This post aims to address those sorts of tough business problems like:
- I want to sell traditional Chinese or Japanese teas in the U.S. but what little tea culture there is seems to be focused on British-style black teas and flavored teas.
- I want to start a tea business but I have no source of funding.
- I want to start a locally-oriented tea room or tea shop, but there does not seem to be much local demand.
- My business is not doing well because of external conditions beyond my control. (such as an ecoonmic downturn)
I claim that Che can help you out on all these points.
Who exactly is Che Guevara?
Che Guevara was a key figure in the Cuban Revolution, and is a bit of an icon or symbol in certain subcultures. There are a lot of things that I don't like about Che Guevara: he advocated for the use of violence to achieve his goals, and he advocated for a political system (socialism/communism) that I am not fully on board with. But there is a lot about him that I do like. And while I do not like all the results of this revolution, in which Cuba became a Communist country, I think it is important to remember that the revolution overthrew an oppressive government, run by Fulgencio Batista, who had seized power through military force after he was set up to lose a democratic election.
My thoughts on the history of Cuba and its interactions with the U.S. during the cold war:
As an aside, I'm sometimes irritated that I never learned any of this stuff when growing up, not in school, and certainly not in the mainstream news media; the popular media in the U.S. presented a one-sided view of things, painting a picture of Cuba as the "bad guys", and I think it is eye-opening to get a fuller picture of the history of Communist countries. Part of me wonders if Cuba wouldn't have had a freer society, and if the Cuban Missile Crisis wouldn't have happened, if the U.S. had discouraged Batista from seizing power or had cut off ties with him, and if the U.S. had not made an unprovoked attack on Cuba during the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion.
Back to Che Guevara's advice:
But, returning to the point of this post, I think Che Guevara offers some interesting advice in his famous 1961 manual on guerilla warfare. If there is one key idea that I would take from this book, it is the following (this is my own paraphrase, not a quote, as I do not have the book on hand currently):
Do not wait for the conditions to be right for revolution to succeed; make your revolution create these conditions.
Translated into the business world, this advice becomes:
Do not wait for the conditions to be right for your business to thrive, make your business create these conditions.
What conditions what Che Guevara talking about?
In this idea, Che Guevara was demonstrating systems thinking, which I recently wrote about. A person thinking in a rigid or linear fashion might say--the conditions aren't right for me to accomplish this task, so I need to wait. But the right conditions never come. Your country continues to suffer under an oppressive dictatorship, or your business languishes, or perhaps you never start your business at all, and instead keep working in a mindless, dead-end job.
The above diagram shows a way of thinking about achieving goals that leaves you unempowered. When you think in this way, it seems like there is no way for you to move towards your goals. The problem with this viewpoint is that most goals in life and in business are not one-time events, they are ongoing processes. A revolution, a business, a job, an organization, are all systems. There may be key events, such as the overthrow of a dictator in a revolution, or the founding of a business, which get the goal going, but without a coherent system, it will all be for nothing. A revolution that replaces one dictator with another, or with a dysfunctional governing system, does not solve the problems it set out to solve. Similarly, if a business does not have a sound business model or if it is not run effectively, it will fail.
It makes more sense to think about goals as a system, pictured below:
Initially, you may not feel like you have the power to influence the conditions that affect your business (or revolution, or whatever other system you're trying to create), but if you brainstorm, specifically, about the things pictured in the yellow box above, you may get ideas of how to influence them. I want to provide an example that I think is particularly compelling.
In this example, and also for any sort of retail business, especially tea ones, part of those conditions are loyal customers, recognition of your name, and momentum of the daily functioning of your business. This momentum includes cash flow.
An example from a business:
When I was in high school, I worked for a bakery, Ric's Bread, located in Lancaster, PA. The bakery was founded by Ric Tribble, the father of my friend Max, whom I met in second grade. Ric was an important role model in my life, from whom I learned many things about business. Ric has since sold the bakery, but it is still operating.
Ric has started and run many businesses over the course of his life, including the bakery, at least one restaurant, and all sorts of odds and ends of things (including his own brand of Barbecue sauce, which was very good). He has also sold clothing, and real estate; recently, he returned to real estate, where he and his wife Mary (who was also instrumental in running the bakery) currently work for Puffer Morris Real Estate in Lancaster, PA. What I found particularly interesting about Ric is how he was able to create businesses seemingly out of thin air, requiring far fewer financial resources than most people talk about needing. How he did it with the bakery is particularly illuminating.
How Ric started Ric's Bread:
The first ingredient in the bakery was that Ric knew how to bake good bread, and people in town knew that Ric knew not only how to bake, but how to cook. Ric and Mary frequently had people over for dinner, and Ric was respected as an impressive chef in his circle of friends. To generalize this advice, Ric used a skill he had as a starting point for his business. Ric being a really friendly person and knowing a lot of people also helped a lot.
Ric partnered up with a coffee shop, Fred and Mary's (which is now closed), which had its own kitchen, with an oven suitable for baking bread, and started baking bread in the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning. Ric would bake bread for the coffee shop, in exchange for use of the kitchen. Because he was using the kitchen at a time when the coffee shop was not open and the kitchen was not being used, this deal cost the coffee shop much less than they gained from it.
Ric would then deliver the bread to subscribers, which included local restaurants and individuals. Soon, Ric had rented a small market stand at the Lancaster Central Market. It wasn't long before the business had grown to the point of renting a full-sized bakery and storefront. But by the time Ric wanted the storefront, the business already had a loyal customer base, including restaurants and subscribers to bread delivery. The bakery expanded into selling cinnamon buns, coffee cakes, muffins, foccacia, and all sorts of other baked goods. Early on, when Fred and Mary's was still around, the bakery used the relationship with the coffee shop to benefit both parties, with the signature loaves that they used to bake for the coffee shop called "Fred and Mary's Bread", both helping to draw in customers of the coffee shop to buy bread, and to advertise the coffee shop to customers of the bakery.
Back to tea:
Whether you're running a tea company, or thinking of starting one, you may find it helpful to use the sort of thinking described here. You don't need a lot of funding to start a tea business. People frequently start businesses out of their homes. Most tea companies have started out very small. Stash Tea started as a small business operated out of a house; Twinings started as a single tea room.
On starting a business:
Just like Ric had the momentum of being a skilled baker and chef, and having people know about his culinary skills, if you are a tea enthusiast, you likely have some momentum of your own, in that you know how to select and brew high-quality tea, and you serve it to others, who recognize you as someone knowledgeable about tea.
Stay tuned for future posts:
You may think that some of the points I mentioned at the beginning of this post are still beyond your control. How can you deal with an economic downturn? Isn't that beyond your control? Not at all. But this post is already too long. Stay tuned for future posts, in which I will explain how similar advice can help you protect your business against an economic downturn.