Connections to Experts: The Business of Honesty
Like many entrepreneurs,
Seth Goldman’s entrepreneurial journey started with lemonade stands and newspaper routes. Today, he’s the co-founder and “TeaEO” of Honest Tea, a bottled organic tea company that’s known for its quality products and commitment to honest business. In this special interview, the celebrated author, EO speaker and socially responsible entrepreneur speaks to the best practices and benefits of building a company around honesty.
On emphasizing honesty through your brand:
“Brands are very personal things. You hear people talk about consumers having intimate relationships with brands, but we’re selling a product that people actually put in their bodies— it can’t get more intimate than that! We do everything we can to give people confidence that we have an authentic commitment to their health and to a healthier planet. We seek to ingrain our values in everything we do. In our ingredients, which are organic and Fair Trade whenever possible, and in our business practices, in the way we interact with our consumers, suppliers and employees.”
On being transparent in your operations:
“When you call yourself ‘Honest Tea,’ you run the risk of putting yourself on a pedestal. Our mindset is to be open and honest about all of our flaws and shortcomings before others try to point them out. Every year, we put out an annual mission report, and while it does take stock of where we’ve made progress, it also highlights where we have more work to do. We realize that most of our consumers won’t read the whole report, but for those who do, the report is an assurance that we’re committed to the journey. It’s also a way to help make the link that if we care so much about our supplier communities, imagine how much we care about procuring the world’s best tea leaves!”
On impacting your community through your products or services:
“We seek to embed our impact directly into our product; that’s why we titled our book, Mission in a Bottle. For us, we aren’t focused on making an impact by giving away our profits (which is good because we’ve never had an excess of them), but rather we want to have a positive impact on health, the environment and our supplier communities every time we sell a bottle. Any business can improve the impact it has on its communities. All it takes is expanding its awareness on the impact it has on everything from its workforce and physical surroundings to its partners.”
On gauging the honesty of your customers:
“We’ve been measuring the general public’s honesty for years now through a variety of experiments. For example, we recently placed unattended kiosks in 61 U.S. cities and put up a sign next to our beverages that said, ‘Honor System – One Dollar Each.’ Every kiosk was equipped with a transparent, Lucite box for cash payments, and our employees watched as people started purchasing their drinks. It was refreshing to see that 93% of Americans are trustworthy, even when they think no one is watching! These kind of experiments are a positive way to hold up a mirror to society and hopefully enable every- one to trust each other a little more.”
On the benefits of being an honest business:
“Mark Twain once said, ‘If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.’ By building an enterprise that we can totally believe in, we engender deeper employee loyalty and passion. And that extends to the quality of our brand, our relationships with our suppliers and our service to our customers. We are also proud of the fact that we personally answer every phone call and email that comes into our office— it helps reinforce that there are real people behind our brand.”
On being U.S. President Barack Obama’s tea of choice:
“It’s been fun to see and hear about our drinks having a regular presence in the Oval Office, though I wish that occasionally we’d see an image with our label facing out! Some- one said we should Photoshop the image so you could see the front label, but I pointed out that wouldn’t be honest.