Sunday, June 29, 2014

Next Steps

So here we are!  Back where we started!  Adventures in Tealand with Certified Tea Sommelier Rita Fong!

Only everything is different now!  I have a much better idea of where I might fit into the whole business world as it relates to tea and me but for obvious reasons, I'm going to have to put starting my business on the back burner until after the baby is born and I'm settled.

For those of you who've come along for the ride, thank you for your patience while I shared my experiences from taking the Entrepreneurship course and tried to incorporate my own spin on the whole thing.  I hope you enjoyed the pictures and if you have a clear idea of a business opportunity you see for me, feel free to let me know!

Just kidding.  I have a business plan, and as mentioned previously I just can't go off spreading the ideas openly yet, until I have my model ready for action and my body is too!  

No surprise, I'm obviously interested in celebrating quality tea and tea products and uniting my desire to see a sustainable business practice joined to my love of travel, photography and positive people.

Part of being an entrepreneur is developing an eye for seeing a problem as an opportunity.  As I prep for my upcoming nuptials (Working on the wedding favours, which of course will consist of tea!), I can totally see why my instructor suggested a "last minute wedding planner" business might be a good idea. I had a month to prep my wedding, and if I didn't have my "team" to help me, I could definitely use the services of such a business. I can also see why brides are planning their weddings a year in advance!  

The next course in the University of Toronto Continuing School of Studies Certificate of Entrepreneurship is Market Discovery and Intelligence.  The course outline describes what the prospective student will gain:

Define their target customer and the different stages of their customers’ buying process
• Determine whether the customer problem/need is a valid one they are willing to pay to solve
• Utilize various available market analysis frameworks and market research techniques for early stage companies
• Collect and analyze primary and secondary research on their market to incorporate into their overall business strategy

The next course for me, however, will be focused on the business of a wedding, then setting up a nursery and supporting my partner in making a stable and safe home for our little one.  

I will also take great delight in using him as a guinea pig for trying things I can't indulge in for a while.  Stay tuned to follow what we get into next!

Follow #StartUpEdu@rfongtea@entrepreneurSCS on Twitter to join in on the entrepreneurship conversation.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Certificate in Entrepreneurship program; however, the opinions provided are my own.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Travel, tea, photography and me!

Incorporating business ideas into a personal blog about tea and adventure isn't that big a stretch after all.   Nothing compared to my belly at the moment!

From my entrepreneurship course, we learned that the experts agree passion is a big part of succeeding in any business and my blog captures many of the things I love: travel, people, and fine tea.

But not just any tea.  It must taste good, be paired with delicious things, be served in artful surroundings and originate from sustainable sources, fair to the growers and good for the environment.
Chickens hanging out in the tea bushes in China

            Photo: Raymonde Drolet
Being a naturally bookish researcher type, I like to look things up but I'm also keen to see things for myself.  I relish good food and drinks.  I've trained myself with a variety of courses and sought out experiences to recognize quality products.  While I don't fret if I'm unable to procure the finest at any particular time, I truly appreciate good things when I can.

Part of my business model requires informing as many people as possible about the pitfalls that occur while exploring the world of tea.  To that end I've written about steeping techniques, do's and don't's, and shared pictures of the many places I've sampled fine teas(and some not so fine), as well as where they're grown, how they're dried, shipped, etc.  I've met a great many people who are already in the tea business.  That's why I think I could really enjoy the challenge.

Our world has many traditions, some better than others.  The tea world is no different.  I savour taking the time to enjoy a good cup, and as I learn more, to appreciate a good pot of transcendent tea. It's something I see as not just a personal choice(affording me peace of mind and pleasure to be sure), but as something to learn about and share and now even convert into a viable business.
Photo: Raymonde Drolet

I'm keen to pass on my lessons as I learn and do good business, ensuring people are getting value for their money and also that the values I cherish are shared as well.

Follow #StartUpEdu@rfongtea@entrepreneurSCS on Twitter to join in on the entrepreneurship conversation.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Certificate in Entrepreneurship program; however, the opinions provided are my own.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Winding Down

Nearly tea time!  As my Entrepreneurship course draws to an end, I'm glad it's over and I learned so much.  I'm challenged by the increased demands on my time and resources.  I still have to write two more blog entries after this one!

