This week we speak with Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy, co-founder of Tea and Honey Blends, a hair care company that manufactures and retails natural hair care products for women of color. The company launched in December 2009 and has expanded its distribution to include salons, beauty boutiques and Internet sales. Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy also serves as Department Chair and Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Shaw University in NC State. Here is our conversation with Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy.
Q: Are you a business person or entrepreneur or both?
I am an entrepreneur. Along with a fellow PhD chemist, my business partner, Dr. Tiffani Bailey Lash, I created a line of hair care products that would compete in a market category that was largely undefined and unpopular – the natural hair care segment. The natural hair care segment didn’t exist as it does today when Tea and Honey was being conceived.
Q: What was your profession before you started your business?
Prior to starting Tea and Honey Blends, I was a research scientist at BASF Corporation, the largest chemical company in the world.
Q: Who or what motivated you to go into business?
My parents are entrepreneurs, and as such I was born into business. I recognized the differences of each industry they played in, but I saw t the commonalities in their success: hard work, excellent customer service and passion. My entrepreneurial start goes as far back as high school where I sold pom poms that I made from waste plastic I solicited from a plastic company. When I went to the US on summer vacation from Jamaica, I would purchase Lisa Frank binders and hair clips that I would sell to my peers. It wasn’t until I grew older that a Corporate Executive described by knack for entrepreneurship as “business acumen”. I was largely motivated by my mother. My mom was a beautician in Jamaica and when I was younger, I would watch as she would concoct natural recipes for hair growth from aloe vera, mayonnaise and eggs. By the time I gained the scientific knowledge to create a hair care line, stepping out to faith to realize my dream was the only inhibitor to my success.
Q: Did you face any challenges in mobilizing your capital?
Definitely! We faced these issues several times along the way. We funded the start-up expenses ourselves, but each time it called for expansion, we had a difficult time raisig funds. We entered a business plan competition and won $30,000. Later, when it called for additional influx of capital, we pitched to a Jamaican investor and got an additional $250,000.
Q: Tell us about your business?
Tea and Honey Blends sells natural hair care products specially formulated to help repair damage caused by chemical processing and to provide nutrients needed for maintaining natural, healthy hair. We are first to market with a proprietary surfactant blend in our shampoo that optimizes cleansing and removes oil and dirt buildup without scalp irritation. The Tea and Honey Blends Silk Protein Leave-In Conditioner is an effective detangler and heat protectant. Its unique shielding property combats/prevents split ends due to heat exposure from flat irons and excessive blow drying. An innovative step on our part was the incorporation of a sunscreen in our Tea and Honey Blends Sparkle and Gleam products to protect against damage from UV rays. Both products are lightweight, moisturize and protect hair from the dehydrating effects of the sun, smoothes the capillary fiber to eliminate frizz and add shine. Our clientele with unprocessed/natural hair find that our Tea and Honey Blends Curl Definer is the moisturizing agent they need to tame unruly tresses. It is used to enhance natural curls and eliminate frizz.
Q: Many businesses have a moment they call their “big break”, whether it be a news story, a big contract etc. Have you or your business had that “”big break ” yet?
Our big break came when we entered a competition to become a vendor in Macy’s. Tea and Honey Blends was one of 20 companies, from 500, chosen to participate in Macys’ inaugural Workshop. We gained an inside look into the mass retailer industry that some small companies never get the opportunity to experience. Since then, we were able to critically assess who we are and who we want to be. We are equipped with the business knowledge to strategically execute our distribution and marketing strategy. We are still waiting on even “bigger breaks”.
Q: Currently what is our biggest business challenge?
I have not been able to sell our products in Jamaica as yet. I do not have experience exporting shampoos, so I am still researching how I can do so cost effectively. Distribution is always a challenge for any business and I am working to make Tea and Honey Blends a household name in the Caribbean.
Q: Other than the money what types of satisfaction do you get out of your work?
I love solving problems and I enjoy breaking down tough concepts so that the average person can understand. Consumers are much smarter than we give them credit for. No one takes time to teach them, but I do. I want to create a knowledgeable consumer who will be able to articulate her needs to me so that I can constantly be challenged to make products that push the limits of the hair care industry. I want to be the 3M of the beauty care market. I want people to recognize Tea and Honey Blends for the innovative products we create. It satisfies me to know that I have the ability and the skill to solve the beauty care needs of women globally and to equip them with the tools they need to be confident about how they look.
Q: What motivates you on a day to day basis?
I am self motivated. I am challenged by the innate love of being a winner. In anything I do, I want to give it my best and I aim to accomplish the goals I have set or myself. I want to grow Tea and Honey Blends to a $5MM company and so I wake up each morning with that goal in mind.
Q: How do you motivate people that aren’t close to you and enable them to see your vision?
My God-given energy is contagious. I see the good in people, even when they do not see their own talents. When I see a talented person, especially one who doesn’t recognize their own gift, I get genuinely excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for them and I think people sense that, so they tend to gravitate towards me. People invest in me because they see my desire and thirst for success.
Q: How do you remind yourself of what’s important?
My family and spiritual life keeps me grounded. I come home daily from a tough day at work and I am quickly reminded by my toddler’s screams and sounds of laughter that I am also a mom. My husband asks, “what’s for dinner?” and I am reminded that I am a wife. So, it is really not me who reminds myself of what’s important, it’s the noisy, demanding people in my life who remind me of what’s important.
Q. What time do you wake up and do you have a routine?
I wake up at 6:45AM daily and I go to bed at 11PM nightly. Each day varies with its challenges so I do not have a strict routine. In between waking and sleeping, Tea and Honey Blends, Shaw University and my family get my attention, not necessarily in that order.
Q. Do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy reading a good novel, but these days, I mostly read Entrepreneurial themed books. I enjoy cooking too, so I often research recipes from various cuisines and try to cook them for the family. Operative word – “try”.
Q. If the economy crashed hard and there was no more room for you in the business sector, what would you do with yourself?
I would be a chemistry professor.
Q: Seven day, six night, all expense paid, my vacation destination is…
Paris. I admire the history and love the food!
Q: My favorite guilty pleasure is…
Coffee flavored ice-cream, but the odd thing is that I don’t drink coffee.
Q: My favorite Jamaican food is…
Curried Chicken! Hands down!
Q: My favorite Jamaican restaurant is…
Negril’s…a cozy little restaurant chain in New York City. The oxtail is good, but they are a bit pricey. I pay for the ambience.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to achieve the same level of success you have?
Despite what people may say, there is a formula for success and it starts with your ability to think positively. Learn to master the art of positive thinking and you can attract success very easily. If you dream big and have the audacity to believe you can achieve what you wish for, then your dreams can become a reality. Don’t underestimate the power of doing your research prior to starting a business venture and continue to research your market every step along the way. Your success is contingent upon the amount of time you spend doing an activity, so monitor your time to see where you are investing it. If you are investing in your business, then it will only be a matter of time before your diligence, positive thinking, hard work and serendipity collide.
Thanks for the interview. Do you have any closing thoughts for our readers?
I love the fact that I migrated to the US after attending 6th form at Wolmer’s Girls High School. Growing up, and being educated in Jamaica laid a strong foundation for me. My heritage keeps me grounded and I have my homeland to thank for that