The date is July 2011 and I am attending the Aspen Global Leadership Network ACT II meeting of fellows that takes place once every two years in the small picturesque town of Aspen, located in the great Colorado mountains. It’s been a lovely day of deep thought, discussion and debate and I arrive at my afternoon session early, looking forward to much more of the same. I notice and greet the pleasant unassuming man quietly seated in the room. As we start to chat while others trickle in, I get to understand his remarkable story…
In 1994 two university students called Seth and Barry engaged in an animated conversation during a class case study on Coca Cola v Pepsi. They came to the conclusion that what the market really needed was a beverage that had less sugar and more natural ingredients. Three years later Seth and Barry touched base on this issue once again. Seth was determined to find the mix for the perfect soft drink and Barry had just come back from India where he found industry players would buy the cheap ‘dust’ of tea leaves, selling consumers short on quality beverages. He was looking for the ‘honesty’ in tea, the real quality product. Together they came up with a beverage mix and a brand name…
Nearly half the participants were now in the room, we had a few more minutes before we started… Interesting story I thought, but what next? Where could this narrative be going?
Taking his time the gentleman continued with the story…
Seth’s Kitchen, 1998, Seth and Barry mix the first batch of their brand of an ‘honest’ soft drink and package it in recycled bottles. They carefully create five flavors, namely Gold Rush Cinnamon and Kashmiri Chai, Black Forrest Berry, Moroccan Mint Green and Assam Black. The young enthusiasts/entrepreneurs/
Well, with plenty of focus, planning and struggle they expand their operations, over time they set up a factory and grew from hugely impressive sales of 250,000 USD in year 1 to… 47 million dollars, yes 47 million dollars 10 years later! As he told the story his gentle voice and humble demeanor did not change and I was struck by what he was most passionate about, “It was the tea… It was about providing a healthy soft drink brewed from the actual leaf with real flavors that people would love and as much as possible with natural ingredients. What we did was create Honest Tea, and people loved it!”
What a story! I had been drinking Honest Tea all week in Aspen and I never stopped for a moment to think… Who came up with this? Why? How? The fact that this was a small ‘mom and pop’ operation founded on the passion of two friends for a healthy drink made the tea so much sweeter!
But I digress, there is more to his story… Just one year ago, he tells me, Coca Cola bought 40% of the company. Yes indeed, one of the company’s that they were discussing in the university case study saw the value of this drink they had dreamt about 15 years earlier! And to cut a long story short, in 2010 Honest Tea raked in a massive 71.5 million dollars in sales. In 2011, just shortly before his trip to Aspen, Coca Cola bought the rest of the company, taking it fully into their fold. I could tell he was struggling with his decision to sell but he was assured that the values of the brand would be upheld… Values of green, healthy and honest living, and he would also continue his role at the company.
Seth was his name, and Seth Goldman is the coFounder, President and teaEO of Honest Tea… this was his journey – from dreaming up a healthy soft drink and mixing concoctions of cool teas in his kitchen, to a multimillion dollar beverage business.
This may be a simple story but for me it is the simplicity that is most remarkable, and in my mind there are several Chinese proverbs that summarise the rich lessons we can learn from the journey of Seth Goldman:
A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step;
One step at a time is good walking;
It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.
Later that afternoon as I look upon the most incredible rainbow embracing the Aspen mountains, I cannot help but feel inspired… I smile as my inner voice theorizes that the human struggles so hard to seek so many things that it yearns for, things that seem unattainable, and yet… the world is our stage, and for the most part we will get from it what we put in.
May all our journeys be rewarding!