As if working five days a week and expecting a child aren't enough, on top of doing a course on entrepreneurship, I've added all the excitement and responsibility of organizing a wedding as well!

Fortunately, the father of the child is a great help.  If you haven't put two and two together by now, it's Drew whom I mentioned in the previous post.  Yes, aside from swaying him to try different teas with me, we've decided to tie the knot.

Among his many skills, he's a writer and a trained photographer so I've gained from his insights and occasionally he helps me crop or edit a photo I'm having a problem with.  As every entrepreneur knows, forming strong partnerships and finding key resources are important to any start up, so too in life.    

Another good example of collaboration and teamwork could be seen when a tea company (in this case, Sloane Tea) teamed up with a chocolate artist (Laura Slack) to create some delicious tea infused chocolates for Valentine's Day last year.
A pair of Chaucer's Hearts
Mmm, perfect harmony

This week, as we've been planning where to get married and what and who to include, Drew's designing the invites and inviting his family, while also pushing me to interview people and get feedback on my business value proposition for my homework assignment.  What a slave driver!  I was glad for the push though.

As we learned in class, our terrific instructor Keri Damen explained that the Value Proposition statement should contain the following components:
- What you are offering
- The specific value associated with your offering
- Who are you creating value for
- And why is your product different from everything else on the market.

Value Proposition is not:
- A tagline or ad
- An elevator pitch
- A mission statement

I won't go into too much detail about mine here, because while I am the unique individual who puts together the elements required for my business idea, that's not to say someone else might not pick up on it and find the resources to give me competition before I even get started.

I do look forward to the time after the baby comes when I'll be able to kick back and enjoy a fine pot of quality tea.  I know while I do, Drew will have his hands full(of diapers and dishes).  

Discovering the strengths I bring to a business and identifying the weaknesses I need to work on has been an eye-opener to be sure.  With hormones flashing and baby kicking, I'm finding I need all the support I can get to stay focused these days.

I'm grateful to the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies for the opportunity to apply my writing and photography to this purpose, and I'm keen to begin this next chapter of my life armed with new tools for the tasks ahead.

Follow #StartUpEdu@rfongtea@entrepreneurSCS on Twitter to join in on the entrepreneurship conversation.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Certificate in Entrepreneurship program; however, the opinions provided are my own.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Smart Networking: to a Tea!

Entrepreneurship is not a lone pursuit.  It's important for an entrepreneur to network to create a powerful assembly of advisors, suppliers, and customers, etc.   

When a budding entrepreneur hears this they may think ok, I'll sign up for all the major networking events in my industry, have a bunch of business cards to pass out and grab as many business cards as I can, the more cards the better, that's the ticket to successful networking!  Or I will get LinkedIn and Follow every big player in my industry!  

Whoa, not necessarily... when you network, like everything else, you need to set goals so you know what your desired target will be from the start or you'll end up wasting time.  You want to create real relationships.  Social networking does not replace good old face to face networking in creating lasting and useful relationships. But it's not a bad place to start.

Your goals need to be "SMART" ones too.  You know, as in Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.  

If I'm going to represent a product it has to be a good one and if I'm going to have someone mentor me, they have to be someone I can respect for the way they do what I'd like to be doing.   And networking and meeting industry people can be great fun!

Last summer when my fiance (Drew) and I made plans for a road trip to Washington State from Vancouver, I plotted a course to check out a new tea shop that I had spotted on one of my social media connections that would be along the way.  A Facebook tea friend, Jeffrey McIntosh had started sharing posts about Smacha Tea Company on Facebook.  Jeff had lived in China and studied tea, especially puerh teas.  

Tea Master Jason Chen's Smacha Tea Shop is an amazing place where one can learn about and enjoy exquisite fine teas.  Integrity doesn't get much more complete.  Drew commented on the unity of the shop and the staff.  Everyone who works there is inspired by the product and really knows their stuff.
Drew went from indifferent coffee drinker to avid tea aficionado when he was served so graciously by Master Chen.  (ok, maybe not quite avid but I'm working on him...)
Tea Master Jason Chen serving us a few of his many beautiful teas using his signature teaware designed to avoid over steeping.
I was struck by the quality of the tea and service.  As it turned out, the tea was from one of Master Chen's own plantations.
Beautiful large oolong tea leaf. 
On site roasting and packaging! Wow!
Photo: Drew Taylor
Master Chen has written two books, one of which I'd already bought before I visited his store.
Me, Jeffrey McIntosh and Master Chen (Photo: Drew Taylor)
After purchasing some fine tea we were given a pretty pink iced tea - Taiwanese herbal was slightly sweet, floral and full flavoured, perfect for a hot day!

