We have the pleasure of sitting down with Role Tea CEO and co-founder Mike Johnson to discuss the topic of entrepreneurship while other and what building an effective network looks like for underrepresented communities.
Zach: My grandfather was born in Mississippi and was a sharecropper on a cotton farm. With only an elementary education, he eventually moved to a small Illinois town to work for John Deere. After working for over 20 years, he established his wealth through entrepreneurship, namely real estate. “Remember,” he would say to me as a child, “jobs are to pay your bills. If you want to be successful and make real money, do something else.” Though he was successful, his journey was challenging and fraught with various hardship. It actually reminds me of an excerpt from a piece from Inc Magazine authored by Web Smith called “What It Really Means to Be a Black Entrepreneur in America,” and I quote, “Regardless of race or ethnicity, entrepreneurs always begin at a disadvantage. However, blacks tend to need to reach levels of traction with our own money since seed money is often unavailable. This contributes to the rarity of URM entrepreneurs. Richard Kirby, vice president of Vinrock, recently compiled a list that reported a total of 23 African-American investors in the U.S. It should be of no surprise that black founders receive less than 1% of institutional capital. As important as money is the ability to realize your potential through mentorship and direction. This begins with confidence, belonging, and familiarity.” End quote. Listen to that. Confidence, belonging, and familiarity. Networking is the catalyst for each of these things, but what does building such networks look like for underrepresented communities? My name is Zach, and you’re listening to Living Corporate.
Ade: So today we’re talking about entrepreneurship and what it means to be an entrepreneur as a non-white person.
Zach: I’m glad that we’re dedicating an episode to this. Living Corporate isn’t just about working for someone else, but also we want to explore ways in which you can work for yourself.
Ade: For sure, and shout-out to your grandpa. That’s an amazing story.
Zach: Yeah, it’s inspiring for sure, and while it’s impressive–you know, he built his empire through real estate in a small Midwestern town after building up decades of social equity by being in the community, right? Like, he bought homes, like, no one else was really wise enough to invest in, then he fixed them himself, then he managed all of his own maintenance on this homes.
Ade: Wow. Yeah, I mean, he weaved his own boot straps out of thin air and then pulled himself up by them. Like, he’s an amazing success story, no doubt. To your point, in 2019, the world is just way more connected and social, which is cool, but it also creates more invisible hurdles and roles and just stuff to navigate in being a full-time or even moderately successful part-time entrepreneur, right? And those three things that you quoted–confidence, belonging, and familiarity–those are all needed in the hyper-connected world.
Zach: It’s just funny, ’cause I was telling a colleague that because of that fact that entrepreneurship success is built on access to capital, which lie in relationships, that people of color are well-benefitted by having partners and backing that don’t really look like them, and I remember I had this conversation, and you would think this person, like, thought that I had said, I don’t know, just something, like, really racist or, like–“What are you talking about? What are you trying to say? I mean, anybody can do anything.” I was like, “OK, all right. Yes, we can do anything.” And it also helps to know the right people so that we can have access to things, so that we can do the things that we want. I mean, like, let’s be realistic. It frustrates me sometimes when we talk about, like, success and striving to do better and building things that we don’t acknowledge, like, the very real capitalist structures that exist, right? Not even that we’re fighting against, but that we have to plug into to be successful. Like, come on. Like, this is America. Everybody does not–everybody with a great idea does not wake up and then work really hard towards that idea and then somehow, like, become successful. There’s plenty of people out there with great ideas who work very hard who are never successful, right?
Ade: Right, and because people of color often don’t have access to power or the relationships or the rooms in which these bills are being made in these countries to be movers and shakers there’s a bit of a disadvantage. Let’s look at the most prominent black clothing brand ever, FUBU. Long story short, FUBU popped off by having a relationship with LL Cool J, and yes, that LL Cool J. He is black, but guess who else LL Cool J had a commercial partnership with? Gap. He plugged FUBU in the middle of a Gap promotional commercial, and he did it while he was rapping, so nobody who was on set or was clearing the ad afterwards really noticed.
