Tonia Jahshan: Founder & CEO of Sipology

Episode 418

On the show today we are joined by Tonia Jahshan who is the Founder and CEO of Sipology. I can’t wait for you to hear Tonia’s story of entrepreneurship and Sipology as well as how a delicious cup of tea changed her life. Plus her experience on the well-known Canadian show, Dragon’s Den, where she was one of the show’s successful entrepreneurial pitches. So many great stories and lessons to learn from plus a ton of inspiration. This episode is a great listen filled with takeaways you won’t want to miss! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

Resources from
this episode:


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 c onversations 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 am so excited to have my next guest. Here we have Tonia Jahshan, who is the founder and CEO of Sipology. And if you don’t know what Sipology is, you are going to be really, really excited to hear all about her story. Basically, Sipologyology is a Canadian company, originally a Canadian company, but they are very much available in the US as well. And I cannot wait for you to hear all about her story of entrepreneurship and how a delicious cup of tea changed her life. Plus, I am dying to hear about her experience on the well known Canadian show Dragon’s Den where she was one of the shows very successful entrepreneurial pitches. So without further ado, welcome, Tonia.

Tonia Jahshan 1:33
Hey, Kara, good to see you.

Kara Goldin 1:36
Amazing to see you as well. So before we get into hearing about symbology, and all of the good stuff that you were doing with teas, and I know you’ve expanded a bit as well. But I’d love to hear in a few minutes about your journey, building it and all of that. But what were the early years, like, Did you always imagine that you were going to be an entrepreneur that was a tea entrepreneur?

Tonia Jahshan 2:04
No. Absolutely not. Um, you know, I get that question a lot. I think as entrepreneurs, I mean, I don’t think you’re born an entrepreneur, but I think you are, you have the maybe the sort of seeds that have been planted throughout your life that maybe led you to the journey of entrepreneurship, like, you know, as a kid, I always had a paper route, or I was selling lemonade or something, right. And it wasn’t until I guess, when I was about 29, my father said to me, I’m going to sell my sales and marketing company. But I would actually like it if you took it over. And I was a preschool teacher prior to that. But even throughout all of my years, as a teacher, I was still selling something, I was still selling a product, whether it was candles, or makeup, or whatever it was, I was always selling something. And, and then when we that gave me the opportunity to really, really took me a hone in on my entrepreneurial skills. That’s when everything changed. That’s when I really jumped into the world of okay, I actually own a business. I’m not working for someone else anymore. And now I’m going to have to grow this or maintain it.

Kara Goldin 3:19
I love it. So can you share the backstory of symbology? How did this all come about?

Tonia Jahshan 3:25
Yeah, absolutely. Um, so it was like, so it was about 17 years ago, and was 18 years ago, my husband and I were just newlyweds. And we were I was 31 when he and I got married, and we just didn’t want to waste any time having a family. So almost as immediately, as we said, we’re going to start a family I was pregnant, and everything was going along. Great. And then one day, at 14 weeks, I had a miscarriage. And you know, it just was very unexpected, everything was it. The signs weren’t there that I was actually this was going to happen and it just devastated us. And we thought, you know, we’re just gonna go away for a little while just kind of get our minds off of things and just kind of recharge. And that landed us in the east coast of Canada, where we had booked ourselves into a bunch of bed and breakfast and at the very first bed and breakfast. They served us this beautiful breakfast, but they gave us this most delicious tea called cream Earl Grey, and it was loose leaf tea, and I’d never really been exposed to loose leaf tea. I’ve always been like a tea drinker, but it was like Tetley with a splash of milk. But this was something I was like, Wow, this tastes so good. It smells like warm vanilla caramelly melki notes and it tasted amazing. And I said, That’s it. Where did you get this tea from? Like, I need this tea. And he said, Oh my God, about 45 minutes outside of here. I said to him, this isn’t on our itinerary. In fact, we’re going the opposite direction, but I really We need this tea. It made me feel all of a sudden better. It took my mind off of what had just happened. got me excited. I went to this little tea shop while the wall loose leaf teas. Again, I was like, wow, I didn’t realize there were so many varieties. And I brought some home to my friends and family and started introducing them to it. And they were like, wow, this is really good. That’s like, you know what, nobody really talks about loose leaf tea. Maybe, maybe I’ll be the person who actually talks about it and brings it to the masses. And that’s kind of how it started. Like, I call it, I call it hot dog tea, Kara. And I was like, What’s Hot Dog tea? I’m like, well, it’s those tea bags that you buy at the grocery store that you just never know what you’re gonna get in it like a hot dog. Like they’re stuffing all kinds of junk in there. And so yeah, that was my mission. No more tea bags.

