Theresa Krier, Big T NYC, Woman Entrepreneur

imgres-1Theresa was introduced to me over the summer.  She was participating in a pop-up store that my friend had put on in Bridgehampton called the Hamptons Collective so the timing was perfect.  I had already heard about Theresa, her energy and passion for tea.  She was making teas and selling them under her label Big T NYC at the store this summer.

Theresa grew up in Indianapolis.  Both of her parents were entrepreneurs.  Her father owned a used car business and her mother was a kitchen designer.  Her parents were big advocates of letting kids be kids.  They were a very close knit family.  Growing up Theresa worked as a life guard, a babysitter and a nanny.

After graduating high school Theresa headed to Xavier College in Cincinnati where she majored in entrepreneurship and pre-med.  She originally started off with entrepreneurship and then as you are supposed to do in college she began to think about her ultimate goal.  She wanted to contribute to the world.  She thought that the way to do that was through medicine.  She spent a summer abroad in the Netherlands at the sister school of Xavier.  She took classes Monday – Thursday and traveled the other three days.  It really opened her eyes up to the world.

Theresa graduated and instead of going directly into medical school she waited to apply and instead got a job in stem cell research.  She figured working in this space would confirm for her whether or not she should pursue medical school.  She worked on endothelium cells that are the cells that line your blood vessels.  The doctors she was working with had discovered that through these cells that you could shoot something into them to create a new vessel instead of having open heart surgery.  They were in the process of patenting their work and starting a bio-tech start-up to turn their findings into a drug.  They recruited her to do the research.  It was an 8 person company.  Theresa wrote the business plan, brought in angel investors and found that this is what really energized her.  She took a deep look at herself and realized she was more passionate about the business end than the stem cell research.  It was time to take a pivot in her career after four years.

Just as she was starting to think about embarking on the next trajectory of her career a tragic accident changed her life forever.  Her family (Mom, Dad, two brothers and herself) were heading on vacation in a private plane.  Her father was a pilot.  The plane crashed and everyone on the plane survived except her parents.  It was a really hard time.  She thought to herself I am not going to live forever and I should do something that I love.  Her parents lived every day to the fullest and it made her think that way too.  Both her parents had businesses that her and her brothers inherited.  She was 24 and her brothers were in college.  None of them really had the skills to run the businesses so she decided to get a MBA at Indiana University.

While she was getting her MBA she started to think a lot about her passion.  She started to drink a lot of tea for the health benefits.  Coffee is so popular but she began to look into tea and saw there was a lot of growth happening in that area.  She had zero interest working for a corporate company.  Her MBA advisor pushed her to work at a large company for an internship to get some experience under her belt.  It was the best advice.  Thanks to him she ended up at 3M in Minneapolis in brand management.  At the end of the internship they offered her a full time job and she decided to take it after completing her second year.  She went back to Minneapolis and worked as a brand manager under Post-its.  She ended up running a $100m business that included post-it tabs, pockets and flags.  A tremendous amount of responsibility and an incredible experience.  She stayed one year and decided it was hard being a single person in Minneapolis.

She decided to go work for Tresemme that was bought by Unilever.  They offered her the job anyway and they wanted Theresa to move to NYC.  Through each of these decisions she thought it this a good learning experience for my tea company.  Does it fit into my long term tea strategy?  At each turning point she would go back to her University of Indiana advisor.  He was a big proponent of her moving to NYC.  She ended up spending one year in Chicago and two in New York.

Tresemme was the hair care sponsor of Fashion Week.  Theresa thought Fashion Week is the perfect venue for her tea.  The models were not drinking anything in the back.  She did a mini-test doing a pop-up tea shop at the show.  The models were lining up for the tea.  It was her proof of concept and it was time to launch her company.

She was working full time at Unilever and working on her tea concept on the side.  Eventually she took the leap and went full time with tea.  This was over a year ago.  She has started to gain some traction.  Her first customer was the Ritz Carlton in DC for their afternoon tea.  She has an ecommerce shop on her site but is continuing to make headway into boutique retail shops or pop-ups.  She is beginning to align herself with the right retailers.

Theresa is not only driven she is methodical in her approach.  She followed her passion and that shows when you talk to her.  The high end tea business is growing in double digits annually.  I think Theresa might be on to something.

Comments (Archived):

  1. AG

    There really is nothing like good loose leaf tea (I’m a huge fan), but I have yet to see it really take off. As far as retail shops, I guess the teavanas of the world have been trying to make it happen. I’d love to see an independent tea shop with a great vibe make its way onto the scene, and I’d love to be able to say to someone, “let’s get tea”

    1. Gotham Gal

      me too.

      1. pointsnfigures started up in Chicago. Maybe she knows those guys. If you want to be an entrepreneur, but feel you need corporate experience, working for 3M is a good place to situate yourself. I worked there in my first job out of college. It was extremely entrepreneurial and they gave us a lot of rope to hang ourselves.

