Interview with Jan Smejkal, Air Ventures adviser and the man who stands behind Startup Grind (powered by Google Entrepreneurs) in China and the APAC region.15.11.2016
Four Czech startups will be at the Tech Crunch Disrupt in London next week, thanks to the project CzechDemo!30.11.2016
Mamma Tea is loose herbal tea, which give you a taste of the Beskydy Mountains. Silvie Stachová is trying to use natural sources gently and sensibly. Her main idea is to use a bit of the natural wealth of the region and in the best form to give it back.
Mamma Tea is a unique project founded by Silvie Stachová. Dynamic young lady who was not satisfied with her old job and therefore embarked on the path of entrepreneurship. At the end of 2014, she founded her own company and in the autumn of the next year of 2015 she managed to get to the finals of the famous start-up competition Startup Harvest.
Mamma Tea is not only about the tea, as it might seem from its name. It has deeper meaning on several levels. Pure nature and to be in harmony with it is the first, a gift from the region of the Beskydy Mountains is the second one, and beautiful example of the quality product from the Czech Republic and manufacture of cultivated herbs is the last one. In the interview you will get an answer to questions such as: When Mamma Tea acquired its first investor? Why they have chosen herbs and what exactly they offer? What problems they encountered on the way? Who is their target customer?
Q 1: Thank you very much for your time. I am very happy that together we can talk about something so pleasant as the cultivation and production of tea. There are not many start-ups in the Czech Republic like you. Tell us about your beginnings. Where did get the initial idea? And why did you choose herbs?
At the beginning, there definitely was a desire to fulfill my dreams. I felt that in the classic job you do not use your full potential, so I just started looking for the way how to fully utilize it. And the opportunity to build a company from the scratch seemed to be a good idea.
So I started looking for the field and the main idea. Something I would do from my heart. I deal with nature all my life, so that eventually I produced the vision of herbs from Beskydy Mountains. Herbs not only as a tea, but also as a stylish additional service in Beskydy hotels or as a gift, which will represent our region or country.
Q 2: I had a pleasure to personally taste your tea. It smells very nice and you can really relax while drinking it. However, it is clear that the path from the initial idea to the current state was arduous. What problems have you encountered along the way?
There were many obstacles along the way. You manage to deal with one problem and another two emerges instantly. To devise a meaningful concept, a possible way to the market which would be economically viable, to study appropriate legislation to deal with technology and other practical aspects such as to ensure funding. Food, agriculture or commerce were never my fields, so everything was new for me. That is why it is so important to summon enough strength to keep moving forward even if you wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling “I can´t do it”.
Q 3: Can you tell us how many teas are you producing? How large is the area were you grow them and how many people are working on it? I can imagine how difficult it must be.
The company is on the market for about a year. Therefore, we had two herb harvesting seasons so far. The whole production process is produced by my, the growing, the business, the distribution, the promotion and the delivery. I am outsourcing the accounting services and, of course, graphics, because it must be on the professional level. This year, I have gained a help in a form of one employee, but this way it is on the very border of manageability.
We produce six basic types of tea in gift boxes, then these teas for restaurants, hotels and wellness facilities. This year have also added a special blend which was tailored for one of our clients and herbal honey from our plants. Moreover, we are preparing special products for some cities and during the winter we will add yet another entirely new product. It will also be about herbs and Beskydy Mountains.
All the herbs in our teas are from our own agricultural production. For example bee balm and oregano, which form the basis of our tea blends, we have about 4,000 pieces. To mention others we also grow thyme, mint, calendula, lavender, strawberry, mullein, marjoram, basil and some others. On the top of that, next year will add another herbs. An indispensable part is also the harvesting of free growing herbs. We collect only few herbs like this such as as blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, nettle and lady’s mantle, because we don’t want to devastate the nature. These carefully collected free growing herbs are used only in limited blends for particular clients.
Q 4: As I mentioned in the introduction, you have a lot of success. Being in the finals of Startup Harvest is a big thing. Did it help you to obtain an investor or push forward your promotion?
Participation in this competition had a major impact on my project. First the acquisition of the mentor and subsequently the investor. The right advice at the right time is, of course, priceless, but it’s also about making contacts. They are absolutely essential if you want to succeed on the market. Therefore, this competition was a very good start for us. Finally, with the participation came a certain publicity for sure. I have received information from people which noticed us in the newspapers.
Regarding promotion, in addition to Startup Harvest, a big help was the cooperation with management of tourist area Beskydy-Valašsko. Our products have been bestowed this destination logo that identifies the source of creation. Together, we promote not only the Beskydy Mountains, but also the Czech Republic abroad. The tourist information centers are the place where people go to buy gifts for their foreign trip and our tea is perfect for this purpose.
Q 5: Who is your main customer and whom exactly you are targeting?
Our vision is based on two basic points – quality and region (either in terms of Beskydy Mountains or the Czech Republic), so we are looking for our customers in places where these two values meet.
Tea in gift boxes can be found in the Beskydy Mountains hotels. The clients can take them home as a souvenir to remind them the visit in Beskydy. Selling in local tourist centers is based on the same premise. Our products are used by institutions to present the company and the region as a regional gift for its domestic and foreign partners.
Thus our customer in not only the tea-lover but also the visitor of Beskydy Mountain. On the other hand, institutions, municipalities and businesses buy our products as well. Therefore we are not limited by only our region.
The product without the gift boxes is targeting another groups, mainly restaurants and spa and wellness resorts. This is also not limited to regional hotels. In our products you will find manually processed leaf herbs and large pieces of fruits. Our concern is to provide the customer with a top quality product which he or she can see right through the package.
Based on my one year experience I can say that our products manage best at places where the manager does his job with heart and is willing to do something “extra”. For example, many places such as restaurants and hotels have bought specific equipment for serving tea to promote our products with herbs and fruits.
Q 6: Finally, tell us, what are your future plans? What can we look forward to?
Mainly the new products I have already mentioned. The second level of future plans is in the area of business itself. Here in our region we have been able to sell our products in many beautiful hotels. We value this cooperation very much. In this spirit, we would like to move outside of our region in the sector of government institutions as well as in the commercial sphere.
Vision for the distant future is the cooperation with the emerging House of Nature in Beskydy Mountains. Former farm complex which is currently underused in the heart of Beskydy is going to turn into a visitor center soon. The newly opened center will be focusing on the Beskydy nature and how to preserve it. We want to be an independent part of this beautiful project. As the time being we have been using the agricultural land there to grow our herbs.
So maybe someday see you at Morávka! Thank you very much for the interview. We wish you calm days, excellent tea, and fertile harvest. We are looking forward to hear good news from you!