David Segal – Co-Founder & CEO Firebelly Tea

Episode 253

David Segal, the founder of DAVIDsTEA, is disrupting the tea industry once again with his newest company, Firebelly Tea. Tune in to learn more about how this serial entrepreneur is at it again with Firebelly Tea as well as his newest venture too! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m so thrilled to have my next guest here, I’ve found over him for years. I admire his product, his original product greatly. But we have David Segal here who is the co founder and CEO of his newest venture, that is called Firebelly. Tea I was referring before to David’s Tea, so many know that brand from from many of the stores that that have been around for a while. And then David is also the creator of an incredible fast food healthy fast food restaurant, chain. And Canada that’s called Mad radish, which he founded in 2016, has seven locations throughout Ottawa and Toronto. And his most recent ventures I mentioned is Firebelly tea. It’s focused on integrating tea into your everyday routine. And I’m super thrilled to have David on here, especially being a serial entrepreneur. So many lessons learned as everyone knows, I love chatting with founders and CEOs about the zigzaggy road that exists along the way. And so I can’t wait to have him here. So thanks, David, for coming on.

David Segal 2:01
Really excited to chat with you. Likewise, thanks for having me care.

Kara Goldin 2:05
So where did this passion for starting companies come from? I mean, who was David as a little kid,

David Segal 2:12
I was an entrepreneur from day one. I love selling and creating and doing my had, you know, paper routes when I was way too young to have paper routes. My first employee was actually my older brother I used to, we had the it was called the Pennysaver. And my I remember the Pennysaver and you have to go and they deliver the paper and then they give you 10 Different flyers and you had to assemble the paper with the flyers. So I employ my older brother at minimum wage to do that for me. And then I go around deliver it and we’d split it had my first businesses at 18 I was selling first aid kits door to door and partnering with St Johns ambulance and donating a portion back to them. And I sold running shoes that at the equipment of footlocker equivalent in Canada and and and I loved it I loved I loved understanding why people exchange money for goods and sort of that moment of truth when the transaction happens and how people make decisions and how they feel about their decisions, the purchase decisions and I’ve always loved entrepreneurship and and couldn’t dream of doing anything else.

Kara Goldin 3:19
That’s amazing. So So tea. That was that was really when I started to notice and read more about you. So how did he become so much a part of your life.

David Segal 3:33
I always like tea. Growing up, I was never a coffee guy. I had a business coming out I went to McGill University and then coming out of McGill, I started a software concept that didn’t work. And I needed a job and I ended up working for a cousin of mine who’s 50 years my seniors he’s 91 now and he had taken a step back from his his clothing business in done had been extremely successful. And he was looking for companies to invest in and I was there to help him do this and and so I I bought a book I bought Warren Buffett’s book on what he looks for in investments and and read it and I was in my mid 20s. And then I remember going into as we were looking for these different companies to invest in I remember going into this tea shop on one of the side streets in Montreal. And at that time, most the tea shops around were either inspired or British inspired. And they all felt like you kind of had to whisper when you walked in Right? Like you had to know something about tea and it was very precious. And I went into this one that was was extremely well done and had this whole universe of tea and all these different flavors and and it was incredible and I loved it and I started thinking and you know I just just like tea. It’s it’s an amazing product. Nobody’s doing it in a fun way on the main streets. From a business standpoint. Remember, I’m reading this book about what Warren Buffett looks for. I mean, there’s no size no color like there is in fashion. It’s not like TV sets you don’t need big stores sell, it doesn’t go bad like a turkey sandwich. And nobody’s doing it in a fun way. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s sort of this category that’s not really front and center. And it’s interesting, you know, it’s the second biggest drink in the world next to water. But in North America, it’s taken a big backseat to coffee. I mean, I think tea is something like less than 2% of Starbucks is sales, just to put it in perspective. So I walked in the office the next day, and I said tea. And then of course, through that journey, it became far less about business and far more about the tea, I really fell in love with the product. I mean, I had the privilege of traveling to Sri Lanka, India and learning more about tea and drinking every single day and really getting into it. And to the point where now I’m obsessed with tea. I mean, I drink. God knows how many cups a day a case 1000s of teas. I collect tea, like people collect wine, like I have a personal T collection, like people have wine collection. So that’s incredible. Yeah, I mean, I just think it’s this amazing product that has been part of humanity, since the dawn of time basically means 1000s and 1000s of years. And, and there’s a reason for it. I mean, tea is really that good. Especially really high quality tea, which is rare in North America and America. Typically, the tea we’re drinking is not that good, it’d be. And a lot of people who tell you, they don’t like tea, it would be like the equivalent of drinking box of wine, and saying you don’t like wine. I mean, so I think there’s a whole world of tea Hall where the flavor is not to mention all the benefits, the health benefits of tea, and the way it can impact your life, either to energize and focus or to rest and digest. That I think is an entire world that I love introducing people to.

