il-lokal sat with Tettiera founders Joanna Micallef Farrugia (pictured left below) and Diana Mifsud (right) to talk about how they turned a shared passion and dream into a thriving business. Among their other successes, having a solid online presence and collaborating with local creatives and suppliers, really stand out. So, make yourself a cuppa and have a read through this week’s tea.
il-lokal: Tell us more about who's behind Tettiera.
Tettiera: Diana and myself (Joanna), officially launched Tettiera in 2016. We both add different talents to the mix and manage different areas of the business. Diana is the artistic director, focusing on brand image, photography, product production and presentation, whereas I focus on strategy, product development, business operations and sales. We're passionate about tea, the beauty of its ritual and its well-being benefits. We make it work together, along with help from our team!
il-lokal: What were you doing prior to starting the company?
Joanna: I'd been working for a large multinational company for 14 years and I loved my career, but still felt that I needed a change and a bigger challenge that would give me room to grow in other areas with more flexibility. I'd been thinking for some time about creating my own brand and company from the ground up. Diana, who happens to be my cousin and my closest pal and tea partner in crime (!) was intrigued as much as I was about the concept and after we combined our ideas, our brand’s DNA was formed.
Diana: I'd been working in an office environment for well over 10 years and had absolutely no involvement with the beverage industry. The past 4 years have been very challenging but equally satisfying, especially because I discovered various skills that I never knew I had simply because I never needed to use them before. From the get-go, Joanna’s vision was clear, and we created a strong foundation that we’ve been building on together.
il-lokal: Do you remember the specific moment when you decided to start the business?
Tettiera: We both knew we wanted to realise our own concept but it was 'just a dream' until we both decided to explore it more seriously and find a way to make it happen. It was back in 2015 when we found ourselves excitedly planning and actively developing the concept.
il-lokal: What process did you follow in turning Tettiera from an idea into an actual thriving business?
Tettiera: It took over 18 months of studying, strategising, planning, forecasting and building a number of business models with different route-to markets and investment requirements. Mapping out all the possible directions that our business could take was an intense piece of work, with each possibility presenting a number of risks. We wanted to showcase the beauty of tea and build a brand with a range of luxury-feel products that add warmth and comfort to every quality cup. With plenty of hard work, determination and the support of our customers, who are our greatest inspiration, we managed to get to where we are today.
il-lokal: What is the scariest aspect of opening a new business, according to you?
Tettiera: When you're self-employed, you need to keep in mind that you are the one who continuously needs to be driving forward your own ambition. That means finding creative solutions for all your challenges and having your strategic and business senses always turned on. It becomes your standard day at the office and can get quite overwhelming. The most frightening thing is, for many obvious reasons, the financial risk. But to counter that, I constantly question if we’ve missed something and how we can do better. We’re very proud but never completely satisfied with what we create, so we are always striving to improve it.
il-lokal: And the most rewarding part?
Tettiera: Receiving positive and encouraging feedback from our customers is what gives us the most joy. We put a lot of work into developing concepts that add value to the experience of enjoying a cup of tea by appealing to all the senses.
il-lokal: You worked with artist Stephanie Borg on your package design. How did this collaboration enrich your entrepreneurial vision?
Tettiera: We strongly believe in the values and benefits of collaboration. Partnering with a talented artist such as Stephanie gave life to our vision of adopting a local look and feel for our brand. We approached her and commissioned her to design an exclusive pattern based on our brief. The outcome was astonishing. Stephanie also creates artwork for our packaging. We develop the packaging style, shape and decide on the material ourselves, while Stephanie adds her artistic contribution based on our directions.
il-lokal: Some of your teas are flavoured with Maltese seeds, shrubs and herbs. Tell us more about the process of establishing relationships with local farmers?
Tettiera: We work with Vincent’s Eco Estate in Mġarr. They are a certified estate and in line with our policies on sustainable processes. The team at Vincent’s were immediately supportive and eager to be on board when we shared our desire to revive interest in local herbs and botanicals. Understanding the land's heritage and what it can give is important.
il-lokal: Your teas are available through a variety of stockists, but you also run your own online shop. What are your thoughts about e-commerce in Malta?
Tettiera: E-commerce is crucial in today’s business world and we actually first made our products available online. This was 4 years ago before we'd even started developing other channels such as boutiques, concept shops, hotels, restaurants and cafeterias.
In Malta, not a lot of businesses have an active and user-friendly website, let alone an online shop. Now more than ever, this is an issue. You need to have a smoothly-operating e-commerce system with a simple checkout process in place. Offering different payment gateways is a plus. We have a back-end operational system in place that enables us to dispatch the order in less than 2 working days from the time of purchase so that our customer can receive it within 4 working days. Customers expect ease of navigation, efficiency and accuracy.
Websites and online shops have to be kept up-to-date with fresh content and the latest product lines. You need to keep your audience engaged, build your SEO and online credibility. Offline, choosing the right logistics partner is crucial as you want your products to arrive in perfect condition and in a timely manner!
il - lokal: Do you have a long-term vision for Tettiera? Where do you see the business in five or ten years' time?
Tettiera: Our pool of ideas is ever-growing. Some flourish and some are shelved for a number of reasons, such as market dynamics and consumer trends at a particular point in time. Yet our customers and the love for tea remain our major source of inspiration and what drives us to excel in our product offering. What is sure is that we want to continue growing and adding value to our brand’s offering. A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter and we will continue exploring the beautiful world of tea and its ritual.
One book every aspiring entrepreneur should read?
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Which are your 3 favourite independent businesses in Malta and why?
Stephanie Borg - Her creations are distinctly vibrant. She is a talented self-employed artist and designer whose passion for our Maltese heritage and culture drives her to create beautiful artwork. 12 years ago Stephanie started developing her vision of combining her art with product design. She does not give up easily and her graceful positiveness helps her determination. She's a living inspiration for all young entrepreneurs and artists - some were even inspired by her concepts. Our respect and admiration for her is longstanding and one of the reasons why we chose her as our collaborative partner for Tettiera. We wanted the best talent on board to bring our branding and packaging vision to life.
Dical House - Dominic Calleja is the owner of Dical House, a gem of a boutique concept store selling the best-sourced local and foreign artisan brands in gourmet food, healthy foods and a fine selection of wines and spirits. Dominic’s passion for good food led him to offer the best one can find from his small boutique in Mosta, serving each customer directly. A hospitable shopping experience always awaits you at Dical House! The largest Tettiera collection can also be found here – Dominic became our first retailer in 2016.
Vincent’s Eco Estate - Gloria Camilleri and her passionate team have managed to develop an organic plantation and farm. Their daily work involves harvesting seasonal vegetables and selling them from their estate’s shop in Żebbieħ - undoubtedly one of the most beautiful outdoor fresh and healthy produce shops in Malta. The estate has so much to offer and it has not been an easy journey to develop a certified organic estate. I admire Gloria’s vision and determination. The estate is our estate of choice for the sourcing of fresh produce for Tettiera blends such as carob, borage and lemongrass.
Why is it important to support local businesses?
Supporting local businesses is key for local brands to be able to test their concept with consumers, to survive and to flourish. We have so much talent on the island and I believe that locals do support and appreciate the value of Maltese brands when they see what creativity can achieve. They are proud of what is created and buying it is how they show that they are engaged with these ideas. Being a small artisan business in a small market is not easy. When a customer buys a local brand, they are not only financially supporting the local business, but their purchase is actually motivating the entrepreneur to carry their vision forward and to excel.
Edited by Manuela Zammit.