With a thirst for good brews, a degree in beer and a strong base in Bangkok, Danish Jakob Mørkenborg Rasmussen recently started his own company, Hopsession Co. Ltd. The vision is to bring exclusive and limited edition craft brews to both curious Thais and expats.
For the past few years, a Belgium beer wave has been setting its mark on the Bangkok beer scene. Stella Artois and Hoegaarden are big hits among beer enthusiasts as an alternative to the not so demanding Chang and Singha. For the thirsty souls now looking for a new trend, Jakob Mørkenborg Rasmussen believes he found the answer with his new beer import company, Hopsession.
“These beers are everywhere now and people are starting to go for the next big thing. They had their Hoegaarden and they had their Stella, so where should they go next? I’d say: Craft beer! If you want something different and something unique you have to get away from the industrial breweries,” he explains.
Hopsession’s first supplier was Danish microbrewer Bøgedal. Produced in batches of 350-700 bottles and never made again, Bøgedal should be considered more as a vineyard then a brewery according to the brewers. With a statement like that, you get an idea of Hopsession’s portfolio.
“If you like to taste the small details then go for a craft beer. Our beers serve an acquired taste. The first time you have it you might not like it but if you have it a few times you don’t want to drink anything else,” Jakob explains.
A degree in beer
The strategy of uniqueness also means that asides from a few brands there is no permanent portfolio and the company receive as little as one case of some beers.
“We have a lot of changing beers. From what I see, Thais like change. Look at any nightclub. They have to re-decorate every two years because people get tired of it. Here you get new products all the time; we can launch new beers every month forever,” he explains confidently.
Aside from a love of beer that most Danish men possess, Jakob has his credentials straight. He did his senior research thesis in behavioral economics in the beer market focusing on Carlsberg entering the Thai market. He joined Carlsberg full time in May 2012 where he was charged with facilitating the sale of draft beer in the country – an experience that served as a stepping stone to Hopsession.
“I had done research in the beer market and I had a good idea of how it worked, especially in Bangkok, and in my opinion, Denmark has some of the best craft beer in the world, so it was an obvious move for me.”
A strong connection to Thailand
Jakob’s journey towards starting his own company in Thailand began in 2004. Fresh out of high school and looking for adventure, he headed out for a backpacking trip starting in Bangkok. Here he met someone that made him extend his visit.
“I was going backpacking and my brother told me that he knew this girl who worked at Maersk in Bangkok, who could show me around. I was supposed to stay in Bangkok for three days and I ended up staying here for four months.
The girl his brother knew was Rutima, who he married in 2008. After a stay in Denmark, where Rutima took her master’s degree in economics, the couple moved to Bangkok in 2008, where Jakob entered Chulalongkorn University to study economics.
Jakob did the international program and out of 150 he was the only farang in his year and was as he puts it himself “thrown into Thai student life.”
“I think you get a lot of good friends in a different way. If you come here to work as an expat you are always a bit distant from the rest. I was the only white guy out of 150 students, so I didn’t really have a choice if I wanted to study here for four years.”
Happy that he chose a Thai university, he explains that the strong network of local connections is a big selling point for him and Hopsession today.
With his own business and a Thai wife, he has come to call Bangkok his home. Nevertheless, the family in Denmark alongside with some of the weather is the only thing he truly misses.
“I am proud of being Danish and it’s a good heritage, but Bangkok is my home now. I don’t miss Denmark – I miss people,” he explains.”
Starting your own company is never easy, especially if it is the first time and in addition in a foreign country. To help and support him, Jakob has a strong network of friends, family and former colleagues. He looked to his family in financing and presented the idea to them in a very straightforward manner.
“I have the idea, I’m going to work my ass off, this is the market, this is how it looks and this is how I think it will be like – are you in or out?”
Lucky for Jakob and beer lovers in Thailand, the family was on board with the idea and today the entire operation is financed by family investments. 65 percent comes from his wife’s family and the rest from his own family back in Denmark.
Start half a year in advance
Jakob promised his family that he would work his ass off, and he has done so far as importing beer in Thailand is no simple task.
“Importing beer is very difficult. You are facing 380 percent taxes and you really get the idea that you are in an export focused country that likes products out, money in – not the other way around.”
It is not just the taxes that Jakob finds to be a challenge. The paperwork is another issue and compared to Denmark, he feels that the footwork is heavy at first.
“You get the feeling that the Thai system is a patchwork. Import taxes is not one or two but five or six different things and if you want to get a license you have to go to three different offices to get the papers done. It’s not like somebody is against you, it’s just how the system works,” he explains.
The back and forth paperwork takes times and for others who wish to start a business in Thailand, Jakob’s advice is this:
“Start half a year in advance. Make sure that you have the financial means to do nothing for six months before you start.”
A bright Thai beer future
Now that the bureaucratic startup phase is over, Hopsession is ready to focus on the beer. Talking to Jakob you get the idea how he convinced his family to invest in his brainchild. He is determined to make it work and is optimistic when it comes to his project.
“I see a bright future for Hopsession in Thailand. The Thai market is massive and I believe that there is plenty of space for more beer.”
Still he is modest when it comes to the first fragile years and Hopsession is not planning on a major growth spurt. The goal is to have his more mainstream beers in 50 bars, 15 places for the more standard Mikkeller and five places for Bøgedal.
“We hope not to lose too much this year, next year maybe we will break even and then a return in two years would be nice”
Still Jakob Mørkenborg Rasmussen believes in the project and when asked why he is going to succeed the answer falls quick and confident.
“I have worked in the beer industry, I’m Danish, I know the beer, I have studied locally so I have good connections and I have friends who know the market. I believe that I have some good cards in my hand.”