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Drinking a hot cup of tea has always been the focus of my home. Growing up, my parents had their daily morning and evening tea ritual together. After I got married, I looked at my in-laws’ elaborate tea-making process, including special jars and strainers to manage the loose leaves, milk, ginger, cardamom, and other spices. I was always happy to get a cup of tea and avoid a process that seemed too overwhelming and time consuming.
Enter tea drops, especially the chai spice black tea. As someone who spent most of her tea time dipping tea bags, I couldn’t believe how easy this product made to make a cup and how delicious the tea tasted. Drop this tea bomb (of loose leaves pressed together) into a cup of hot water (I’ll add some milk), swirl the cup gently and you’re ready to drink.
The power behind this cup of chai is Sashee Chandran, founder and CEO of Tea Drops. Since Chandran was of Chinese and Sri Lankan descent, growing up with tea wasn’t just about being a functional drink. Tea has always been about connection. “For many people, smell can transport them back in time to a specific moment they experienced,” Chandran says. “For me, drinking a cup of tea brings back a flood of memories.”
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Through Tea Drops, Chandran brings connection and community in an unexpected way, cup of tea at a time. Here are the three lessons Chandran has for entrepreneurs looking to disrupt any category:
Lean into your strengths
Chandran considers her time at eBay the training ground for business fundamentals. “I took all the business discipline I had learned for granted,” she says. “Repeat ideas, track and understand stats, and avoid spinning your wheels.” Understanding how to run a business, coupled with her love of experimenting with loose leaf tea in the kitchen, has been invaluable since she founded Tea Drops in 2015.
In addition to her strong business sense, Chandran is very comfortable taking risks. “I thank my parents, who both had part-time jobs, for exposing me early on to the building blocks of entrepreneurship. When I decided it was time to start Tea Drops full-time, I had my savings and pulled a line of credit at my house and didn’t look back.”
Image Credit: Tea Drops
Change consumer behavior through storytelling
Chandran’s idea for the tea bomb came from her own need to find a convenient way to make tea at work. “I always had multiple projects that I pursued, whether it was baking cookies with tea or making soap with tea,” she says. “And then I started to think: How can I make tea that dissolves in a cup, just like a bath bomb does in water?“
In the battle for tea making it is loose leaf versus tea bags. The tea bag is more convenient and easier to remove. Loose leaf tea will likely give you better quality leaves. Tea Drops combine the best of both worlds: convenience and quality. But how do you convince consumers that they are not sacrificing their taste and changing their behavior?
“Eighty percent of Tea Drops sales go directly to consumers,” Chandran explains. “We’ve built a great social media platform to showcase how the product works.” (TikToker Addison Rae Easterling is a fan). Instagram serves as an educational platform that also builds a community of people interested in drinking tea as a ritual and sensory experience. Chandran is building Tea Drops as a purpose-driven brand that supports a women-led supply chain, supports fair trade and organic harvesting. With every box that Tea Drops sells, it donates a year’s supply of water through the Thirst Project.
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Find and enroll allies who believe in your mission
“I was a founder who had no experience in the food and beverage industry and no experience in the world of e-commerce,” Chandran recalls. Also, having no track record of making products, it took her over 70 calls to pick up her first round of seed.
“At first I got feedback that this was a cute product and that it was a gimmick,” she says. Some investors did not believe in the staying power of tea bombs and their potential for mass appeal. Chandran remained true to her why and her belief in the product.
“I had no Rolodex; I had no idea what angel investors were or what VC funding was,” Chandran says. She decided to turn to pitch competitions and applied to as many as she could. It didn’t matter if she won; it was all about getting in front of the judges, so Tea Drops was on their radar. Her perseverance paid off in enrolling allies who believed in her vision. To date, Tea Drops has raised $8.4 million in total funding from BrandProject, Siddhi Capital, AF Ventures, Cue Ball Capital, Halogen Ventures and other angel investors.
Those who doubted Tea Drops’ success and ability to disrupt the tea category can now find it at Costco locations in Southern California. Once considered a ‘novelty’ by an investor, Tea Drops is revolutionizing the way we all drink tea, cup by cup.
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