Zach: Right, and it’s a crazy story, but people just forget about that and the fact that Damon John, he had a ton of creative methods to promote FUBU, right? Like, he had a ton of different ways he was kind of getting it out on the street, but it was that Gap commercial–that’s the one that really got ’em on the map and really–anyone who studies FUBU and studies, like, advertising, they know about the LL commercial, right? Like, it’s common knowledge that’s–that was the tipping point for that brand, and so, like, the point is entrepreneurship is changing already. Like, the majority of entrepreneurs don’t make it, but being someone who doesn’t have advantages built on centuries of historical inequity makes it even harder. Not to say it isn’t possible. I’m not saying that it’s impossible at all, it’s just–it’s just hard.
Ade: Correct. Wouldn’t it be dope if we had an entrepreneur with, let’s say, over a 15-year track record of successfully launching dozens of new products or services in the food and beverage media and industrial goods industry? In fact, I would love to hear from someone who has experience maybe launching a brand from concept to the shelf of three of the top ten grocery chains in the country.
Zach: Oh, you mean like our guest Mike C. Johnson?
Ade and Zach: Whaaaaaat?
Zach: [imitates air horns, then Sound Man supplies them] Y’all thought we weren’t gonna have these air horns this season. Y’all thought. That’s right. We still here with these air horns. We are here with these air horns. More fire for your head top. I’m not playing.
Ade: This is really all Zach. I’m blaming it on you.
Zach: Aye, drop the air horns. In fact, hold on, drop extra air horns, because we had someone who was actually from Jamaica hit us up on Instagram and say, “Please keep the air horns coming, and make them louder.”
Ade: Make them louder?
Zach: Make them louder, so we here for y’all. We here for the people, ’cause we got it like that. We love y’all, okay?
Ade: Not surprised. Not surprised in the least. All right, y’all. Keep listening for a really dope conversation.
Zach: And we’re back. And as we shared before the break, we have Mike Johnson with us. Welcome to the show, Mike. How are you doing?
Mike: I’m doing good, man. How are you doing?
Zach: I’m doing really good, man. So today we’re talking about entrepreneurship. So can you tell me–where did your entrepreneurial itch come from or start with?
Mike: Oh, man. I really can trace it back to my early 20s. I had a couple ventures around that time that I went after. I had a website called VirtualREGallery, which was basically a website that displayed virtual tours of real estate listings before virtual tours were pretty popular. I was a realtor for a little while, and I also did some construction on the side. So I’ve always kind of had that aspiration to somewhat control my own destiny, but I would say what really motivated me to start Role Tea was just as I learned more about marketing and innovation, I always just had this dream to want to turn an idea or a vision to a concept and go start to finish and pretty much have complete control over how that product will come to market. So that to me has been the most gratifying part of entrepreneurship. Even to this day when I walk into a store or restaurant and I see someone, you know, drinking Role Tea and, you know, just randomly, that to this day still makes me a little excited, ’cause I’m like, “Man, 3 years ago that product was just an idea in my head, and now people can actually purchase it and consume it in a store.” So that’s just probably the most gratifying thing, to have that control over the idea from start to finish.
Zach: That’s amazing. And, you know, you talking about your previous ventures, it reminds me of another question that–you know, in season 1 we had a guest who brought up the concept of failing forward–failing quickly and failing forward, so can you talk a little bit about that concept and perhaps what some of your biggest Ls–and we’ll say Ls are lessons–that you’ve taken in your entrepreneurial journey?