        1. LE

          I’m not quite sure that working for a corporation is the right road for someone who wants to be an entrepreneur at least in the traditional sense.For one thing if you assume starting out you are grinding it out (which is true) then working for a corporation insulates you from many of the issues that you will encounter starting a small business and being an entrepreneur. [1]I have a great deal of experience in this area having started from scratch (multiple times) and running into the typical problems that you have to solve and the things that you have to do when you aren’t sitting on a pot of funny money surrounded by experts, good employees, and people that will help you and coach you. And you need to have expertise and ability in dozens of areas. You can’t rely on others. You need to be 85% there in everything (even law and accounting). If you have to pay people to do things for you your chance of success is greatly diminished.Jobs at (larger or mid size) corporations are typically specialized they aren’t broad. [2] I worked there in my first job out of college. It was extremely entrepreneurial and they gave us a lot of rope to hang ourselves.Did you ever start a business after working there? I thought you went into the investment world and worked in commodities?[1] Now of course if your talking about former corporate people that get a large investment where they can hire their way out of typical business issues that’s another thing but that’s the exception and not the rule.[2] I mean you can have a corporation of 3 people to be fair but that’s not the discussion here.

          1. pointsnfigures

            3M put me in charge of a massive territory as a 22 year old out of college. I sold to very large warehouses, jobbers, and even end users. ( I created Post It Tape for that division, and it became a big seller. Different corps have different culture-3M is extremely innovative. When I was there our goal was 25% of top line revenue had to be generated by products introduced in the last five years. 3M gave scientists, engineers, and sales people a lot of autonomy to work on things. They tolerated failure.Sometimes people out of college need to find there footing by working for someone else. Corporate route can be good because they get benefits, some financial security, and some predictability. Additionally, fresh college grads don’t have all the answers. Sometimes they need to work in an actual business to discover the problems they can use software to solve. Ross Perot worked for IBM-then started EDS. I’d say he was entrepreneurial. Joe Ricketts worked at a corporate brokerage before TD Ameritrade. He is extremely entrepreneurial. There are plenty of other entrepreneurs that cut their teeth inside a corporate environment.I don’t think you understand what floor trading was like. It was not at all like the “trading” they do in NYC or London. It’s your own dough. Your own risk. It is running your own business. There is nothing more dog eat dog, or competitive in the entire world. When I traded, I was part of a group of ten guys that totally transformed the CME from an open outcry exchange to a publicly listed electronic exchange. I had about 700k of my own dough invested-in addition to all the money I had invested in my personal trading business. Post trading, I started in Chicago. So, yes, I get what starting an entrepreneurial business is really like.Excuse my tone, but I am sick of people saying that I don’t understand entrepreneurship because I was “just a commodity trader”.

          2. LE

            I don’t understand entrepreneurshipI didn’t say that. By the way I actually was in the Entrepreneurship program at Wharton. I would say that the people that taught there at the time (who had never actually run a business) knew entrepreneurship but not as someone who actually does it rather someone who studies it (I do both by the way..) They had all these theories and advice but had never actually tried to hire people or deal with the day to day issues.I don’t claim to know at all what it is like to be a commodity trader. At all. My comment wasn’t met to be a put down either by the way. This is not “oh you had it easy I didn’t” etc. I don’t care how someone makes his money either no valor in suffering as long as there is a challenge that’s fine in my book.Anyway, if you ran a small business where the guy who is supposed to deliver the goods doesn’t, the truck breaks down and people who are scheduled to interview don’t show up (because they don’t like the way the place looks) or the temp agencies send you crap and send the good temps to the big new “fresh carpet smell” buildings you would know what I mean. And that’s 3 examples out of 1000 by the way. Not to mention the credit issues. That’s a huge deal. Ever have someone owe you $50,000 and not be able to pay it and jerk you around (in 80’s dollars when that might be about 1/4 of your profit for the year?) I did. (And of course you had losses in trading for sure ..)I think it’s great that you “sold to very large warehouses, jobbers, and even end users.” So did I (from the business that I owned). So did my dad (when I worked in his business). Also (essentially) bribing the union guys not taught at Wharton. That is definitely a leg up and a great help as opposed to if you had graduated college and worked in a narrowly defined job at General Electric or even Grainger.It was not at all like the “trading” they do in NYC or London. It’s your own dough. Your own risk. It is running your own business. My comment doesn’t relate to what trading is like in NYC or London since I have no clue what that is like at all. However running your own (small) business is more than money at risk it’s aggravation, solving problems (which are different than you solve on the trading floor for sure) every single fucking day. You walk in and something is wrong, some machine doesn’t work, somebody didn’t show up, some customer has a complaint and some employee screwed up again.I sold my first business (had +- 18 employees) to a salesman who was backed by his uncle who was a big deal corporate lawyer for Wolf Block (a big local firm at the time). During the transition time the salesman told me “oh I’m just dealing with opening day shit I won’t be doing this for long” (he was wrong, ha ha you deal with that shit every day at this level). And the Uncle told me he also “ran a small business, the law firm” and all of that.

  2. Big T NYC

    Thanks for the kind words Joanne! So nice… and we agree, we definitely think we’re on to something 😉