Who are you and what is your background?
Matt Thomas, Founder of Townshend's Tea Company, Brew Dr. Kombucha and Thomas & Sons Distillery
Your current job:
In which city:
How did you discover kombucha?
I started my first teahouse in 2006 and second teahouse in early 2008. By mid-2008 our customers started asking if we made our own kombucha. We didn't, but I had learned enough to know that I should listen to our guests and grow our product offerings based on their ideas and feedback. So we started making kombucha in the kitchens of our two teahouses and quickly discovered it was super tasty. We had the happy accident of being a tea company first. We already had curated a list of over 100 great teas to choose from and just chose a few to ferment into kombucha. That's one key thing about our kombucha that makes us different--we blend great tea with dried botanicals and brew a delicious tea, then ferment it and add nothing else for flavor. Most kombucha relies on added juice post-fermentation to create a flavor profile. We do not. We've stayed true to this method ever since and I think it comes through in our clean, balanced taste.
What prompted you to start your company?
I started the teahouses because I felt that tea was underserved compared to coffee. Coffeehouses were booming but tea was being left out. You'd just see a few options for teabags being served at coffee shops. So the original idea was to create that casual college campus-style coffeehouse atmosphere but serve tea only. There is so much you can do with tea, from chai to bubble tea to classic teas to rare teas to kombucha. We have grown to nine Townshend's Teahouses now and we love the wide-ranging options we are able to present all in one space.
What makes your product unique?
Regarding how we craft our flavors through the use of great tea and botanicals. The other extremely unique thing about Brew Dr. is our method for controlling alcohol content in our raw kombucha. We don't shy away from the creation of alcohol, which is an inevitable byproduct of kombucha fermentation. We ferment kombucha in the usual, traditional way, which takes about a month. At that point, our kombucha has around 2% alcohol in it. We then put all our kombucha through a method of low-temperature distillation called a spinning cone column. The alcohol is removed to the point the kombucha has a finished alcohol content of around 0.1%, all while never being heated to any significant degree. You can learn more about this in a blog post on our website titled 'Authentic & Responsible Kombucha.' After the alcohol is removed, we use it to create our line of craft spirits. We became the world's first Tea Distillery through our solution to managing alcohol in kombucha.
What do you want to convey through your brand image?
We really push the message that kombucha can and should be authentic while also being responsible regarding alcohol. It's hard to do both. Our image in terms of the team we are building, our social media, and our partnerships is to be a company that works hard to make something special while caring about the world and people around us. We are members of 1% For the Planet and are currently working on B Corp certification. Both are ways for us to cement our values as we grow. We care about nature, equal rights, and living well.
What are the main challenges in your company?
Growing all aspects of the company simultaneously is the biggest challenge. We have really been focused on expanding our brewery operation as well as our sales and marketing team (gotta sell that kombucha we're expanding production of!). In the meantime, we have not been able to level up the rest of our organization at the same pace. We're at about 250 employees across the three companies that we run together, and about half of those have come on in the last year. We're extremely proud of that growth, but it's also a lot to handle.
What tools are essential for your work(app, software)?
We keep a lot of stuff in-house but use cloud services like Google Drive and Google Docs quite a bit. We are in the process of implementing new ERP software as well as improved forecasting software. We've got high hopes for what these can do for us, but I've learned that there is never a perfect solution and it always takes longer to implement anything like this.
A word to define what type of worker you are:
Doer. I've had to wear every hat in the company since I started my first teahouse 11 years ago. Along the way, I've had to just plain Get. It. Done. From building the counters at our teahouses to flying to across the country for nothing more than a 20-minute meeting, when you're an entrepreneur you want to make every part of your operation the best it can be.
What does your office space look like?
I love it. We have the corner of an old brick building with big windows. We can fit about 20 people here. We have a couple private meeting rooms and a private boardroom, and the rest of the office is all open. Our large meeting table is a ping pong table. We have 105 teas to choose from in our kitchen, a 10-tap kombucha kegerator, and a full bar of our spirits. We have music playing all day. It's weird to me when offices are quiet.
Do you have a way to organize your days to optimize your work?
I have standing weekly meetings with different parts of the organization that serves as a way to give me a deadline for completing/tracking work relating to all the different areas of the company I work on. I handle a decent amount of email in the evenings, after putting my three young sons to bed. I think smartphones are great for helping me stay on top of delegation and communication quickly and easily.
What tips would you give to improve productivity?
Remind your people why their work matters to the goals of the company. Tie the success of every part of the organization to the other parts. Be relentlessly positive and work hard. Remember that little perks can go a long way for morale.
What is the best advice you have been given?
You can never hit your target if you don't take a shot.
What are your end-of-day and early-day routine?
I have three young boys at home. I'm in charge of getting them up, dressed for school, fed and lunches made. My wife takes them to school and I get out the door as quick as I can. I'm home for dinner 95% of the time and enjoy evenings with my family. After getting the kids to bed my wife and I hang out, getting some work done when we're extra busy but mostly relaxing.
Apart from your computer and your phone, what gadget cannot you do without?
I like my Fitbit Blaze. I have it set up to show me texts and incoming calls. I like not having to take my phone out of my pocket every time someone texts or calls.
upcoming products or projects?
We just opened our 9th teahouse, this one in Park City, Utah. We've got an awesome woman running that remote location and we love how the space turned out. On the Brew Dr. Kombucha side, we're about to release our winter seasonal flavor, Vanilla Oak, next month. It's made from black tea, fresh-scraped vanilla bean, and oak all steeped together. It's fantastic.