Today I’m savoring our Monkey Picked Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong. A clean, robust infusion with woodsy high notes and deep baked apple undertones. As our description for this tea says: “Sip. Penetrate your issues. Dissolve them.” This is the way of tea and the way of business for us at Samovar Tea Lounge.
Finding Your Mission
Samovar Tea Lounge is not a tea business. Yes, we serve tea–and the highest quality tea around as well. If you’ve been to the Tea Lounges, you know that our servers love sharing the nuances and complexities of all things tea. But in fact, our business is not of a product (tea) but of a service: we’re here to help enrich people’s lives. Tea happens to be an amazing medium for accomplishing this goal. But the focus of our business is helping people–that’s our true purpose for being.
I founded Samovar Tea Lounge over 12 years ago, and it’s been exciting to see how the tea market has grown. When we first opened our doors, those who didn’t think we were a Chinese restaurant told us we had to serve coffee if we wanted to survive. No way.
We didn’t listen to them, and over a decade later we’re still here, brewing up delicious leaves pot by pot. No doubt about it, tea has made big inroads into San Francisco–from the chain DAVIDsTEA, to the Starbucks-owned Teavana franchise. Tea is now big business and these large companies cast a wide net to bring many more people to tea. It’s really heartening to see so many people falling in love with this beverage, and we’re honored to be a part of it.
But the focus of Samovar is not about selling a lot of tea, and making a huge profit. If we wanted to do that, we would lower our quality and 10x the number of teas we carry. Instead, our focus is to create positive human connection, and to do it through the highest quality leaves you can find. Anywhere.
This mission is what keeps me going every day, through the ups and downs of business.
What’s your mission?
Often, finding a mission just requires a change of perspective. It’s not necessarily your job or life circumstances that need to change, but the way you see it. Instead of seeing work as a chore, see it as a calling. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee, here are a few of my suggestions for finding fulfillment in your work and life:
1. Solve a Problem.
In a way, it starts with being selfish. Ask yourself, “What do I need?” As a burnt out employee doing a corporate gig, when I asked myself that question, I realized I needed an oasis from which to escape the rigors of this fast-paced world. I envisioned this dream, then worked my butt off to make it a reality.
Another way of thinking about it is, “What problem am I solving for my customers?” And, is it the right problem to be solving? The wrong problem for Samovar to be solving is how to keep people hydrated with flavored water. The right problem is how to empower folks to create a healthy ritual in their lives, so that they in turn make the world around them better.
Customers will come to you because you’re helping them, and you’ll find fulfillment in satisfying a real need. It’s the art of discovering and solving problems. This simple process can make the difference between success and failure in business.
2. Drink Tea.
To the countless people who have asked me for advice on how to open a tea house, I always tell them, the best way to learn about tea is to drink a LOT of it.
And if you aren’t interested in opening a tea house, my suggestion is still the same. Slowing down to drink tea gives your mind the vital space it needs to revive and regroup.
The ritual of tea isn’t a passive act; it takes major discipline to be present and fight distraction. But in that silence where mental chatter normally fills the airwaves, new ideas will pop up. Goals will become more tangible. Next steps will become clearer. Too busy to drink tea? I’d say, you’re never too busy to drink tea.
3. Don’t Give Up.
We may need to change direction from time to time, but passionate people don’t have the luxury of giving up. When I first applied for a loan to start Samovar, I had to apply to 72 banks before finding a loan officer who would take a chance on my crazy dream.
When I look at Samovar today, with three locations and nearly 100 staff, I’m humbled to see how far we’ve come since then. There are still days when I feel like throwing in the towel. Being a leader can be miserable. But passion for the vision always fires me up and gives me strength to keep going.
If you could use more insight into starting your own business, try reading these books. Some are motivational, and others dive into the nitty gritty of business. All of them will give you fuel to pursue a fulfilling career path.
Contagious: Why Things Catch On, by Jonah Berger
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen
Killing Sacred Cows: Overcoming the Financial Myths That Are Destroying Your Prosperity, by Garrett B. Gunderson
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of the Reluctant Businessman, by Yvon Chouinard
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Not every business endeavor will succeed, but if you solve a true need, your chances of success are much greater. And finding fulfillment will be much easier when you create space for reflection and nurture gentle tenacity.