Sashee Chandran grew up in a household where tea was a central part of social gathering. She created Tea Drops to simplify the tea making process for people on-the-go, and is sharing the big moments and lessons learned that led to her small business success.
Sashee Chandran picks up a tea kettle and pours boiled water into a glass cup in which she drops a rectangular shaped Tea Drops pellet. She is demonstrating how her innovative, patented, invention simplifies the process of making tea. “We have probably done tens of thousands of these demos at this point,” she says.
As she stirs the water, the tea drop dissolves, unlocking a rich aroma and color. The flavor is called Chai Spice. “This is actually my favorite tea drop of them all,” she says with excitement. “It is a black Assam tea base and it has amazing spices like cardamom, ginger and nutmeg.”
Other flavors in her line include Matcha Green Tea, Rose Earl Grey, Citrus Ginger, and more. Sashee founded the company in 2015 and began selling Tea Drops in Amazon’s store in 2017.
“I grew up loving the ritual of tea,” Sashee says. “My mom is Chinese, and my dad is from Sri Lanka. My dad was actually born on a tea estate.”
Tea was not only a staple at her house, it was also at the center of social gatherings with friends. But as she graduated college and went on to a professional career at Silicon Valley, she soon found that making tea the way she was accustomed to preparing it, wasn’t convenient in a fast-paced environment.
“I noticed that a lot of teas on the market either were made with tea bags, which are often filled with microplastics or [were] loose-leaf teas, which take a long time to prepare.” So she set out to simplify the process of making tea for people on-the-go. “I started experimenting with different tea blends in my apartment kitchen,” she says.
She would order a variety of tea leaves and spices from Amazon to test out flavors. Over a period of months, she developed a process that would ultimately lead to the launch of her small business.
Starting a business with limited resources required Sashee to wear many hats. “I’ve had to be the manufacturer of my product, the salesperson of my product, sweep the floors of our warehouse,” she says. “I have literally had to do it all.”
But the key to her success has been hard work and persistence and it has led to some exciting moments for her business.
Women empowering women
In 2018, just three years after launching her business, Tea Drops was part of a gift basket that went to celebrity speakers at a women’s conference. One of those speakers was former first lady Michelle Obama. To Sashee’s surprise, she received a personal letter from the first lady thanking her for the Tea Drops and congratulating her on an innovative product.
This big moment was quickly followed by another in 2019. Sashee was determined to get her brand noticed by social media influencers, including celebrity model and TV personality Chrissy Teigen.
For several months, Sashee mailed samples of Tea Drops to Chrissy, and never received a response. “Then five or six months later, we see this huge spike in our Amazon sales,” Sashee says. At the same time, she started getting congratulatory texts from friends. Chrissy had not only tried Tea Drops but also tweeted rave reviews of the brand to her 12 million followers.
It was a huge moment that raised the profile of the brand, as reflected in a significant increase in sales. Sashee takes these moments in stride and is grateful. “It’s just fuel to keep going on our journey.”
Sashee continues to scale her brand, but has tips for any new entrepreneur hoping for their own big moments.
1. You don’t have to know it all
Starting a new business can be intimidating. “I would have actually started my business a lot sooner, but I was plagued with this fear that I didn’t have the right degree, or know enough about the tea industry.”
Looking back now, Sashee says that an important realization for her was that you don’t have to know it all before starting something. If you believe in your idea and are willing to do the hard work, then you have to take the chance and start somewhere.
2. Find the right mentor
“A lot of us starting businesses face an imposter syndrome, not really believing that we can start something,” Sashee says. “And that was certainly the case for me.”
Finding the right mentor, helped her overcome that fear. She joined the small business empowerment organization SCORE, partially funded by the U.S. Small Business Association. At SCORE, she found a mentor who guided her on bringing her idea to market and patenting the idea.
Sashee has had mentors throughout her journey as a business owner. Meeting other entrepreneurs who’d been through it already was critical in helping her gain confidence in her ability to succeed as an entrepreneur.
3. A “no” right now is not a “no” forever
Over the years, Sashee has pitched her brand thousands of times, to investors or to retail stores. “The common denominator through all of that is the amount of rejections that you will receive.”
She stresses not to take those rejections personally and also not to stop pitching. “A ‘no’ right now is not a ‘no’ forever,” she says. “Circumstances can change. Maybe at a different time, your brand is exactly what a retailer needs for their shelves. So don’t give up trying.”
Small Business, Big Moments is our new series, where we talk to Amazon selling partners about overcoming challenges and learning lessons in their entrepreneurial journey.