Learn how the co-founders of Tiesta Tea started with a weekend trip to Prague and ended up with one of Chicago’s fastest growing Startups
While spending a semester abroad during college, Dan and Patrick were blown away by the quality of the loose-leaf tea they found in tea houses scattered around Prague. Tea of such quality that used full leaves, rich herbs, and unique blends was something both of them had never experienced. Knowing they had stumbled on something that couldn’t be easily found back home, Dan and Patrick packed up as many tea leaves as they could and returned to school the next semester to turn their dorm rooms into a makeshift tea laboratory. The two began experimenting with their own loose-leaf concoctions and blends, and like any good college entrepreneurs started enlisting their friends to help pack the first rounds of big orders in exchange for pizza and beer.
Recreating both the quality products and enjoyable environment of Italian cafes and coffeehouses was the mission Howard Schultz set out to achieve as he created the behemoth that we know today as Starbucks. In a similar fashion, Dan and Patrick knew that recreating the style and quality of loose leaf tea they enjoyed in Europe and making it accessible in the States was a challenging but potentially profitable undertaking. “He [Schultz] has been a huge influence of ours and his book was one of the first we read before we decided to start the business,” Dan said.
Additionally, Patrick realized the power of a partnership when it came to motivating one another during difficult times in the early stages of the business. “In the dead of winter, with very little money, we were traveling to New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle and just knocking on doors with the goal of signing up 50 new stores just to keep us going. That was a tough time, but having someone by your side to keep you motivated made it possible.”
The two pressed on and soon enough more and more stores signed up to put Tiesta Tea on their shelves. Popular blends and industry validation from winning Best New Product at the World Tea Expo in 2011brought steady growth and helped them eventually reach distribution in all 50 states. In 2013, Tiesta Tea could be found in over 3,000 stores, and the two have plans to at least double the store count by the end of 2014.
Recently, Tiesta Tea just closed their first round of funding that will help to scale the business a bit quicker and solidify main areas of the business such as inventory and marketing. “The whole idea of the recent round of funding was to position ourselves to go to the next level,” Patrick says. “We really think the opportunity is now, so we wanted to use the investment to ensure we remain good vendors and we can execute any order quantities that come along.” The investment will go a long way for a growing company run by co-founders who seem to have a knack for making the most of any opportunity.