Carlone Knight

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The confidence to take a leap of faith

The spirit of entrepreneurship that lay dormant in me was coaxed out during my time at Imperial, both during my Biochemistry degree and my Masters in Management. It gave me the sense that knowledge is best served by putting it to good use. I might not have used my Biochemistry knowledge to do something as quantitatively impactful as found a healthcare startup, but it gave me the confidence to take a risk and start a business in a highly competitive marketplace. And all those business plan writing assessments certainly stood me in good stead for writing a real life business plan! It’s also so reassuring to know that as an alumnus, one has access to such an extensive and solid support network.

A little short of a decade after graduating, and after a circuitous career path, I founded Herbaceous Blends. A herbal tea brand specialising in loose leaf, naturally caffeine-free infusions. It may not have required ground-breaking research and in fact I managed to take the business through its first year without any external investment. Its USPs – besides myself – are not patent protected. And yet, my mission with this brand is to bring about change as significant as the latest development in technology. Just on a cultural level.

Herbal tea is the plain Jane of hot drinks

Why herbal tea? Being caffeine intolerant, the only hot drink I’ve been consumed for the best part of a decade is herbal tea. As a caffeine tee-totaller, the options out there are disappointing. You’ve really got to hunt to find the good stuff. Herbal tea also suffers from poor PR: it’s not a sexy drink or known for its excellent taste. I wanted to change all this – and more – with Herbaceous Blends.

Caffeine intake accelerating along with technological change: a coincidence?

It would be stating the obvious to say that we live in a fast paced society, one that is getting faster as technology progresses with more rapidity. It’s little wonder that we need more and more caffeine in order to keep up. (Usually when I tell people I am caffeine intolerant and don’t take any form of stimulant drugs, it is met with surprise or incredulity!). This rate of acceleration is not sustainable and neither is a reliance on caffeine.

It’s also so reassuring to know that as an alumnus, one has access to such an extensive and solid support network.

Before you find balance, take your foot off the accelerator

By bringing more desirable caffeine-free teas to the market, I want to encourage people to slow down and become more mindful about their health and the impact their buying decisions have on themselves and the environment. The extra time involved in brewing a cup of loose leaf tea, the absence of caffeine and the nourishing effects of the herbs in the blends supports this slow down. Our teas might be more expensive than the convenience brands you find at Tesco, but we want people to start buying from a mind-set of quality not quantity.

Becoming an entrepreneur will challenge even the most balanced of individuals

Which brings me onto finding work-life balance as a first time entrepreneur. I’ve always been someone who has had a pretty good hold on the work-life routine. Struggles with my own mental health from childhood set me on a path of taking good care of myself (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually). But even if you’re great at finding balance, it’s easy to fall off the wagon when starting a business. When your focus needs to jump between multiple tasks per day and most of the things you have to contend with are unplanned. Not to mention all the other challenges associated with being a business owner.

Always working or never working: the founder’s paradox

When you have your own business, the lines between work and life get heavily blurred. You can feel as if you’re always working or never working, with the latter feeling sometimes harder to reconcile. The internet abounds with ‘entrepreneur memes’ that circle around the same stereotype: the entrepreneur that spends every waking hour working. I don’t believe that this paradigm is either healthy or necessary when starting a business.

You have the power to forge a balanced work-life

As a founder, you make up a significant portion of your business’ USP. What does it say about your brand if you’re frazzled and in poor health? One of the advantages you do have over someone in full time employment is that you have a large degree of control over your schedule. Make it a business priority to look after your health and well-being.

Another common conception is that we need to rush our way through life and towards ‘goals’. With ever growing numbers of competitors (in the tea industry alone there are hundreds of new tea brands popping up every few months), this knee jerk behaviour is understandable. But as with over-work, it isn’t necessary. Slow down a bit, take your time to work towards your self-set goals. I don’t believe that entrepreneurship is a zero sum game, where only a handful of people can achieve success, whatever that means for you. It’s merely a matter of experimenting until you know how to create a sustainable business. (I’ve taken and paraphrased that notion from Eric Reich’s The Lean Startup).

Live your business values from the front end and back end

Well-being and sustainability are at the core of the Herbaceous Blends brand. If I were not living a balanced life I would not be living true to my brand promises. As I’m growing the business I try to ensure that every aspect of its operations holds true to these values. From our plastic free packaging and upcycled business cards to the way I approach my work life. It’s a work in progress, for sure, and one that needs constant tweaking in response to what business throws my way, but one I’m fully committed to.

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