Disruptive business award

S100_Winner_FB[1]

Next week I have been invited to an award ceremony to celebrate the 100 most disruptive, innovative and remarkable new businesses in the UK, my company being named one of them.

We have also been nominated for an award on the night – Micro Business of the Year, which celebrates big things in business achieved by small teams like ours.

(Small plug… if you could vote for us here that might be nice!: http://www.smarta.com/smarta100/2013/bluebird-tea-co/)

Ironically, coincidentally or perhaps poetically it is on the evening, exactly to the day, that 3 years ago I walked out of an appalling work situation that added a whole bucket of coal to the fire burning inside me to start my own business.

Although I am not sure I realised how valuable the experience would be at the time.

I came out of the situation knowing that I could start a successful company that would make a positive impact in people lives. I gained a confidence that I could do what they were doing and that I could do it better, with more passion, more skill and more caring.

I walked away with valuable industry knowledge and learnt to build a team of fantastic people to help me on my own journey, but it was much more than these things that I learnt.

I asked myself for many months afterwards how it was that someone with genuinely good intentions could have ended up in such an appalling situation and being treated so badly in my place of work.

And to make it worse, in my opinion, by a small independent.

At points during these last few years whilst setting up my own independent business, I have thought that I might grow to see it from a new point of view or that I might learn some inside secret that sheds light on where they were coming from.

What makes what going on inside your head different? But I haven’t.

It has taken time and reflection to realise that, although truly awful at the time, it helped me and the experience remains incredibly valuable to me now. ( I really should write to them and thank them!)

This is what I learnt:

In life there are two default human behaviors when you find yourself in difficult situations. You either immediately blame other people or you look inwardly and blame yourself.

I tend to fall into the latter category, but not in a lack of self worth way, more in a trusting in other peoples humanity sort of way. My default position is to presume other people have the same good intentions and attitude towards their fellow human beings as I do and therefore there must be a simple misunderstanding and a rational resolution. 

'Care more than others think wise'When it becomes challenging with human relationships, particularly in the work place, is when you get these two types of people in a difficult situation. Which is what happened to me.

The worse thing was that because I presumed they were decent, rational, caring human beings and because they continued to either dismiss their behavior as acceptable or, later when I didn’t accept this, started blaming me for it, I began to question my own self belief that what was going on, the way these people were acting towards me, wasn’t OK. 

I’m sure there are many others who will recognise this feeling too. They either act like their behavior is completely normal or that you are in some way to blame for their bad behavior.

The valuable lesson I learnt here is no matter how many times you give someone the benefit of the doubt and try to resolve issues in a friendly, professional, caring and helpful manner, sometimes, people are just not nice.

The other part of the lesson I learnt was to accept that I just cannot change that.

Never, ever give inIt doesn’t change my default position and it wont make me stop trying to change people for the better but it does stop me falling so hard or blaming myself.

In business it helps me to identify quicker who isn’t approaching their business (or their life for that matter) with the same people-first values I do and I make sure that I acknowledge to myself that no amount of my time or effort will allow me to be able to form a trusting business relationship with them.

It also keeps me driven to prove that my attitude of treating others, be that customers, staff members or peers with respect for their general happiness is an acceptable and profitable way of running a business.

I honestly believe that great things, like this award, will continue to happen to our business, because I have faith that my people-first, happiness-spreading values underpin every business decision that I make and that that is the way to build a successful company.

If this resonates with you at all, please give us a vote. Or at least check out the appalling homemade video on the voting page!

Love + Tea

ThatBluebirdGirl

www.bluebirdteaco.com

fb: BluebirdTeaCo.

t: @Bluebirdteaco

THE 6 MOST SHOCKINGLY IRRESPONSIBLE “FITSPIRATION” PHOTOS by REEMBODY

As I progress on my business journey I find myself encountering more and more difficult challenges and higher and higher obstacles.

imagesAs a runner and a rower I find myself drawing strength and motivation from all the miles spent on the road or the river and visualizing the hard work, determination and team work that has always pulled me through.

I’m training for a half marathon in a months time and I often find myself a little sad these days that I don’t have the hours to put into training like I did in past years.photo-17-8-13-10-45-25-pm

Training has always been a way of breaking away from the day, putting my mind to rest and clearing the cobwebs away. I also used the time to spend planning and thinking about my future.

