Sashee Chandran, the 32-year old founder and CEO of innovative tea-making company Tea Drops, started off just making tea as a side hustle. But after just three years -- finding the perfect blend of tea while struggling for funding -- she is now making millions of dollar doing exactly what she loves to do.
For Chandran, tea has been a huge part of her childhood. Her Chinese mother and Sri Lankan father made sure she wouldn't forget the traditional tea culture even when they immigrated to the U.S in the 1970's. Chandran knew since then that she would someday own a tea shop.
However, while working at eBay, she came across a dilemma that she realized couldn't wait until her retirement: she loves making loose leaf tea at her desk but it's time-consuming and really cumbersome. She can't rather be satisfied with bagged tea which is often considered lower quality regardless of its convenience.
That's when she started spending her weekends experimenting with ways to easily make quality tea at work. She came up with blends of tea leaves and spices pressed with raw sugar into "drops" or fun shapes such as flower, star, or heart that quickly dissolves in hot water. Her on-the-go tea product has received positive responses when she started selling it at farmer markets and craft fairs.
Six months after securing a patent for her genius idea, she decided to leave her job and focus on the business she called Tea Drops in 2015. "I got my finances in order, I saved as much as I could, I took a home equity line of credit on my house while I still had a job, and I used those savings to launch Tea Drops," she told CBNC.
A significant moment for Tea Drop came in her first year of business when retail brands Anthropologie and Uncommon Goods took notice of her products and ordered a thousand pieces. Chandran realized it was a challenge to meet the growing demand but she managed to come through with determination.
On her second year in the business, she realized she needed to take on funding in order to scale. But Chandran saw that most venture capital funding goes to men and only 2 percent went to women last year. She experienced it firsthand when she was rejected of over 72 potential investors.
With great persistence, Tea Drops landed its first investment in 2017 from angel investors and AccelFoods, a woman-owned early-stage venture capital firm. It was AccelFoods who has led Tea Drops to close a $1.9 million round of seed funding in June.
Moreover, Tea Drops won the grand prize in the Tory Burch Foundation's Fellows Program and bagged a $100,000 investment in May. Chandran was also beyond ecstatic when former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, whom she has given Tea Drops as a gift, sent her a letter expressing her warmest wishes for her and her business.
Definitely, Tea Drops has captured the needs of the fast-paced, on-the-go millennial women in a traditional way. It's a plus that it comes in different soothing flavors such as blueberry acai white tea, rose earl grey, sweet peppermint, cardamom spice, among others. It is now available in over 1,600 retail locations such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Anthropologie stores.
Having had a successful trajectory, Chandran says she is now focusing on building the growth of the business. "My goal is for Tea Drops to be the household tea brand of the millennial generation," she says. "There's really no one who speaks to tea in that way."
For more information about Tea Drops and/or to order online, visit www.myteadrop.com