Mike: Yeah, man. That’s a great question. The crazy thing for me about failure that I’ve learned in this experience is that–you know, I’ve realized that you really only fail at almost anything when you quit. Like, going into this venture, you know, sometimes your mind can play tricks on you. You start thinking about the worst things that could happen and failure and whatnot, but when you get into it you realize that, man, virtually everything that happens to a business can be resolved if you have the fortitude to try to work through it. So, I mean, you know, we’re no different. Like, you know, everyone talks about the great side of entrepreneurship, but man, we’ve had at least four or five near-death experiences with our company in 2 years. Like, you know, from running out of cash, which a lot of startups have that issue with running out of money, to, you know, having key suppliers back out last minute, literally weeks before launching into Wegmans, which is a 95+ grocery chain from Virginia up to upstate New York, to having distributors back out the last minute. I mean, all of these things have taken out other companies, but for us we just looked at it as, you know, “Okay, here’s another problem.” You know, “What are our options just to get past it?” And you kind of take it on the chin and move forward. So, you know, you really only fail at almost anything when you quit or when you run out of, you know, hands to play. So once you realize that and you realize that, “Wow,” you know, “what happens with me and this business is largely up to my control,” it’s kind of empowering once you realize that. But as far as just lessons in general around business, to me the two biggest lessons that come to mind for me is–the first one is just starting as small as you can until you can completely the validate the concept, and when I say validate the concept I mean that, you know, you have a product or a concept that people are gonna want to buy, where the economics of it will actually be able to create a business, right? There’s a lot of ideas out there that you can sell, but you’re never gonna get the price point that you need to actually have a business. Making sure that you actually know who the consumer is. You know how to talk to them or the channels to sell to them. Those are all the things that are required to really validate a concept, and it’s best to try to do that on a very small scale to start. That’s definitely been a lesson that we’ve learned early on, and then I think the second big lesson that I’ve learned in this in terms of failure as well is just trying to get the business to a point where it can be self-sustainable as quickly as possible, right? So right now we’re going through some pretty, you know, dramatic changes around our operations to get a little bit more margin back in house versus giving it to a supplier or an outsourced vendor, and that’s just all in an effort to get our business to a point where it can pretty much eat off of what it kills, right? We can sustain ourselves based on our own selves as opposed to relying too much on outside investments. So that’s a piece of advice I would give to any aspiring entrepreneur. Even if you want to raise capital, it’s just good to have financial discipline to try to get your business as self-sustainable as possible as quickly as possible. So there’s many lessons, but those two stand out the most.
Zach: And so, you know, you’ve talked–you talked a little bit about Role Tea, and we’re definitely gonna get into that as we get further along in this interview. I’m curious to know about your ventures. Could you–would you mind walking us through? Typically when I meet–the reason I ask your ventures is because typically when I meet entrepreneurs, they may have, like, one big thing, but they have a few other things kind of cooking around them. So I’m curious to know, what are your ventures right now?
Mike: No, yeah, that is very true. We tend to have short attention spans, so it’s easy to kind of get involved with different things. You know, we launched Role Tea in December, November timeframe of 2016, so we’re right at the 2 years, and to be honest, man, aside from, you know, being a new father, which I actually became a father the same year I became an entrepreneur with Role Tea, that’s been my primary focus. Now that Role Tea is a little bit more established in terms of distributors and it doesn’t take as much of me doing virtually everything to keep it going, I am starting to get back a little bit into consulting. That’s something that I did prior to launching Role Tea, so I do like to work with other startups and help them however way I can, but aside from that, man, the bulk of my focus right now is with Role Tea.
Zach: What challenges do you believe that you’ve had as a black entrepreneur? And I ask that because in the research that Ade and I have been doing, we’ve noticed that there are some challenges that are unique to being a non-white builder of businesses, and so I’m curious to know, like, if you–have you run into any challenges that you believe are unique juxtaposed to your white counterparts? And if so, what are they?
Mike: Entrepreneurship, just inherent in the way it is, is already built with plenty of challenges. White, black, yellow, whatever. So sometimes it can be a challenge to understand, “Okay, is this a challenge that I’m facing because I’m simply an entrepreneur, or is this a challenge that I’m facing because I’m a black entrepreneur?” And that can be difficult sometimes to decipher, but one challenge that I think is definitely tied to us being, you know, African-American [and own a business,] especially in the food and beverage industry. It’s just the fact that, you know, we are launching a beverage brand that is–our intent is to scale to 100+ million in sales and potentially exit, so we’re treating our business like a true startup, not like a family-owned business where we’re just, you know, looking to sell locally and et cetera, and I think that that’s a very different thing in the food and beverage industry amongst a black entrepreneur that most people would expect. So I think that just simply not having a whole lot of examples to point to of black-owned food and beverage brands that have been able to do that successfully makes it hard for a lot of people to see the vision and see the potential in our concept, and I think that’s especially true primarily with investors. We’ve actually had, you know, pretty good success with, for example, some major retailers. We’ve gotten our product onto the shelves of Whole Foods, of Wegmans. Those are two of the top-rated grocery chains in the country. Hy-Vee is another one. You know, but from a business standpoint, I think that’s where we’ve seen most of the challenge in terms of, you know, working with investors and things of that nature, and I think that’s largely because there’s just not a whole lot of examples of African-American-owned food and beverage brands that have done it to that level, which is what we’re aspiring to do. So I’m sure that there is plenty more, but that’s definitely one that I can say for certain I think is unique to us.