1069874_537105859683152_1805500004_nI find it difficult these days to turn off my brain and shut out all the business stuff going on, which is not motivating at all!

 

I really enjoyed reading Kevin’s post, not only because he is a really funny writer, but because it made me remember why I love to train and made me feel a little better about all the ridiculous ‘fitspiration photos’ that keep haunting me on my news feed.

 

http://reembody.me/2013/09/10/the-6-most-shockingly-irresponsible-fitspiration-photos/

Posted on September 10, 2013 by KevinMoore (REEMBODY.me)

Brains V’s Capital – What does it take to be an Entrepreneur?

I recently did a 60 second interview with Smarta and one of the questions was ‘How have you funded yourself so far’ which we get asked a lot as a start up.

In the comments a gentleman had expanded on part of my answer:

‘ “We both strongly believe that you can achieve a hell of a lot without having to spend a huge amount of money – it just takes a bit of creative thinking and patience.”

I’d really like to expand on that idea. There is a recent movement in Germany amongst young entrepreneurs and new startup companies that was initially set into motion by Guenter Faltin’s book “Brains versus Capital” called concept-creative entrepreneurship. A wealth of examples have shown that classic, conventional entrepreneurship is outdated. You really DON’T need much starting capital or a degree in economics, as long as your concept is well though-out, stable, and intelligent. You really shouldn’t rush to get your idea onto the market, but rather fine-tune the concept again and again, get out the bugs, so to speak. Therefore, I am glad to see a similar approach catching on in the UK. Props to you guys! ‘

When I approach a new project or need to solve a problem with Bluebird I approach with a combination of three types of thinking: Frugality, Common sense and creativity. 

In the book mentioned above, Mr Faltin calls it Lean, Smart, Simple. 

I wasn’t aware that aspects of my thinking and approach was Lean but I guess it is. The important thing to me is that it to allows me to solve problems in new and inexpensive ways, sometimes with even better results than if you had thrown thousands of pounds at it.

Fresh Iced Teas

An example: We took Bluebird to both a major festival this year, selling our fresh iced teas and real chai teas and also exhibited at the BBC Good Food Show. Two big aims which required new and more professional event set ups than what we had already.

So we looked at getting a structure custom made for us and all the quotes came back in their thousands, often for run of the mill structures similar to the ones that others already used.

If I was a wealthy ‘entrepreneur’ who had perhaps retired from a high flying salary in the city, my default may be to just throw a blank cheque book at the problem and ‘let the professionals sort it for me’.

I don’t know about you but I often look at the price tag attached to such ‘professional’ work and think I could do that myself for more than half the price. This is the common sense part. 

I don’t have a blank cheque book to throw so I am forced to approach things in a different way. This is the creative part.

This is where frugality becomes your best business friend. It forces you to open up to the common sense and creative thinking. You have no other choice.

Luckily, one of my biggest assets (and possibly biggest failings) is that I often believe I can achieve anything if I put my mind to it. This self belief is an important part of getting a start up off the ground and it cannot be brought with money.

So after a bit of common sense, creative thinking we brought a fence panel pack, some crates, some tins, cut out some stencils, took a can of spray paint and our tool box.

Before and after:
Sampling free stuffIMG_3174

We had over a handful of people compliment and ask us who did our event structure and how they could get one too. Most of them looked like they didn’t believe me when I said we had built it ourselves.

Obviously it isn’t very Lean to spend two whole days with a screwdriver rather than at my desk and it wasn’t perfect by any means. It was rough around the edges (literally in parts).

IMG_3165But you just have to get something out there to get started. 

Although I must admit doing this in a half finished prototype stage is not something that in the beginning of my journey would ever cross my mind.

I like to do big things. I like to do them now and I like to do them the best.

Perfectly.

The idea of putting something out in the marketplace less than perfect terrified my control freak-perfectionist nature.

But you have to accept your limitations and in small penniless hands big ideas often start out a little rough around the edges.

I have had to learn that there is nothing wrong with fine-tuning a concept as you go along and in fact customers appreciate the humanist and honest nature of being able to see the little flaws and go along on the journey with you. That is the Lean part.

