We spoke to Elyse Petersen of Tealet about the “Distributed Entrepreneurship”concept and COVID-19
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Elyse Petersen: Thank you for asking. My family and I are doing fine, just a little sad that we haven’t had any large family gatherings or trips. We are all grateful to be healthy, secure, and smiling.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Tealet.
Elyse Petersen: Since I was a young child, nothing brought me more pleasure than preparing a meal for someone else. For this reason, I pursued a career in food science, thinking I could feed the masses working for “big food.” After several years I explored the industry, seeking opportunities to provide sustenance, only to learn that even the organic and fair-trade marketing system weren’t really providing sustenance. I joined the Peace Corps as an agriculture volunteer in Niger, West Africa, where for two years, I lived in a mud village with no running water or electricity. Seeing so much happiness in what would be considered desolate living conditions, I realized that our Western society is missing this happiness by not being more intimately connected with their food. Returning to the US with my international development experiences, my only goal is to re-establish a connection to the products we consume within the contemporary business systems.
How does Tealet innovate?
Elyse Petersen: Tealet is a technology platform that empowers high quality and sustainable agriculture for small, independent farmers and allows small business owners and consumers to have transparency of the origin of the products they purchase. The business’s marketing strategy is to propagate a culture of “value more, consume less” to organically innovate the broken commodity and consumer system.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Elyse Petersen: Most of the movement of product on our B2B marketplace platform is the distribution of bulk loose leaf tea to restaurants for service. The pandemic has drastically affected the restaurant business, and we have seen a drop in this distribution channel. I practice a concept called “Distributed Entrepreneurship,” where most of the functions and value of the business model are supported by a network of thousands of small businesses distributed throughout the world. Due to this advantage, I have been privileged to run lean and innovate during this period of revenue loss due to the pandemic.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Elyse Petersen: I have had to make some difficult decisions about reducing tea buying from the rural farmers we support. The pandemic has dramatically affected rural communities of India as well as products within their supply chains. I wish I could proactively support the business of these independent farmers, but the market is currently not helping them.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Tealet in the future?
Elyse Petersen: I drink lots of tea, exercise daily, and cook all my meals at home with love to deal with anxiety. Within the business, I am most concerned with remaining relevant as a thought leader in the industry. For this reason, I have shifted much of my focus on livestreaming education and community content and offer education through virtual, interactive events. Through daily videos and major events like the Virtual Tea Festival, I have connected an audience of over 20,000 tea people around the world. It is all working out great for the business now, and I think it will be a skill and value that will remain with the company far after the pandemic ends.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Elyse Petersen: My biggest competitor is Fair Trade International. It is a trusted brand of sustainability and ethics that has been proven over and over again to be well-intentioned but broken. I want to inspire business owners and consumers to ask questions beyond a label to determine if they truly value the products they consume.
Your final thoughts
Elyse Petersen: I hope that everyone is taking this time to reevaluate their values and put in the work to make their world better.
www.tealet.com – wholesale marketplace (limited access to public)
www.teaanditspeople.com – retail and community website