Kara Goldin 5:58
That is so funny. So how would you describe them typology to anyone like what makes you guys unique.

Tonia Jahshan 6:05
So our companies be called steeped tea. That’s how you know that was the name I came up with all those years ago. It wasn’t until five years ago when we decided, You know what we’re, we’re going to expand outside of just the tea. It started because I wanted to work with the Government of Canada and the FDA in the US. And I wanted to create a line of medicinal teas that I could make claims on because I was not comfortable making claims on any of our teas, even though I knew they were extremely healthy. I needed that approval by the government to say yes, this tea will help with your anxiety. Yes, this tea will help with your upset stomach. And so when we developed that line of T’s and with the nhp, number and FDA reviewed, that opened a whole other world, I was like, Okay, well, I hate taking vitamin pills. So why don’t we create a line of powders that are boosters that are vitamins like your vitamin D or vitamin B or probiotic? Because I’m like, I can just throw that into everything, right? And so then we develop that line. Yeah, so now we change the name to symbology to encompass everything that you can sip our matcha. If I would say if there is one product line that we are most well known for, it would be our matcha line, we have had matcha in our catalog since day one, we have eight pages in our catalog dedicated to matcha. There’s no junk in it, there’s no artificial flavors, we have so many great varieties. Yeah, so we’re definitely went headfirst into this whole health and wellness category, which has been really, truly a blessing.

Kara Goldin 7:53
So I was reading an article or it was an interview, actually, that you had done where, you know, obviously, you started the company about 18 years ago, but it was about, I guess, 10 years ago, when things really started to ramp. And I always love these stories. Hint is, is probably very similar in many ways about the, you know, founding story there, and this and how it scaled I think that the world needed to kind of catch up to where I was, but also, in addition to that, it’s a story of one that I share with all entrepreneurs that you know, there’s very few overnight successes, right, you know, it’s definitely trial and tribulations along the way. And, and then, you know, often people don’t even hear about you until, you know, years later. So can you share a little bit about that time during your life when you really saw it ramp?

Tonia Jahshan 8:56
Yeah, so it was like year four. And, you know, I had been running this company out of my basement for four years, like my whole house had been taken over my basement was the factory. I had two employees in my life. So funny to think about now. I’m sure I broke a lot of laws. But anyways, I had my garage was my shipping department like FedEx was coming down my my, you know, my neighborhood all the time. It’s crazy. And I’m like, if I was doing really well, I have like a team of about 30 agents, apologists, we call them and we were selling close to about 250,000. And really every year of just loose leaf tea. And my you know, I’m thinking Oh, my God, this is great. Like, I’m going to do so well. And then my husband sat me down and he’s like, we need to talk. So my husband also is an entrepreneur, and he was running. He owned three subway franchises when we met and he was going to University of Toronto for his MBA. So he wasn’t really paying attention to my hobby business, kind of per se, plus my two children under the age of four. So just add that into the mix. And one day he sat down, he’s like, Okay, I got good news, I got bad news. I’m like, Okay, what’s the good news? He’s like, the good news is, Wow, you are a natural seller, like you, you have created a great community, you have people who want to help sell this for you, your sales are great. But he goes, the problem is that you suck at finances, you are spending more money than you’re making. And I hate to tell you, that’s the word $80,000 in debt. And I cannot keep we cannot keep bankrolling this with, you know, with our own money, and he’s like, so I don’t think it’s gonna work out. I think we’re gonna have to close it down. Like, oh, my god, no. And I said, What can I do to change your mind? Like, what can I do to turn this around? And he said to me, Well, he goes, he went away for a couple of days, it came back, and he said, If you can sell 500,000, by this time next year, which was the average sales of a subway for the year, he said, I will sell off the subway franchises, I will join you as full time CEO of the company, and I will turn this into a profitable company. Okay, no problem. I’m like, a pretty big undertaking, because I was pregnant with my third child at this time. I like, but I’m going to do it, I’m going to hustle hard. And that’s the year I call the year of the hustle for me and my team. Of course, I didn’t let them know what was going on that this was almost the end. But I’m like, we got a big goal. Guys, we can do this. And we did it. 502,000 and had him true to his word, sold off the subways and join me full time.

Kara Goldin 11:54
So how did you do that? How did you change course?

