University | 3:46 pm | September 8, 2013 | By Larry Milstein

‘Honest Tea’ cofounders talk tea management on NPR

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Photo by Twitter.

Sometimes, “honest tea” is the best policy — at least for cofounders of the organic tea company School of Management Professor Barry Nalebuff and Seth Goldman SOM ’95, who recently gave an interview with NPR to market their new graphic novel, “Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently – and Succeeding.”

Honest Tea began when Nalebuff noticed that there was an opportunity for a healthier, all-natural tea alternative in the highly saturated — both in competitors and sugar additives — tea market. After joining forces with one of his SOM students, Goldman, the two launched  Honest Tea, a tea brand that markets its fair trade and organic model.

In an interview with NPR, the two tea entrepreneurs discussed some of their greater challenges with Honest Tea, including convincing distributors that their product would be marketable on a mass scale. Since the product standard at the time was sugary soft drinks, the two had to come up with a creative solution. Instead of appealing to the standard at the time, the two had to persuade distributors on the “merits of the business opportunity,” Goldman said.

Another turning point in the company’s development was learning that often the best way to improve a product is to simply do nothing at all. Because each change led to another problem, Nalebuff said it was important for the team to realize that “Nope, this is good enough,” Nalebuff explained.

Perhaps the largest factor in their company’s success on the mass market came after their deal with the Coca-Cola Company in 2008. After selling a 40 percent stake to this mega-brand, some questioned whether this “honest” brand had finally gone corporate and sold out. But Nalebuff and Goldman reject this accusation.

“When the social responsibility is literally steeped in the product, if you can go from selling 100 million bottles to a billion bottles, you’re really doing a much better job of achieving your mission,” they said.

Nalebuff is already looking toward his next tea venture, producing a tea that targets those who find existing tea too pure and “cruncy granola.” Called KomBrewCha, Nalebuff says this tea-based product is also mildly alcoholic and aims to get you “tickled, not pickled.”

So whether you are looking to get healthTEA or wasTEA-ed, this Yale professor may have what you need.

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