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Using Your Customer Base To Crowdfund, Rebrand, And More


Krisi Smith was just 24 years old when she started Bird & Blend Tea Co. Without any business experience behind her, she didn’t even realize she was doing market research and building a community at the beginning. She wasn’t focused on best practices and business plans, but rather, she was getting to know her customers on a personal level.

“We would just go to markets, festivals, food shows, and pay a 50 quid to pitch and stand there all day and ask people to try the tea, tell us what they like, hopefully buy a bit. And then before they left, we would say, ’Will you join us either on our email list or on our private Facebook group?’” Krisi says. “I didn’t know this was a great marketing strategy. I was just trying to get people to tell me how I could improve this idea that I had.”

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Krisi’s idea was to bring unique tea blends to the UK, where most people drank only English Breakfast teas. She and her co-founder, Mike Turner, needed to get people to try samples of their tea blends, so they started an email list and a private Facebook group. That way, they were able to get not only feedback, but also a loyal following.

The community ended up being instrumental through many milestones of the business.

Krisi says manufacturers were initially hesitant to put ingredients like lime slices into tea blends. Bird & Blend Tea Co.

For example, Bird & Blend Tea Co. originally launched under a different name—Bluebird Tea Co.—and the company became embroiled in the early stages of a trademark dispute with an existing café of the same name in the UK.

“We’d just raised this money from our investors. I felt like I had people that had invested in me and were counting on me, and they wanted us to keep growing the business,” Krisi says. “They didn’t want me to be sucked into a legal dispute.”

Krisi went back to her following, and asked for feedback. The words “community” and “blend” kept coming up. The company landed on the name Bird & Blend, maintaining many of the elements that had been important to the brand from the beginning.

The next step was expanding into retail.

“We had a database of customers…and we saw some pockets of cities where those customers were,” Krisi says. “We knew we had students that were interested. We knew that [university] towns and people who worked in creative jobs shopped with us a lot.”

This intel led the company to open its first store in Brighton, which had the perfect mix of students, creative professionals, day trippers, and tourists.

Bird & Blend now makes over 100 flavors, many of which customers can sample in stores. Bird & Blend Tea Co.

“We hustled to open the store,” Krisi says. “We got a lot of scaffolding boards from eBay, and I built them for the store, and we didn’t get architectural plans. I used the IKEA kitchen planner. Mike and I didn’t take a salary for the whole of the first two years. Friends and family let us stay on their sofa. We used to sleep in the downstairs of the Brighton store.”

Within a few years, the store was turning a profit, and many in-person customers would become repeat customers online. Opening retail stores was expensive, though. Four years after launch, Bird & Blend turned to crowdfunding to raise capital for further expansion.

“We overfunded in 24 hours just from our community alone,” Krisi says.

Now, Bird & Blend has about 1,500 investors—many of them, customers—who own anything from £50 to £300,000 worth of shares. And the company also has 14 retail locations, where customers can smell and sample the tea blends.

To learn more about the journey of building Bird & Blend, listen to Krisi’s full interview on Shopify Masters.

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This originally appeared on Shopify and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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