Linda Lipsius | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Linda Lipsius

Background:  

Denver-based Teatulia Organic Teas is named after the area in Northern Bangladesh where its tea is grown. Teatulia’s products have been sold in the U.S. since 2008.

The Mistake:

I didn’t trust my gut.

This has manifested most in hiring, mostly on the sales front. I used to hire people if they had an impressive resume or if they came from a good reference, and I just sort of took those things to mean that they must be good. I thought they were surely experts, and I mostly let them run free in the marketplace.

Sometimes I have the problem of thinking everyone knows more than I do. I think I was intimidated by their resumes, and I made a decision to take a hands-off approach.

I didn’t understand that doing a job, and especially a job at a young company, is about passion and culture. I didn’t take the time to imprint my passion on these new hires. All these things affected the business massively. We had long periods – maybe not so long – of flat or declining business.

There was one instance I remember vividly. We had just lost this big account, so I approached our sales person to talk about it. He didn’t even know, and that floored me. How could he not be close enough to the customer to know that they were leaving? How could you not be monitoring the pulse of this account?

He had a strong resume. He came from big companies in the industry. I just trusted that he knew what he was doing and figured his selling style was just different from mine. That definitely damaged the business, and I was afraid for a long time to hire new sales people.

Sometimes I have the problem of thinking everyone knows more than I do.

The Lesson:

Eventually I realized that I needed to hire sales people that sell just like I do. I need people who are detail-oriented and interested in forging deep relationships with clients. I’m hands-on, and I pay attention to industry trends. I need my salespeople to be technical and academic about it as well as relationship-oriented.

Understanding that as the foundation of how this business works – we are a small company in a competitive industry – was huge. We need to be experts and your best friend.

To get to that point, we’ve really changed the way we hire in general. We do tons of reference checks, and it’s been a real challenge. We need people who have technical expertise and come from an entrepreneurial mindset. Sometimes those things are in conflict.

There’s not a lot of people like that, with awareness of how many hats you have to wear at a startup and experience with bigger businesses, but at least we know what we’re looking for. We’ve been very successful as a result.

Teatulia is on Twitter at @Teatulia.

Photo courtesy of Teatulia.

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