Kara Goldin 6:43
That’s incredible. So when you started David’s Tea in 2008, I mean, you you said, oh, let’s just go start a tea company. But how was it different than some of the other things that you had done? I mean, you said like you started first aid company, you started, obviously, but now, I mean, this is starting, it’s a physical goods company. You didn’t just stay in, in Canada, I mean, you were, you got into New York, you got into the US overall. So what was kind of the first aha moments in starting this company, David’s Tea that you sort of, you know, learned about entrepreneurship, but also about yourself.

David Segal 7:26
So parts of it came very naturally to me, the selling part of it came very, very naturally to me, and I was very passionate about the product. And so I was able to speak to it. Other parts, I had to learn, I had to learn, I’ve had to learn a great deal about tea, I had to learn about buying I had to learn about and a variety of different things. Thankfully, I had a good partner who had been through retail before and was able to set me up with the right context. But I had to learn the T world on my own. And I did and I it was an adventure. And I love and I think a lot of it starts with the customer. You know, I was there. I mean, I always say to people, I mean, I’m a glorified tea guide. Because that’s where I started. I mean, I started in a store selling tea, when you have one store, that’s you’re in the store, and you’re you’re selling it and but really what what made it successful is we were able to get people excited about tea, and about loose leaf tea too. And in a whole world of flavors that they didn’t know existed in tea. And we did really interesting blends, and we really move the industry forward. And now with Firebelly, I’m coming back to it five years later, with an entirely new approach to it. You know, our big thing of Firebelly is we really want to elevate the experience and the quality of the product. And so we’re not using any flavoring. So you don’t have to go label hunting. If you if you look at most T packages, you’ll see this word, either flavoring, natural flavor or artificial flavor. And it’s just flavors that are made in the lab to make you taste something that’s not really there. So you know, there is no way to infuse peach and pomegranate into tea and make it a really powerful peach and pomegranate, but you can get the highest quality Escar vanilla and it’s out of this world or you can get incredible ginger and cinnamon and so we’re at Firebelly we’re doing a combination of rare single origin teas, like Japanese green teas are Taiwanese oolong teas, which are out of this world and most people have never had the opportunity to try them. And we’re also doing blends as well. So mixing different teas, herbs, spices and fruits together, but only using the flavor of the ingredient itself. And it just makes for a really fantastic taste that gets better with every single cup.

Where are the best cheese coming from?