Zach: So what advice would you give to the person who thinks, you know, entrepreneurship is an all-or-nothing thing and it isn’t–they’re not starting their journey because they’re afraid of missing a steady paycheck?
Mike: Yeah, man. That’s definitely something that is–I find is very common amongst a lot of people. I struggle with that myself. The first thing is you don’t have to be all in to be an entrepreneur, right? Don’t listen to everything that you see on Instagram and, you know, social media. There’s a lot of people out here glamorizing entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurship is great, right? I spent 12+ years in the corporate world, and now I’m 2 years as an entrepreneur, so I can give you the perspective of both sides, and there’s definitely a lot of advantages on the entrepreneur side, but there is nothing wrong with side-hustling it for as long as you can, right? That extra paycheck from your job is–it actually can position your business to be more successful, you know? Thankfully I have 12+ years of experience in the corporate world working for other people, learning, collecting that nice six-figure salary so that I can actually build up a savings to even have a chance to do what I’m doing now. So it’s all about when is the right time for you, even if you ever want to go all in, right? All in meaning you’re full-time with your entrepreneurship venture, but that’s the first thing. Don’t feel pressured to go all in, right? And when you go all in is another big question that I hear a lot, and it’s also one that I–challenge that I dealt with, and, you know, there’s no right or wrong answer. Everyone has to lok at their particular situation to know when is the right time, but I will say that there’s probably about four or five things that, you know, anyone that’s in that situation is looking to do, to transition, to go all in, they should be looking at. Like, the first thing is, you know, what does your business require? Like, for example, if you’re gonna launch a catering business versus a restaurant, you know, they’re two very different demands and requirements, right? When you’re talking about a restaurant, you have to deal with a storefront, which likely comes with remodeling, et cetera. Not the typical type of thing that you can get, you know, to market on the weekends and evenings, right? Whereas a catering service, you can do that evenings, weekends. You can pretty much side-hustle that until you actually get paying customers before you even have to leave your job. So the type of business that you’re looking to start a lot of times will dictate largely when you can actually go all in or if and when you can actually cut the 9-to-5 path. The other thing you’ve got to look at is, you know, what type of support do you have going into it, right? Do you have people, whether it’s family members or friends, that can help you out early on without having to get paid, right? I mean, early on there’s no cash coming in. To get it stood up, you’re gonna need people to help. You’re gonna need your team. What type of support do you have? If you have a pretty good support system, you may be able to go all in a little bit sooner. Also you’ve got to look at, you know, what are your responsibilities in terms of financially and with people, right? Are you 21 years old, no kids, no family, very low bills? You know, that gives you a whole lot more flexibility in terms of what you can do sooner and the risks that you can take, whereas if you are–like, in my situation, I started, you know, Role Tea already in my mid-30s. Like I said, I’m a father, newly father, so I have to move a lot different in that situation.
Zach: Congratulations on that, by the way.
Mike: Oh, I definitely appreciate it, man. Fatherhood is a lot of fun, a lot of fun. But yeah, you have to move a lot different if you have a lot of financial responsibilities and people responsibilities. Obviously you have to be a little bit more smart about when you go all in. You also might have to look at are there skills that you just don’t have yet but you need to develop before you go all in, right? And then lastly, this is probably often times, you know, skipped and not really taken into consideration, but you definitely have to look at what’s your appetite for risk and uncertainty, right? Once you pull the plug on that 9-to-5 and you’re all in, you know, on the good side is it really motivates you to have a sense of urgency, to move forward fast, but at the same time it can also be stressful by not having that paycheck coming in every week or two or whatever it was you got paid, and that can definitely cause a lot of stress and anxiety, and if you’re the type of person that doesn’t deal well with that type of uncertainty and stress, #1: you’re probably going to struggle as an entrepreneur, ’cause that’s gonna come naturally, but that may also dictate you keeping your business as a side hustle a little bit longer. So I never tell someone exactly what to do in that situation, but I would definitely tell you that those are probably the four or five things that you should be thinking about in your situation to determine, you know, when you go all in or if you go all in at all.
