By Kaushal Dugar, CEO, Teabox
I was born in Siliguri in Darjeeling district, home to the iconic Darjeeling tea. My father worked in the tea business. Since childhood, the huge machines at the estate factories have fascinated me. As a kid, I was captivated by the magical process of transforming a small young green leaf into a refreshing drink.
Today, I’m so happy to be able to share the joy with thousands of customers across the globe. So far, we’ve shipped over 35 million cups worth of tea to customers in over 95 different countries. And all of this is thanks to the internet.
In 2013, I joined my brother’s tea business after a stint abroad. For the first time, I observed how dated the infrastructure was and saw the limitations of the business model we were using. My experiences abroad helped me think like an outsider to the industry. This outsider thinking was important because it enabled me to wriggle free of the constricting assumptions of the industry insiders. It also enabled me to import ideas and practices from other industries and cultures and apply them to every aspect of strategy including product development, organization and marketing.
Tea, as a category has been neglected for years. The major players in this category have generally favored volume over quality, pursued incremental improvements in features, and ignored the emotional aspects of their products and brands. The industry has, on the whole, been a bit resistant to change, unlike the coffee industry which has constantly evolved.
An Online Sales Model
When I first floated the idea of selling tea online – direct from the garden to the consumer – I, as expected didn’t find any takers. Everyone I spoke to about it said it wouldn’t work. Persuading people to change processes that have worked for over a century is certainly not easy.
But I was completely convinced that it is a sound idea. I set up Teabox and registered the domain name. Choosing a .com domain was a no-brainer because we wanted to build a global customer base and .com is the most trusted domain name across the globe. Not only does a .com domain name help boost search engine rankings, but it is also the default domain name extension that most people type out. We got teabox.com from the secondary market as it was already in use. Apart from the website, I set up a company blog that I updated daily, sometimes even twice a day. I used it to attract customers and to engage them in my idea.
True to my gut feel, customers who were looking for premium teas came to the site and liked what they saw. Using technology to get more consumers instead of relying on a traditional brick and mortar set up helped us turn the entire business model on its head. It enabled us to set up our presence at the source. Owning and operating the entire value chain grounds-up – starting from farm to cup – gives us immense control on ensuring a great customer experience.
I knew that if I could deliver what I was promising – incredibly fresh teas, direct from the gardens, delivered within a week of procurement, at a good price, I had a winner on my hands. Most of our customers love our offerings and return to our site for their tea requirements. Customer recommendations have been a big growth driver for us.
The Benefits Of Going Online Are Immense
Taking our sales and marketing online instantly opened us up to a whole world of potential customers, literally!
The online model not only has many inherent advantages, but it also became our biggest differentiator. For one, our reach is limitless. Right from the day we set up shop, we’ve been a global company. An online business model also gives us the advantage of scaling up much faster without having to worry about real estate costs.
Besides that, we could offer better customer experience. Our technology backend enables us understand our consumers better and recommend products that are most relevant to them. It empowers us to create a very personalized experience. For example, we operate the Teabox website in multiple languages, including Russian & Chinese. We also offer customer support in the local language to customers from these countries.
I’m glad that Teabox is, in some ways, being an agent of change for an industry that has a special place in my heart.