Book Review: The Republic of Tea


Building a company is not easy, when I was in corporate job, it took me many months before I decided to quit and start full time. For a not so young entrepreneur, like me It needs conviction and a strong mind to switch to something inherently unpredictable and risky.

This is a very old book, published in 1994 but when I read it, the content and the thinking of 2 founders was not very different than what we have today, though the tools and available technologies are different and certain way of distribution and marketing is different but it’s still relevant.

Bill, one of the founders of “The republic of Tea” was a communication consultant, he met Mel in a business conference, Mel had recently sold his company and was not very interested in starting afresh, Earlier Mel Cofounded “Banana republic” with his Wife Patricia, they run that company for several years and then sold it.

After the business conference Bill and Mel used same plane to flew back. During the flight Mel shared his story of how one day he didn’t get coffee and felt restless and then he tried tea, with tea something had changed forever for Mel, he attained Tea mind, he felt calm and peaceful. Mel shared his views on existing tea companies, why they are not doing good and why world needs a new tea company, Mel proposed that he might be interested in a new tea company if Bill can take up the execution and day to day activities and Mel would help him with his experience, contacts and funding.

By the end of the flight, they decided to work on building a new tea company. Then started the long process of building the company, they started communicating through letters and phone calls, this book contains mostly what they shared through the letters. Right away after they meet, bill started the research on tea industry, he met people working with different stake holders and read many books on the subjects. For months he kept on working, he come up with 2 strategies, one to get in to marketing by acquiring some company, this way they move faster and would have distribution and manufacturing shorted out for them which could help in introducing new products quickly, this require lots of capital. Bill is inclined towards this option as he was thinking that Mel, after selling his company, is having enough funds that they can go with this option.

Second strategy was to start small and start selling through catalog and through special retail shops, like from gift gallery, bars and for manufacturing and packaging, they can choose outsourcing path.

At the time when Bill was doing market research, he was totally dependent on Mel and working like he is actually working for Mel, he seeks his approval and go ahead, in his mind its going on that Mel Ziegler is very experienced and has enough funds to get company started, so just follow him, let him take decisions. He was even expecting that Mel would ask him to quit his day job and start working on ‘The republic of tea’ full time and Mel will pay him, he was looking for safe option where Mel holds Majority of stake and Bill will take salary and minority stake, Bill will execute, Mel will be responsible for funding and become voice of the company.

Mel Ziegler, he had sold his company and decided to not start another one but pursue his other interests, with Bill, he things that he can help him from outside the company, without getting involved in day to day execution and without any commitment, he don’t want to leave his freedom and also want to be a part of the business. For him, he wants somebody else to build business for him, he just wants to help with his experience, contacts and funding. During the research phase, Mel sometimes thought that he should have the majority stake but other times he things he wants Bill to invest equally and have stakes in that proportion. He was confused, like all of us humans, we have some greed, some fear and some selfishness.

Things goes on, research was completed, Bill created the first version of business plan but don’t have courage to move ahead and start executing it. He kept dong his research but nothing practical was done, Mel and Bill both was waiting on who would take the decision and move ahead, Mel knows he could tell Bill that, stop the analysis and start working but he doesn’t want to do that, Bill doesn’t have courage to start, he was waiting for Mel to formally instruct him to start the business, but nobody moved.

In the research phase, an investor, who was a friend of Mel and who had also sold his company and become an investor got interested in the ‘the republic of tea’ but that deal didn’t go well, the investor was not ok with Mel not involved in the execution.

After months of discussion, the communication between founders fades away, Bill took another assignment as a director of an advertisement firm and got busy there, Mel, busy in pursuing his interests. For months there was no communication between founders. During this period Bill never forget the Idea of opening the tea company, he doesn’t enjoy working at advertisement company, by now he understood that to move ahead he has to take the decisions himself and make it happen, no one else is going to take decisions for him, he cannot wait for Mel to take decision for him, he cannot be a passive partner or one who work for Mel, now its his decision how he wants the involvement of Mel and Patricia in the business and if he want them to be involved at all

Bill sent a letter to Mel, Mel still shows his interest in the company, Bill prepared a detailed business plan, and a legal company was formed with Mel, Patricia and Bill as partners/directors

Points I noted down from Book:

  • Clarify with founders in written what are your expectations and limitations and other interests, fear and confusion
  • Fear and confusion are a part of the human brain
  • Thinking long term, 10 years and how to position your product and how you will market is very important
  • Celerity of thoughts is must, what are you, your priorities, your principles, how you want to work, what you want to achieve
  • Your decision to be on the path or leave the path must be free of fear and ambition
  • The founders were confused even about their product line, should it be with caffeine or without caffeine, so when you start there are so many unknowns
  • If it can be done, it can be done in 2 weeks
  • Business Is not idea, it’s about getting things done, go do it, execute it
  • Business has its own identity and the business is happy when it thrives, it thrives when its profitable
  • Find your niche, that’s most important, work from there
  • Every founder has thoughts like, what would be the structure, how much stake I would have
  • Both founders were keep discussing, what to do but nothing was done
  • Both has their disappointment from each other
  • In business, there are many unknown, and a business leader understands this
  • Business leader moves forward with unknown and be yielding, flexible and deliver with unknows
  • Founders don’t share their true feelings with each other and think that something will happen itself, they don’t want to tell other as it seems natural to not say and there is something which stop, unwritten set of rules, an invisible force that they will not tell each other, bare raw, cruel truth
  • During the course of business, we must not forget, why we started the business, I mean personally, why Samar Started the business
  • Mel talk very big and dream that they will be in series of business, which would be handled by separate CEO’s and take care of one tea related business, like tea, tea accessories, tea books
  • Bill try to define the market positioning of the competitors, how they positions themselves
  • Bill is thinking to acquire a company with help of Mel’s money and run very fast and be sure that it will work, he is less interested in building up from start as it takes time, expertise and skills and its hard. why to do that, he things when Mel has money and experience, so play safe, take his guidance, do research and let Mel take final decision and just follow him, let him invest the money. Bill never said it to Mel but he tries to give him hint, Bill was working very hard but had mental block
  • Bill shared his preferences and his limitations with Mel, like he wants time with family
  • Bill do all the theoretical work, but he was not sure and not confident that he can do the acquisition or start the company
  • Mel doesn’t say anything clearly, he just wants to start a new business, where somebody built a business and he give his investment in some proportion and help that guy casually and can continue with his normal routine
  • You have to talk to industry experts and make your understanding from there
  • After doing a lot of research, Bill is thinking whether to go into the business or keep good paying job
  • Bill wants Mel to hire him and bill will work full time on the new company
  • Bill says he thrive on being busy, working hard, being goal driven
  • Mel is worried about the external investors, he doesn’t want to disturb the equation, He don’t want to answer to anybody, he wants to be in a comfortable situation all the time
  • Mel wants to b in best of both worlds, no commitment, no extra investment, no work but all the rewards
  • Bill wants to know the business structure, finance structure, he is confused as how he fits in the scenario, is he just a person who is working on Mel’s idea and will get some stake, monthly salary or he is equal partner, where he has to invest same as Mel
  • Entrepreneurs must be in situation where he doesn’t have to worry about paying his bills, so that he can do what is right and can grow his company instead of worry about his bills
  • You have to be willing to fail but you know you won’t
  • Be patient, push things but don’t force them

Recommended for:

It could be good read for entrepreneurs, business people, someone who wants to start a business.

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