So let's recap:  I planned a great road trip with a tea shop I'd heard about through a social media contact, found a mentor I respect and got to know him building a solid connection for further communication.  Two to three hours was a smart amount of time for the visit.  (We still took in the local chocolate factory afterwards...had to keep Drew happy).

I made some purchases (tea products and the second book), and received an unexpected gift in the delicious iced tea.

Whether I decide to import some of his quality teas, or emulate his book writing model, I'm inspired and I know I can learn greatly from his 32  years in the business.

As I learn more about entrepreneurship, I realize I have many of the skills necessary to have a successful business.  I'm excited that I can do things I enjoy (meet people online then in person, write and take pictures, and drink tea!), and look forward to building a business as well!

Follow #StartUpEdu@rfongtea@entrepreneurSCS on Twitter to join in on the entrepreneurship conversation.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Certificate in Entrepreneurship program; however, the opinions provided are my own.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Can Entrepreneurship be Taught?

As mentioned in my last post, I am now taking the Foundations in Entrepreneurial Management course.  It's the first class of the Entrepreneurship Certificate at the University of Toronto, School of Continuing Studies.  Heading back to classes while pregnant takes planning and focus as I attend classes with my ever growing belly (maybe the baby will be able to pick up a thing or two in utero too) .  Hitting the books and doing homework while still working full time is not easy.  For one, I get tired or hungry easily which diverts attention when I had wanted to research, do my readings or homework....

As I finish my banana and juice I start to get an energy boost to ponder some of these changes and the things I've learned in class and my readings so far.  How will they help me on my entrepreneurial journey?  I start thinking about what opportunities are available to me that might make a good entrepreneurial venture, looking internally to see if I have the characteristics needed.  What are my strengths?  What are my weaknesses?  If I am missing a certain skill that would make me a successful entrepreneur, is it something that I can learn?

Wait a minute, haven't there been many debates on this?  Are entrepreneurs born or made?  Think about all the business schools out there, from fancy Ivy League MBA schools to local colleges offering courses on business and start ups.  But then look at someone like Sir Richard Branson who didn't go to business school, in fact he only went to school until he was 16, yet he has created many successful businesses.  I'm no Richard Branson so I think there is valuable stuff I can glean from this course.
Do I have an entrepreneurial mind?  My instructor, Keri Damen wrote an article called "The Entrepreneurial Mind: What's the Secret Sauce of Successful Innovators".   Do I have the secret sauce?  Risk management, resilency, effectuation....

I guess figuring out how to make an interesting blog post for readers who are used to seeing my pictures of tea fields, shops and festivals while meeting my obligation for the course is a worthy challenge.
Photo: Raymonde Drolet
Will this work?  What if i fail?  What if my dear readers get lost or bored and leave me?!  One thing I do know, I'm not about to quit.

The course so far is much more interesting than the "intro to business" class I took in my university days.  I feel encouraged to think and see things a little differently.  e.g. Seeing problems as opportunities, that entrepreneurship is not a solo effort, but requires interaction with others and an interdependent relationship.

  Wow, all this brain work is making hungry, I think it's time for a tea break.  Bear with me dear readers.
Photo: Raymonde Drolet

Follow #StartUpEdu, @rfongtea, @entrepreneurSCS on Twitter to join in on the entrepreneurship conversation.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Certificate in Entrepreneurship program; however, the opinions provided are my own.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


As mentioned in my last post, I'm expecting big changes and have some new projects.   One new project has to do with exploration of entrepreneurship.  Many Tea Sommelier friends have opened tea shops (brick and mortar types and online varieties), or work as consultants or teachers.  Listening to their experiences and helping them with tea tastings, I often ponder if I could do what they're doing, or where I would fit in the industry.  If I had my own business, what would I do differently?  