Tonia Jahshan 11:58
Yeah. Oh, well, I was literally at Salt Member This is wait for social media, there was no social media. So I was out there at trade shows I was out there talking to every single person I could possibly talk to to have an T event for me. I was training the sales agents who I had, how they could sell better. It was a collective effort of a lot of in person. Events, law, networking, a lot of trade shows a lot of selling. That’s how we did it.

Kara Goldin 12:35
Amazing. And but I mean, did you did you basically go down to a bare bones team, or did you like cut some costs in there or no? Interesting.

Tonia Jahshan 12:48
So you were just more people working for?

Kara Goldin 12:51
Yeah, so you were already pretty skeleton crew at that point? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. So definitely so. So so interesting. So what’s been the hardest part about building topology? One of the things that I think is so interesting about your company is the way that you actually go to market. So can you share a little bit about that?

Tonia Jahshan 13:15
Yeah. So when I decided to start this company called steep T, I, I had two reps to go, I could either go retail, like subways, or I could go into the direct selling market. Now. I was always I was very familiar with direct sales, like I said, in my, you know, while I was a teacher, I was selling all kinds of stuff for direct selling companies. And it helped me pay for, you know, rent, it helped me pay for groceries, it was just a great little side gig that gave me a community to belong to, but also gave me an income that subsidize what I was making as a preschool teacher, right? So when I was like, tea, parties, events, I’m like, this is the route I want to go. I don’t want to have retail stores because I can make a bigger footprint, having people across Canada selling as independent, you know, business owners, versus opening up a store. And I saw the, you know, problems that owning a subway, you know, was was like, right. So that’s the reason why I wanted to go the direct sales route. I really wanted to empower women and men to be their own little entrepreneur. I mean, we’ve had people making six figures in this company, selling our health and wellness products, and these are women and men who never in their wildest dreams would ever have imagined that they can make that kind of money. They don’t have university degrees. You know, they’re there. A lot of them are stay home, stay at home moms who just wanted an opportunity to shine. And that is probably been the greatest joy in my life is just seeing success of these people who never believed in themselves, and now are making a six figure income. I mean, that’s pretty incredible. So that’s the reason I chose that route.

Kara Goldin 15:10
So you started off in Canada, and then you moved into the US what? What was? How long did that take before you crossed countries? I guess? Yeah.

Tonia Jahshan 15:23
Well, so as soon as had him join the company, a year later, we had taken the company out of our house, and we moved into our very first 250. I think it was like 250,000. No, what was it? It was a small, it was a small little space, but it was like the greatest like, moment of my life was moving this out of my house. And at that time, people because we’re, we border with like, Michigan, and buffalo, our consultants in the Windsor an area that were, you know, close to the border, they were starting to, I don’t know how it was happening, I guess, word of mouth. The US was starting here about our teas and how much people were loving it here in Canada. And so they I started getting a lot some inquiries, or when you come to the US when you come into the US. And my natural answer is today, we’re coming, right? And so I said to him, like, hey, maybe we need to get to the US like now and we’re getting these inquiries. I said, I think it’s time. And he’s like, it looks like I have like five heads. He’s like, we just have enough capital to support the Canadian growth. Like we don’t have any capital to grow into the US. And I was like, oh, shoot, that sucks. Okay. So I guess about three months after that conversation, I was on Facebook, and I noticed that Dragon’s Den was coming to my hometown to do auditions. And it wasn’t even a question in my mind. I was like, Oh, my gosh, they’re coming to my hometown. This is a sign. We are going to audition for the show. Again, I go to my husband, I’m like, Hey, we’re gonna go audition on Dragon’s Den. Because that we can get capital we need to move into the US. And he again was like, Oh, my God, what is wrong with you? I’m not going on this national show. Like he goes, What if they, you know, blew us off? What have Mr. Wonderful calls me a cockroach like he loves to do and, and it makes fun of me. And I’m like, Dave, it’s okay. We’re not even on the show. Yeah, like, that’s just get through the audition process. So I convinced them, and we like nailed the audition. They loved us. And it was almost an instant Yes, to go on the actual show and pitch in front of the dragons. And then we had about a month to really practice and practice weekend.

Kara Goldin 17:48
That’s so great. So what words of wisdom would you give to other people who were thinking about trying out for Dragon’s Den? What? Like, would you do it again? I mean, what what’s your sort of thoughts on the show overall?

