Monday, August 1, 2016

Crowd Funding and Tea


Lately, I've been inundated with requests to write about and share Kickstarter campaigns on my social media channels. Although this is a seemingly innocuous question, there are some issues that I think need to be addressed:

The market is flooded 

I've received requests for promotion from six different companies this week. I have serious doubts as to whether the North American tea market can support such a boom. There a lot of tea companies out there, most of them operating online without the overhead costs of a brick and mortar location. Although tea is on the rise here in the U.S., speciality tea is still a very niche product with a narrow customer base.

They don't have start-up capital 

Customers should never be responsible for completely funding a business. If a company couldn't fund their business in more traditional ways, it makes me think that it might be a sign of not having a viable business plan. There's an enormous amount of legwork that goes into running a successful tea company. Crowd funding can seem like an easy shortcut for those who haven't done their homework. The ones that actually have a thorough background in tea always seem to be far and few b


Accountability 

Often I find that these Kickstarters are being run by relative unknowns in the industry. It all seems a bit fly-by-night to me. If there's no real connection to the tea community then there is also very little accountability. Historically speaking, there have been hucksters who took the money and ran. While I've never heard of a tea-focused campaign doing this, there is an enormous amount of trust involved in this kind of funding. We have no guarantee if the product is what was promised or if it will even be delivered. In most cases, I feel that my money is better spent making a purchase through a trusted vendor.

Uniqueness 

Every Kickstarter campaign that I hear from really and truly believes that they have a unique product to offer. In most cases, this smacks of a lack of market research. There are lots of people selling fair trade and organic tea. There are lots of people selling Nepalese teas. There are lots of people selling tea in order to promote a social cause. And they are LOTS of people selling the same blends that all of the big distributors carry. There are very, very few campaigns that made me stand up and shout, "Take my money!".

I've made it a policy to not write about crowdfunding campaigns unless I am personally involved (i.e. the recent Tea Journey Kickstarter) for these very reasons. Just as I am completely honest with my tea reviews, I would never recommend something to my readers without having tested it myself. Yet I'm often asked to do exactly that (with free advertising to boot!).

The point of this post isn't to call out any particular company or make anyone feel bad about the steps that they have taken. It takes guts and passion in order to start a business and I have a great deal of respect for anyone who takes that plunge. What I'm saying is, please think twice before asking others to fund YOUR dream. After running this blog for almost eight years, I feel like a bit of a defensive momma bear when it comes to the tea community. We can only give so much. Those who take, without contributing back with anything other than stuff, reflect poorly on the industry as a whole.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Let's get some healthy discussion going!