Zach: And so, you know–and I alluded to this earlier about some of your challenges as a black entrepreneur, but the research I was speaking to specifically had to do with the variance in acquiring capital, right? So venture capital, angel investments, and other types of non-business loan-sourced funding. I’m curious, have you had any challenges in acquiring that type of funding, and really what’s been your journey in building those relationships with those with access with the capital to help your ventures?
Mike: Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s definitely one of the bigger challenges that I’m finding with not just our business but other black-owned entrepreneurs, and it’s a complex one, which I–I know that this is probably an area of business that’s foreign to a lot of people, so I definitely want to make sure I kind of break this down because, you know, I have an MBA, but yet 3 years ago I didn’t understand hardly anything about the idea of raising capital. I’ve had to learn a lot through this venture, and the challenges that are unique to African-Americans is–it’s kind of a snowball effect, so let me explain it like this. So investment in startups typically happens in a progression, right? So, you know, the first step is typically money out of your own pocket, right? So that’s called bootstrapping, right? Maybe you’ve worked in the corporate world for a number of years, you’ve built up some savings. Maybe you got an inheritance. Whatever the case may be, right? But you need some sort of cash to get things going very early on. That’s typically the first step. Second step is you look to friends and family, right? “Who do I know in my own personal network?” Friends, family, associates, that have the means to write a $10, 20, 30, 50,000 check or more, right? That’s the second step, and then once you get past that, then you get into what’s called angel investors, which are typically either high net worth or high-income individuals who choose to invest in startups, right? And then lastly you get to venture capital, which essentially are, you know, funds that investors who are called limited partners, or LPs, invest in, and they then have managers of those funds look for startups to invest in, right? And they can go from $500,000 up to, you know, $100,000,000, right? They write very large checks. So that’s the typical progression of a startup raising capital for their business. So let’s think about that, right? Now, what we know about African-Americans is we traditionally have a lower income than non-whites. We also traditionally have a lower net worth, which is probably more significant, than whites. So going back to the very first step in that progression, right? Most of us could struggle with having the means to even bootstrap, to have that $20, 30, 50,000 just to get started, right? Because of the points that I just made, right? And if you get past that hurdle, then now you have to find friends and family that also can write that $10, 15, 20,000 check or more. Again, that’s a struggle that’s unique for African-Americans moreso than others because of the points that I just made. So right out the gate as an African-American entrepreneur you have some disadvantages, right? And VCs and angels, you have to get past those first couple stages typically before they’re even interested in looking at your business, right? And the crazy thing about investment, the investment world, that I’ve learned is investors rely significantly on their personal networks to even be introduced to an entrepreneur to invest in. So they’re–again, how many African-Americans have the social network, the connections that people that have that kind of means to write those checks, right? So it’s a snowball effect that, collectively speaking, puts us at a disadvantage, and again, that’s definitely a challenge that is well-documented. We’ve experienced it. Other founders that we know have experienced it, but, you know, how you deal with that is–again, I don’t want to make it sound simple, but the first thing that we’ve tried to do is just bridge that gap in terms of relationships, right? And that’s really done largely by just putting yourself out there, putting yourself in situations to meet people that can invest in your brand. So, you know, the very first angel investor that we had we met at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit last year. We were chosen as a finalist to pitch in that competition, so, you know, we got a lot of visibility at that show down in Houston last year. We met with our first investor there, our first angel investor I should say, and, you know, months down the road after the rapport was established he decided to invest in us, right? So that was an example of where we had to kind of bridge that gap by just going out and making those connections, and then the second thing really is just–you know, you have to have the mindset that you’re gonna make your startup undeniable, right? You know, if someone says no now, which we’ve definitely heard tons of nos, and you’re gonna hear nos. Raising capital is very difficult for any startup, so you have to have the mindset that, you know, “Okay, you say no today, but we’re gonna build up the traction that we need over the next 6 months to 12 months to the point where if you say no you’re basically foolish,” right? So you just have to make your startup–you have to make your startup undeniable, ’cause everyone likes to make money, and I think it’s a little bit more of a challenge to show that we can do that, but, you know, if you can definitely demonstrate that, people will invest in your startup. It’s just a little bit difficult for us for those reasons.
