I’ve been in the tea business for just over two years. Before I launched Naja Tea, I worked with a non-profit as the Director of Business Relations and on evenings and weekends I stayed up researching the tea industry, traveling across the nation and abroad to see what was happening in the world of tea, and conceptualizing how to create a tea company that would be different than the rest.
In January 2008 – suddenly but not so unexpectedly – I was fired from that job due to “personal differences” with my boss. I was devastated. Before the loss, Naja Tea was merely a dream that I would “one day” make a reality. I was busy after hours acting like a business owner who knew exactly what she was doing, yet so naïve to what actually having a company would be like. (Not too different from being pregnant and thinking you’re already a mom as you shop for sweet clothes and design a sweet room. Then the baby comes. Wham!)
After three days of tears and fears, it was time to move past the stage of grief and make a serious decision – look for another job helping someone else build his/her dream or dive in head first and start building my own.
So I acted like Michael Phelps and I dove.
The first step: package design. This was a crucial step in building our physical brand because it’s the consumer’s first look into who we are as a company. So, over about a three-month period, I consulted with an expert on new trends in packaging, with an award-winning graphic designer on the look-and-feel for the canister, and with the manufacturing company who would build it.
For the next three months, as my canisters were being built in China – the cost of building them in the U.S. was exorbitant – I took a homemade prototype around to prospective customers to get feedback. The prototype was the sample canister I designed with graphics printed on sticker paper and pasted on. It was rough, to say the least.
During this waiting period, I also worked on the website, writing copy, going back and forth on the shopping cart, gathering lists of people I’d want to sell to, figuring out pricing, and pounding the pavement doing all of the things you must do to build a business. I was excited and anxious at the same time.
In July 2008, an extremely large truck pulled up to my home. My canisters had arrived! I could not believe that this is what thousands of canisters looked like in real life. And now, these thousands of canisters would be warehoused in my two-car garage. I was officially open for business.
Our first two customers were a small two-chain gourmet grocer and Trump National Golf Course. I felt like I hit the jackpot and was excited that people not only liked our packaging, they loved our teas!
But this was only the beginning and there were many hurdles to overcome as I would discover all of the how-tos that I previously knew nothing of.
Today, we’ve grown from those early days, but there is still so much growth that needs to happen to make us truly competitive in our industry. Our main hurdles – staffing and under-capitalization. Our sales force needs to expand – I currently do all sales for the company. We have an overall staff of 4 and we’re restructuring roles so that 70% of our time is spent on revenue-generating programs. Under-capitalization is an issue for many small new businesses. We are currently considering a few options that we hope will help with this common issue in the world of business.
Each day is an exciting adventure. I’ve been fortunate to meet amazing people who have shared a wealth of knowledge and information with me. And each day I learn something new about business and about myself.
Building a business from the ground up takes courage, tenacity, strength of character, and a definite sense of adventure. I applaud my fellow tea entrepreneurs who have decided to take their own leap into the world of tea. After all, it is steeped in excitement and uncertainty…and it is always an adventure.