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Four Reflections Now That We're A One Year Old

This week the idea of Young Mountain Tea turns one year old. Here’s how we started, subject line “Tea Thoughts”:

On Sat, Mar 2, 2013 at 2:09 AM, Keith Pennington <keith.pennington@gmail.com> wrote:

Raj, 

I've been drinking a ton of tea lately, so I've been thinking about the tea business you said you might start (or that's at least how I interpreted what you said). So have you started it yet? I'm super curious about what your plan is. I'm wondering if you're talking importing/exporting, wholesale/boutique online shop/whatever in US? A socially responsible marketing strategy, focused on individual growers? Double/triple bottom line? Etc?? ETC??? (and note: my tea is, indeed, caffeinated.)
Or we should skype sometime. 
Rock on. 
Keith
On Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 9:27 PM, Raj Vable <vable@uoregon.edu> wrote:
That's really exciting to hear. And yes, your interpretations were spot on - my plan is to start a tea business although I'm very early in my thoughts so it's a good time to start talking.

Fast-forward to today and we’re one year deep into the world of a startup. While we may not be seasoned veterans quite yet, we’re not in boot camp anymore either. So here goes, a smattering of realizations from a one-year-old:

    1. Best to start small and iterate often: We are followers of the Lean Startup approach, which advocates for starting small, starting now, and adapting as you go. In the depths of the Tea Thoughts thread, we didn’t have a clear idea of what EXACTLY we wanted to accomplish. Instead, we had a pretty good idea of the direction we wanted to go. As the conversation began to escalate, we kept asking ourselves: “If we’re really serious about this, what’s the next step?” From the get-go, we accepted that this was going to be a learning process, and that we would view each step as feedback on our approach. Doing so took a lot of pressure off of doing things perfectly.

    First shot at packaging, complete with a cut-out logo

      2. Initially a “business” Is just a group of people working on an idea: And even down the road, that’s probably true too. But in the beginning, it was a bit of a shock to understand how simple it was: we came up with a name and logo, found some suppliers of good tea and packaging, worked with friends on a website, and took care of the legalities. Y voila! We were a business! And yet, what WAS the business? The paperwork and a few hundred dollars worth of inventory? Nope, that doesn’t seem right. It felt like we had willed this company into creation just by agreeing that we liked the idea and then telling people about it. And that’s all a business is…

        3. Growing a business is a lot of work: But hold on! Starting a business isn’t the same thing as growing a successful one. Since the initial rush of launching four months ago, things have quieted down. And in the place of the picturesque moments that were sure to get likes on our Facebook page, we’re spending time on less appealing things like filing taxes. In these somewhat dull moments, I find solace in the fact that this is all about tea. Because while we’re a social enterprise, we’re also a couple of tea nuts. This seems a good time to insert Howard Thurman’s line: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

          4. People Want to Help You: The other primary source of inspiration is our friends and family. I could not believe how much support poured out simply by saying “we’re going to start a tea company!” From our logo to our website to our very name, so many of our friends have stepped up to help us make this a reality. And then there’s the fact that until now we’ve known almost every one of our customers by name. At first I felt a bit embarrassed by this, like we were somehow not achieving business success because our customers were our friends. Then I realized that this is exactly the type of base it makes sense to grow out of – a supportive network of great people who are turning into tea nuts just like us.

            In the beginning, I spent time trying to guess why people were so generous – is it because they want us personally to succeed, or because they want to support small Indian farmers? And then I’ve realized the distinction doesn’t matter – people want to be involved in making this happen, and that’s all that counts. And in it’s own way, that’s pretty exciting too.

            Into Year 2!

            Raj


             


             

             


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