Tea has been consumed for over thousands of years dating all the way back to the 3rd century AD with it becoming popular in Britain in the 17th century. Today we find them in our local grocers in variants of flavours, brands and forms.
So how does one put a creative spin on something that is so readily available and actually turn a business out of it?
We spoke to Majidah Hashim, founder of Seven Tea One to hear her story….. the trials, tribulations and triumphs she came across in her entrepreneurial pursuit.
About Seven Tea One
Majidah Hashim founded Seven Tea One, an impact driven-enterprise that produces handcrafted teas and provides employment opportunities to individuals on the autism spectrum including those with high-functioning autism, along with their mothers. Being an impact-driven enterprise, every aspect of the operations is specially designed to create a sustainable business. All profits made are reinvested into the business for growth and expansion.
“We employ their mothers too because the beneficiaries rely heavily on their mothers to care for their basic needs. However, we do not work with youth under the age of 18. When we were first started out, we weren’t quite sure how they would react to the process set in place and standards they had to adhere to but much to our surprise, they have been exceptional at it. This is because those with autism pay a lot more attention to detail and can be extremely meticulous. If you have 10 steps for them to follow, they will follow all 10 steps to the tee. To them there are no shortcuts…… and, they were actually proven to be more efficient. When they come into work, all they do is sit at their workstation focused on their task at hand. There is no ‘Instagram update break’ or ‘lepak for 5 minutes’ every 15 minutes for them”, she said.
Majidah added, “Seven Tea One has a pretty loyal clientele, I must say, simply because it is not your conventional tea. The kinds of tea produced by Seven Tea One, unlike your typical store-bought- black powder filled tea bags, are visibly whole coloured leaves that do not undergo any chemical fermentation. Seven Tea One also has a wide range of quirky flavoured teas combing old traditional tea recipes such as the Lemon Basil tea. From the plucking of the leaves to the filling of the tea bags, to the packaging, we do them all by hand, by ourselves.”
“Being a chemical free company, we were able to capture the attention of the health-conscious urbanites looking for a quick healthy fix and those just looking for a high quality, organically produced, medicinal-benefit filled, photo-worthy tea to enjoy daily. They (the customers) even started using our tea as an ingredient in their cooking. They used the Butterfly flower tea that has a natural blue colouring to make instant nasi kerabu. They used the same tea to make glutinous rice, paired it with some kaya and *poof* instant Pulut Tai Tai. The orange tea is also known to add that extra zest zing when baking orange cake”, she shared.
Majidah who has a degree in linguistics and professional certificates in sustainability, as that was where her passion layed, also had over 10 years of experience working with MNCs and GLCs before realising that she felt like a square peg in a round hole.
Majidah said, “I was active with CSR activities at work and constantly involved myself in volunteer efforts outside of work but I just wasn’t feeling like I was making the kind of impact I wanted to. It was like there was this disconnect. I mean, I would volunteer to teach students in rural communities, helped out in soup kitchens often and planted trees, but it was always a one-off activity. There was no constant follow up which basically meant that there was also no long term impact.”
“I was also pretty tired of always having to have a boss and I wanted to change that for myself. So, I toyed with the idea of starting my own business but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for some time because there was a lot at stake for me. It was like I had to go back to school all over again. I had zero past business experience, never went to business school nor do I have any family members who were in business”, she explained.
“The first MaGIC programme I attended was the Stanford go2market programme in 2015. I had a very rough idea of what I wanted to do in my mind and was looking for a programme that was able to take me through some of the basics like financial modelling, business model canvas and design thinking. I placed myself far far away from my comfort zone,” shared Majidah. “I felt out of place. There were people in that same programme who already had established startups and I felt like a baby trying to crawl wanting to play with the big kids. I went in there with my idea and come out with an entirely new one.”
After completing the Stanford go2market programme, Majidah was later accepted in the MaGIC Accelerator Programme Social Enterprise Track Cohort 2, the first ever social enterprise programme in Malaysia with an aim to accelerate ideas that address social or environmental issues, improve lives and help in building a sustainable environment. With dedicated mentors, platoon activities and a deep dive into starting a social enterprise from a mere idea, participants were required to refine the impact solution with it well underway to start generating profit by the end of the 4-month accelerator.
Majidah was a recipient of the MAP SE Track Fund which went to expenses related to necessary certifications required by the Malaysian law to handle products for consumption, runway to move into a proper facility that was more conducive for work and accommodating enough to take on more beneficiaries aside from the food hydrating machine and packet sealing machine that was purchased.
As Seven Tea One grew, so did the list of things to do. Soon, Majidah found herself at pop-up bazaars, on the shelves of grocers and attending many meetings. Having the knack for these sort of front-facing work, she almost dreaded the paperwork. Having to look at things like financial statements and sales growth was just never something she had the appetite for. An operations manager was then brought in to manage the day-to-day operations of the business. The Seven Tea One team at its largest had over 15 people.
“When we see the mothers at work, we hear stories of how these kids actually look forward to coming to work. At Seven Tea One, they have a greater sense of belonging, financial independence and a safe social circle where everyone can relate to one another, and there is no prejudice.” Majidah said, “In fact, you can see them becoming more confident in themselves. They start off taking their time perfecting the plucking techniques and ensure that every fold in the tea bag is symmetrical. Usually, the mothers would produce more tea bags in the beginning but in a few months, the kids beat them. It is like watching a machine work!”
“We were growing at a pace that I was no longer able to manage it. I didn’t have the apt of managing a company and I felt strongly that Seven Tea One deserved to have someone who was able to do that. I knew that if Seven Tea One was going to stay with me, it would have forever been a small business and I had envisioned for Seven Tea One to provide employment opportunities to as many underprivileged individuals as it possibly could. The way I saw it, the larger the company grew, the higher the number of beneficiaries we are able to recruit and the larger the impact we were able to make. There were some interesting conversations happening and attractive partnership offered but there was one offer out of them all that I couldn’t refuse. The investor has a really good track record and I knew Seven Tea One would be in safe hands”, said Majidah.
The social enterprise was acquired in the second half of 2018 with the details of the acquisition set to be revealed soon. Presently, Majidah is championing the rights of Muslim Women in Malaysia through Sisters in Islam, a non-government organisation.
For more information on Seven Tea One, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/7tea1/
Written by: Reshmi Haran