It depends. I mean, China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Kenya, get some good ones from time to time. A Korea now is making some great green teas. Those are really where you get so tea itself is a very specific plant. It’s the Camelia sinensis plant and how you process it makes a difference. So I mean, I could geek out on this for longer than your listeners want me to, but it’s like if I had an apple, I took a bite out of it left on the counter turns brown oxidation. So same idea with tea. And depending on when you start the oxidation process, and you do that through heat either through a wet heat or a dry heat, it’ll impact the flavor of the tea. And that’s, that’s been the properties and some of the health properties as well. So that’s basically the difference between a green tea in a black tea one is an oxidized one isn’t. And the new long is semi oxidized. And there’s a whole art to determining when to stop the process and whether you want a 25% oxidized or 60% oxidized. And these learning how to do this, these these, these tea production methods are passed down through generations in some cases. And so that’s the that’s t itself is that community sinensis plant, but in North America, we call anything you put in hot and cold water, it’s not coffee, tea. So right so really, what what’s tea? Well, tea is water infusions. I mean, in our vernacular, the way we think about it is you know her give me a herbal tea Well, there’s a herbal, there’s no such thing as a herbal tea. Tea is a caffeinated product, but but it’s a different caffeine and coffee releases in your bloodstream differently. So whereas with coffee, you get that big spike and crash with tea, it releases a bit slower. So I particularly like it in the afternoon. A really nice green tea, a really nice long tea. But then I love the herbal infusions too. And and you know, we have some incredible ones viability where, you know, like, we have one called afternoon or mint that has valerian root in it. For example, Valerian root will help you sleep. So we did a chocolate mint, Valerian root tea, for bedtime. And it’s under Roy vos, bass, roboticist and South African herb, that’s naturally caffeine free. So again, not technically tea, but But you know, we run with the North American definition and everything’s tea, that’s not coffee.

Kara Goldin 11:44
Yeah, well, it’s, it’s an amazing product, and it’s sold online Firebelly, you were so kind to send me a few different ones. And I’m getting through all of them now. And they’re just, they’re really, really incredible. But you could definitely taste the difference and the quality and I’m pretty picky about anything that I’m drinking, but also the the teas in particular, I just, I can pick up on all the different notes. And when I hear you describing these teas, it’s not just about the quality, but I feel like there’s some great stories when you’ve gone to visit so many of these different farms and and, you know, so much of the backstory and the you know, the sweat and tears that went into it. It’s It’s fascinating. My dad had started a brand inside of a large company years ago called Healthy Choice. And as a kid, I grew up with my dad telling me about the backstories of the you know, the shrimp fishermen that actually would only they wouldn’t go out past 4am You know that they were always out there doing the fishing this early in the morning. And actually, in the early days of healthy choice, they actually have the stories of many of the people on the packaging, and I feel like your curiosity, your adventure and starting another company. There’s a lot of great stories out there that you love hearing as well what do you how do you think that plays into you know, the tea industry as a whole for you personally,

David Segal 13:17
it’s kind of romantic tea, you know, you there’s, it’s you have all these different countries from all over the world and these artistic practices, which is basically what it is in the production of tea that is passed down generation to generation. It’s incredible, it’s incredible. I mean, going to some of these tea estates or farms and seeing you’re getting a fresh cup of tea right on the stage and under learning the production methods and seeing how they do it and how precise everything is and how much of an art it truly is and then understanding how that product moves across the world and how it gets blended with other ingredients and working with different blending partners and because you know I mean all design T’s work with different T blenders so think of it like clothing right you have the designer the manufacturer I don’t actually stock threads myself but but are in this case I don’t stock ginger stock licorice root but someone else does and they work with us on the blending and so understanding that entire supply chain is really interesting and same thing on the accessories too. I mean we we’ve created with Firebelly an entire T accessory line like we have a stop infusion travel mug where you can stop the infusion so we’ll get bigger you can make hot or iced tea and you can do it all on the go with with high quality loose leaf tea. We have these infusers that we made with this little holding dish I’ve been drinking from so when I’m done steeping it in the cup sort of fits right on and then i i put it in my holding dish very yeah and then it all stores together and so like thinking through all these details in the design process is it’s a ton of fun. I love it. I mean it making a great product and and understanding all the different components go into doing that. And then when you finally see it hit the market and you see people enjoy it as much as you do. There’s a lot of satisfaction in