Zach: That’s just such a great point around–especially when you started–when you talked about, like, the various levels of investment, right? So I’ll even use Living Corporate as an example. For us, you know, I’m one of the few people in my family even in corporate America. We don’t all have money like that. I certainly would not–I don’t even feel comfortable. I mean, and some of that might just be culture too, Mike. I don’t feel comfortable walking to a member of my family talking about, “Hey, would you mind investing $10,000 to help us hire writers and videographers and so on, so on, and so forth,” and really invest in Living Corporate. Like, what? You know what I mean? Like, just the thought of that, right? And then, you know, we had an episode again in season 1 when we were talking about family [inaudible]–like, the wealth gap. The wealth inequality gap, and there’s plenty of research to show that in the next 10, 20 years, that the average value of a black home will be zero dollars, right? So you’re talking about the fact that starting up and getting all this capital, for a community who has no money–like, we don’t have the centuries of privilege and things of that nature to have an uncle or a second cousin who can write a check, right? And I think that’s just a really good point. You know, I’m curious about Role Tea, so let’s dig into that a little bit more. So first off, when can Living Corporate get a case of the tea?
Mike: I’m always open to giving Role Tea to whoever wants it, so yeah, I’ll let you go with the second question.
Zach: [laughs] Okay, so we’re good on the tea. And then why tea? Why Role Tea, and then what was the inspiration behind Role Tea?
Mike: Yeah, yeah. So yeah, we definitely got you on the case. No problem there. As far as the inspiration for the tea, we always say on the–we launched the tea 2 years ago, but the idea for Role Tea really started probably in my early 20s more than 10 years ago where I had the experience of losing 100 pounds, right? So, you know, I’m like 22 years old, and I get that scale shock where I go to the doctor and–I know I’m obviously way too big, but I didn’t realize I had actually gone over 300 pounds, and I’m like, “Man,” like, “Okay, something’s gotta change.” So at that point my relationship with food changed, and I learned that, you know, a lot of the traditional foods and beverages that I had consumed, that were, you know, typically less than healthy, right, if I’m creative I can remix those recipes to be better for me, still taste good, and actually serve a purpose to either help me feel better or perform better, and so, you know, over the course of the next 2 to 3 years I lost 100 pounds just, you know, changing the way I ate and exercising more, et cetera. So fast forward to 2015. At this time I was training for a boxing match. I’m a huge boxing fan. I’ve boxed for several years. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m passionate about boxing just as I am about business, but I was training for a boxing match in 2015, and I noticed–again, now in my mid-30s, you know, after training, what used to take a day or two to feel normal again, not feel sore, not feel stiff, was now taking 2 or 3 days, right? So I started to research beverages that I could drink–you know, not supplements, but just every day traditional beverages–
Mike: Yeah, natural beverages that I could incorporate into my diet that may help, and so, you know, that’s when I learned about ingredients like tumeric and ginger and, you know, green tea and tart cherries, which all have natural anti-inflammatory properties, and so I looked for options in the store, and virtually everything I saw was $6 or $7 bottles of juice, [inaudible] sugar. So, you know, my background is in innovation, new product development and launches, so I immediately saw a business opportunity. I went to a friend of mine named Corey Benson with the idea, and he has an operations background. He was running a manufacturing plant at the time, and he said, “You know what, man? Like, I see people every day that are standing up at the job for 9, 10 hours a day. They’re popping Aleves. They’re, you know, popping Advils and drinking Mountain Dews to deal with the soreness from just their job,” right? So he immediately saw the pain point that, you know, the concept that we were thinking about would address, but he saw it from a regular 9-to-5 job, whereas I was dealing with it from a weekend warrior boxing perspective, right? So we immediately saw, like, “Wow, this whole thing around inflammation and a functional beverage that can help with that has some legs, and it probably could impact a lot of people.” So from there we were ready to go. We started to research the industry a lot more in 2015 and 2016. We worked with a development company to take our recipes that we had created with tea and juice and spices, like tumeric and ginger, to basically create a product that could be sold on a shelf. We chose tea because, you know, tea is a very popular drink, and it still is. Shout-out to Guru, even though he talked about lemonade. But tea’s a very popular drink, and the great thing about it is, again, you know, a lot of the options before were juices, which is more expensive. Tea is a much less expensive catalyst to use to deliver functional spices and benefits, so we figured we would be able to create a functional drink that’s also affordable, right? So we’re probably one of the first functional beverages in stores like Whole Foods and Wegmans that was under $3 per bottle, and again–plus I’m a huge iced tea fan, right? So that was a natural ingredient, or product, to use. So, you know, we worked through the recipe process in 2016, and we launched a product literally the night before Thanksgiving in the D.C. Metro area in 2016, and, you know, we started off just very independent, selling out of the trunk of our cars, and, you know, now we’re currently sold in over 100 locations, from Virginia up to upstate New York as well as a few states in the Midwest. So right now we’re just, you know, looking to continue to grow the business, bring on more partners, bring on more investors, and just see how far it can go.
