The Republic of Tea by Mel Ziegler

“I stopped waiting for him to lead the way into the tea business because it was finally clear that if I didn’t start it, no one else would.”

Some of our readers may be familiar with The Republic of Tea. It is an American company founded by Mel Ziegler, the founder of Banana Republic, his wife Patricia and his protégé, Bill Rosenzweig. The Republic of Tea markets the most exotic organic teas, and is popular among the health conscious tea drinkers all over the world.

What you probably didn’t know about is that there is an intriguing story behind its founding, which is revealed in this beautifully written narrative by the founders, Mel and Patricia Ziegler and Bill Rosenzweig.

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Essentially, the book is about how a world class company came into being. It offers fascinating insights into entrepreneurship, with a specific take on the struggles of entrepreneurship, the absolutely unforgiving reality of the marketplace and finally, how it all boils down to your desire to see your startup succeed despite the odds against it.

When asked about when was the right time to start a business, Ziegler answers, “Never and always.” This in a nutshell, describes the beauty of entrepreneurship - It’s the greatest thing you can do, and also the hardest. This is something Rosenzweig finds out after going through several trials and tribulations in his quest to be an entrepreneur.

The book begins with a chance meeting between a young Rosenzweig and a much older Mel Ziegler on a plane, when they start talking about tea and decide, then and there, to start a tea company together. This was then followed by an exchange of letters over 20 months between the two, as they discuss their business plans to death. Patricia Ziegler joins in as well.

Eventually, Ziegler gets frustrated that Rosenzweig appears more interested in talking about starting a tea business than really going ahead and actually getting started. Rosenzweig is a bundle of nerves and he quits the idea of starting a tea business and finds work somewhere else.

But the cry of entrepreneurship draws him in again, and this time he gets serious, learning the ins and outs of the tea business in London. He learns about the tea stores, the serving sets, the tea blends for kids, the water source to be used, dealing with tea brokers, evolving a portfolio, developing organization charts and so much more. In short, young Rosenzweig learns what entrepreneurship is all about.

Eventually, The Republic of Tea was founded in 1992 with Rosenzweig as the CEO and Ziegler as the major investor. Ziegler’s role in all of this is also quite remarkable as we see how important a great mentor is to a young entrepreneur.

This is a remarkable book, one where we witness both the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. The authors offer a ring side view of what it takes to create a startup, how to turn an idea into a marketable product, and make a success of it. Entrepreneurship is laid bare, in all its beauty.