This Female Founder Grew Her Revenues 100X In 18 Months By Helping Tea Drinkers Discover Their Favorite Blends
Mondays can be rough—sometimes we need a little motivation to get the week started. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from Project Entrepreneur Alumnae—female founders who applied to the Project Entrepreneur Venture Competition to attend our two-day PE Intensive and join a nationwide community of hundreds of women entrepreneurs. Get to know more about the PE Community and #beinspired by how these women motivate themselves each Monday to tackle the week ahead.
Staci Brinkman is the Founder and CEO of Sips by, a subscription service that helps people explore different teas. Staci is an alumna of the 2017 and 2018 Intensives, and we loved catching up with her talk about expanding her team, taking advice, and the crazy growth she’s experienced in the past year and a half.
What inspired you to start your business?
Inspired by Birchbox, Stitch Fix, and Ipsy, I started Sips by to make tea fun, accessible, and affordable for the U.S. I’ve been a tea enthusiast for almost five years (I’m now full-blown tea-obsessed), and I was spending A LOT of time researching brands, tea types, and teas available in the market (at the store and online). I was also spending more money than I would have liked on shipping each time I found a new brand I wanted to try, or a tea that a specific brand blended or brought to market.
Being able to determine quality was a big pain point for me when all I could do was look online. Different brands source ingredients differently and blend differently—it’s hard to tell (from a consumer perspective, online or at the grocery store) what you’re getting before you actually buy the full-size product at the store (imagine 20 bags/sachets of tea growing stale on your shelf because you ended up not liking it after buying 8 ounces of it). At Sips by, our goal is to take the leg-work out of discovering teas and give tea lovers and tea-curious people all that time and money back.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been not having enough hours in a day. Being a bootstrapped startup comes with capital limitations that lead to time limitations. Safeguarding my time has become a critical aspect of continuing to grow Sips by.
The best solution was to grow our team, though hiring requires more time before it frees time. Sourcing people to join our team is a challenge we continue to face—we’re currently searching for a stellar Senior Back-end Engineer and Head of Supply!
What’s been the greatest reward?
There are two things that fuel me: seeing happy customers share our service online, and seeing a team I’ve built take ownership over their areas of the business.
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
The tea industry is difficult and costly to navigate for the typical U.S. based tea drinker. I’d like to change the way people discover, explore, and gain access to different quality teas. To date, we’ve helped over 60,000 people in the U.S. learn more about their unique tea preferences.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
I have a lot of personal drive and support from my husband, but looking to what I want for my customers and my team keeps me going. Always.
Can you provide a few updates on what’s new with your business or what you’ve accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2017?
Our revenue has grown 100X since the first time I attended PE in 2017 (and three times in the five months since I attended the 2018 PE Intensive in April). We’ll have shipped out over 100,000 personalized tea subscription boxes this year!
Can you describe a problem you solved in your business that other early-stage founders face and tell us how you went about solving this problem? How can other early-stage founders repeat your success?
There have been so many, it’s hard to pick just one! Getting my financial house in order about
6 months in required a lot of time—I would highly recommend doing the following from day one: (1) starting with a separate bank account; and (2) creating your chart of accounts.
As for the other problems, I try to approach them head on, directly, and honestly. It takes courage, dedication, and integrity to recognize, accept, and change the issues your business has instead of making excuses or reasons as to why “that’s the way it should be” or “they just don’t get it”. There will be moments of the former or latter, but there will also be many opportunities for you to improve your business via feedback from customers, peers, and investors.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
Be prepared to work hard! Showing up, on time, prepared will get you far. Nothing will come easy, and there’s always something more to be done.
Also, remember to celebrate yourself and your wins.
For more motivation from our PE Alumnae, check out our interview with PE Alumna Amanda Latifi. Amanda is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hafta Have, a SaaS platform that helps brick-and-mortar retailers convert in-store shoppers who want up-to-date plan information on items they plan to purchase later. We chatted with Amanda about the pain point she solved with the first iteration of her business and how she made the decision to pivot and serve a different customer.