Brains v’s Capital… I’d take the brains any day. Every day.

Love + Tea

ThatBluebirdGirl

www.bluebirdteaco.com

fb: BluebirdTeaCo.

t: @Bluebirdteaco

Apples or (Extra Value) Pears?

Hey Teabirds

Last time I told you to check out the cool video we made to enter ‘Confessions of a Start Up.’ The video, although truly awful, seemed to do the trick so we have 50 days to film our story and share it with the world.

Bluebird's video

One of the diary entries tells the story of us searching for the location of our flagship store.

Working on the video has had me thinking about the place the high street will play in our lives going forward and the nature of retail businesses because of it.

I guess we have to think about the key drivers for consumers and these days we can’t ignore the massive influence of price, sometimes even over value for money.

With the aid of Google comparison shopping and the big boys; Mr Amazon and Mrs Ebay there is a general acceptance that online is always the place to look for the lowest price.

Comparison-Shopping-EnginesIn the war for price, team online will win every single battle.

Music downloads sent our local record shops down. The Trainline leaves your local station ticket office lonely and 3D printing will surely put the final nail in our high street’s coffin.

Unsurprisingly then, E-commerce is a massive growth industry, especially in the food and drink sector with sales online increasing 15% p/year.

When I first heard that statistic I was quite amazed because although I do love my Graze box, I can’t imagine the market for buying food and drink online is that big (excluding grocery shopping).

That is because as well as price, quality and value is always going to be super important and very influential in determining what people buy and where from.

imagesMy gut feeling tells me humans must touch, see and interact with a product to ensure it is high quality and value for money, particularly for food and drink.

And that’s where the high street fits in.

Or it did.

Now there are two other major options to the traditional high street model that provide this human interaction but still maintain the low prices associated to online shopping:

1.    The ‘Apple model’

Brands have limited ‘experience’ stores where customers can interact with the products but there is a general acceptance that they won’t take them home with them, more likely to order online at a later date. Probably after a scout around to see if anywhere else online can offer a better price. Let’s face it, Apple are always a big trend setter and proven to be way ahead of the times, so they are likely to have it spot on.

2.    The ‘Extra model’

One-stop-shopping will become the ultimate convenience. The growth of mass stores such as Tesco Extra that provide literally everything you could ever need under one roof, will become the destination of choice for shoppers. Even more unique items will be ripped off, mass produced as ‘extra brand’ for a fraction of the price.

039993

If you look at their extensive ‘extra’ catalogue you struggle to think of a product that they don’t stock. But what if this was all you had to choose from to experience life with?

If we only had the contents of a Tesco Extra store to play with, share with others, choose our dinner from and decorate our homes with… No bespoke products or locally produced items in our lives? No independent, unique, rare and hand crafted items.

You could try to argue that we don’t need these speciality or hand crafted things and that the ‘extra brand’ stuff is just fine.

But I don’t buy it. (Pun intended!).

There is so much more to items like this that you can’t sum up in an online catalogue.

I like to think of them as items with a story.

Humans love a good story because it provides a new and interesting aspect to something that they had never considered in that light before. Then they want to pass it on and share with other, social beings that we are.

Don’t underestimate the influence of a good story that speaks to our emotions and strikes a chord with the human person inside making these buying decisions.

story_of_the_day

We love picking up local food from the local market because we love the story behind how it was made and produced on our doorsteps by the very hands of the person who wraps it up for you as they have been doing for generations. You want to tell people about the totally unique methods they used with such care and affection that no mass producers can replicate.

We love buying bespoke jewellery from independent designers because of the story behind their influences and ideas. You want to tell the story of how they have crafted each individual piece by hand after foraging for sea glass on their local beach.

You just can’t get that from your local Tesco or from Mrs Ebay. They are useful and cheap but they are flat and boring and they don’t whisper stories into our souls.

Christmas Cake Tea

When you buy from local, independent or interesting shops you are getting an experience and you get to take that story home with you along with your cheese and earrings!

That’s value for money!

