From a showjumper to a tea seller. An Iranian born IT engineer with an MBA, Ehsan Mobini struggled to find a full-time job when he moved to Aotearoa, now he talks to Rahul Bhattarai about co-founding Magic T with his wife Frida Jalali.
How did Magic T come about?
When we moved to New Zealand from Iran in 2017 we had no job. I tried to find a job as an IT project manager for almost a year but nothing panned out. My wife Frida tried to find a job as an HR, in line with her past experience, but she didn't have much luck either.
So we decided to take a leap and start our own business instead.
We are avid tea drinkers and we couldn't find any decent tea to suit our taste and not having a proper job was a nudge in the right direction.
What does your business do?
We sell different types of teas. At the moment we have 28 different flavours and we are hoping to slowly get up to 50 in the next few years. Our main products are Persian Garden and Daily Energizer.
Our teas are available for purchase online and in six different stores across the North Island.
What's your background?
I graduated with information technology engineering and went on to do my MBA. I'm also a horse riding instructor and showjumper.
I've been riding since I was 12 years old and I got into show jumping at the age of 18. Since then I have participated in different national shows in Iran.
When I moved to New Zealand I was impressed with different styles of horsemanship and I decided to do some casual instructing in the Chelsea Pony Club and also in Waitara Pony Club. Now I am a member of the Taranaki Equestrian Jumping Organisation and occasionally I help the Taranaki community with their events.
Frida has an MBA. She also has a diploma in Art and Design and is a very good painter and digital artist.
When we lived in Iran, we owned two different businesses. We had an online pharmacy business and the other business we owned was the manufacturing and distribution of disposable medical equipment.
When we decided to move to New Zealand and we had to sell both our businesses.
How big is the Magic T team today?
It's just me and my wife at the moment. And we produce about 300 boxes of tea every week.
Where do you see yourself in five years' time?
We hope to be one of New Zealand's top five herbal tea brands, and the plan is to expand to Australia and even go to Europe.
How does your tea stand out in comparison to other products in the market - what makes it unique?
We sell pure, whole-leaf herbs which are loose-leaf tea. We don't sell dust or powder because maximum flavour from your tea will only come if it is being brewed as a whole leaf.
We also don't add any fragrances, additives, colours or sweeteners to our products.
What's your favourite flavour of tea?
I drink Black Rose tea in the morning. Persian Garden in the afternoon and Chamomint (Chamomile and peppermint mix) at night. However, Persian Garden is our top seller.
Persian Garden is a caffeine-free aromatic blend and it has apple, quince and orange blossom, rose petals and cardamom. It has a natural sweetness with a floral aromatic taste.
How many cups of tea do you have per day?
We drink too much tea. I think my record is about 30 cups of tea but normally we keep it around 8 to 10 cups.
What are some of the toughest lessons you've learned running your own thing rather than working for someone else?
When you work for someone, you don't have to stress about the full operational responsibility, like finances, sales, marketing etc. But when you have your own business everything is your responsibility - good and bad!
Being completely on your own is sometimes terrifying.
You've said you import all the ingredients from overseas, what kind of challenges have you faced due to Covid-19 on your imports?
Yes, we import from Iran, Turkey and India.
Importing is a frustrating process. We need to buy and combine all our products in one container to reduce shipment cost and that's a very hard thing to do. Covid-19 and conflicts between Australia and China caused a drastic increase in shipping costs which made it hard for small companies like us to cope with.
Was it hard to get things off the ground?
It was hard and we're not sure if it's off the ground yet or not. I think we're too deep into it and we are used to hard work now.
Also, you were working with your wife, what kind of challenges do you guys face when working long hours together?
Ehsan: We literally have no work-life balance. We just talk business all day and every day. Sometimes it gets boring. Except that we don't have much of an issue with our own roles. We make decisions on everything together and when things go south we take responsibility together.
Frida: Sometimes clarifying duties and responsibilities could be hard. We have our own responsibilities but we need to support each other in hard times. So, you need to switch roles all the time.
How was your business funded?
We had some savings but was not enough. So in 2017, when we first arrived to New Zealand we got some temporary jobs and worked for one year to save enough money.
Frida and I worked at a Maple nursery in Taranaki and I was also working as a horse riding instructor.
How are you marketing your product?
Other than using social media like Facebook, Instagram and Google Ads, we go to expos.
We set up our stall at events like Women Lifestyle and Home and LifeStyle and we offer free tea tasting. So far tea tasting has proven to be our most successful marketing tool.
What does the competition look like in this market?
For now, our business is quite small so I can say there's competition but it's not that cut-throat yet. But if we want to jump for bigger revenues and market shares there is an intense rivalry.
What advice do you give to people wanting to start a business?
Dream big but take baby steps. Enjoy what you do and if you feel that you're not enjoying it this may not be for you. But if you are dedicated then just make a start somewhere. It doesn't need to be perfect but once you start then you learn as you go.