Zach: Man, that’s incredible, man. You know, and down the road, once, you know, we get this tea and we drink it, we’ll make sure to shout y’all out on the podcast on the part of our Favorite Things.
Mike: Definitely. Definitely do that.
Zach: Yeah, man. Now, this has been a great conversation. I really want to know where people can learn more about Role Tea and where they can get some.
Mike: Yeah, yeah. So Role Tea–and that’s R-O-L-E, as in, like, play your role. Role Tea is sold online, so you can see us at RoleTea.com. R-O-L-E-T-E-A dot com. We’re also sold on the East Coast, primarily in stores like Wegmans as well as some independent stores in the D.C. Metro area. So yeah, check us out online, RoleTea.com. A lot of good information there. You can order right through that website. Yeah.
Zach: That’s what’s up, man. Now, look, before we get out of here, do you have any parting thoughts or shout-outs?
Mike: Yeah, I definitely want to shout-out everyone that has tried Role Tea, everyone that will try Role Tea, including you, Zach. Yeah, everyone that’s worked with the brand to help get us this far, to this point, definitely appreciate the support. I definitely want to shout-out my co-founder Corey Benson. Definitely want to shout-out, you know, again, everyone that’s listening to this podcast. I didn’t get a chance to say this before, man, but when I first heard about this podcast and what you guys are attempting to do as far as help educate people in how to navigate, you know, the world of corporate America, I’m like, “Man, that’s definitely something that’s needed.” Like you mentioned yourself, you’re a first-generation corporate professional, right? Did I hear that right?
Mike: Yep, so same here. You know, first in my family to, you know, get a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, corporate world and, you know, going into the corporate world I’m thinking, “Okay, I’m ready for success based on my education,” but I quickly learned that most of what determines your success in that world is the things that are not taught in the classroom, right? It’s the soft skills. It’s the implied cultural norms that are often times a little bit different than what we grew up with, so, you know, a lot of us learn those lessons on the job as opposed to being prepared beforehand. So this podcast is doing a great service to help educate young professionals on those waters before they get into them, so kudos to you guys, and again, I’m glad to be a part of this.
Zach: Man, Mike, thank you so much for the kind words. Again, the drink, Role Tea–like know your role, R-O-L-E T-E-A, and we’re excited to give it a little review. So I appreciate your time. We consider you a friend of the show. Can’t wait to have you back, man.
Mike: Definitely appreciate it, man.
Ade: And we’re back. I thoroughly enjoyed that interview, Zach. I mean, I’ve known Mike for a little while now. He’s been a great friend and supporter. Like, he’s always good, not only to listen to you for advice but just listen to his experiences, and how he’s been able to grow Role Tea as a brand has been very inspiring, and I’m so glad that we got so much of that in that interview.
Zach: No, for sure. In our discussion, and outside of it too, we talked about–just talked about his history and talked about the challenges of building up his brand and really, like, trying and failing at some other things too, but super happy he was on the show, and hopefully we’ll get some–we’ll get some tea out of this. He told me he’d actually send us a couple pallets. I don’t know about pallets, but he said he’d send–
Zach: Yeah. Not pallets, ’cause pallets sounds like–
Ade: ‘Cause that tea is delicious.
Zach: Yeah. No, I’ve heard it’s–I haven’t had any yet, but I’m positive that once I have it I’m gonna enjoy it.
Ade: Okay. Well, I am keeping an eye out, because Role Tea is amazing. Anyway, awesome. Thank you, and shout-out again to Mike Johnson and Role Tea. I’m looking forward to that tea.
Zach: Salute to Mike. Okay, so Favorite Things?
Ade: Favorite Things. Let’s go. All right.