Tonia Jahshan 18:03
Yeah, absolutely. Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank, right, both amazing entrepreneurial shows. The number one piece of advice that we got, when we went on the show was Do not over evaluate your company. And so many people don’t take that advice. And they said, because we were gonna go in with a higher evaluation, and the the mentoring that they gave us because they gave us a mentor, to kind of mentor us through the whole process of Dragon’s Den. And he’s like, do you want to go on the show and defend and explain your evaluation? Or do you actually want to go on the show and talk about your product? And I was like, Yeah, I want to talk about my product. So that’s what we did. We went on the show and we we perfectly valuation. They all wanted in on the business because they Well, first of all, we have one at that time, we went on the show with 1.3 million in sales, which was great, no debt. That was number two, we are profitable. I was pregnant with my son I was so pregnant. I think that just kind of added to the ambiance them. Such a, you know, great experience for them. We, we really worked on the background of our set. So we didn’t just rely on what Dragon’s Den had we actually created a whole tea party atmosphere. If you watch the show, you’ll see it doesn’t even look like you’re you’re looking at a Dragon’s Den set. So that detailed Details, details and practice, know your numbers. Be prepared for I mean, what we did was we went back and watched every season of Dragon’s Den there were seven seasons prior to us. Every single show we watch and we watched for questions that they want, they tended to ask over and over and over again. And so we had answers for every single question that they could possibly have thought to ask us. And that is why our pitch was so perfect. You know, after we went on the show, we we started, they started using our pitch as an example for other people who wanted to pitch to Dragon’s Den, as this is how you do it. Right. So, so that was awesome. The other tip I have for people when going on these shows Dragon’s Den in Shark Tank, and this one is very important. And it’s a it’s one that I think that people often miss. So, of course, you’re going on these shows, because you want the exposure 100%, you millions of people are going to watch you on the show, and you are inevitably going to get a lot of attention, your sales are going to go up and yada yada, right? My game plan was that I didn’t want to just get that rep that high bump of sales, and then have nothing else afterwards. I really truly wanted to partner with these people. I didn’t want to go on the show and go, Okay, I got the exposure that I needed. I don’t need you anymore, dragons or sharks. So I’m done. I’m not signing the deal. My whole philosophy was No, I actually want these people in my company, I want to have them long term. They’re still in my company till today. I can talk to them whenever I want. I can talk to your teams whenever I want. They helped us get into the US. They handed over their factories to us in China. Like it was so worth the experience. Yeah, I gave up some of my company, but who cares? The the gains that I gained from doing that? Oh, wait that, you know, the one month of of exposure and theme, because after that, it’s all gone? You don’t have anything to go back on? Right? So that’s a mistake. I see a lot of people do. Yeah.

Kara Goldin 21:55
Very, very good advice. So what have you learned about brand building over the years? I mean, obviously, you started this company out of a passion and how T changed your, your life? And you’re really, really excited about it, you crossed into the US. I’m so curious, like, what what was it about brand building that you’ve learned over the years that you think people should know?

Tonia Jahshan 22:24
Oh, gosh, like I brand building is? Like, it’s it’s the most important, I guess, part of your whole identity, right? We’re still working on our brand. Identity. I mean, when you think of symbology people think of t all automatically, right. But we’re more than just tea. We’re like a whole wellness company. You know, we’re very we have we’ve got branding colors that we’ve started out in the last few years. Our community is super important to us. Like that is a big part of our brand is is our community building. Ernst and Young actually awarded us with a special citation award for building an incredible community here in Canada, which was so on brand for us, because that is our brand community wellness, entrepreneurship. I think that that is if you looked at our company, you would see those three pillars in our company. So yeah, branding is super important. And my own personal brand I’m working on right now too, which has been interesting.

Kara Goldin 23:30
I love it. That’s, that’s a great answer. So II why you and I are both part of the EY winning Women program which we love EY they’re so shout out to them. So super amazing. One of the things that I think they emphasize a lot, they emphasize a lot of different things that I’ve learned in the program, but the importance of mentors, and I get this question all the time from entrepreneurs, like, it’s not always easy to know how to find mentors, but also what do you ask them for? I mean, that that’s kind of the the key thing that I think so many people feel like, okay, I’ve got to find a mentor, but, you know, unless you actually know how to use mentors and what you really need them for i How have you thought about that?

