A Tea Entrepreneur's Log by John-Paul Lee

the best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up

*** this is a retro blog from 12/07/2005 – i didn’t really keep a blog back then but kept a brief digital diary in my phone which i just recently discovered.

i’ve seen over 100 spaces in nyc and finally decided on 400 square/foot location in Union Square.  the space used to be a coffee shop that recently went out of business.  we’re located diagonally from diesel and 1 block away from wholefoods.  the foot traffic is amazing (about 80 to 90 people per minute walking in front of the store during peak hours).  yes i sat in front of the store with a clicker.  the main purpose of this store is promote our brand so we decided to go on a main street vs. a smaller side street with lower visibility.
tomorrow is the day we sign the lease. i’m mad nervous but crazy excited… i have to go to the bank early in the am to get certified checks for these guys. there’s no turning back now. i’m planning to throw in some curve balls tomorrow to see if we can get a break on our rent during buildout. i’m projecting that buildout will take approx 45 days but you never know in this crazy city. i’m going through the lease again to make sure that everything is in tact. landlords really have all the power in manhattan, i can’t wait to be in that position someday. our place comes out to be approx $300 per sq/ft. ludicrous right?

let the games begin!

***oh how naive i was back then…  the build out took 90 days NOT 45 and  the cost to build out was 2X what we had budgeted.  curve balls with the landlord didn’t work out either…  if i only knew then what i know now.

new tavalon korea office


we just recently moved our tavalon korea office to a larger location seoul.  the office is about twice the size of our previous one and located on the 4th floor of a pretty new building.  it is in a very high traffic area in seoul called hakdong and the space was a vanilla box so we had to completely furnish and redesign  interior. great to see the korean operations expanding.

Tavalon Korea Office

starbucks sells out of tea


i just went into one of the busiest starbucks here in seoul and found that they were completely sold out of tea. the whole tea menu board had sold out stickers all over it. great to see the growing demand for tea and the market embracing healthier beverages. i took a picture of the board and almost got kicked out of the store by the manager. here it is!

starbucks sells out of tea

*** this is a retro blog from 9/09/2005 – i didn’t really keep a blog back then but kept a brief digital diary in my phone which i just recently discovered.

finding good real estate in manhattan is very tricky. i’m working with a few brokers right now to find the right location for tavalon but its not easy. it also doesn’t help that we’re looking for a small space in prime time locations. i just saw an amazing space on 5th avenue but the landlord isn’t returning my phone calls. this property is going for $330/sq foot which is absurd but the walking traffic in front of the space is too good to be true. i’ve seen over 40 spaces so far and nothing (affordable) is really grabbing my attention. i really want a spot in Union Square but there’s nothing available right now. Union Square is also going for about $250 to $300/sq foot but there isn’t anything under 1200 square feet. it is quite unbelievable how these businesses survive on these types of rents. i guess we’ll find out soon enough…

the tea cup is always half full


just got into seoul this morning and it is full blown freezing here. i only packed 1 coat so it is going to be interesting… we launched our office in korea late 2008 and i’ve been coming out here about every 4 months since. my sleepless nights got worse when we first launched our korean operations. seoul is 14 hours ahead of nyc and i’m on 1am conference calls with our korean counterparts on a daily basis. the real killer is that when i’m in new york i’m worrying about our operations in seoul and when i’m in seoul i’m worrying about our operations in new york. the weather takes my worries to another echelon. when the weather is cold i’m concerned about our hot tea sales and when the weather is warm i’m concerned about our iced tea sales… the worries never end but thats exactly why i’m trying to see the brighter side to things. i’ll always need to remember that the tea cup is always half full (until the day the tea cup overflows…)

it seems like the tea industry is getting larger by the second. there are studies that show the tea market in the united states is at $7.5 billion right now and projected to double to $15 billion by 2012. tea companies are popping up left and right it is great to see the market gaining serious momentum. some people may argue that the tea market is saturated in the united states and i agree and disagree at the same time. the market is saturated with “poor quality” teas (i won’t name names) and there is a huge void for high quality products like tavalon (i will proudly name). the demand for quality teas has grown significantly since we entered the game 5 years ago as consumers are becoming more aware/educated on the differences between loose leaf teas vs. tea bag grade teas. korea is also making a shift from tea bags to loose leaf and our business is doing great in Seoul. it is quite amazing how this city works, the more something costs the more they want it. the cheapest place that carries tavalon sells it at $14 dollars a cup of tea!
tea is definitely here to stay so lets plant more tea plants!

Dan Sivers posted a 3 minute narrative and his interpretation of a pretty hilarious video. it is siver’s take on leadership and his views on the subject are interesting, creative, and pretty accurate. there are many opinions out there on what it takes to be a leader. i think it is intuitive and simple. a great leader has many followers, the more followers a leader has the better leader he/she really is.


Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

record breaking 16 meetings


i just set a new record for myself for the most amount of meetings held in one day breaking my previous record of 14 meetings in 24 hours.  4 distributors/5 restaurants/6 conference meetings/1 potential investor.  the meetings went well and hopefully we’ll execute on some big projects in the near future.  people say it is a fine and skillful art to have the ability to say the same things over and over again while making it sound interesting and fresh every time…  i say it is simply about passion and conviction.  it is the same element that is exemplified when a mother speaks of her child to others.  i never get bored talking about Tavalon and i don’t think i ever will.  i have to say my mouth is a bit numb and vocal chords shaken up but nothing a good tea can’t cure…

farewell accenture


*** this is a retro blog from 6/22/2005 – i didn’t really keep a blog back then but kept a brief digital diary in my phone which i just recently discovered.

i officially quit my job today. it has been a great 4 years and i will cherish the great moments. i’m definitely going to miss the per diems, free travels, dining allowances, corporate housing (free apts in Manhattan and London, can’t beat that), stock options, and all the other perks of working for a large consulting firm. i now enter a new chapter, the life of a poor start-up entrepreneur…

glad to be alive


i went to lucky burger for lunch today (i know i said i was going to give up meat but as you can see its not really happening) and almost got taken out by a commercial truck. i literally just got inside the burger place when a massive truck ran over a parking meter, jumped onto the sidewalk, and stopped inches from where i was standing.

the truck that almost wiped me out

it is amazing how much we take certain things for granted and how it takes near death experiences like these for us to recognize/appreciate them. i have to say the burger tasted so much better today. lucky burger is now a true “lucky” place for me.