Nicole co-founded Eloments Tea with her business partner Julie Hirsch only in September last year, and after 4 months of sales, they impressively secured a place for their product on Woolworth’s shelves. After 6 months, they were in 1000 stores worldwide!
Eloments Tea is the world’s first vitamin and minerals tea that is also Fair Trade. Two achievements that Nicole is incredibly proud of, understandably!
It’s fantastic to celebrate Nicole’s success and a pleasure to share her business story with our readers, including her helpful tips and tricks on life as a female founder, raising funds incredibly quickly and expanding into international markets.
Congratulations on your journey with Eloments tea so far. What has been the highlight for you so far?
Thank you! There’s been a lot of highlights so far so I’ll only mention a few. We spent almost two years in research and development to create Eloments, since no one had ever made a natural vitamin tea before. Seeing the first finished pack of Eloments tea and knowing we’d created the world’s first 100% natural vitamin tea was a buzz, and tasting the first cup – knowing that it had 9 essential vitamins and minerals in it, all from plant-based fruit and herbal extracts – was wonderful. From there, getting the phone call from Woolworths advising us we had been successfully ranged felt like a real validation of our hard work. We were always committed to making a Fairtrade and Organic certified product – some of the most rigorous certifications in the world – and the quick uptake by consumers and retailers because of this rigour and the innovation of the product was a great highlight.
Would you say Woolworths buying your product was a game changer for the business? How important has this deal been for you?
Right from the start we had a vision of how we wanted to develop the company and working with major grocery partners around the world was part of that vision. But securing national ranging in Woolworths after only 4 months of sales was absolutely game changing. Woolworths have been very supportive and excited about bringing Eloments to the market; it fits with their first-to-market strategy and they were very supportive of our Fairtrade mission. We bring our entrepreneurial spirit to the table at every meeting, which I think they appreciate.
Could you talk us through your process on raising equity capital in just 8 days? How did you approach getting the funds you needed for your rapid growth?
When we started Eloments we wanted to make the healthiest, cleanest label product we could, while maintaining our commitment to Fairtrade and organic farming. Because of this focus we were fortunate to quickly attract investors who were aligned with our values, and we found that in the phenomenal team at Organic X Labs. This alignment meant that we were all on the same page fairly quickly and we were able to present a deal that our investors were happy with, so we moved through the negotiating phase reasonably quickly.
On the pragmatic side of things, there is a lot of paperwork involved in closing a deal, so having an experienced lawyer who is on the ball and organised really helps a lot. Also, having all your accounts and due diligence documents in order is essential, otherwise deals can drag out for months and months.
You are looking at expanding into overseas markets, could you pass on any tips to other entrepreneurs about how to go about this?
This is a really interesting question because I’ve come across many different approaches to exporting; some companies are highly cautious and research various markets for years before entering and others use a splatter gun approach, in that they’ll go into any territory and just see what sticks. I think it depends on the barriers to entry for your product and what are the risks if things go bad. I’d say to quantify these things as much as possible and see how your risks stack up against potential revenue (break-even graphs are wonderful!).
We are already selling to some European countries and our first orders are just going out to the US. Our strategy is somewhere in the middle of what I described above: I work out what the fixed costs to enter a market (compliance costs, investment of time, translations etc) and how much we have to sell to break even (the numbers never lie!). For a small company with limited resources, you have to be really strategic about which markets you invest in – in my experience the determining factor for success in a market, outside of product/market fit, is the quality of your distribution partner. If a territory is strategically important, you’ll need to invest time into choosing the right partner. Setting you minimum order quantities correctly is also very important – setting them high enough to cover your costs but not so high as to be a barrier, and setting sales targets that will meet your projected profit over the year are goods steps to set up expansion for success.
As a female founder, have you encountered any specific challenges, and can you pass on any advice/insights for other female founders?
Research says that women are much more likely to undervalue their contribution and their business value and we’ve definitely found this to be true. Julie Hirsch, my business partner, and I came up with our business valuation (using multiple methods) before our Seed Funding Round and our Series A Round, but felt uncomfortable with it, so we lowered it. When we presented it to some of our advisors (who happened to be men), they all said we’d undervalued our company and advised us independently for a valuation quite close to the original one we had calculated. It can be challenging as a female founder to own your successes, so having good advisors is critical.
What are your most proud of with your business and brand?
Over the years other opportunities have come up, but for me it is always about fair trade and innovation. There are hundreds of tea brands out there all doing similar things, but developing the world’s first natural vitamin tea and making it certified Fairtrade has been a great achievement; I’m really proud of that. Knowing we are actually delivering higher wages to farmers in developing countries and providing them with more opportunities is incredibly motivating.