I am not totally unfamiliar with the concept of entrepreneurship. My parents were new immigrants with a successful restaurant who put me to work at a young age to help out the family business.  I saw a lot of the hardships and joys that can come with running your own business.  Even now, working in financial services, we have clients who are business owners.  I even have a friend who opened up her own organic bakery.  I watch and give ideas on marketing, finance and social media since graduating with a Certificate in Digital Strategy and Communications Management at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.  

Now that I am expecting, as I prepare to pass on my work duties to my maternity leave replacement, I wonder what else could be on the horizon for me.  Some may see a break in a career and a new baby on the way as a "problem" but why not see it as an opportunity?  

When I received an invitation from the U of T School of Continuing Studies (in collaboration with the MaRS Discovery District), to be a brand ambassador for their Entrepreneurship program, I thought, what marvelous timing!

Toronto's MaRS Discovery District offers workshops, lectures and assistance for entrepreneurs to develop their businesses. 

This, on top of the U.of T. Digital Communications Strategy and Management program I completed last year, sounded very intriguing.  How inspiring, to meet classmates at varying stages of their entrepreneurial journeys and learn about the latest in entrepreneurship in Canada and beyond while exploring my own strengths and weaknesses. 

My first class was last night and it was quite exciting!  My energy level was good despite my ever more noticeable bump.  We have a a diverse and interesting group of classmates.  Some have businesses already, some have ideas and need more structure to see what would work.  Our instructor Keri Damen is informative and engaging. 
So, as I head back to school again for the next 6 weeks, please join me as I learn more about entrepreneurship and begin my own entrepreneurial journey.  As student ambassador I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences, what I learn from class about some exciting new concepts and potential businesses through my blog and other social media platforms.  These special posts will be denoted by #StartUpEdu.

Follow #StartUpEdu on Twitter to join in on the conversation.  Also feel free to follow @EntrepreneurSCS and the instructor @KeriDamen.

Can I use my Tea Sommelier skills as a consultant for independent tea businesses or cafes? Or a tea sommelier service? Or perhaps an import/export tea company of my own?!  You never know... We shall see!

This is a sponsored post on behalf of University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Certificate in Entrepreneurship program; however, the opinions provided are my own.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

Hello!  It has been a while since my last blog post. 

I shared this lovely green tea with my mom today.  Hope all the mothers had a wonderful day with their loved ones.  

I've been busy as you can see...yes, I am expecting!  I'm five months along now.  

Around the same time as the Toronto Tea Festival  this February I was busy with planning and volunteering to help make the second annual two day festival a great one.  I thought I was starting to get sick, perhaps the flu.  It had been a really rough winter with the Polar Vortex and all.  Found out later that I was expecting! What a amazing surprise!

Morning sickness and fatigue took over all of my first trimester.  Morning sickness can last all day, not just morning by the way...  Still working full time in my day job so I haven't made a post in a long time.  My experience thus far has given me a new appreciation of some of the things mothers go through, and it's only the half way point.

I had read and heard from others that the second trimester gets better.  I was waiting patiently and I'm happy to report that it's true!  

My taste buds and sense of smell are heightened.  A lot of the foods I normally enjoy, I can't stomach anymore.  Unfortunately tea is often one of them.  I have to be careful of my caffeine intake for the baby's sake. Now and then I'm allowed a cup or two but the tannins and any slight imperfections are now magnified and quite disagreeable to me. Lighter brews are more palatable.  

It's now after the Spring tea harvest.  One of the top Chinese tea shops in town, Tao Tea Leaf was holding their annual Spring Tea Tasting event.  Over the last couple of weeks, I carefully sipped little Chinese cup samples of the Spring teas.  

I was so happy to be able to taste and enjoy great quality teas again and catch up with many of my tea friends that I hadn't seen in months!  

I still can't drink as much as as I used to, so I only bought one tea.  Hey, that took control and effort on my part!  I decided to pick up some Tai Ping Hou Kui, since I didn't have any of this beautiful long leafed premium green tea left in my stash.  

Fresh, smooth and sweet finish.

Lots of changes ahead, stay tuned for more blog posts to come!