How a Cultural Tradition Inspired a Tea Business
While everyone is obsessively snapping shots of Starbucks’ latest frappuccinos, we’re still team tea. Our favorite oh-so-calming beverage can be transformed into so many things — like boozy summer cocktails, beauty treatments, and even delicious bubble tea. If you’re as in love with tea as we are, and you’re dreaming of creating a career that focuses on this bev, then you’ll love learning how one intrepid entrepreneur developed a business built solely on her own love of tea. In this week’s How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with the founder of T&Co, Jennifer Odera, about how she turned her love of tea into a full-time gig.
meet the tea PRO: Jennifer Odera
Originally from Kenya, Odera worked extensively in the European hospitality industry, and after spending a gap year traveling and rediscovering her passions and interests, she decided to make the trek to America in 2013 with the goal of earning an MBA. Her yearlong travels helped Odera realize that she wanted to bring people unique experiences in a more personalized and intimate way — similar to the hospitality industry. She toyed with the idea of starting a tea business and after talking about it with friends and family, she challenged herself to apply to a business competition, forcing herself to commit to formulating a plan. T&Co. was born from this idea, and today, her company offers curated tea subscription boxes for tea enthusiasts. Here are some helpful self-starting tips from the tea-preneur herself.
1. Discover what you love. Sometimes it takes a little bit of adventure and exploring out of your locale to reconnect with what you truly love. “My traveling gap year exposed me to various people, languages, and cuisines, and these experiences reignited my love of discovering culture,” says Odera. By taking this time to travel, Odera gained perspective and a better understanding of where she wanted to direct her passions.
2. Go it alone. When Odera got serious about starting her tea company, she started networking her local food scene and attending food events and specialty trade shows. She purposely went solo to every networking opportunity. “Going alone pushed me to speak to people I didn’t know and ask for help, advice, and introductions to other professionals,” says Odera. (Need some networking tips? Here’s how to network painlessly.)
3. Take a break. Odera hails from the Kenyan Abaluhya tribe who place great value on the daily service of tea. In her culture, each day begins and ends with tea. She loves taking a break during her work day to enjoy some time alone with loose leaf tea. “The process of preparing tea, particularly loose leaf, requires you to stop what you are doing and be very deliberate about putting all the pieces together. Lately, whenever I find myself getting anxious about deadlines and outcomes I take a matcha break,” says Odera.
4. It takes a village. Though Odera wanted to network solo, she’s mindful of the family and friends who have all chipped in to grow T&Co. Her parents and older sister have invested financially, while her brother helps her with financial modeling. Her friend Corey taught her how to set up her biz online. Her friend Maya curates music playlists for the tea kits. And her friend Juliana manages most of T&Co.’s social media. “My family and friends have been invaluable throughout the entire process, first by offering the most non-judgmental support and always lending an ear when I’ve had a bad day or need cheering on,” says Odera.
5. Get started. When Odera was working on her MBA, she learned an important exercise to get started. “Write three lists — one list of all the things you would need in order to get the idea off the ground, another list of the things you don’t know, and finally a list of all the people you know,” says Odera. From there, network with people to learn the things you don’t know, and test out your idea to discover your audience.
6. Keep good quality control. Since T&Co. is all about tea, Odera is careful to work with vendors that own their own tea farms or who are actively visiting tea farms — two signs of being invested in the quality of the tea. “I personally sample each tea before selecting which brews to pair for the month’s tea kit. I like to make sure there’s something for every type of tea drinker in each of my tea kits,” says Odera. If your company is food or beverage-based then you want to go to great lengths to deliver the best goods possible.
7. Don’t strive for perfection. When she was first starting out, Odera says she was stuck in a state of “paralysis by overanalysis.” She held back on promoting her business or using social media because she wanted everything to be perfect before anyone could see it. “I went in very naively, following the business school formula, thinking that if I checked all the boxes everything would work out overnight, but that’s not how things work. There is no specific thing you need to do but rather stay true to your passion, keep working multiple angles, and with a bit of good old-fashioned luck, everything starts to come together,” says Odera.
Perfect Your Skills
1. Tea Pairing Classes ($15-$35): Through online or onsite classes, you can learn how to pair tea with chocolate, beer, and cheese. You can conduct the pairings in your own home with friends with provided materials. If you want to take your tea expertise to the next level, try the Tea Blending Classes from the Tea Blending Sisters who have 10+ years experience in the tea industry.
2. Learn How to Run a Successful Subscription Business (Free): Subscription School offers dozens of online guides, videos, and webinars on how to start a subscription-based company. Topics covered include Building the Perfect Box: A Guide to Product Procurement, Four Best Practices for Facebook Page Management, and Communicating With Customers — Dos and Don’ts.
3. Coding: From Web Page to Website Online Class ($39): When starting any business, it’s essential to have a quality website. If you want to learn how to build your website from scratch, this online course will teach you the basics. Designer Allison House will show you how to code a website that’s perfect for you.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could end up featuring it in the next column!
(Photos via Marisa Vitale and T Knight Gallery)