LEARNING THOUGH HEKUMU HERBAL TEA BUSINESS
When I heard Hekumu was sold out on the first sales day, my initial reaction was this must be a joke. This is not because I have no confidence in our products, but the result was unexpected and several times better than our most optimistic scenario. From zero experience of entrepreneurship, with little knowledge of tea products, supply chain, marketing, and sales to constantly making new attempts and learning new things, how Hekumu has been developed in the last year, Suong and I will review our journey of discovery, recap what we have learned, and discuss what will be applied in practice in future for Hekumu.
Where does Hekumu’s business idea come from? How it has been developed?
The herbal tea idea initially come from Suong in a course called Startup Experience held by HUBS in autumn 2020. As the selection of dried herbs and fruits is the trendy drink in Vietnam, Suong proposed that we take this idea to learn how to develop it to a real business in the course. There we formed a team and followed developing steps moving forward little by little. During the period, we were introduced to a series of developing tools, for instance, Business Model Canvas, Empathy Map, Customer Journey Map, PESTEL, and Validation Canvas. And we also tried to make a marketing and sales plan based on our hypothesis. Here are some examples.
Table 1: Business Medel Canvas
Business Model Canvas is a business tool that can help entrepreneurs quickly and easily define and communicate a business idea or concept (Sheda, 2016). Looking back now, it is hard to imagine Hekumu already had a clear concept and vision in the early stage. It helped us precisely see what Hekumu will be in one year later.
Table 2. Empathy Map
Empathy Map is a simple, easy-to-digest visual that captures knowledge about a user’s behaviors and attitudes (Brow,2018). It let us learn what are users’ real needs, then we can specify the product design on how to solve the problems of users’. Although it is based on the hypothesis, the products in our minds had become gradually clear.
Table 3. Customer Journey Map
Customer Journey Map uses storytelling and visual effects to illustrate the customer’s relationship with the business over a period of time (What is Customer Journey Map, nd). We have taken steps forward in defining users and formulating marketing, sales, delivery, and even customer service processes. This tool also assisted us in the rehearsal of some possible customer-related situations in the future.
Table 4. PESTEL
PESTEL is an analysis model, known as the macro-environment analysis. It can not only analyze the external environment but also identify all forces that have an impact on the organization (What is a PESTEL analysis, nd). Through PESTEL, we have considered more comprehensively the impact that the environment outside the company may have on Hekumu and considered how to avoid or reduce the risks from irresistible factors.
Inspired by book The Lean Startup, we started our experimental journey with a customer survey (Eric Ries, 2011). Meanwhile, we welcomed our third member Esme to join our team. Fortunately, we received 159 answers from our questionnaires and gained plenty of valuable information which enabled us to have a further understanding of Finnish tea culture and our potential customer base.
According to the results of the questionnaire, we learned about the tastes of our customers, we selected certain tea products that we thought could meet customers’ needs from various suppliers to hold the tea tasting event. All the efforts also strengthened our determination to participate in the Sales Day product campaign. And we made it.
From that on, we started preparation for Sales Day and worked on it almost the whole summer. Due to the second wave of corona hitting Vietnam badly, we had to change our strategy and take different steps than planned earlier phase. The shipping traffic became unpredictable. As Hekumu has been chosen as the Sales Day product, we couldn’t take the risk of delay for doing importing exporting. We move eyes to the suppliers in EU countries. The supplier has changed, but what we care about is high quality, unique taste, sustainable packaging, the customer experience was not. In any case, we will fulfill our promise in the sale day campaign, to bring new products to the Finnish market and allow the sales team to show their selling skills to sell as much as possible.
Team goal of Hekumu
The Hekumu team’s goal from the very beginning of the concept phase was to win a ticket for Hekumu to be one of only three products sold on Proakatemia’s sales day. Since being selected, the Hekumu team has faced many other obstacles from the uncertainties that have arisen challenging the whole team to strive to learn, explore, and gain more knowledge. That has been actually our target to learn the most by doing. Hekumu team was successful not only because of achieving our sales target but also because we learned a lot from the practice of Hekumu together.
Teamwork spirit and delegation strategy of Hekumu
The success of the Hekumu team shows partly how effective the Hekumu teamwork strategy really could work during the sales day. The tasks were delegated well to Hekumu team players as if every individual is the project leader of their own. For example, when Esme Luhtala took the responsibility of sales, customer service, and storage works, she has had full rights in making decisions and managing her own scopes of works. Sandy and Suong would stand ‘behind the stage’ taking care of supply chain, costing, logistics, law, and marketing stuff, etc. We have gone through many meetings together to make sure that the important things were not missing from our action plan and all members were aware as well as were informed well of changing situations. Besides that, we put much trust in each other that the individual would manage and deliver their tasks well with their best commitment. Also, any of us would be ready to support or do the tasks of the others when needed. Even though we all have very different styles of working, we still could find a way to mix and match each other. In addition, it was also very important to cheer up the team at the right time. We have been through many amazing moments together, for example having fun and making jokes whenever we could, like when we found solutions for a specific issue or achieved some little things together. For example, the situation changed erratically, like there were many times when we almost closed the contract with the supplier, then the situation didn’t go as our expectation, the Hekumu team had to go back to the starting point to start over everything. That must be thanks to the team spirit and individual’s patience, for not giving up and keeping doing things again together.
