Getting to know you: Julie Crofts-Mitchell

Tea Lab

What do you currently do ?

I am the director and co-founder of Tea Lab Company a start-up, premium, contemporary, loose leaf tea company offering customers fun, on trend flavour combinations with a wide range of organic options, and classic teas with a twist.

We have a straight talking approach to the scientific health benefits of teas and encourage customers to slow down a bit and take the time to enjoy the quality loose leaf tea experience, in a refreshing new design-led way. I am hands on in all aspects of the business and draw from my background as a Science teacher and a Warwick MBA. My twin daughters who graduated from Loughborough University in 2015 are the designers of the brand. We combined our skills and our passions to create Tea Lab.

What is your inspiration in business ?

As a tea lover I wanted to make green tea a part of my daily routine, for the health benefits, but just didn’t like the taste of green tea alone. This is where the inquisitive journey began, opening tea bags and looking at the dusty contents soon converted the whole family to the far superior quality of loose leaf and the journey to find great tasting, healthy green teas. As a family that had lived abroad, in different locations, for a number of years we were open to new ideas, tastes and experimentation.

My twin daughters were approaching their final year at Loughborough University and had developed a passion for branding and design. We sat around the kitchen table one afternoon on a cold January day discussing the green tea issue and they decided to take the idea ‘live’ and create the branding for a contemporary loose leaf tea company. This won them a prize for business and enterprise and a double first!

My MBA had never been used in any traditional sense, as I was raising three girls and living abroad but I always had the dream of starting a business. So I was keen to refresh my skills and with the help of the British Library was introduced to the Lean Start up principles and a book by Eric Reis. It’s a scientific approach to start-ups through building, measuring and learning in a loop of continuous innovation. Tea Lab adopted this approach from the start and carried out extensive sampling of new teas to target markets in London along with a year working on all aspects of the business, website and branding.

We infuse an element of fun into our business and love the endless creative, design and learning opportunities loose leaf tea offers, early on we visited the rooibos tea plantations in the Cederberg region of South Africa as part of our fantastic learning journey. The names of our Tea Lab teas naturally evolved from places we had lived as a family, and the memories we shared, teas such as Grand Canyon and Dream Catcher have meaning for the family as the girls were born in Arizona where they hung the Native American Dream Catchers in their bedrooms from a young age.

Who do you admire ?

Many people, but these come to mind. Julie Deane and her mother Frida Thomas, founders of Cambridge Satchel Company, who started a business from their kitchen just as my twin daughters and I planned to do. Also, Malala and her father for thinking differently and having the incredible courage to speak out and never give up in the face of adversity.

What defines the way you do business.

Giving our customers a quality experience that makes them smile. Tea is a solution, it’s such an integral cultural part of our daily lives whether it’s a social catch up with friends, a work break to escape the moment or a ‘feel better’ gesture, so we believe it should revolve around a quality customer experience. As a business we are open and innovative, exploring new uses for tea infusions, for example, in baking and cocktails then we share them in our recipe section online. We put a lot of thought into everything we do, we listen to customers and always aim to exceed their expectations.

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently ?

Yes, be more organised! I love to scribble ideas on pieces of paper and have to remind myself to keep thoughts/ plans in one place for easy reference. I think we have learnt a lot through trial and error and that has been a valuable learning curve to go through, although getting a mentor earlier on would have definitely helped.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out ?

Do thorough research, look at industry trends along with trends that influence the lifestyle aspirations of your customers, so you offer more than just a product. Take time to work on every aspect of your brand so it reflects what your values are and what is unique about your brand. Do a self audit and draw from your strengths but also refresh those skills you need to, making sure you choose something you love with a passion and will excite your customers, as it will keep you going.