Love + Tea

ThatBluebirdGirl

www.bluebirdteaco.com

fb: BluebirdTeaCo.

t: @Bluebirdteaco

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

It’s not just the clocks that have changed at The Nest this past month, there seems to be change everywhere.

Royal Mail Postage Increase
The Royal Mail postage change (which is outrageous and probably going to sink many small online businesses) has forced us to change our packaging. We are making massive changes preparing for opening our first shop. We’re putting some of our loose leaf teas into silk bags for the first time(!) We did our first training session with a gorgeous place in Melbourne that started serving our teas last week. We are moving home and office soon also.

It is all change.

One thing that can always be relied upon to stay constant however, are the dinner table debates that go on in our household every time we get together. Easter was no exception.

What started as a discussion over the origin of Easter eggs soon shifted to a debate about the relevance of religion in the modern world, especially when compared to science.

Which resulted in a full blown argument. The highlights being a short but outrageous conversation about the similarities between Jesus and Hitler (I think the main thread was they were both revolutionaries). Which led us to science and the laws of the universe v’s faith and belief.

FreudIt all ended with my brother declaring we can’t be any more sure scientists and philosophers are any less mad that Jesus may have been, ‘because of that crazy bloke who says we all fancy our mums’.

This set me off on a rant about Evolutionary Psychology.

With everything going on at the moment it has me pondering why human beings tend to dislike change so much. Is change a bad thing?

We’re trying to build a business from scratch so by its nature we grow, which is change. And every mistake made has to be learnt from and corrected, which again involves change.

But actively making big changes to your life and your business is a peculiar thing to grasp. It often seems like a very risky and often unnecessary business, the old ‘if it ain’t broke why fix it’ mentality comes into play.

To successfully lead a business you must have the ability to embrace change and be able to react to things that happen to you and your business with a calm head.

Things like the Royal Mail postage increase, we didn’t predict or expect that change and it was completely out of our control, but we must react to it in a positive way and make it work to keep our business alive and running smoothly.

But what about building or leading a business that is more than just ‘alive and running’. In the current climate coasting along seems to be all we dare to hope for. But shouldn’t you want more than that? For yourself and your business?

What makes what going on inside your head different?

That brings us back to the change question. To actively (rather than re-actively)  pursue change, to seek to bring it about through your own planned actions, is a scary practice indeed. It’s scary because it isn’t a ‘natural’ human trait.

We are programmed to survive, to expend as little energy as possible, we go through the motions, the program. We’re hardwired to know that survival is a risk averse business. Don’t take risks, don’t step out of what you know and what works.

It makes sense really. We have spent our whole lives experiencing the world around us, gathering information, forming ideas, opinions, growing, molding who we are and what works for us. We develop our own identity from every single past experience… we condition our own nature, the way we perceive ourselves and the way we want others to perceive us.

We don’t like change because it forces us to reassess what we have always done in the past, it forces us to examine the evidence we have used to form our own identity.

It suggests that this evidence and ultimately our own identity is wrong, or at least that there is room for interpretation. And no one likes to be wrong. Especially about themselves.

But change can be a very positive thing. The very act of reassessing your past behavior and accepted beliefs leaves space for new ideas and experiences.

Boat

For a start up, actively pursuing change can cause massive waves and not wanting to the rock the boat that you have painstakingly built with your bare hands seems reasonable.

But you have to.

It’s survival of the fittest in the business world as well as the animal kingdom and while humans can safely adopt a risk averse strategy, being at the top of the food chain, your small startup is at the very bottom.

You simply don’t have the best genes. You have less money, less resources, less expertise and your are trying to not only survive but rise to the top of a world that is just not geared for you.

So the only option is to adopt a risky strategy of change driven by your passion, your drive and your gut instincts. Because they are the only things you’ve got going for you. And you might fail. Sadly the odds are stacked up against you and your bad genes.

But a few manage to break through. For a small few, it pays off. And that is exactly why we do it.

Keep your eyes out for the new silk tea sacs Teabirds!

Oh and check out this cool little video that we made: http://youtu.be/QGqnUUHlhb8

Love + Tea

ThatBluebirdGirl

www.bluebirdteaco.com

fb: BluebirdTeaCo.

t: @Bluebirdteaco

Dragon Incubation

Apologies must be made for the lateness of this post. It has been MANIC! But that is no excuse for my poor attendance record and I hope you can all find it in your heart to forgive my blogging laziness.

