I don’t drink bottled tea. I’m not a tea snob – yes I am – I just don’t drink bottled anything. However, I will admit, if my KOR water bottle’s empty, I’ll buy whatever has the least sugar in it. Sometimes, that’s Honest Tea.
I’ve never known much about the company, except that they were somehow involved with Coca Cola. Then, a few days ago, our entire team at Sencha Naturals headed over to a live talk with Seth Goldman, the President and “Tea-EO” of Honest Tea, presented by the Live Talks Business Forums in downtown Los Angeles.
A super smiley man, Seth clearly embodies the “refreshingly honest” take of doing business with a mission. He is a genuinely nice, positive person who cares about bringing healthier products to the mass market.
He mentioned that Honest Tea started in 1998 with the goal of supplying better-for-you, far-less-sweetened teas, and has expanded to incorporate lines of low/no-sugar juices, sodas – and even kids’ drinks – all of which are organic and Fair Trade.
And unlike the major bottled tea companies at the time, Honest Tea actually brewed fresh tea leaves, rather than using concentrate or low-grade fannings (the bottle of Honey Green Tea I had at the seminar actually had a couple small floating leaves inside. I liked that.).
The company accepted Coca Cola as a minority investor in 2008, still keeping itself as an independently run business. And while Seth still calls the major shots, he’s not a fan of micromanaging, believing instead that if he inspires his [mission-driven] employees with a certain goal and equips them with the proper tools, they can be trusted to shift the gears themselves.
The other major takeaways from Seth’s talk were:
- Don’t get distracted (keep your focus on your values and main purpose).
- Always be “on.” Meaning, be prepared to pitch your idea wherever you are, because you never know who you’ll run into in your day-to-day. (Seth’s partner Barry just so happened to be drinking Honest Tea while doing yoga next to Oprah Winfrey.)
- Be “meaningfully different.” As in, you or your product/service must stand out from the crowd enough so that you cannot be easily replaced or duplicated.
- And finally, decide exactly what business you’re in. Surprisingly, Seth doesn’t consider himself as part of the tea business. Therefore he doesn’t want to get involved with tea bags or owning a bottling plant, etc. He simply wants to focus on the honest philosophy of the brand, promoting organic, Fair Trade drinks to the mass market, and creating a healthier population and more sustainable planet along the way.
For anyone the least bit curious, Seth released a comic-style book called Mission in a Bottle, documenting Honest Tea’s history to where they are today. This picky tea drinker has already purchased herself a copy, and, what the heck, a couple bottles of the Honey Green. It’s not that bad. It’s actually pretty good. Honest.
MAIN: Image of Seth Goldman speaking provided by contributor.
What a pleasant surprise to discover such an honorable, creative entrepreneur. It’s remarkable that the company mission wasn’t compromised when Coke came on board. Good to know it’s possible. Thanks for sharing this surprising story.
I was surprised too! But Seth seems like a really genuine guy, and his attitude trickles down into the rest of the company.
The core ideas listed as bullets in the post are remarkable. They seemed so simple when I first read them. But by the time my brain had processed the second one, I was halfway through the third one and saying, “Eureka!” The relationship Seth has – trusting his employees’ to solve problems creatively – gives those employees a level of satisfaction and self-respect that makes them able to be always “on,” creating and selling a product that is different enough that Coca Cola sees no need to mess with success. “If it an’t broke . . .” Adela, PLEASE write a review of Mission in a Bottle!
You got it!