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Entrepreneur Tina Chen explains how she managed to survive and work alone, and how she succeeded in establishing a business in a country new to her.
Tina Chen, 28, describes herself as a “lone entrepreneur” and is the founder of Humane Tea, which produces a range of plant-based teas.
Tina launched her company in London in December 2018, and the company has grown steadily even after the pandemic spread. It recently started mass production of its product after a successful crowdfunding campaign, and has sold more than 5,000 packages of its drinks.
This year, Tina hired two people for the first time in her company, through the “Kickstar” plan put in place by the British government to help young people enter the workforce.
But her entrepreneurial career was not easy, she suffered from extreme fatigue and exhaustion, and she warns that things can be very difficult when setting up a business on your own.
Inspired by her Asian-American heritage, Tina was born in Taiwan, and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was four years old.
The Tina family used to drink “bubble tea” in Taiwan, which is a sweet drink that combines milk and tea with different flavors, with bubbles called “tapioca pearls” and requires a more straw than usual. The drink is also popular among the Taiwanese community in California.
Tina attended the University of California, Los Angeles, and it was there that her interest in commerce and business administration began. She studied some subjects in this field, joined a club for entrepreneurs, and watched how some of her friends raised huge sums of money to put their business ideas into practice with crowdfunding sites on the Internet.
Then she moved to London, where she studied for a year through a student exchange agreement, which allowed her to get a good acquaintance with the city in which she decided to settle after obtaining an MBA at Imperial College.
Tina noticed during her presence in the United Kingdom, that there are many types of “latte coffee” available in supermarkets, but on the other hand there is a gap in the market regarding types of tea with milk, which prompted her to ask whether she can prepare her favorite childhood drink, but with Reducing sugar content and using plant-based milk in line with the trend gaining increasing popularity.
With no background in the food industry, she began experimenting with recipes in her home kitchen that she found online.
Tina has had to face all the challenges of starting a business on her own, as she lives in London alone, far from her family.
“I looked for a founding partner, but I couldn’t find someone willing to contribute 110 percent like me,” she says.
Tina has been making her products and selling them herself through the stalls she rents in places like the popular Borough Market in central London. She was preparing tea manually according to her own recipes in the middle of the night in a commercial kitchen, and packing it in bottles to be sold in the popular market the next morning, and she had little time to sleep.
She explains that what prompted her to do so is that renting the kitchen is cheaper at this late night, in addition to the fact that the kitchens at night are usually less busy.
But working in this manner and in the late hours of the night affected her negatively, and on one occasion, hot water fell on her and she suffered severe burns. “I realized then that self-care is very important when starting a business,” she says.
Another problem she faced was a dispute over intellectual property rights regarding the name she initially chose for her company, which she later changed. Once again, the quantity of tea leaves she requested did not arrive before the date she was supposed to start commercializing her product for the first time. The loss of the order during transportation, and its waiting for the arrival of a replacement, delayed her plan for a month.
Tina says it is easy to feel that things are struggling with you personally, and notes that she cried a lot at the time.
But she says, “But I found that crying was actually helping me to release the emotion and make me feel better after it. It’s a good way to regain your calm and balance.”
The advice she received from her personal advisor in this regard was crucial as well. He advised her not to let her thinking focus on the problems that had happened, and to focus instead on finding possible solutions.
Tinas tea is now sold in dozens of grocery stores and restaurants, most of them in London, and she plans to gradually expand her customer network, including finding customers abroad, as well as adding new varieties, and selling more tea directly to consumers through her website.
Tina believes it is extremely important for entrepreneurs who are alone like her to build a support network to help get through tough times.
Tina became acquainted with her advisor through the British Library Business Center. She has also built a group of her fellow food entrepreneurs thanks to networking organizations like Bread and Jam, and they communicate regularly via WhatsApp to provide practical and emotional support to each other.
She has also received consulting assistance from programs such as “Virgin Start Up” and “Enterprise Lab” of Imperial College.
Now she makes sure she doesn’t have a job on the weekends so she can spend time with friends.
“Starting a business on your own can feel lonely, but it doesn’t have to be the case,” says Tina. “I no longer feel alone now. The beauty of entrepreneurship actually lies in this ups and downs.”