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  • Doing Business Differently: An Interview with the Founders of Honest Tea

    Recently, I had the pleasure of connecting with Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, co-founders of the popular brand Honest Tea, and authors of the new book, Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently – and Succeeding. Although their story of success is engaging enough, the pair also took a unique approach to their book by producing it as a graphic novel. We discussed the brand of Honest Tea, some of the problems they encountered while building the company, and the trend toward employees who value the social impact of their work over a high salary.

    Can you describe the Honest Tea brand, and how your personal brand(s) relate to the company?

    Seth: The honest brand is about authentic taste and authentic ingredients.  Our drinks are all lightly sweetened and made with organic recipes, whenever possible.  Our personal brands are closely tied to the company since we started it, write every label message and have our signatures on every bottle.

    Having started with a student-teacher relationship, how were you able to transition into more of a partnership as colleagues?

    Seth: Although Barry had the professorial advantage in the classroom, when we started Honest Tea, we were equally ignorant about the beverage business.  Barry asked great questions, and Seth tried to figure out the answers.  Sometimes there were situations where out-of-the-box thinking really helped separate us from the rest of the bottled tea brands.

    You had some issues along the way. How were you able to keep moving forward when times were tough?

    We had a great deal of passion for Honest Tea’s mission of providing healthier, organic beverages to people.  That passion helped us bounce back from the numerous setbacks along the way.

    The book is written as a comic book. What made you confident that this was the best way to tell your story?

    Barry: Take risks. And go to where the market is. Today’s readers grew up on comics and graphic novels. So instead of trying to get people to read our book, write a book that doesn’t feel like it is work to read. We’ve heard again and again how parents leave the book out and their kids pick up the book and read it. It is also the case that lessons learned through images stick with you much better. I only regret we couldn’t answer these questions via images.Seth: We didn’t have total confidence, just as we weren’t entirely confident Honest Tea would succeed when we launched the company.  But just as we found ourselves thirsty when we scanned the bottled tea aisle, we found ourselves uninspired by most of the entrepreneurial business books we read.  We knew our story had lots of visual elements – the tea gardens, the label design, the bottling plants – that would help make the story come alive.

    Today, many people value social benefit in their work much more than making money. How has it helped you and where do you see it going in the near future?

    By designing a company where the mission of lower sugar, organic ingredients is inside every bottle, we knew that even if Honest Tea was never profitable, our business would have a positive impact.  That approach helped make us and our team even more determined to succeed.  We see more and more business school and college students graduating today who refuse to engage in values-neutral work, which makes us very hopeful about the future of our economy.

    What are the top 3 lessons that you would impart to someone who is just starting their career?

    Seth:

    1. Read our book
    2. Pursue work that you can be passionate about
    3. Life is a marathon, not a sprint

    Barry:

    1. Read our book
    2. Reread our book
    3. Find work that doesn’t feel like work
    What I appreciated most while reading this book, aside from the pictures of course, was the candid approach that Seth and Barry took in writing it. They were very honest (no pun intended… OK I’ll see myself out) about their strengths, but also their weaknesses, and the lessons they learned. I would highly recommend Mission in a Bottle to anyone looking to build a successful business or career. Thank you to the both of them for taking the time to connect with me!
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    Bill Connolly is a marketing/branding expert, career adviser, and professional improv comedian. Bill is also the author of the book, “Funny Business: Build Your Soft Skills Through Comedy” (July 2013), and host of a radio show by the same name on the UR Business Network. He is an actor at Boston's Improv Asylum, and performs regularly with the group What Up D'oh. Bill resides in New York City. For more insight, visit his website, TheBillConnolly.com, or follow him on Twitter: @billconnolly.

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