Tonia Jahshan 24:22
Well, long time ago, I guess no, 10 years ago, I, myself in a group of poor women, we were all part of the profit 500 Group here in Canada is profit 500 We were being presented with different awards. And there was five of us that really just clicked and we decided that we were going to become each other’s mentors, someone to you know, bounce ideas off, you know, maybe it’s not even about bouncing ideas off, but maybe it’s about struggles, right. We all have struggles as entrepreneurs. I think entrepreneurship is extreme. lonely lonely you are you feel alone at the top and and one of the one of the biggest lessons I think I’ve learned in this whole entrepreneur journey is that my, my team members are not my friends, right? I can’t talk to them the same way that I can talk to my girlfriends or my mentors. It’s, it’s bitten me in the ass. I want everyone to be my friend, I want to, you know, give my whole heart to everybody. But as an entrepreneur, it’s, it’s when you’re their boss, it’s super hard. And I’ve, I’ve really struggled with that. And I’ve had to learn some hard lessons through that journey. But back to my mentors. So yeah, I’ve had these women in my life for 10 years, we’ve traveled together now every single year. It’s their sounding board, they are a sounding board, for everything in my business life and my personal life, to be honest. Well, when

Kara Goldin 25:59
things are Yeah, definitely I feel like for me mentorship, I mean, at all levels, I think everybody needs mentors, but I feel like for for me mentorship, definitely, it’s lonely, right? Being an entrepreneur, especially when you’re running a whole team, you can’t necessarily you’re leading, you can’t necessarily share everything with the with the team that’s going on. So you definitely need that group around you. But I think that for me, it’s also hearing stories from other founders and CEOs, leaders that have gotten through challenging times, because I don’t think people necessarily want you to solve their problems, even though, you know, in a perfect world, if I was having a challenge, I’d say, Tonya, solve this for me. But that doesn’t really happen. But instead, it’s like, if you can come up with a way to, to sort of help me think about it and help me solve something. I think that that’s a really powerful thing. You and I are both part of YPO. That’s definitely part of a kind of the YPO training as well. But I think that that’s like a really important thing that, that so many people miss when they haven’t had those other groups that sort of teach them that in order to get those founders

Tonia Jahshan 27:23
and I think it’s important. Sorry, yeah. And I think it’s important as a mentor to be absolutely 100% honest and vulnerable, with what’s going on in your company, like, you know, we all hate talking about if our company is going through a downturn, or things are not working out the way we want. But but being honest and vulnerable, and telling your people that that’s what’s happening, even though it’s hard to talk about is what they need to hear. Because they might be going through the exact same thing. And listen, business is not like this, this is like this, and like this, and like this, and like this. And so one thing I’m very open about is, is my like, my struggles with the business, like whether it’s, you know, when things are going great, it’s going great when things are going bad, I tell everybody listen, it’s not been a great month for me or a great year and, you know, kind of struggling and they’re like, Oh, thank God, someone else said that because you know what we are? But if we don’t talk about it, how are we going to support each other?

Kara Goldin 28:22
Totally, no, it’s so so true. So knowing what you know, today, what’s the most important thing that you wish you knew? When you started? You were teaching before becoming an entrepreneur, but is there something that gosh, I wish I would have known I mean, you touched on this about the financials and and kind of getting that right out of the gate. But is there anything else that you think is has really kind of come up as a like, I wish I would have known that?

Tonia Jahshan 28:55
Um, two things. One, always trust your gut when something doesn’t seem right. And there has been many situations in my life when it comes to you know, people that are maybe working for me or that things don’t seem the way that they they are, you know, they seem off and you ignore it. You ignore that guy and then you get scared for it. Right? So one always trust your gut. If something seems off and your your gut is going cool, I don’t know something doesn’t feel right. And you’re too afraid to say something. Do it say it because chances are your gut is spot on. If something is troubling, something is not what not what you think it is right. Number two, hire slow fire fast. Like the amount of people that we held on to for too long, because we were too afraid to let them go or to kind to let them Go was a huge detriment to the company, right? Hire slowly and fire fast. It’s hard. But you got to do it. If it doesn’t, if it’s not working out, don’t fire fast. Yeah, those are two things I wish someone had told me.

Kara Goldin 30:16
I think everybody has made those mistakes and has and has learned. And it’s tough. It’s really tough. And especially when you have a personality where, you know, you want everybody to be friends, and you want everybody to like each other and you want to be liked, I think it’s really challenging. But when you’re leading, you really have to do that. Because the other thing that I’ve learned is that if you don’t do it, and you’re not strong enough to do it, that what you’re showing the rest of the team is that you allow, you know this to go on, and see to go on. So I think it’s such a critical point that you made. So well, it was such a pleasure to talk to you on Yeah, yeah. And topology is, is super great. Everyone needs to try it. We’ll have all the info in the show notes on how to get your hands on symbology. And also to connect with Tanya to but thank you so much, Tanya, and have a great rest of the week, and everybody as well. So thank you.

Tonia Jahshan 31:25
Thanks so much.

Kara Goldin 31:27
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book undaunted, which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and goodbye for now. 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 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 liked 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