But wait until you hear what we have been up to.

Actually we haven’t been up to much so far in 2013. Not in terms of getting in front of people and making tasty teas for lots of lovely Teabirds, which has made me a bit sad.

Not the Camden Market, Bartons, BeestonWe have only been ticking over with our regular markets and the online stuff – which is starting to see a boost from all the people who found some Bluebird tea in their Christmas stocking and are coming back for more, which makes me happy.

We have a new newsletter called ‘The Bluebird Daily’ which you can take a peak at here if you so wish, and subscribe to it too if you so wish… if you’re a customer you have probably already had it but it seems to be going to some peoples junk boxes! Pesky technology!

Anyway, what else have we been doing? Well we have been ‘incubating’ (please excuse the ridiculous terminology here) and it has been an insightful but stressful time indeed.

Penguin incubationFor anyone who doesn’t know about incubating it’s just posh business jargon for taking a time out. Usually in a glamorous boardroom with industry experts and mentors to figure out what you are trying to achieve and how to achieve it going forward.

I guess it’s like an intensive health check for your business and you are supposed to come out with a full fitness plan for the next year or however long.

There are loads of companies that offer this service at a quite hefty price tag but we did it classic Bluebird style and rented a room in a rundown office block in a rundown area and locked ourselves in with nothing but a kettle, a small electric heater and huge floor to ceiling whiteboards on each wall.

It hasn’t been quite idyllic, partly because of the barbwire and double metal shutters, partly because there is a local street fighting club who train in the car park outside our window so every day at 12pm we are serenaded by shouts and grunts to the effect of: ‘Your not done yet lad, get yourself off the floor and pump that iron’, or my favourite is ‘pain is only temporary, quitting lasts a lifetime’.

We have been into the very depths of our souls searching for answers to questions that we weren’t expecting to have to answer so soon and it has been a little overwhelming at times.

Why?We have been trying to further define the ‘why’ behind our ‘what’ and make sure that it speaks clearly to our customers. We have been trying to drill down into the assumptions we base our decisions upon and how reliable the evidence is that we use to support those assumptions and decisions. We have been trying to analyse and predict trends and customer behaviour as well as their wants and needs.

I warned you about the head hurt.

After all we started off just giving people good tea to try and spread some happiness.

It sort of feels like we started off pushing a steam train along a track with our own bare hands and that it has recently started running away full steam while we chase along behind trying to jump on board!

The really exciting thing to share with you is our experience with Dragon’s Den Nottingham. Now before you get carried away we didn’t meet Theo and we didn’t get onto the TV! But we did enter the local Nottingham version and we did get shortlisted.

So two weeks ago we went along to a very posh boardroom and pitched to 6 Nottingham business dragons. We prepared our Strawberry Lemonade iced tea which went down a storm and within 5 minutes the planned pitch had gone out of the window as we frantically tried to answer questions being fired from all over the room!
Iced Tea | Bluebird Tea Co.

We walked out with 3 offers of mentoring and an offer for investment as well as being told we stood a good chance of winning the prize grant money.

It was an excellent experience, if a little daunting and the enthusiasm we received has only fuelled our passion and determination further.

Dragons Den

In the end we did win a lovely novelty cheque (and a smaller real one!) and went back to visit The Nottingham who hosted and sponsored the event to serve up teas to their lovely staff.

We are now planning what to do with our grant monies but on the list is an application to The Great Taste Awards to try and get our amazing teas some much deserved awards too, a replacement for good old Edward (our midi van) who is falling apart at the seams, a bit of professional tweaking to the website and some product promotional photography to use on the website and to try and get us  some press attention.

New Blend Tasting

All in all it has been a good 2013 so far, but it is flying by super-fast! Spring is already on its way .. yippee.. which reminds me we have already developed over 20 new teas set to be launched at various times this year. There are some absolute beauTEAs (!) that I can’t wait to get on sale for you Teabirds.. the Spring Collection will be on sale towards the end of March but a sneak peak just for you is below:

Spring Collection Loose Leaf Tea

Love + Tea

ThatBluebirdGirl

xXx

www.bluebirdteaco.com

Guest Blog from ThatBluebirdBoy

Hello!

