Welcome to the twelfth of our Tea Business Spotlights, in which we allow tea people to share insights on running their business. If you're a tea business owner and you'd like to take part in an upcoming spotlight, please contact us.
How long have you been in business?
Tealet went live in May 2012.
What is the size/scope of your business?
We are a grassroots global corporation that facilitates relationships between tea growers and tea drinkers. We are a two-sided marketplace between tea growers from over ten different countries and will initially focus on marketing to the US market, although we do ship tea to customers internationally.
My professional background is in food science and technology and I was never really satisfied working in the food industry until I began working for a RTD green tea manufacturer. I was introduced to the unique qualities of tea and the healthy benefits it can bring for people. I was reintroduced to tea from the perspective of the grower during my time as a Japan MBA student at the University of Hawaii. I studied the market feasibility for Hawaii Grown Tea and then did a four month long internship in Kyoto, Japan at Obubu Tea Plantations. I think the US tea market is growing, the consumer is becoming more conscious, and tea growers are prepared to supply the world with the best quality tea.
How did you get the ball rolling on your venture?
After I finished an internship in Kyoto, Japan I returned to Hawaii and participated in a Startup Weekend event. At the event individuals pitch business ideas and teams are formed to build the business in 52 hours. My idea of "tea-commerce", now Tealet, was selected and my team won second place. Since then I have continued to work on the business idea and now we are in a business accelerator in Silicon Valley talking with investors about growth of the business.
What do you feel is the biggest strength of your business?
Our biggest strength is personal relationships we have with tea growers around the world. We hope that we can build a product that can extend this relationship with the tea drinker.
What were/are the biggest challenges of getting into/being in the tea business?
Like any business it is difficult to get the right partners together and to do the jobs of 10 people. The tea business is a relatively straight forward business, but there is much competition so it is very challenging to find the thing that separates you from everyone else.
What would you do differently, if anything?
I would have started studying Japanese earlier. I work with many Japanese farmers that don't speak English and we sometimes have difficulties communicating. I am practicing my Japanese now, but I wish I was fluent in speaking and writing so I could quickly do business with my partners.
Business is growing quickly. Our customers are enjoying our tea and we are excited to try new things and take our customers on an exploration with us.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to be in the tea business?
If you want to get in the tea business the best way to start is to network and build a community within the tea industry. Find out what's going in the ecosystem and try to build a solution that will help everyone including yourself. Make friends and find ways that you can work together. There is a lot of opportunity in the tea market right now, so there is much room for synergy.