Kara Goldin 15:09
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David Segal 18:08
But you turns out it’s pretty hard. Yeah,

pretty hard. Didn’t know the pandemic was coming. I

didn’t know it was coming. I didn’t get the memo. Ya know, I lived in I lived in the US when we went in the States with David’s Tea. So I was in Boston, it amazed me how far ahead the American market is in fast food. Particular fast food. And in Canada, our options were very limited. So when I came back home, and I made the decision to leave David’s Tea, I decided I would try and bring more healthy fast food to Canada. And the idea with Mad radish is that, you know, eating well, getting food that nourishes you shouldn’t be a trade off, but you shouldn’t feel like taking your medicine, you know, there shouldn’t be a trade off between healthy eating and taste. And so we’re really trying to create a healthy food that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve just had rabbit food. And that leaves you feeling great. But that also tastes great. And and it’s it’s been it’s been tough, but we’ve really stuck with it. And I have a great team there and some partners in that business that are outstanding and have helped me develop the menu and the assortment and, you know, we survived the pandemic and now we’re trying to expand that business as well.

Kara Goldin 19:23
Well, I feel like that’s the thing about entrepreneurship that you can go start these things and, you know, it takes a lot of, you’re gonna get hit with bumps in the road, you’ve got to be resilient. You’ve got to make some fast turns along the way, depending on what the scenario is. I think like the, the thing that I see that really doesn’t work for people who decide that entrepreneurship isn’t for them is that these inspect unexpected hurdles that come in blocks, whatever you want to call it. Um, and if you can’t make those quick decisions, if you can’t look at strategy and say, Okay, we’ve got to change strategies and being an entrepreneur is definitely not for you.

David Segal 20:13
It’s lonely to the dark days are really dark. I mean, you, you, you’re, you’re trying to figure something out and nobody cares. I mean, it. It, you’re not in a boardroom, especially at the start with, with an entire team of people who are there to help you. So getting things off the ground requires a tremendous amount of energy. And, and I think that the hardest part is managing your own psychology. And I think I agree, not enough is spoken around that and how important it is for entrepreneurs, I mean, to manage your impulses, to know when when to take action, when to sit with it, and the discomfort and how to how to navigate different situations that are largely new.

Yeah, absolutely. And how do you do it? I mean, because you’re like a glutton for punishment, you just keep putting yourself back in.

I do I guess, I, I do I do a lot I take care of, I do like to take care of myself, or you exercise a lot. I really got into meditation years ago, and I have a consistent practice. I’ve gotten better at being able to function, even though there’s lots of storm, because that’s the thing, right? You never wake up in the morning and everything’s perfect. It’s It’s It’s constant problems, like constant fires, that you have to put out constant, you know, things that didn’t go according to plan. And at a certain point, you kind of realize that’s just what it is. And I’m also a big fan of thinking back on the things that that gave me anxiety two months ago, you know, I’m like, Okay, well, let’s think about something that happened two months ago that I thought was the end of the world in that moment. And oftentimes, the obstacles don’t even remember them. So it just sort of I find it moves from you, right? Like what’s what’s so such a big deal right now. It’s huge. It’s the end of the world, oh, my god, the product came in, and there’s a nic in it, or whatever. And you’re dealing with this. And, you know, fast forward 23456 months, it’s something else. I mean, it’s just, it’s, it’s a new thing that you think is the end of the world. But of course, the old thing is no longer the end of the world. That wasn’t a big deal in the end. So I think I think you really, as you start to see the patterns of how these things develop and how they go. You learn to manage the swings of the game better.

Kara Goldin 22:39
Yeah, no, I think that that is very valid for sure. So I’d love to hear a story of a challenge along the way. I mean, again, you You are the serial entrepreneur is done multiple companies. And I’d love to hear where you faced a challenge or even if you call it a failure along the way, and what did you learn from it? And how did it make you better?

