This Founder Is Disrupting How We Consume the World's Most Popular Beverage
Three lessons from Tea Drops' Sashee Chandran.
Drinking a hot cup of tea has always been at the center of my home. Growing up, my parents had their daily morning and evening tea ritual together. After getting married, I watched my in-laws' elaborate tea-making process, including special pots and strainers to manage the loose leaves, milk, ginger, cardamom and other spices. I was always happy to be served a cup of tea and avoid a process that seemed too overwhelming and too time consuming.
Enter Tea Drops, specifically the chai spice black tea. As someone who spent most of her tea time dunking tea bags, I couldn't believe how easy this product made fixing a cup, and how delicious the tea tasted. Drop this tea bomb (of loose leaves pressed together) in a cup of hot water (I add some milk), swirl the cup gently, and you are ready to drink.
The force behind this cup of chai is Sashee Chandran, founder and CEO of Tea Drops. Being of Chinese and Sri Lankan descent, Chandran's experience growing up with tea wasn't just about it being a functional beverage. Tea was always about connection. "For many people, scent 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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Lean into your strengths
Chandran credits her time at eBay as being the training ground for business fundamentals. "I took for granted all of the corporate discipline I had learned," she shares. "Iterating on ideas, tracking and understanding metrics, and how to avoid spinning your wheels." Understanding how to run a business, coupled with her love for experimenting with loose leaf tea in the kitchen, has been invaluable since she founded Tea Drops in 2015.
In addition to her strong business acumen, Chandran is very comfortable taking risks. "I credit my parents, who both had side hustles, for exposing me early on to the building blocks of entrepreneurship. When I decided it was time to pursue Tea Drops full time, I had my savings and pulled a line of credit on my home and didn't look back."
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 I was pursuing, whether that was baking tea infused cookies, or creating tea infused soaps," she says. "And then I started thinking: How could I make a tea that dissolves in a cup just like a bath bomb does in water?"
In the battle of tea-making, it's loose leaf versus tea bags. The tea bag is more convenient and easy to dispose of. With loose leaf tea, you are likely to get better quality leaves. Tea Drops combine the best of both worlds: convenience and quality. But how do you convince consumers that they won't sacrifice taste and change their behavior?
"Eighty percent of Tea Drops' sales are direct to consumers," Chandran explains. "We have built an amazing platform on social media to showcase how the product works." (TikToker Addison Rae Easterling is a fan). Instagram serves as as an educational platform that also builds a community of people interested in drinking tea as a ritual and sensorial experience. Chandran is building Tea Drops as a purpose-driven brand supporting a women-led supply chain, supporting fair trade and organic harvesting. With every box Tea Drops sells, it donates a year's supply of water through the Thirst Project.
Find and enroll allies who believe in your mission
"I was a founder who had zero experience in the food and beverage space and zero experience in the world of ecommerce," Chandran shares. With no track record of manufacturing products either, it took more than 70 conversations for her to raise her first seed round.
"Early on, I got feedback that this was a cute product and that it was gimmicky," she says. Some investors didn't believe in the staying power of tea bombs and their potential for mass appeal. Chandran stayed 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 possible. It didn't matter if she won; it was 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 the success of Tea Drops and its ability to disrupt the tea category can now find it in Costco locations across Southern California. Once deemed by an investor as a "novelty item," Tea Drops is revolutionizing the way we all drink tea, one cup at a time.
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