If I was remotely talented at drawing or doodling I would illustrate this book review. I was inspired and surprised when I cracked open Mission in a Bottle to see it was in graphic novel format. Think comic strip. Even the font is a style of handwriting/printing that borders on crazy cursive. Being smitten with handwritten anything, I was charmed from the get go. But, not to lose all sight of objectivity, it did take a bit of getting used to.
The authors, Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, enlisted the obviously very talented illustrator, Sungyoon Choi, to tell their story. And what a story it is. Don’t think for a moment that because it is a business book meets comic strip mash-up, it is light on content or learnings. No, not the case at all. In fact I would propose that it was a far more engaging read than if the story of Honest Tea had been told in the regular business book style format.
Seth Goldman met Barry Nalebuff when he was a student at the Yale School of Management where Barry was his Professor. Fast forward to after Seth’s graduation and the creative duo teamed up to create a company, in 1998, that would come to be called Honest Tea and has become a top selling organic bottled tea company and as they say it is “Refreshingly Honest.”
The Big Idea
Build it for yourself first
"We were thirsty. We couldn’t find anything we wanted to drink, so we started a company to make bottled iced tea that actually tasted like tea."
The founders of Honest Tea began the company with a philosophy reminiscent of the 1989 Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams; build it and they will come. Both Barry and Seth believed that they were not alone in wishing for an iced tea that not only tasted like real tea, but had way less sugar. In fact they wrote this book for the same reason they founded Honest Tea, “we wanted a book that we wish we could’ve read before we started out.” Building something for you is not a selfish starting point but one that identifies a hole in the market that hasn’t been filled. Chances are you are not alone in wishing that one thing existed or wanting a certain product to meet your need; to quench your thirst you might say. Barry, ever the professor, shares some wise words when he suggests that just because you found a hole in the market doesn’t mean you should blindly step into it: “before taking the leap, do a reality check. Odds are you aren’t the first person to have this idea. If it’s such a great idea, why haven’t others done it before? In other words, why will you succeed where others have failed?” He suggests that unless you have a strong answer to this question, you may want to proceed with caution.
Be persistent in the face of adversity
"We stuck to what we believed in, even when there was a lot of pressure to conform."
Persistence is a pattern in that shows itself to an invaluable component of their success. Whether it was holding true to keeping the recipe with minimal sugar to having several doors shut on getting access to a production plant because they used loose tea leaves (ensuring a better quality product), Seth and Barry didn’t give up. Even when they made the difficult but honest choice to pull all their product off the shelves due to confirmed reports of pieces of glass found inside two bottles, they could sleep well because they lived up to their name. They persisted in finding out the manufacturing problems behind the glass breakage made the necessary, but costly fixes, and moved on with their reputation intact. Along their journey many doors were closed or perhaps never even opened, but Seth’s approach is one we can all learn from: “I have always understood that ‘no’ really means ‘not yet.’
Seize every opportunity
"Chance favors the prepared mind."
Wherever they went, Barry and Seth brought their tea. From making a random announcement on an airplane flight, followed by giving out free samples during the trip, to an unplanned encounter with Oprah at a yoga retreat, these passionate entrepreneurs always had their tea with them. They loved to talk tea with anyone who would listen and often some who wouldn’t. Many people were a bit skeptical of what the tea would taste like, realizing it wasn’t as sweet as other options on the market; that all changed when they were offered a sample. Even on family trips it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary that Barry would request a tangential road trip to the nearest store that stocked Honest Tea to see if he could help restock the shelves. Another encounter, again on airplane, proved to be pivotal as well. This time it was with a senator named Barak Obama. It turns out the senator was a fan of Honest Tea.
Recognizing and creating new opportunities for Honest Tea made the company stand out from its competitors. Their creative approach spilled over into their product lines such as Honest Splash® that features a drink called Berry Good Lemonade. And instead of recycling packaging for their kids line, Seth, who still holds the role of TeaEO, suggested they upcycle instead. This resulted in using the discarded drink containers to make pencil cases and tote bags.
As I read the book I found myself becoming thirsty. After some sleuthing, I came to the realization that it was not available in Canada. Disappointed, I decided to reach out to Honest Tea through Twitter. I have been assured that soon, very soon, I will be able to purchase a bottle. Can’t wait to try this iced tea that is just a “tad sweet.”