David Segal 23:03
Well, I mean, I’m facing many right now. But But I’ll tell you, one, from the past, first business didn’t work was a software company, and was called fitting room Central. And we sold the system for the fitting room where we captured what people tried on the fitting room, and we compare it to what they bought. So the idea being when you like to look at something, you go into the fitting room with it, and then you’re evaluating the fit of it on your body. And so if you have a website, you want to know that site traffic, you also want another conversion. So show retailers that buying is this two step process, and we can give you more incidents than if an item is selling or not, but you don’t really understand why. And this could help you understand why and, and I kept hearing this word interesting over and over again, you know, I write these handwritten letters to all the executives in different clothing companies, and I get all these meetings, whether it was the gap, or you forever 21, or any of these big clothing companies at the time. But I realized and the mistake was, it was a nice to have not a must have. And we were selling business to business. So it wasn’t like an airport check in terminal where I could say, Hey, you put this in, and you cut your labor by 20%. And the cost of this thing is actually only 5%. So you it’s a win, there you go. It’s clear cut. We didn’t have that it was something that you needed to do something with and the mistake was I hung on to it. I let people keep stringing me along longer than I should have. I was getting all these meetings and I was getting this positive response. And and I realized, you know people genuinely generally want to be nice. They don’t want to be mean and and they actually believe they might implement this system because they were interested by it from an academic standpoint, but the realities of their corporate life meant that they’re never going to buy it. First of all, it’s a complex sale you need to convince multiple different teams that they should go ahead and do this. The marketing team, the IT team, the finance team. And, you know, in business, you want to hear words like, When can you deliver or which account do I transfer the money to or, or action oriented conversations and what we were what I was getting was a lot of, let’s have another meeting, let’s bring in this person, let’s and I was getting it over and over and over again. And it just wasn’t something people were jumping on. And I eventually said, enough of this, I’m gonna move on and do something else and landed on David’s Tea. But that was a really hard thing to do. And I probably should have done it about six to eight months sooner than I actually did. I think that failure is not, you didn’t fail. You’re not a failure. You just failed at one thing. And and it’s important just to take the learnings and move on sometimes. And I wasn’t that quick to do it. I think I let I let my ego get in the way.

Kara Goldin 25:53
Well, and I think it’s interesting, what you set up to, because it’s you want to work on something where it’s easy for people to say yes to it. Right? At the end of the day, too. And when it’s complicated and complex, and there’s, you know, multiple departments that need to be involved. It’s just, you know, it’s really hard. And so unless you can simplify that is tough. It’s tough to make a living.

David Segal 26:19
I found out later on my personality. I mean, one of things I love about tea, is that if you, you can try Firebelly tea for 15 bucks. If you like it, great, you’ll buy more you don’t have to go ask 10 people if that’s okay. Yeah. And and I think I think it makes for for a bit more action and liveliness to it and, and creativity around it. So I gravitate more towards these sort of creative consumer brands. But it took me some time to figure that out.

Kara Goldin 26:51
Yeah, no, I love that story. Well, David, this is absolutely amazing. And everybody needs to try Firebelly at your delivering not just DTC in Canada, but also in the US Correct.

David Segal 27:04
Oh, yeah, absolutely. We have a Firebelly t.com. We have a US warehouse. And we’re, you know, to three day delivery into your door.

And hopefully T store soon. And also the restaurant. Hopefully in the US soon. Any plans to have mad radish come to the US?

I don’t know. You guys got some great. We’ll stick to try to get Americans drinking great tea for now. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 27:28
no, that’s, that’s awesome. I love it. Well, thanks for sharing all of your insights and your stories and lessons. And it’s such an honor to have a serial entrepreneur like you and good guy and smart guy on here, just sharing about, you know, the overall journey. So thank you so much. And thanks, everybody for listening to this episode at where you can hear lots of amazing founder stories on the Kara Goldin show where we get creators and amazing CEOs and sometimes authors as well to come and share a little bit more about their journey and lessons and definitely give this episode of Five Star reading. It helps the algorithms a lot. And this podcast is trending, almost doubling every single episode. So we’re excited to really bring a lot of these stories to people globally. And you can find me on all platforms that Kara Goldin if you haven’t had a chance to read my book undaunted, overcoming doubts and doubters on the building of hint, hopefully, you’ll pick up a copy also ordered on Audible and we are here every Monday, Wednesday. We’re just adding Friday as well, because we’ve got such great stories coming to you. And thanks again, David. Really, really appreciate this and have a great rest of the week to you and to everybody.

David Segal 28:52
Thanks so much care. Take care.

Kara Goldin 28:55
Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you like what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening