Steve O’Dell is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Tenzo Tea and Managing Partner of Ad Valorum. He has been a good friend of mine ever since we crossed paths at UCLA during our undergraduate studies. In this interview, Steve shares a bit about his story with his matcha company and also provides a great angle into entrepreneurship.
What have been some of your challenges as you were building your company?
There’s been a lot learning moments. But, the biggest startup mistake was distributing equity upon the company’s inception, rather than the normal four year vesting period. You cannot build a strong foundation on a rocky core, and after a few earthquakes the company collapsed. A lot more good came from the experience then bad though. Persevering through a full cycle of start to fail, and getting back on your feet made me a lot tougher. The naivety disappeared and I’m thankful for it.
Do you have any idols?
In life, my parents. Their industriousness, support and selflessness have been unwavering during my best and worst of times.
In entrepreneurship, I have many. I have fictional heroes, like Ender Wiggin, Bruce Wayne, as well as non-fictional role-models like Aristotle, Friedrich Nietzsche,Theodore Roosevelt, and Benjamin Franklin. I admire their intelligence, creativity, and mostly, their ambition.
Where’s your focus right now?
Right now, I’m focused on building Tenzo Tea, a matcha company based out of Long Beach, CA with several incredibly talented and dedicated people.
Why did you decide to go for a matcha tea company?
Robbie Page and I were looking for a drink that was healthy and provided sustainable energy. Coming from athletic backgrounds, we were constantly battling consumption of unhealthy forms of energy. We searched high and low for the best product and after a few months, we met our matcha and Tenzo Tea was created!
What’s your competitive edge?
What most people don’t know, is that Matcha is like wine. There is an extremely wide spectrum of quality and price. Tenzo Tea’s mission is to make the world a healthier place, therefore, we work hard to provide the highest quality matcha at a great price. We do this through a refined and serious approach to maximizing the value for the customer, all the way down to handwritten notes and custom gift wrapping during the holidays.
Who are you targeting and how?
The ideal Tenzo is an individual who wants to live a longer, healthier life. Matcha is literally, the healthiest drink on the planet and there’s tons of use cases. You can make matcha lattes, smoothies, ice cream, pancakes, cookies, waffles, and much, much more! We try to put ourselves conveniently in front of people who we think might be interested and then leave them feeling enthused or optimistic.
What’s the long-term vision?
In a couple years, I’d like to be leading a world-class organization of individuals committed to making the world a healthier place. The product future on the other hand is much cloudier. I have several years of developments planned, but it’s hard to say how or when precisely those plans will express themselves.
Is there an end goal?
There is no end goal. We have a mission to make the world a healthier place and right now, Matcha is the perfect avenue to scale towards that mission on a larger scale.
Give the readers the best entrepreneurship advice you have.
Everything you’re currently doing is wrong. By nature the world is imperfect and everchanging. What you did yesterday is not perfect today. Don’t get caught up in your work, be wary of bias and always put in the hours. I’ve only met one successful slacker.
I know you’re a tools kinda guy, what kind of software do you use?
I use Slack, Trello, G-Suite, and Atom every day. It’s best to master the tools you use everyday as shortcuts here will result in the greatest gains. However, the more tools you can wield effectively (bookmark), the better. The internet is a strange place and you never know what’s going to come in handy.
What’s something valuable that you want the readers to learn?
Toyota Motors was one of the greatest businesses of the twentieth century. In particular, they became famous for exceptional manufacturing skill. There were many concepts and models that Toyota Engineers used. Collectively, these are known as the Toyota Production System (TPS).
There are many useful models within the TPS, but one that applies to startups, although counterintuitive to silicon valley culture, is the concept of “standardized work”. This does not mean adhering to the notion of the “everyday routine”. It means that you can standardize pieces of your workload. The easy analogy is the the system of quarterly 10-Q’s and annual 10-K’s. You do X (the task) on Y (time interval) which produces your results (allows A,B, and C to happen effectively). For example, if you want to apply this concept and get instantly more productive, every sunday night (Y – time interval), schedule your entire week (X – the task). This will help you remain focused each day, remove gaps between working blocks, and minimize your time spent organizing each day (A, B, C results). Apply the concept of standardized work to be more productive.