Studentrepreneur: Modern Day Superwoman

Shelly-Ann is somewhat of a modern day superhero. She juggles the responsibility of her day time job and two full time jobs- being an entrepreneur and a mother. At the end of her interview I was having anxiety but Shelly-Ann seems to be just fine juggling all her demands.

At UWI STA, she pursued a BSc. Psychology with a minor in Human Resource Management and graduated in 1998. She’s since decorated her resume with many achievements in Human Resource Management and in 2015, she decided to take a plunge and launched her own business, TeaspoTT. With just over two years in business and an ummph more working experience, Shelly-Ann had a lot to reflect on.

How was your time spent on campus?
Academically my 1st year was the most challenging as I had done science subjects for A-Levels (Mathematics, Physics and Further Mathematics) and had to make a switch mentally in the way I approached the social sciences in completing exams.

I lived on campus at Trinity Hall and it was a fantastic experience. I formed great friendships across the Caribbean and the world from living on hall. In my day, we went Club Coconuts and Pier 1 on a Thursday night. That was always fun.

What was one of your most memorable moments on campus/during your studies?
There are so many, but for me I enjoyed talking with my lecturers. I was part of the 1st Psychology class on campus and a couple years ago I had an opportunity to teach on the programme. I was so proud of how far the programme had developed and progressed over the years.

In what year did you start your business?
I started TeaSpoTT May 2015.

What inspired this decision?
My business started as an idea with a friend of mine who was going to start her business as we both agreed that we needed a retirement plan that was not necessarily linked to our profession (we are both HR professionals). She encouraged me to think about what I enjoy doing and we talked about our time living in London. I really missed real loose leaf tea which is hard to get locally and sometimes price prohibitive.

What’s been the easiest part in running your business? 
The easiest part has been talking to customers about tea and listening to their feedback.

Describe one discouraging moment you encountered in business and what you did to overcome it.
In the beginning I was discussing with another friend starting up my business and he was very discouraging about if I would make money, when would I get the time to do it in addition to my regular job and being a single parent my free time is limited. I had those same doubts in my mind, but I have learnt that I can do anything if I really want to and work hard. I have learnt to manage my time better, my daughter is my biggest supporter and customers have been very supporting in their response to me and my product.

What advice do you have for new business owners?
Work hard, take your time in putting yourself out there. Most importantly, be gentle with yourself, you will make mistakes, don’t get discouraged, learn from them and do differently and better.

What does “being creative” mean to you? 
“Being creative” means expressing myself in many ways – how I present myself, my product, how I interact with customers.

How has your field of study impacted your business? 
Doing psychology people think that you are always trying to figure them out, which is far from the truth most times. I use my knowledge of human behavior to manage difficult customers and criticism.

What’s your personal mantra?
Be gentle, with myself, with others. Forgive myself and be happy with who I am.

At what age did you discover your fondness for making teas
I started blending teas a couple years ago (not telling my age) and enjoyed putting together flavours some people wouldn’t think would go well.

Can you describe the time when you first realised that creating was something you absolutely had to do?
It sounds very cliché but I always knew I wanted to create something. I guess my daughter is my best creation and most rewarding by far. My business is my next baby and the 1st market I did made me realize that I was hooked. Preparing for a market, putting together affordable gift ideas, researching different tea blends have been very rewarding.

What’s been your proudest moment as a business woman?
Surviving my 1st year of business. When I started I was very hesitant about putting myself out in public in a different way from my regular profession. By the time May 2016 came around, I was like “Wow!! It’s a year and I love it!!”

Which ingredients do you love working with?
So far I have enjoyed using local ingredients. It is difficult to get consistent quality locally, but I am working on it. I am currently using coffee from Roastel and just received chocolate from JB Chocolates which I am hoping to use for a special Christmas tea.

Do you have a favourite product? 
I love the Moroccan Mint. It is green tea and mint leaves rolled into a ball so it can be steeped 2 – 3 times and you would get a different mint taste as the ball opens out.

What are your goals for your business in the next year?
For the next 2 years I plan to be low key as my daughter will be writing S.E.A. and I want to spend some time focusing on her. That being said, I want to do at least 2 new flavours next year and I will be reviewing some of the flavours offered now to discontinue a couple.

Which products are your customer favourite? 
The chai teas are always customer favourites. Also, my tea infusers are big sellers. I try to offer different and unusual infusers besides a boring tea ball.

What’s one thing you wish your customers knew about you?
Hmmm… I think drinking tea with milk (except if it’s chai tea) is a crime!!! I cringe anytime a customer asks about adding milk to tea!

With age brings wisdom, what advise would you give your younger self about starting and growing a business? 
I would say, record everything. I was not good in the beginning with keeping track of what I spent, which my accountant and I had a long conversation about. I would also say, don’t try to do everything at once, take advice from others with a pinch of salt and trust yourself.

If you enjoyed Shelly-Ann’s interview and would like to learn more about her or shop from her range of products, visit her table at Things TT on November 11th at the UWI, JFK Auditorium.

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