This year, Visa’s She’s Next business grant for wāhine-owned businesses made its way down under for the first time, where Better Tea Co. took home the win for Aotearoa and a A$10,000 grant for the business, with Awhi founder Tasmyn Roach as the runner-up.
Founder Tamarin Howse says she started the business to help manage her anxiety and depression after a struggle to keep up with the demands and uncertainty of a high-pressure job, and to help support her whānau through their health issues.
What is Better Tea Co.?
It started with Anxietea - that was the tea I blended when I was struggling with work, and trying to manage my own anxiety without caffeine. I did that for a little while and my customers were coming to me and asking me like, ‘have you got anything for my gut health and chronic pain?’
There’s more evidence now that our gut health directly affects our mental health. That’s where I started for our second blend, Gut Feeling. I like a good pun. That blend has things like turmeric, lemongrass and ginger really to support gut health.
I wanted to keep growing the range. At the same time, my dad got really sick. He had terminal cancer so to manage his pain, we were exploring the benefits of CBD oil. There was a noticeable improvement - it was the one medication that helped his pain without making him drowsy and keeping him present.
That helped me learn more about pain and inflammation relief and medicinal herbs that can help with that, which led me to develop my third tea, Hemp Relief for pain and inflammation.
I started the company to try and achieve better mental wellbeing as a group.
What is the Visa She’s Next programme?
It’s been running across hundreds of countries all over the world like Dubai, England, the USA. This is their first time coming to Australia and New Zealand, and they put us in one country category.
Visa partnered with Global Sisters, which is an organisation that supports women in business. They discovered me on TikTok and said they were actually watching me for a while.
They liked my values, the brand and the scalability potential of the business. And so they reached out to me and said, ‘We’d like you to consider being a finalist at a pitch event.’
When I was there I met Tasmyn (founder of Awhi), and the other women from Australia who owned businesses like activewear with African print, non-alcoholic beverages - there were a whole range of products and it was great to be in such good company.
What was the outcome for Better Tea Co.?
In our category of NZ, there was just Tasmyn and myself. I won and received A$10,000. Tasmyn got runner-up, so she got A$5000 for her business.
I’m gutted, because it was my first time in Australia, my first time really in front of so many people and companies. It was a chance to get my name out and I just burst into tears. But fortunately, everybody was very patient. I regained composure enough to give my pitch.
The judges could see what I’m doing is for the right reasons, and I’m passionate about my business.
And I guess a company designing a product for anxiety and being on stage in front of a hundred people, you’ve got to expect them to have probably a bit of a panic attack on stage.
How are you going to use the extra funding?
The week prior to the event, I went to Melbourne for a trade show there to try and get feedback on the company and whether I could expand our range there. I managed to get 20 new retail stores in Australia, so that 10 grand I won is now going towards blending more, supplying that stock and expanding into Australia.
I’m going to go back to the office to mix some tea and get those on the way to Australia.
Without that grant, I wouldn’t be able to expand to Australia. We grew really quickly. We went from about $13,000 in profits in the first year to $60,000 to $200,000 and $500,000 so our revenue has been doubling year on year.
It sounds wonderful, but all that money goes back into buying stock to meet that demand for growth. Now growing into Australia, all that money is going to go straight back into Australian stockists.
How did you get into blending tea?
I’m not a herbalist or a naturopath or anything like that. My background is in product design - I applied my skills in a corporate environment. I would help organisations design their customer experiences.
That was great but sometimes corporate jobs can be stressful. When I was working in one particular place, we were going through a big move towards [an] agile [work space]. So it was a massive mindset shift for everyone and a shift in the way we worked, and with that, redundancies.
I had never been through a redundancy before but my colleagues and I on the design team were really close. We found comfort and solace in spending time together on our breaks - going for walks and having a cup of tea together. Eventually those teas became a bit of a joke - we would say, “Let’s go have a cup of ‘anxietea’.”
At the same time, I was going through my own journey. I didn’t know I had anxiety or depression so when I was struggling to go to work in the mornings, struggling to get out of bed, having panic attacks, I thought it was something else.
One day, I told my sister what was going on and she said it sounds a lot like anxiety, and so I started my journey of trying to understand that. I was still a little bit in denial. I thought, if I did have anxiety, what are some ways I can manage it without medication if it’s possible.
I began researching different ingredients that can help with different symptoms of anxiety. For me, I would get a really upset stomach. I found that peppermint tea can help with stomach pain.
I sent blends home to my colleagues and asked them to keep a diary to see the results.
I did that for a couple of years from home just in my own kitchen and selling at markets.
Then Covid hit. I posted my Anxietea on Facebook because I couldn’t attend markets anymore. I think the timing was really good - people wanted to support local. So our tea did really well and that’s really when the business took off and grew through lockdowns.
How did you raise capital to start Better Tea Co.?
I had two other businesses. One was an online platform where you could list your property for rent for couples wanting to get married, like an Airbnb for weddings. Another business was DIY wedding videos. I would rent out little video cameras to you, groomsmen, bridesmaids and guests, and I would edit the footage into a wedding video.
Not much capital was needed for those two businesses but I was really passionate about Better Tea Co. because it made a difference in my life and I wanted to help other people so I sold the two wedding-based businesses and I think that gave me about $60,000.
Even for a tea company, all your money goes back into buying products and importing ingredients so even with that capital I was struggling with cashflow.
There was a pharmacist in Wellington who was opening a new type of pharmacy that had tonics on tap, called Well Works Pharmacy. The owner there saw potential in the business. My dad was in the pharmacy business, so he knew the family and trusted that I really was determined, so we partnered and he put up more capital for us.
Where are you based?
I started the business in Whangaparaoa which is my home and it’s still where we’re based. We have an office and warehouse there, and manufacture and blend our teas from there now.
Where can people find you?
We still sell online but we’ve got over 200 stockists around New Zealand.
We’ve got big names like Smith and Caughey’s and Ballantynes, but also a lot of small Kiwi businesses that are florists or small gift shops. They’re the ones that we have really good relationships with and help my customers save on shipping so it’s a win-win. Customers can go to a store and support that company and also my business.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business?
The only advice that’s got me through, at least in the starting stages is fail fast, fail early. That sounds negative, but really it’s about experimenting, not worrying if it’s perfect or not, just getting something out there, getting that feedback from people, building on it and going forward from there.
Otherwise, you get caught up, right? You get so caught up in those details and you never do anything. Make sure you hold true to those values you want your business to have. For us, it was quality and having strong ethical values, and those are things we’re never going to compromise on.
What has it been like working in the mental health space?
When I was in Melbourne, I heard from a couple of people that the name ‘Anxietea’ has a negative connotation.
I don’t think Australia is quite where we are in discussing mental health, and so I think we should celebrate how well Kiwis are doing in trying to move away from where we’ve been.
I don’t know what the solution is. I just know that there’s not enough support. But my goal is to empower people to add to their coping toolkit.
Medication might be one thing that helps someone. We’ve got online support systems as well.
For some people, we can stop ourselves from going over that edge. We can catch ourselves before we get to those points and we can give our children healthy coping tools. We can teach our parents healthy coping tools and we can develop these for ourselves as well.
Taking time for yourself, breathing and reconnecting with yourself, that might help a little bit.
Alka Prasad is an Auckland-based business reporter covering small business and retail.