People often ask me what it’s like to lead our entrepreneurial, mission-driven company within a larger corporation. In the week just before winter vacation, my youngest son’s physics class presented me with the perfect analogy.
As the father of an 11th-grader, I find my services are in less demand than they were during the first 16 ½ years. But every once in a while, I still come in handy, as was the case with Isaac’s end-of-year assignment. The challenge was to design a structure that could protect a raw egg as it was dropped off the third floor of a building. The only materials he could use were six straws, five pieces of paper and scotch tape.
In addition to some technical suggestions along the way, my job was mainly to hold pieces of tape on my fingers and provide guidance and reassurance as Isaac designed and assembled his structure.
With Honest Tea entering its 16th year (Isaac was 8 months old when I launched the company out of my house), while I am still hands-on with the enterprise, the nature of my involvement has shifted. Sixteen years ago, I made a point of doing everything — the accounting, branding, production, sales … it was the perfect way for me to develop a fluency in all aspects of the business. Today, I help provide a big picture vision/goal, guidance, monitor our key indicators (volume, gross margin and operating income) and do my best to influence them, along with providing occasional inspiration. And of course every once in a while, I put my foot down when I sense the occasional drift in the wrong direction.
Just as with Isaac’s egg-drop design, even though I played a major role in developing the enterprise (him), I am not in control over all the factors — Isaac has his own personality and ideas. And despite our best efforts to protect the egg, a wind could take things in a different direction, and even though the egg was a cage-free, organic egg fortified with omega-3, it still could break.
Today, the risks with Honest Tea are of a different nature. Instead of worrying about losing my life savings, I worry about Honest Tea not realizing its true potential as a brand and as an agent of change — but it doesn’t mean I worry any less. And in the same way that I used to wake up in a cold sweat during the first five years, I sat nervously by my phone on the day Isaac’s egg was dropped … until I received his text, “My egg worked!”
Seth Goldman is co-founder, president and “TeaEO” of Honest Tea.