Home-brewed life lessons from Honest Tea’s Seth Goldman

NEW YORK (Reuters) – (The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Seth Goldman, Co-Founder & TeaEO Emeritus of Honest Tea of Bethesda, is pictured in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S. in this undated photo released June 29, 2018. Courtesy Seth Goldman/Handout via REUTERS

Twenty years ago, Seth Goldman succeeded in his years-long quest to find an after-run drink that was tasty, yet low in sugar and calories.

His Honest Tea is now ubiquitous in stores. But Goldman started brewing and distributing the initial tea samples from his home.

After originally partnering with his former Yale professor, Barry Nalebuff, they sold the company to the Coca-Cola Bottling Co in 2011. Goldman, 52, lives near the company’s Bethesda, Maryland, headquarters and remains involved – his current title is “Co-Founder & TeaEO Emeritus of Honest Tea” for Coca-Cola’s Venturing & Emerging Brands business unit.

In 2013, he and Nalebuff wrote a graphic book, “Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently – and Succeeding,” telling the story of their company and sharing tips with entrepreneurs.

For the latest in the Reuters series “Life Lessons,” Goldman shared more advice on his strategies in business and in life.

Q: What lesson would you say people can learn from the risks you took in order to start your business?

A: Not having a lot of money in the beginning actually provided a healthy discipline. We were forced to be creative and resourceful with everything – our marketing, our staffing, our office ‘décor’ (i.e. dumpster diving for used desks, which I still use!).

Q: Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit?

A: Although both of my grandparents ran their own small businesses, my role model as an entrepreneur was my father. He was a professor, which is normally not an entrepreneurial profession. But he led such a dynamic life – creating academic programs and seminars, serving as a founding board member of several charities and a local bank. He ingrained in me the mindset that if you think something should be done, you don’t wait on someone else to do it.

Q: Tell us about your first job – What did it teach you?

A: When I was 8, I sold used golf balls and lemonade with my next-door neighbor at the local golf course. The retrieval of the balls from bushes and rivers was almost as much fun as selling them. I learned early on that not getting the sale was just part of life – not a personal rejection of me or my golf balls or lemonade. That thick skin still comes in handy.

Q: As you became more established in your career, what did you learn about handling money?

A: Entrepreneurs who focus only on accumulating money as their goal can be disappointed in several ways – first, they may not see a pay day. Second, if they do have a pay day, it can be anticlimactic because once it comes, there’s not much more to do but accumulate more money, and that has diminishing returns in terms of satisfaction.

Q: Is giving important and if so, who do you support?

A: Before we sold Honest Tea, my wife and I donated a significant portion of our shares to a charitable vehicle called Impact Assets. It allowed the proceeds of the sale to be donated to non-profits, such as Urban Alliance, where my wife works, or to be invested in dynamic social enterprises, such as Ripple Foods or Beyond Meat (where I serve as a board member). If those companies have a successful exit, the proceeds go back into Impact Assets – so we get the chance to continue the virtuous circle.

Q: What money or life lessons have you tried to pass on to your sons?

A: We were happy as a family before Honest Tea’s success because we understood what made us happy – being able to take joy in each other, in nature, in Boston sports teams and in close friendships. We continue to be happy as a family because we still value those things. Money doesn’t change that.

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Dan Grebler