Tell me about Zen Green Tea?
I started Zen Green Tea about five years ago when I was 21. I loved green tea and my Mum and I would always drink it on the verandah. I was doing some reading about matcha green tea from Japan, when I started to look found I couldn’t buy any in Sydney so thought there might be a business in it. A contact in Japan shipped me over 10 kilos and I packaged it, started selling it at markets here and it went well so I built a website. When I first began no health food store would take on a new product they’d never heard of.
I must have got knocked back about 100 times but then last year I had a big distributor contact me and tell me that they wanted to stock Zen in their range and now they’ve sort of taken my business to the next level, and now we’re so we’re stocked in over 3000 stores.
How did you find that supplier in Japan? Do you speak Japanese?
I’ve got cousins that live in Tokyo so I reached out to them and they basically put me in touch with a few different people in the health industry.
I found one supplier that works with all the sustainable small family run tea farms in Kyoto, and he was able to trust in me that I was going to grow my business into something bigger and we built a partnership.
How did you fund the business in the beginning?
I funded it minimally out of my own savings. I lived at home, I did the business from home, it was just a website, I only bought small amounts of stock. I think I maybe funded the business with $500 and then within the second or third week we were making that money back which was fantastic.
Do you have any staff?
No, it’s just me. I do the marketing, the website management, and customer service and I basically try and outsource all the non-critical stuff like the warehousing, the packaging and order fulfilment. I also do a full time job as well as running Zen, so I get quite busy, but in the next few months I’m actually going part-time at work so I can really focus down and build my business even more.
How do you manage your time? Are you on your lunch break right now?
I am on lunch right now! I guess I’ve been doing it for four years now so I’m used to giving up a day every weekend and three or four hours in the evening after work to do this.
What would you say your biggest challenges are?
Right now it’s all about how I market the business, how do I reach more customers and tell them about the amazing product that I have without spending $20,000 in a newspaper or magazine? Even social media marketing used to be simpler and free, so it’s just about figuring out how to get the best return on my investment. I don’t have a huge marketing budget; if I was to make one wrong marketing decision then my whole prospects from that month are gone.
What’s next for Zen Green Tea?
I want to continue to support my retail distributor. They’re doing so well for me and I just want to make sure that I’m constantly thinking of innovative strategies that will help retail stores sell my products better. The second thing is really servicing my online community. So at the moment I’ve got over 14,000 Instagram fans and they’re really fantastic. My tea is also loved by older Australians so the 50-55 year olds, so I want to build more of a community with them and get them engaged more.
What is your best advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
1. Start off your business on a small scale. Don’t go and invest $50,000 and buy 10,000 units of stock and spend $20,000 on a website. Start it very small, and start it when you still have a full time job so not everything’s on the line.
2. Always say yes to opportunities. When the distributor contacted me and wanted 1000 unites I said yes, made it happen, and I think my family and I worked 24 hours a day fulfilling it ourselves.
3. Put your name to your brand. I’ve only started doing this and I think people like associating my business with me and knowing my story. Don’t be afraid to be the face of your company.