accomplish and they typically circle around realising my own potential or supporting others in reaching their potential.

What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?

DB: I define a list of tasks I must achieve for the next day and review and adjust my schedule to ensure I can make it happen. I hold myself accountable for this, and will not go to bed without checking off everything on this list.

I also visualise what I still want to achieve and practise gratitude for what I already have.

NOW READ

How Sarah Ng Turned a Shelf in Her Mother’s Store to a Thriving Bespoke Diamond Business

Pang Gek Teng on Leaving Her Banking Job to Open an Australian-Inspired Grocery Store in Singapore

How Yan Ng Is Disrupting the Fast Fashion Industry With Her Sustainable Brand, Lily & Lou

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.