I often get emails from customers looking for “advice” on how to start a business, and looking for learnings I have to offer them. Below are my answers – enjoy!
1. What do you feel was the most important choice you made that contributed to the success of Samovar?
My decision to start Samovar was totally selfish. It was to start a business that would serve me as a customer. I needed a place to go to connect on a deeper level with myself. And with those close to me in life. Tea proved to be the ancient vehicle enabling that connection, so it was an obvious answer. The biggest decision was to dive within myself, to understand my own reason for being, my “Why,” and to connect that to where I believed there was a market opportunity. If I had this need, perhaps there was a world full of people who had the same need? And, instead of creating a Tea Company, I chose to create a Positive Human Connection Company. That was the most important decision I made.
2. What was the biggest mistake you made when launching Samovar?
The philosophical answer is that I made no mistakes, because everything I did was a learning and a stepping stone for getting to where I am today. I have no regrets. There are also things I try hard not to repeat doing. But on the other hand, it’s critical to always remain open to new opportunities, and, sometimes that even means deciding to do something that didn’t work in the past. That doesn’t really answer the question I know you’re looking for. The hard part is that just because I would or wouldn’t do something again, doesn’t mean you should or shouldn’t! We are all different, and with totally unique souls that have different offerings. What worked (or didn’t) for me shouldn’t be considered when you follow your own vision, tea company or other. But still, I know that’s not what you’re looking for, so, tell me if this helps:
Here’s a few things I learned so far, not in order of priority:
- One really quick indication of your business’s viability is that, whatever your rent is, you should be able to pay it in full within the first three working days of the month.
- People are everything. The ability to lead and inspire is paramount for success: staff, customers, vendors, and in that order.
- Customers are everything. Do everything reasonable within your power to ensure they leave happier than when they stepped in the door.
- Staff are first. An excited and inspired and a cared for staff will create evangelical customers.
- Staying true to your vision and understanding of the market’s needs sometimes means alienating customers. I’d rather be something profound to someone, than something watered down to everyone.
- People are willing to pay for something of value, that improves their lives, and that is unique, beautiful, healthful, and has a genuine story.
- Your company is you. Nobody is to blame. Happy, sad, excited, or bored, whatever you feel, just look in the mirror, and you can see what you put out and what you get back. Your company is a reflection of your actions and feelings.
- Fear is ever-present so get really used to feeling it and dealing with it. Loads of people seem to glamorize entrepreneurialism because we hear about the glory stories of folks living a life of freedom and basking in piles of cash. The faster you grasp reality and realize it’s about a long, slow, slog, the happier and less envious you will be.
- Most businesses unsurprisingly fail, and it’s really scary watching your time, energy, money, and passion get drained. I’ve learned to try to dance with the Fear. To listen to it as a warning, and to let it lead me into creative solutions to seemingly impossible challenges I face. Whether it’s a suddenly high payroll amidst a super slow week, or a vendor who has no product for me to sell, or to corporate structure that impedes making new business decisions, Fear is potentially paralyzing, and yet also simultaneously totally invigorating. I’ll be honest and say that this is never really laid out and discussed. At least nobody told me about it. The true, panic, anxiety, mind-bending, 3am staring-at-the-cracks-in-your-ceiling-above-your-bed kind of Fear. Get ready for it.
- Our minutes, hours, and days of life are totally irreplcable, meaning that life is way too short to not be following our passion. For me, it was about Fear again. And, living an uninspired life was WAY scarier than jumping into the unknown. But it’s not for anyone. Meditate on it.
- The business plan is key, but it’s also totally true – be prepared to throw it away. Many times. When to execute and when to re-draft is hard to decide.
- Money follows the idea and the passion. Lots of folks ask “But how much will it cost…” and the truth is, I have no idea! It could be free for you if you are a skilled contractor and your family will be your employees. You could also spend $5m building out the Mecca Experience. I’d say that for me it’s always taken longer, and cost 50% more than my best estimates. So it’s not bad to have some extra cash…just in case.
- Maintain a Practice. Something, anything, that you can go back to that is grounding through all the unknown, Fear, chaos of creating a business. Yoga, walking, cooking, whatever you can do, some kind of simple ritual that can help you see it through and keep you sane.
- Feel free to ask for advice, but I’d advise against taking any! I’ve learned that folks are really excited to offer up opinions. I’ve also learned that the opinions generally only confuse me, or create more fear. We’re all totally different, who has the right to believe they are in your shoes, with your strengths and weaknesses, hopes and aspirations, fears and anxieties? Nobody.
- Hire trained professionals to be on your team for doing what they are good at. Lawyers for drafting legally binding documents and for posing legal questions to. Accountants for doing your taxes. I’ve found it helpful to be the least skilled worker in my company, and yet the visionary glue that holds it all together and propels the vision forward. It’s my belief that if I can surround myself by much more skilled peers, then life gets better for everybody.
- A continuation of #14, for me leadership is about support. If I can support and inspire my team, so that they can excel, and flow in their roles, then we all win. We all move forward. I prefer to see leadership as proactive support, as opposed to the traditional top-down boss-employee models many of us grew up with.
- Breathe. No breathe=no life=no company. I’ve got to constantly remind myself to just breathe. It’s way more fun that way.
3. How much of Samovar’s success would you attribute to day to day business practices vs. the unquantifiable factors such as the philosophy, mission and concept of the business?
Thank you for believing in Samovar’s success. First I’d say that success is totally subjective. Some would say it’s an IPO. In which case we’d be a failure. Other’s would say it’s wild profits. I’d say we’d still be considered a failure. Others might say it’s a worldwide presence. Hmm….still a failure because we’re a small local business! I believe we’re a success because because you believe we’re a success.
I’d ask you this question – why do you think we’re a success? Still – I understand that’s a bit philosophical. Let’s assume we’re a success because we’ve touched a lot of people in a positive way, staff, customers, and vendors. And, let’s say we’re a success because we’ve been around 8 years. Some kind of staying power magic maybe? Heck no. Pure blood, sweat, and tears. No joke. I’d say the positive experience we’ve learned, and the history we’ve maintained, are due to being sensitive to changing, and evolving, and managing the details. That’s pretty much it.
There’s definitely a bizarre magic of nature and nurture. For example: We had a car crash through one of our locations. How…horrible is that? Is that good or bad luck? It was horrible in that it created bad press, a few injuries, slowed down business, and looked horrible for many months as it was getting rebuilt. BUT, it was also beautiful in that no one was killed, we still remained open for business, and, we took the need for construction as a great chance to improve the space actually! What’s all that due to? Attitude maybe.
In short, the answer to this one in my experience is that…it’s some Nature, some Nurture, some Planning, some Hoping, and a lot of just Doing and Learning and being patient, flexible, grateful, and present.