Balanced Hustler: Meet Evy Chen, Founder of Evy Tea
Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle.
The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.
Evy Chen is a riot. When we met for the first time, we talked for so long that she was late for another phone call interview. She’s got an energy that is exciting, and it’s easy to see how she launched the first-to-market cold-brew tea brand (Evy Tea) in the country. She’s a Chinese immigrant who left China (and her parents) behind at age 14 to escape a communist regime that put her author and revolutionary dad on house arrest for 10 years. She landed in the United States for college and was recently able to help her parents immigrate as well. To me, that equals tenacity—and it’s why Evy is a true Balanced Hustler.
When did you launch your Evy Tea?
In one sentence, tell us why you started Evy Tea.
To start and build the first commercial, cold-brew tea company.
How much did you invest to get the business started?
I literally had no money since I was still in college. My school Emerson College gave me $5,000 in entrepreneurship grant to get me started.
How did you get capital to start?
I did a bunch of things—an entrepreneurship grant from my college (Emerson College), a Kickstarter campaign. The initial capital was used for R&D and market research, and I launched a couple of testing prototypes into the market. From that and some family help, I was about to start my bottling operation. I also did farmer’s markets to raise funds for my tea bar. From there, investors took me to the next level.
Are you growing your business to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years?
My goal is to get the business to a suitable place, where financially it’s healthy and sustainable. The experience of owning and running your own business is so unique; it’s not for everybody. I’m learning a ton every day and I can definitely see myself being part of team Evy for the next 10 years. However I do understand I’ll need help growing and scaling the business, so if there are offers on the table that makes sense for growth, I’d like to have the option.
How many hours a week do you work when you started verses now?
I used to work solid 70 to 80 hour weeks. Now I’m more in the 60 to 65 hours range. As I and my business grew, I now focus on different areas of work. It’s a lot less physical work now, but more planning, growing, managing and overseeing execution.
How many employees do you have?
Depends on the season, but it ranges from six to 15.
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
- Become sustainable, financially. I want to get to a place where, if anybody looked at it, they’d say we were a healthy business.
- Evy Tea grows and gets known not as an artisanal, or local brand but as a coastal brand.
How Evy Balances the Hustle
How does being an immigrant shape your entrepreneur journey?
When you’re an immigrant, you’re always going to be seen as “different.” I chose to own that, to say, that’s what makes me special, that’s what makes me stand out [as a business owner]. I could say “I’m from China, I know my tea better than you.” It took me a long time to be proud of my cultural representation, to take ownership of my background. But now I don’t see being an “other” as baggage. I’m not Chinese-Chinese; I’m Chinese-American. I’m making the California roll of tea.
What challenges did you face when you first started Evy Tea?
In 2014, I was the first to market for cold-brew tea—ever. There was no infrastructure set up for me to produce and market my product. And I had to do so much education around what cold-brew was. Most of my experimentation was in explaining cold-brew tea. Then, cold-brew coffee took off and it was so much easier to explain cold-brew tea.
You took on angel investment two years ago. Why did you go that route?
We were a bit too early for serious capital, so we went the angel route. We needed people who understood the nature of being a small company and a young brand, and wanted to be along for the ride anyway. If we got $12 million from a venture capital firm, they’d expect a return so much faster, and that changes the dynamic of the company, from production to goals to culture.
Evy’s Advice for Entrepreneurs
What is something I didn’t ask you about being an entrepreneur, about the journey/hustle that you wish I had? What do you want to leave our readers with?
I had to learn how to peel myself away from “business success is my success.” I started my company really young and I was reactive. I would get punched in the face and then have to figure it out. There was lots of self-doubt, and I wasn’t sure what success meant, or if I could make it. But as the company evolved, I became clearer on who I am as a person, and what I won’t sacrifice, like my physical and mental health.
What is your #1 piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
The entrepreneur journey is made of a million pieces of figuring sh*t out. You need to like figuring sh*t out. Don’t look for the obvious breaks in the journey because it doesn’t end. Be content with what you’re doing now, solving problems.
What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?
Being a balanced hustler means to be one’s own anchor, for me. Be solid to yourself, think it through and all the others are nothing but noise.
Want more inspiro and tactical advice from female entrepreneurs? Check out our full #BalancedHustler series.