J. Seth Anderson and Michael Ferguson | Tea-E-O
The Queen's Tea
Q: Why did you start your business?
A: In the summer of 2012 we were lucky enough to travel to China and Japan where we received a thorough education in tea, tea production, tea history, and the numerous types of teas produced around the world. After a day at the Great Wall of China, Michael and I started kicking around an idea for a tea company that would allow us to import tea and share our newfound fascination with tea in Utah. We talked about the logistics of importing tea, of blending tea, as well as a concept for a name and a brand. Tea was and remains a perfect intersection for both of our own academic interests. I'm a historian and Michael is a neuroscientist and tea brings together a rich, complex, history and also biological health benefits in a beautiful little leaf.
We started the business as a way to share all of this with people in Utah. We felt good about selling a product that was ancient, natural, and healthy. One of our mottos is "Tea is the original social media" and we wanted to use it in the local community to bring people together to talk about ideas and find solutions to social problems.
Q: What are some key factors or decisions that contributed to the success of your business?
A: The local business environment, especially the local foodie scene in Salt Lake, is a tight knit group where everyone wants everyone else to succeed. We had incredible guidance from many people who shared resources and ideas about licenses to get, markets to apply to, and people to meet.
I think, also, that being a visibly LGBT company set us apart and got us some attention, but it was our story and the tea blends we made that people loved and responded to.
Q: What are some challenging aspects of your business?
A: The most challenging thing for us personally, and financially, was when we were sued in federal court by an out of state company that alleged copyright infringement. This other company completely overreached in their claims and we were not going to go down without a fight. As we told the press at the time, "They picked on the wrong queens." Michael and I had been active in LGBT Mormon issues for many years and had fought several battles there. At the time we were sued, we were also involved in a first of its kind lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center against conversion therapy where we had to turn over emails, Facebook messages, phone records, etc. Michael had to be deposed and take the stand in a very public way while talking about very humiliating and painful experiences. When we were sued by some blonde woman who had no claim, we refused to be scared of her. So at great personal and financial cost, we fought a legal fight, and ultimately settled out of court with everything we wanted. Except they didn't pay our legal fees, but they should have.
That has been the most challenging aspect of the business. Other challenges pale in comparison.
Q: Do you feel you made any serious mistakes as you were starting or growing your business? Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
A: We were both in graduate school when we started the business and we started it thinking it would be a fun side project to sell tea at the markets on the weekends, but it became something so much more. There were some opportunities we couldn't take to grow the business because we were stretched too thin with our academics.
We probably should have scaled back the inventory early on and just focused on 8 to 10 teas (which is what we eventually did.) At one time we had upwards of 60 teas on hand and that kind of inventory was just far too much to manage. If I were to open the online store again, I'd do that differently. I'd make it clear that we only ship once a week, and that orders had to be in by a certain day of the week to be included in that weeks orders, as opposed to running to the post office several times every day to ship out boxes.
Q: What other advice or words of inspiration would you like to share?
A: Be passionate about your business and what you love to do, but be aware that at some point, that passion does become a "job" and, sometimes, that drives the joy out of it. But if you love what you're doing and you have a vision for what you want to do, the joy will return. Be yourself, be creative, think outside the box, be happy for the success of others, and don't listen to the (many!) voices that will try to discourage you. And don't forget to work very, very hard. When you run your own business, you never really get to clock out.
About The Queen's Tea
We provide wholesale, loose-leaf tea to restaurants and coffee shops, high quality loose leaf teas and tisanes, signature blends, and gourmet imports.
"After a day at the Great Wall of China, Michael and I started kicking around an idea for a tea company that would allow us to import tea and share our newfound fascination with tea in Utah."—J. Seth Anderson and Michael Ferguson