MikeSelling I should probably introduce myself…. I’m the other half of Bluebird Tea Co..  I guess you could say I’m ThatBluebirdBoy.

I’ve been pestering ThatBluebirdGirl to update her blog for the last couple of days and finally she snapped and suggested I do it (those weren’t her exact words!).  So for this edition you guys are lucky enough to get a guest blogger!

As I don’t usually write the blog and with Bluebird I often focus on the less interesting bits, I struggled to think about what to write.  I had a suspicion people wouldn’t be interested in reading the reasons why we are considering changing the legal structure of our company or which free accounting program seems the best for us.

So I thought I would just write about what we are, and how we got here.  We touch upon this on our website, but not very deeply.  We explain what our philosophies are, but not so much why they are and I think that it’s important to understand why people think the way they do in order to really understand what they think. You would never guess I studied philosophy!the-bluebird-way

Hopefully by explaining why we say that Bluebird’s world is responsible, our people are fulfilled, our customers are exceptional and our tea is happy you will see that this isn’t just the normal marketing spin.  So many companies say this now that we have become desensitized to it.  But to us it’s more than a marketing gimmick.  It’s how we try to live and it’s how we want our company to thrive.

As kids, everyone wants to change the world.  Over time we saw and understood the different ways we could make a difference.  We could work for a charity, as teachers, we could become politicians.Little Boy Thinking With Glasses

As we worked in various different unsatisfying jobs we realised the capacity companies have to change the world.  We realised that they don’t have to play politics or beg for money.  They have the power to change the world a little bit straight away.  Just by helping to make sure team members are happy and fulfilled they can immediately improve lives.  By improving one person’s life you improve the lives of everyone around them.  Happiness spreads, and a person’s place of work has a huge impact on how happy they are.

We started to realise that businesses aren’t these evil profit machines, they are communities of individuals.  These communities have an amazing power to do good.  It’s just a case of giving them direction.

They can do good in themselves too, by creating new things or helping people enjoy their lives more.  As neither of us are clever enough to invent a cure for cancer, and both of us are customer service obsessed we decided we wanted to give people happy experiences.  We wanted to give people bluebird days!

canary_wharf_at_night_london

I have always been passionate about the environment, I drive my family mad by following them around turning things off.  But it seems pointless when every computer and every light is left on in so many offices around the world every night.  And that’s before you even start thinking about all the other places for savings.
So we knew what we wanted to do, just not how to do it.  We knew that we needed a vehicle through which to make people happy (customers and team members) and to generally improve the world.  In lots of ways the vehicle itself was the least important thing. By a company taking small decisions to think about these impacts, they can have a far bigger effect than any individuals could on themselves.  Just think how much of a difference all those lights turning off would be!

Tea MixologyHopefully if you are reading this, you know that we developed an idea of ‘tea mixology’, we decided to take a staple product and have fun with it.  Take it from something comforting and make it something fun in itself.  Make people happy with it!

So we get to what we are creating now, a company where everything is focussed on making sure our customers are happy.  We don’t have a team yet, but if we are lucky enough to grow we want them to be happy.   We care about the world and we think about it when we make decisions.

30761_516525955043226_321977047_nWe know that when you buy one of our iced teas (if you have been lucky enough to track us down in person!), your cup won’t end up in a bush forever or filling a landfill because they are all biodegradable.   At the moment that might not be saving a huge amount when compared to some of the big players, but over time it will make a massive difference.

How much of a difference would it make if Starbucks took the same decision?

People are surprised when we say that we run a business.  In a lot of ways we’re the opposite of what you expect.  We didn’t make our first millions in the school playground.  People even call us hippies because we love to go to new places, and meet new people.  Every year we work at Glastonbury as members of CND with all the other hippies!

I thought I should include a pic of my Bluebird day!

My Bluebird day!

Not quite the image of ‘business people’ you sometimes get from the newspapers, but actually the more ‘business people’ we meet the less I think we’re unusual!  Hopefully it’s something that will work and let us leave the world a little better than we found it.  Isn’t that everyone’s real goal?