Zach: All right, cool. So look, my favorite thing right now has to be Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Now, some of y’all are like, “Super Smash Bros.? What’s that?” But let me tell you something, those who know–Pusha T voice. “If you know, you know.” So look, my favorite thing right now has to be Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on my Nintendo Switch. It’s super fun. I play in the evening after a long day at work, and I love it because I can just kind of pick it up. I don’t have to, like, sit down in front of a big TV, boot up the game. I can just pick up my handheld, boot it up. And for those who want to know, my favorite–my main character is Chrom. So again, for those who are kind of, like, outside of this whole video game space, Super Smash Bros. is a Nintendo game, right, but it’s like you can, like, pick Nintendo characters against each other to fight, right? But, like, not in a, like, super violent Mortal Kombat way. More, like, kind of, like, a cartoonish, fun way, but it’s a deep, deep game, right? So you can put Mario against Sonic. You can put Princess Peach against Captain Falcon or Fox or Falco or Ganondorf versus Kirby. You can do all kinds of crazy match-ups, right? Super fun, and so it’s been cool. It’s a really good stress reliever. That–you know, working out sometimes, you don’t want to necessarily want to get up and work out. Forgive me. I don’t want to work out all the time. Sometimes I just want to kind of veg out, and it’s great. It’s great for that. So that’s my favorite thing.
Ade: Okay, self-care. I see you.
Zach: That’s right.
Ade: So my favorite thing lately has been a book called Cracking the Coding Interview. It’s been invaluable, I think. I struggle–for those of you who are just joining us, just in case this is your very first Living Corporate episode ever, I am switching careers, or I’m in the process of switching careers. I’m becoming a software engineer, and part of that process is self-teaching both foundational concepts and computer science, but also understanding algorithms, binary trees. Just how the very technical elements of software engineering, something that you are supposed to pick up in a classroom that I did not have the luxury of doing, therefore I have to teach myself. And there are also books that exist out there that kind of help you through the process of thinking through and developing strategies for coding interviews. I’m discussing it like it’s a journal or something like that, [inaudible], but yeah, it’s been a really important book, and I’ve kind of been adding more and more base computer science books and algorithm books to my library, right next to Frantz Fanon and Audre Lorde. So yeah, those are my favorite things.
Zach: That’s a sick combination though. That’s dope.
Ade: I want you to know our library in our home consists of tax law code and regulations and vegan chef–vegan cookbooks and regular cookbooks and Sister Outsider. [laughs] And computer science books and data science books.
Zach: That’s dope though.
Ade: Oh, and [Ola had a?] self-help book. So there’s no way you can walk into my home and not have something to read.
Zach: You’re gonna have something. You’re gonna learn about something.
Ade: There will be something available to edify you. I even have, like, fiction novels, everything from John Green to Grisham to Tomi Adeyemi, which, again, shout-out to her.
Zach: Shout-out to her. No, straight up. She’s great.
Ade: I’m looking up to the next book in the series, by the way. Okay, we have veered so far off track. Did you have–
Zach: Good. It’s a Favorite Things segment. We’re supposed to turn up. It’s cool.
Ade: You know what? You’re right. You’re right. Sir, sir. Sir. [Not turning up. Cruise?]. I’m tired. [laughs]
Zach: [laughs] [Turn me up. Cruise?]
Ade: Nope, I’m tired of you.
Zach: Okay. No, no, no, but that’s dope. So look, you know, y’all, if it wasn’t evident by our kickoff episode, as well as our Supporting Black Women at Work section, the B-Side that we had as well as the full episode, we’re here, man.
Ade: We outchea.
Zach: We’re gonna have a good time this season. Make sure you keep checking us out. Thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @LivingCorporate, Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through living-corporate.com. Please say the dahs.
Ade: The dash.
Zach: If you have a question you’d like for us to answer and read on the show, just email us or hit us on DM, right? We out here. Don’t forget to give us 5 stars too. Now, look, some of y’all actually been responding and gave us some stars, but not all of y’all though. That’s right, I’m looking at you. That’s right. We need those 5 stars, okay? Right? Am I tripping, Ade? Do we need the 5 stars or nah?
Ade: We need the 5 stars.
Zach: We need the 5 stars. Okay, cool. Look, y’all. That does it for us. We’ll catch y’all next week. This has been Zach.
Ade: And this is Ade. Free 21 Savage.
Zach: Free 21 Savage. Peace.