Congratulations to the team at Lady Bonin’s Tea! The South African sustainable tea company secured a 50,000 Euros investment from Hivos after the Green Pioneer Accelerator, where they participated at the program at Impact Amplifier. We had a chance to catch up with Lady Bonin Founder Jessica Bonin.
Lady Bonin’s Tea is a socially responsible brand that develops uniquely blends and distributes high quality teas. The company aims to shift the consumer’s experience and perception of tea, says Jessica Bonin, Founder of Lady Bonin’s tea.
Congratulations on the new funding! What have you secured and what milestones do you want to reach?
“I am beyond words. It is the greatest honour for me. I have worked so hard and have done this alone, sometimes being my only cheerleader. There are so many times you doubt what you see and what you do. To have received the funding goes beyond the opportunities it provides and shows me that not only has my hard work paid off, but that I have a worthy cause and that this cause is not only viable, but is already being achieved. It is an affirmation of every sleepless night, every shed tear and every dream dreamed.
I have three main focuses within the business. I will be scaling my retail distribution nationwide across South Africa, into export avenues as well as through bulk in the hotel and restaurant trade. Currently my market demand exceeds my ability to supply. Having the funding will allow me to scale the business in terms of production facilities, working capital for staffing and raw materials, as well as marketing to promote, develop and expand the brand. It is going to provide me with the wings I need to reach the mountain peaks I am soaring.”
Why is your company interesting for investors?
“The first would be the product; the tea. It is uniquely blended loose leaf teas using in house recipes I have developed. There are no other flavors and blends out there like this. Secondly the source; our teas are sourced direct from farms that not only use sustainable farming practices, but directly benefit and develop people and communities. Supporting these small farms support the longevity of the environment and the people. As we scale so do the opportunities to better farming practices and develop lives. Thirdly, I am a woman. I funded, developed and run this company in an incredibly male dominated industry with incredible prejudices and inherent challenges. It has made my journey that much harder, but has certainly motivated me even more. There are so few opportunities in agri-processing for woman and I believe the industry needs that balance and entry for women to enter the market and be part of its development and growth, contributing to the economy, environment and people.”
How did Lady Bonin’s Tea start and how did the company develop?
“Lady Bonin’s Tea began in 2010 out of a 1975 Caravan refurbished and repurposed to act as a mobile tea room. I initially wanted to create a cafe that had tea as the main element to create the feeling, experience and platform for an environment that encouraged sharing, exploration, peace, quiet, enjoyment and truth. I wanted to bring people together as I had experienced along my travels. Tea was always a medium for bridging divides and connecting people.
Due to the fact that I was self-funded, I had to simplify my idea within the finances available to me. Thus the caravan was born. I decided instead to provide a service I wanted that was not available; good quality take away tea as an alternative to coffee.
In 2011 I decided to commit full time to this passion and pursue developing a business as I had been working part time while running the caravan. I therefore moved into packaging tea under my own brand to increase income.
In 2012 I realized in order to scale I needed a more conducive space, as my garage was no longer viable. While looking for a production space to process, package and distribute the tea, I came across The Woodstock Exchange. It was a new concept that took small start ups and provided them with an affordable retail space integrated with small-scale factory production. It was here that the tearoom was born. I now had a permanent space to interface with clients and develop my products with direct feedback from my market. My reputation grew as one of Cape Town’s only tearooms and retail began growing.
The space in Woodstock provided to be a destination location, with uncertain daily foot traffic and no guarantee of trade. As a result I was forced to explore distribution avenues in the line of bulk tea sales through restaurants and cafe’s to allow people to experience the teas and therefore align with the new concept and brand. I was also doing tea differently with specifically loose leaf and not tea bags, much like the move from instant to ground coffee: innovation at every level. This difficult way has in the end proved to be the best way as it allowed me to establish the brand in a completely unique place, while being a driving force behind new trends.
I believe that anything that lasts takes time to create. You have to lay the foundations and wait for the cement to dry before you can build the first level, and on it goes. The beginning stages were all about laying strong foundations, which requires time, patience and diligence. In today’s modern world this is counter to the expectation of instant gratification and instant turn around. But just like tea, if you want the best cup you cannot force the water to boil or the leaves to steep. Therefore I had to learn to tune myself to the pace the business worked within, while still being a driving force.”
Please share some highlights from the Green Pioneer Accelerator program and what you got out of this?
“The Green Pioneer Accelerator was life changing. It was better than an MBA compressed into 5 months. I have been able to learn every aspect of my business, plot it out critically within each fine step that rolls out in a path in line with detailed financial projections, and establish the appropriate actions to best realize those goals.
Not only did I find confidence in myself, in what I was doing, but also in what my core offering was. I was able to see the value of what I was doing, observe the skills I had developed and now harness them to express the business in its full potential. I have been able to surpass the fears that immobilized me and to move forward with clear sight, focus and confidence in the blue print we have developed.
Working with other small businesses gave me so much insight into challenges and processes others experience, as well as providing me with insight into the various simulations a business undergoes and how to predict, plan for and surpass challenges that one could never imagine would arise. I have realized that collaboration and co-creation is key. We are, as innovators, creating new and better ways of doing things, and the best way to do that is with others. Everyone has something incredibly valuable to offer, there is always something to be learned. If we can work together we can do so with the possibility that everyone may thrive.
The key factor that stood out for me in this accelerator was the focus on creating an impactful business. The only way to ensure things last is to be accountable for every process and step of the way. The program allowed us to look at each detail and ensure that its function by its nature and output was impactful on people and the environment. From this being able to enhance that impact and ensure its sustainability by aligning it to financial outcomes, which in turn continue its expansion. This for me is the future of business, which ties back to collaboration. If we can intend to benefit others and the environment while we create what we do, then we can create a world that does not see one suffer in order for another to thrive.”
How do you look forward? What are your vision and plans for the future?
“I look forward to the limitless possibilities that are there to be explored. I plan to effect as much positive change on the environment and communities through the platform of my brand. I would like to scale the business in order to scale the industry with a direction that cultivates better farming practices for the health of the environment and the health of the people both who produce and consume the teas. May this scaling be shared, spread and accessible to all for the benefit of all!”
The Green Pioneer Accelerator (a program by Impact Amplifier, GrowthAfrica, VC4Africa and Hivos) focused on early stage enterprises contributing innovative solutions to environmental issues. At the program graduation in June the companies were introduced to investors and strategic partners in Nairobi, Kenya and in Cape Town, South Africa.
Max Pichulik, partner at Impact Amplifier, adds about Lady Bonin’s Tea: “The secret sauce in early stage investing is backing the right persons and teams. Jess has all the necessary elements to make her business a successful impact investment. She has the passion for social impact, and the belief in her product’s unique value. Her work ethic is unparalleled to many entrepreneurs we’ve worked with, and she has put in the necessary hard work to develop her art over the years. Her ability to make mistakes, listen, rapidly learn and adapt is really inspiring. She is developing a powerful global distribution, which will see her products in many markets, and I’m sure we will see lots of her in the coming years”
See Lady Bonin’s VC4Africa venture profile for more details. Only investors registered in the VC4Africa Investor Network have access to full details, documents and contacts on the VC4Africa venture profiles.