104: Keith Tan on ELLA, Singapore’s Robotic Barista

Keith Tan is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ella by Crown Digital IO, a Robotics and Coffee start-up solving key challenges in the F&B industry.

Previously from the wealth management industry, Keith was inspired to build a business of his own, leaving his job at age 35 to embark on his entrepreneurial journey with coffee. Crown Coffee’s first outlet was opened in 2016. Keith was passionate about coffee, the craft and his customers.

Still, he soon realised that it took much work to scale up the business due to a shortage of skilled labour, high rental costs and a challenge in maintaining consistent quality. This led Keith to think out of the box, seeking ways to infuse science and technology into coffee making.

The inspiration for a robotic barista came about after Keith tested a robot arm picking up and serving croissants to guests at a corporate innovation centre. This sparked a eureka moment that led him to create his robotic barista after learning robotics from scratch.

Eventually hiring his team of software developers, Keith took all of his operations in-house. Crown Digital was born in 2018 to deliver autonomous, unmanned retail solutions that tackle manpower challenges and optimise F&B operations.

If you are wondering why the name ELLA came about when he came across Rihanna’s hit song ‘Umbrella’ came over the speakers and the stars aligned – he knew instantly that Ella was the perfect name for his robot barista!

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Post-production of this episode is done on Descript.

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