Elyse Petersen of Tealet tells us how they have designed their platform to make it simple for customers to source the best teas from independent growers around the world.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Tealet.
Elyse Petersen: After completing a BS in Food Science, I started my journey working in product development and quality control in the food industry. My passion was food, but I felt that the part of food that I loved the most was not a part of the modern Western food system. I joined the Peace Corps, where I worked with rural small farmers in Niger, West Africa. Here I learned the importance of re-establishing the connection between producer and consumer to restore community and happiness in the Western food system. When I returned to my work in the food industry in the USA, I worked for a tea manufacturer where I focused on establishing transparency in the supply chain of the tea supply. The industry was commodified to the point that transparency was not possible, so I decided to pursue a Japanese MBA so I could enter the Japanese tea business world to establish a new business model that could better support small farmers and transparency in the international food system. During an internship on a tea farm in Kyoto, I helped establish a non-profit called The International Tea Farms Alliance, where I developed relationships with dozens of independent tea producers from 8 different countries that were asking for a for-profit USA-based platform that could better connect them with the international market.
Do you have small habits that made a meaningful impact on your life and business?
Elyse Petersen: The most powerful small habit I prioritize on a day to day is a full 8 hours of sleep every night. Additionally, I prioritize other forms of self-help activities such as daily exercise and cooking meals with whole ingredients.
How does Tealet market its product/services online?
Elyse Petersen: Since the launch of Tealet, we have relied heavily on social media and community building for marketing our products and services. The brand goal is trust and transparency, so our social media strategy is highly personal and focused on the people behind our supply chain network.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Elyse Petersen: There are no specific tools utilized for our social media. As our community-building efforts are personal and about trust, it is important that each connection and interaction is high-touch and mindful.
What is your hiring policy/process, and how do you retain your employees?
Elyse Petersen: Our business utilizes a novel business framework called Distributed Entrepreneurship, where the human resources and business resources are not internal to Tealet but a part of a vast and distributed network of independent entrepreneurs and small businesses. For this reason, Tealet does not require employees but clients and users that are autonomous and empowered to contribute and gain the value that is conventionally owned by a large centralized organization where transparency is unachievable.
How are you funding your growth?
Elyse Petersen: In 2012 and 2013, Tealet raised seed funding to begin the supply chain network of less than $500k, but since then, all growth has been funded with business revenue with a bootstrap strategy.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Elyse Petersen: We see our main competitor as Fair Trade International, a for-profit certification process that has built the market trust of a high level of ethics. Certification systems may have started out with good intentions but have developed into corporate marketing schemes that do not provide the level of ethics that the consumer has grown to trust in the brand. We stay in the game by building our own level of trust of honesty and ethics among the consumer market, even though we do not sell directly to the consumer market. We have experienced great success with this through the Metaverse and in the crypto space.
Tell us a customer success story of yours.
Elyse Petersen: Our very first wholesale customer was a contact we met on Instagram. It took several years until their business was able to launch a line of products with transparently sourced teas from Tealet, but now this brand has become a leader of high quality, direct trade products in their market. Our relationship is strong, traveling to origin to meet small-scale suppliers together and strategizing future projects and products that meet the needs of their business and our supplier network’s capabilities.
Your final thoughts?
Elyse Petersen: Thank you for this opportunity to share my story and passion for food and transparency in the international food system. For those interested, I suggest joining my livestreams for the opportunity to see how we build trust and community in the Metaverse and educate the market about good, transparently sourced tea on the mobile streaming app that can be downloaded here: bit.ly/tea_free