I’m delighted to be sharing a rather exciting Behind The Biz interview with you today. Before we begin, if you’re new around here, Behind The Biz is an interview series where I discover small and growing businesses, the people behind them and their business journey.
Today’s interview is with Spence, the founder of We Are Tea. I’ve been a fan of We Are Tea ever since I first tried their Moroccan Mint Green Tea. It was love at first sip and since then I’ve been making my way through their teas.
Please tell us about your business.
We’re a London-based, independent, ethical, award-winning company on a mission to democratize and un-complicate speciality tea. From black to infusion, we’ve got an extensive range of blends with 49 Great Taste Award stars behind them. Our range is purely whole-leaf and we have a loose leaf offering, as well as the good old tea bags. We believe that fine tea leaves weren’t made to be crushed – that’s why we give them the special treatment. And the taste…see for yourself!
Where did the inspiration for We Are Tea come from?
Back in 2005, during a freezing weekend in Budapest, my wife and I stumbled upon an old tea shop and were dumbfounded by the array of teas on the menu – it was more akin to a wine list. We stayed there for hours and left well and truly inspired to open a tea shop back in London, and to give up coffee – I haven’t touched a single cup ever since!
How did you decide upon the name of your brand?
Our mission has always been to break down the barriers to speciality tea and to cut out all of the category noise so we originally called the business ‘tea’. Although the logo looked great, when we started to get attention from the Press, it was really difficult to communicate the name of the brand in the written word especially where we did not also have the benefit of a product image present. As the business was set up by myself and my wife, we changed the name and logo to We Are Tea. We love the inclusive nature of the brand and the playfulness of the ‘We Are’ prefix. We have had a lot of fun with it over the years and more importantly it seems to resonate with the consumer.
Please tell us a little more about your mission and brand values for We Are Tea.
The world of whole-leaf speciality teas doesn’t have to be complicated. We’re on a mission to break down the barriers and make high quality tea accessible and simple for everyone. As an Ethical Tea Partnership member, we source our teas from the best tea gardens around the world & we sleep better at night knowing that the farmers are treated fairly. Our teas are hand-packed in the UK and we like to support other UK based companies wherever possible.
What did you do before starting We Are Tea?
I moved to London in 1999 from Newcastle, and started my journey at Deloitte as a Chartered Tax Accountant. Eventually I became an advisor on tax planning and tax mitigation for high net-worth individuals at HSBC. But in 2006, I decided to quit my job and leave the City life behind to set up an ethical tea brand. A year later, our first flagship “Tea” store in St Paul’s Paternoster Square opened its doors to the public.
Did you always plan to be self-employed?
I always wanted to create something from scratch, which is quite different to wanting to be self-employed. I wanted to build a business and nurture it from inception through to maturity. It’s like having a child – I have watched the business crawl, walk, stumble, and finally to start to grow up and take on a life of its own, of which I am very proud. We now have a wonderful team in place and I am very excited to see how far we can take the brand.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
We started life as a teashop near St. Paul’s Cathedral and to watch something that we loved dearly be brought to its knees by the Occupy London movement, that effectively camped on our doorstep for four months, was very difficult indeed. We put our hearts and souls into creating a space which celebrated the British love affair with tea and had built up a truly amazing and fiercely loyal customer base. To see it all come crashing down was very sobering indeed.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
We have had many highs over the years from winning Best Performance by a First Time Entrant at the Great Taste Awards to being voted one of Britain’s Coolest Brands two years running but the absolute highlight is witnessing a shopper take one of your products from a supermarket shelf and put it in their basket. To think that this product would not have existed unless you had created it and that someone, other than you, loves it just enough to purchase it, is a truly humbling experience. I have spent many an hour in the tea aisle…
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
The power of Social media is invaluable – some brands have demonstrated that smart content, humour and consistent engagement really do go a long way! Whilst we see a role for each social platform, we would single out Instagram. We’re all about experimenting with tea and seeing where our creativity takes us – that’s why Instagram is the perfect platform for us to showcase our cocktail and baking recipes.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
When it comes to owning a business, having a bit of humour goes a long way. Mistakes will be made. Big and small, by you and by others. But you have to remember that even the most successful of businesses are always a “work-in-progress”. So just keep moving forward, preferably with a smile.
Where do you hope to take We Are Tea in the year ahead?
We want our consumers to experience that “Everyday Good” feeling with every We Are Tea cuppa they have. We also want people to see that quality tea shouldn’t be exclusive. The business has doubled in size year-on-year since 2014, and we’re hoping to be responsible for upgrading 50 million cups of tea over the next year.
Thank you so much to Spence for taking the time to be involved with my Behind The Biz series. I hope you’ve all enjoyed learning more about the fantastic story behind We Are Tea. Don’t forget to check out their selection of teas and let me know if you give them a try.
If you fancy getting involved with Behind The Biz please leave a comment below or drop me a message over on Twitter.