It started as a simple idea born in an entrepreneurship class during the Cambridge MBA. Well a seemingly simple idea – to deliver the best tea from around the world, for free. As I folded my 400th booklet to go into our tea boxes, already three months past our delivery date, I had to laugh at my courageous naivety. Let’s go back to how it started though…..
Surprisingly, as a non-brit, I had a passion for good tea. It was brought about through my mother who was always at the ready to offer a cup of tea on a cold day, when friends visited or just when the mood hit. However, I never saw it going much further than that. That was until I reached the UK and was assaulted by all things British, including of course a love of tea. Did you know the average English person drinks 3 cups a day? That equates to over 165,000 cups drunk in Britain every day.
What my fellow Cambridge MBA and tea enthusiasts Tom Britton, Bonnie Aumann and I saw was that although it is really easy to get hold of cheap tea, any good quality tea was only found at less common speciality shops. Furthermore, although we love loose leaf tea, we were time and space poor MBA students who didn’t have time for the loose leaf straining – we needed loose leaf quality in a teabag. We figured we’d surely be able to find something good online but were baffled to see that unless we felt like ordering £30 pounds or so of tea, we had to pay £3.50 for delivery. I could order a pair of socks or a box of snacks with free delivery, why not tea? This was just the spark though and we soon developed our principles for only top quality tea from around the world, contributing to sustainable tea growing and giving back to our community.
Sure, great idea but you’re missing one big part – you need money. Fortunately for us, we had latched onto the idea of the lean start-up and soon calculated a small amount we would need to bootstrap the company. Unfortunately for us, we were MBA students racked up with student fees. If only there was a way we could raise money, not incur debt and not give away any equity. Enter crowd funding. Enter Kick-starter. Our timing couldn’t have been better really because the crowd funding wave was well underway and we had a captive and extremely supportive audience from our MBA classmates. A couple of months, and many late nights making a video, later we had a campaign to raise £12,000 in 28 days. I can’t really applaud our classmates enough in this effort as besides being one third of our backers, they became champions for our brand and shared it high and low to bring in more backers. With literally only 2 hours left in the campaign, we crossed the line. On one hand complete elation and on the other, crap, now we HAVE to do this.
Watch an interview with Bonnie and me, as we talk about the early days and how we managed to source funding through kick-starter.
So now it’s about one year since we conceived the idea and our site is finally launched and the kick-starter orders fulfilled. We now sell tea boxes with 15 teabags containing beautiful loose leaf tea. We make 15 different blends of tea and have 3 blends in each box all for £5.45, including free delivery of course. Okay, I’ve skipped a big chunk of all the headaches and sleepless nights involved in even getting this very simple business to start but I don’t really want to get into the nitty gritty of the delays in us getting setup (you can read more on the teastorks blog if you like). Suffice to say there will always be elements you haven’t considered. For us relying on multiple suppliers to enact our envisioned model (it looked so simple on paper!), this went doubly so. What we can do now though, is take a breath and try take in what exactly was achieved. Yes, it does have some imperfections that need ironing out and it’s not the final product we want it to be. But it’s a start and it’s ours.
That’s my start-up story and it really would have never happened if it wasn’t for the Cambridge MBA. For the post, I’ve really focused on this adventure but there’s a whole other world of tea I could go on and on and on about. Check us out at www.teastorks.com and follow us on facebook and twitter to hear more about it.