With literally thousands of tea products available, one new start-up draws on founder’s Greek childhood to differentiate new entry.
Kristina D. Tsipouras launched Zoos tea with an ancestral twist.
“I grew up spending summers in Greece with my family. My Yia-Yia (grandmother) always made this tea for us over ice in the summer. It was the perfect refreshment and is also known as the “cure all” beverage of choice in the Mediterranean, she said.
“I started to do some research on the herbal tea leaves and realized that they had more benefits than Greek yogurt even. I googled “how to start a beverage company” and the rest is history!” she adds.
We are a real brewed tea which means we don’t strip our leaves of its natural anti-oxidants and health benefits. Most teas on the market are sugar, powder forms. We are also caffeine free and gluten free which is hard to come by in the RTD iced-tea category.
As Tsipouras points out: “This is such a hidden gem, just as Greek yogurt was to American consumers 5 years ago.”
With a partner, Niari Keverian, and fellow MBA graduate of Babson University, the company launched first in New England and is slowly growing nationwide.
Before launching, Tsipouras introduced the products to “introduced a few players in the industry to our products. I had a few emails back asking if they could personally purchase the tea because they had started to crave it after their first sip.”
This was a good clue that they may have a strong product.
She points out there has been a lack of innovation and new flavors, regions introduced to the tea market.
“My business partner and I are consumers, so we understand how to market our product successfully and create a fun story and branding along the way,” she adds.
One other advantage was the many people they knew from the industry and Facebook accounts.
“Together we had a wide network of friends and families. Our friends and family round was successful to launch in New England with. As we plan for our national launch, we will be raising a much larger round and have already gathered several private investors in the industry who are interested,” she says.
They had a business plan but as she says: “to be honest we put a great deal into our business plan. As any entrepreneur would tell you though, it goes out the window the day you launch. Reality changes on a weekly basis in the start-up world.”
Despite their preparations there were still hurdles to overcome.
She reports the learning curve getting through FDA regulations was huge,
Another was the ups and downs of any new business.
“One day you think your world is over, and then the next day you hear that Wegmans wants your product in all of their stores. It is a very up and down environment, she says.
“We have learned to roll with the punches and continue with our strengths and a very positive attitude no matter what happens,” she adds.
Advice to others: “We think, test and advise with trusted successful partners in the industry before we act. That has saved us a great deal of money and time. We don’t think we can do it all, and we have surrounded ourselves with a strong team and trusted advisors to guide us in the reas that are not our areas of strength.
Getting into the store chains so quickly was a combination of a great product and connections.
“Being a social butterfly since high school hasn’t hurt. I have over 2,000 friends on Facebook. I had no idea what network I had until I launched this company, and I have never been afraid to ask for help or shamelessly promote my brand. It is my heart and soul after all, these family recipes are very sacred to us,” she exclaims.
“The same goes for my business partner Niari Keverian who’s background is from Welch’s grape juice. She also received her MBA at Babson. When we pulled our networks together, we realized that we have so many connections to food brokers, buyers, investors, other successful brands, etc. All who have been graciously giving with their time, advice and connections. We feel very blessed with the support and network that we have around us,” she adds.
Her other advice to would-be entrepreneurs include:
- Please, take it one day at a time. Surround yourself with a large network of advisors.
- speak with companies in your territory that have failed and succeeded.
- Don’t be afraid to ask people for help or advice. I have found that many people are open to helping you, even if you think it is a reach or not worth their time.
- It is such an emotional experience, it is such a vulnerable place to be, and I don’t think that Entrepreneurs prepare themselves enough for the emotions that launching a start-up will take you through. Lets just say that I am stronger now than I have ever been in my entire life.
- If you can bring on a co-founder, it will be a much more enjoyable experience. I do not recommend doing it alone. I tried for a year and was in over my head.
- Don’t be afraid to give out equity to the right partners, or the players that will truly grow and love your brand the way you do.