Q&A: The secret is in the blend for flavoursome start-up

This week we chat with Corinne Noyes, who travelled the world with her French mother learning “comment parler en francais” and the secrets of tea drinking. After working in marketing for the likes of Gilette and Simplot Corinne determined to do her own thing, leveraging her love of tea to found what she describes as her “whimsical” start-up”, Madame Flavour.

ISB: Please tell us how you originally became so interested in the secrets of tea drinking.

CN: The brands and flavours of tea on supermarket shelves seemed so dull. I researched the rituals and traditional blends from cultures all around the world. The central healing role and sensory experience I came across in so many cultures – from Chinese to Japanese, Indian to English, Moroccan to Middle Eastern – was mind-blowing.

As a corporate marketer, I had been pushing myself and consuming plenty of caffeine in the process. Leaf teas were a delicious, meaningful and less caffeinated alternative, connecting me with others, to ritual and their natural origins.

Tea has allowed me to understand the importance of enjoying the journey and truly slowing down.

ISB: And how did you go about turning love for tea into a business?

CN: Ten years ago, when I started Madame Flavour, I thought people deserved better than those dull offerings on the shelves. As a marketer, I knew I could deliver something that was better quality and offered an emotionally richer experience than a mass-market product.

Tea should be rich in flavour and have a story. Leaf is traditionally grown by farmers in India, Sri Lanka, China and Japan, who have sometimes held parcels of land for generations. I’ve also utilised our own wonderful and unique Australian native herbs.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in Madame Flavour’s early days, and how did you manage to overcome it?

CN: I hadn’t planned to start a business, so at the beginning funding was a major challenge. Being short on dollars but big on passion and experience, I used my initiative to get results. I went to the local shopping strip to recruit tea drinkers to come to my house and talk about tea. Being a fledgling business owner takes a lot of courage and even more planning.

ISB: I understand you have a strong marketing background but had to promote your own business without a big corporate budget behind you – how did you get the Madame Flavour message out there?

CN: I used my networks, even though it was uncomfortable, and my passion for the brand and blends to get help. Who wouldn’t want the creative freedom to work on a fun new tea brand, when so much work these days is “corporate tweaking”?

I also fell back on what I’d learned in my previous life. At Gillette I learned that if you have something genuinely new and different, give it to people to try.

Our leaf tea pyramid was very new and different – we were the first to launch it into supermarkets. I sampled my heart out and donated thousands of pyramids to goody bags, charities and women’s organisations – a win-win and a great way to trial the blends.

Now there are so many resources for budding entrepreneurs ¬– business groups and individuals willing to offer mentorships – so you have seek them out.

ISB: How do you see the business developing in the next few years?

CN: We have just launched everyday black tea in teabags in three blends: Australian Morning, Melbourne Morning and Australian Afternoon Grey. These are no ordinary teas, coming from the same quality estates as our leaf tea – they’re hand-picked and blended by me to create what I hope become local favourites.

We are also exploring ready to drink kombucha and making a gentle entry into China. Women all around the world are connecting with the need for me-time and managing our wellbeing, and I believe that’s where tea comes into play.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one piece of advice you’d give to others who may be considering turning their passion into a business venture?

CN: Have a go…but plan it. Understand what you are good at and what else might be vital to the success of your business – especially financial oversight – then get the best people you can afford to help you with other elements.

Overall, it’s essential you make the customer the centre of everything you do and remember to delight them. Ask yourself: why would they want your product versus what they use now?

And remember, this is just a choice on the journey of life. You will learn, you will grow and that is what it is all about.

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