Learning to play with the numbers like a kid learning to count
For people who do not learn or have experience in finance or accounting, dealing with numbers is surely something, not any fun, and causes a lot of challenges. Even though we have been taught some basic knowledge of finance in the money in business course, the knowledge of the Hekumu team could be at the basic level that we can only understand some financial terms. It would be very great if, in Proakatemia, students could be trained in practice to learn, for example, how to do pricing for the products or service, how to control the costs in their business. There have been too many difficulties for the Hekumu team to learn ourselves how to do pricing, costing, etc. for the products. Besides, we were not lucky to have a chance to be coached by any mentor about those financial issues. That was why we could imagine that learning the ways to come up with the final selling price or to build up the costing management excel file made us like kids struggling in learning to count numbers. There were a lot of challenges that required carefulness, good patience, and a not-giving-up spirit. Getting over it by ourselves is one of Hekumu’s pride.
Interesting experiences with the difficulties in supply chain and import-export during a pandemic
Many people in Proakatemia were surprised that Hekumu has changed the direction to look for buying the products from France, instead of sourcing from the products from Vietnam like Hekumu early announcement in pitch day. The intention to sell the unique tropical herbal tea with a beautiful look has not been changed. However, as mentioned earlier because of the corona pandemic, Hekumu was affected too and must change the strategy accordingly. Under the pressure of the sales day’s deadline, we have decided to turn the direction to search for the products from the suppliers in India and France. At that time the supply chain from Vietnam has been interrupted by the Vietnamese government. All import and export activities were delayed and jammed at the shipyards. At the same time, the prices of herbal tea materials have been inflated, causing the offer of our suppliers not so attractive. That made the Vietnam supply market not suitable anymore for Hekumu. In the end, we have 2 options in our hands: buying from India or France. Even though India is famous for its huge herbal tea material area, Hekumu still chose to import from France when comparing the price offers which are almost the same from both suppliers. The tastes of products from Indian suppliers were as good and unique as from France suppliers, however, France partner has the organic certificate and the advantage that France is a member of the EU. In such a rush time, shipping within EU countries was a smart choice for Hekumu to avoid any risks of delivery from outside the EU in a short time.
Learn to tell the brand story
Making the survey to understand the Finland market and consumers was useful for Hekumu to identify the persona and make out the unique selling points for the Hekumu brand. We have been dealing with issues related to shaping the highlights and identifying the personality of the Hekumu brand. Things that the Hekumu team has experienced, consisting of creating Hekumu brand name, logo, slogan, packaging design, brand identity book, website design, social media planning, and execution, etc. Only with the packaging design which Hekumu must hire a freelancer from Vietnam to do, other marketing stuff like designing the Hekumu logo was supported by Omar Puebla, creating Hekumu website was done by Ping, a friend of Sandy, Hekumu photo taking was under the creation of Gustav Pertillä, and social media content updating has been taken care by Emilia Parikka and Ella Muja. Within the Hekumu team, Luhtis was the creator of the Hekumu brand name and slogan, Sandy has been handling the website design and Suong Tran is responsible for marketing and brand plan. The marketing project of the Hekumu team seems to offer a chance to practice skills for teams in practice. To be able to tell a successful and contagious brand story, that requires a huge effort of learning by doing of many team members who are supporting Hekumu marketing activities.
What can be applied in practice in the future of Hekumu
After the success in the sales day, Hekumu has agreed to continue our journey of learning by doing together. As young entrepreneurs, we acknowledge that our next journey is long, tough, and risky. However, we are in Proakatemia where can offer a very good foundation and a start for entrepreneurship to build up dreams from now on. Hekumu is Flip’s project and keeping learning by doing is well proven to be a good way ever. Hekumu has the potential to grow within the ecosystem of Proakatemia and the entrepreneurship of Tampere.
Vision of Hekumu
There is still space for the herbal tea business in Finland to develop. To be able to become a player in the field, the Hekumu team has to learn a lot about the tea business, culture, market, customers, etc., try to enhance our competitiveness or unit selling points, understand more our customers while keeping committing to the quality of the products, etc.
The Sales day was the first launch of Hekumu to mainly B2B customers with only 2 products. In the future, Hekumu is planning to import more product categories to meet the different tastes of customers and enhance competitiveness. In the meanwhile, Hekumu will need to apply for the organic certificate for those 2 current products, Tropiikin Kesä and Hehkuva Iltatuuli to make our customers feel assured to the product quality. Hekumu’s business platform is going to be an online shop, aiming to sell to our distributors as well as B2C customers. Every upgrade will be taken step by step aligning with the situation of the Hekumu team as well as we have to base on the Hekumu’s ecosystem power to develop is as well one consideration of Hekumu.
Besides, we should also invest in marketing activities, like developing our marketing materials and tools which consist of packaging, point of sales materials, etc., upgrading the website to be a customer-friendly online shop, focusing on social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn in the near future of Hekumu.
Sheda, 7.7. 2016. How To Business Model Canvas Explained. Read 16.12.2021 https://medium.com/seed-digital/how-to-business-model-canvas-explained-ad3676b6fe4a
Brown Jennifer Leigh, 27.6.2018. Empathy Mapping: A Guide to Getting Inside a User’s Head. Read 16.12.2021 https://www.uxbooth.com/articles/empathy-mapping-a-guide-to-getting-inside-a-users-head/
What is Customer Journey Map? No date. Read 16.12.2021 https://www.visual-paradigm.com/guide/customer-experience/what-is-customer-journey-mapping/
What is a PESTEL Analysis, no date. Read 16.12.2021 https://blog.oxfordcollegeofmarketing.com/2016/06/30/pestel-analysis/
Eric Ries, 2011, The Lean Startup. Read 2020