Tealet is a sourcing platform that connects tea growers to wholesale tea buyers around the globe. We handle the marketing, logistics, and payments to make the efforts of direct trade more efficient and more transparent.
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Product / Service Offering: B2B marketplace for tea
Co-founder Interviewed: Elyse Petersen
This article is part of our Women Entrepreneurs Spotlight series featuring female entrepreneurs and their companies. We hope these founders’ interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
Tell us a little about yourself with a focus on what motivates you.
I am a food scientist by education and trade but joined the world of international development through the Peace Corps. After seeing both sides of the world’s food systems, I am now passionate about bringing transparency to the food industry by better connecting the producer to the consumer. I think if people gain a better connection with the source of their food (and all products) they can build stronger communities and healthier lives.
When did you establish your company and where did the idea originate?
I started working on Tealet in May 2012 after I had just finished an internship on a tea farm in Kyoto during my Japan-focused MBA program. During the internship I helped found a non-profit organization called the International Tea Farms Alliance. Our mission was to build a bridge between tea growers and tea lovers. The non-profit didn’t show much promise for growth, so all the partners asked if I would be able to make a for-profit organization that could help spread the mission.
What need or needs does your company seek to fill for its customers?
Tealet is a sourcing platform that allows tea growers to connect and do business with wholesale tea buyers around the globe. We handle the marketing, logistics, and payments to make the efforts of direct trade more efficient and more transparent.
What is the one thing that sets your company apart from its competitors?
We are unique because we distribute teas and promote independent tea producers. In the past, the source information of a tea was a wholesale tea business’s trade secret. We are setting a new trend in the industry to promote the source and empower them to gain more market value in the global trade of tea. In conventional tea trade, tea producers see less than 15% of the market value of tea.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while getting your company up and running, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I have faced is educating the market to understand the value of the tea that we are bringing to market with our marketplace. Tea has conventionally been sold as a commodity at the lowest price the producer can afford. We do not focus on price, but rather quality. It is similar to challenges that wine producers faced as the specialty wine industry grew throughout the world.
Want more information on marketing trends? Read “Marketing to Millennials”
What resources have you utilized that other founders might find compelling or useful?
Social networks on platforms like Quora, reddit, and LinkedIn are useful in learning information and lessons learned from other businesses. Building a network and having friends that are after the same goal is always a great strategy.
What steps have you taken to secure funding for your company and what, if anything, would you do differently if you had to start over?
Our first funding came from a technology accelerator. Here, I learned how to fund raise and was able to raise a seed round from angel investors and venture capitalists. Since raising this money, my team has decided to focus on our own growth and build off our own revenue to grow the business. I have learned you make much wiser and more sustainable business decisions when you are building off your own growth.
What questions have you had as an entrepreneur of a fledgling startup that you had a particularly hard time finding the answers to?
Where do you find the patience to keep building? Working on a passion business helps, but there are still times when it feels hopeless, and there is not enough time to grow to success.
What challenges, if any, are you grappling with?
I am having trouble building credibility in the industry. On the other hand, I have made great strides and know that the growth and influence will be so much more sustainable if it develops authenticly.
What is the most helpful tip or “hack” you’ve ever learned, stumbled across, or been given?
Share your ideas. It works in many ways to build network and trust in your field and opens you to opportunities you wouldn’t know existed if you are more competitive and didn’t share your ideas.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your company?
Tealet is a tech-enabled company building itself with its own growth. We are female-owned and operated and focused on inspiring positive change in the international business arena.
Advice to women entrepreneurs…
My advice to female entrepreneurs is to stay focused and confident. Being a female in a position of leadership is difficult in any industry due to the sexism that is still deeply ingrained in cultures around the world. Although there is still a battle to fight and some days you may want to give up, keep going. There are thousands and thousands of other people who value you and your work, focus on this. Don’t focus on the handicaps or on insecurities. Instead, focus on your confidence and hard work, and it will pay off.
Are you familiar with other Women-led startups? If so, we would like to hear from you. Tell us about them in the comments below!