Teabox, a Siliguri-based online tea shop, delivers the freshest Indian teas from estates in Darjeeling, Assam, the Nilgiris, and Nepal to tea connoisseurs across the world (India, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Russia). Tea is not just another beverage, it’s a morning ritual followed religiously by diverse cultures across countries – and this is the firm belief that Teabox thrives on. A cup of good tea can make or break a day. Don’t you think so?
A warm cup of aromatic tea symbolizes endless conversations, happy memories, laughter, soulful journeys, and so much more. And to make every day special and more meaningful Kaushal Dugar, Founder and CEO, Teabox, is on a mission to serve the best flavours with much love.
What marketing hacks did you employ to scale up this business?
In our early months, we worked hard on building a stellar reputation, as a brand that delivers on its promise, amongst tea connoisseurs.
Given the much superior quality of our products, and the overall experience, these customers truly appreciate the value Teabox is being able to bring to the table. These customers, in turn have been very instrumental in playing the role of Teabox’s ambassadors. This has helped us gain reputation of a business that truly puts out the best teas in the market.
Apart from this, the website hosts exhaustive information about the products, and their nuances. We also allow customers to sample out the products at a very reasonable cost. This is very helpful amongst customers who are a little iffy about what to buy.
How did you get your first 1000 customers?
As an idea, selling tea from the garden directly to the consumer through online medium, didn’t find any takers. Everyone I spoke to about it thought it wouldn’t work. There was a lot of resistance because it was a new idea and it demanded change, and for people to begin using technology… I was going to upset the way things were being done for over a century. But for me, it was a sound idea and I was convinced. I set up the company and began with running a blog that I updated daily, sometimes even twice. I used it to attract customers and to engage them in my idea.
Outside of Siliguri, in the virtual world, I didn’t have to try too hard to convince people. Customers, who were looking for premium teas came to the site, and liked what they saw. I knew, if I could deliver what I was promising – incredibly fresh teas, delivered within a week of procurement, direct from the gardens, at a good price – I was in a good place. Most of our customers return and love what we are offering. Word of mouth has been the best way to get new customers.
During the initial growth stage, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
Our challenges are quite similar to any other category-creator in other sectors. There isn’t any established narrative around premium teas from India, as is the case with, say, single malt whiskies from Scotland or premium wines from Europe. The lack of a narrative presents itself as a challenge and an opportunity; we have a unique chance of defining the story for an entire industry.
When did your love affair with teas start?
I was born in Siliguri, a town in the Darjeeling district of India. And if you’re living in Siliguri, it’s very likely that you are doing something with tea – it’s the biggest industry there. My father was in the business of tea garden supplies and equipments. And when I was young, I would accompany my father on his visits during school holidays. I loved it. The huge machines in the estate factories fascinated me. For a small child like me, it was big magic – the way a small green leaf is transformed into such a delicious drink.
After high school, I went on to win a scholarship to study business at Singapore Management University and I moved there. Studying and living in Singapore for eight years shaped my career. During my time there, I set up two companies, one in e-waste management, and another in luxury limousine service. I also spent four years working at KPMG as a corporate financial analyst. At that time, the Indian economy was booming, and I decided to return back to India to explore my options here. I came back to Siliguri and decided to go work for my older brother who runs a tea export business. Working there showed me another side to the business from what I had seen with my father – I saw the infrastructure that was being used to take the teas from gardens to the consumer and was surprised at how dated it was. And in these challenges, I saw a great opportunity for change.
My experiences abroad helped me think like an outsider to the industry. This outsider-thinking was important because it enabled me to wriggle free of the constricting assumptions of the industry-insider. It also enabled me to import ideas and practices from other industries and cultures and apply them to every aspect of strategy – including product development, organization and marketing. These skill sets, in combination with my firsthand experience with tea industry (given my family’s background), were the driving forces behind setting up Teabox.
What do you love the most about this venture?
Having seen the industry from such close quarters, I could see that there was an immense opportunity that was waiting to be tapped. Plus, the fact that we are witnessing a concomitant change in the attitudes of consumers caused by social shifts and changes in demographics.
What do you think is the most fascinating thing about teas?
Direct, first access to teas almost as soon as they are produced gives Teabox a unique advantage over any other tea retailer. This challenges the ways of a 200-year-old industry, which has always relied on a large value chain consisting of multiple middlemen and has hardly changed since the earliest British and Scottish planters first set up the estates.
Tea estates send over their tea samples, which are then evaluated by our expert tea tasting team. Only the teas that match our stringent standards are selected to be listed on the website. We have also invested heavily in setting up a rigorous, quality checking environment, which ensures only the best quality leaves are selected and are stored in temperature and humidity controlled facilities. The orders that ship within 24 hours of order are packaged in opaque, vacuum packaging, protecting them from sunlight and the environment outside during transit. Regardless of the location, buyers receive their tea packs within 3-5 business days. The rest of the teas are stored in a cold storage environment – again India’s first cold storage of tea.
What flavor is your most favorite?
I have my favorites in every type of tea there is. In whites, I love the taste of Margaret’s Hope Moonlight white tea; it tends to be extremely fragrant and heady and I look forward to it every spring. In greens, I have started inclining towards the selection we get from the Nilgiris, particularly the Twirl Green tea from the Glendale estate. It’s incredibly smooth and tipped with soft, green flavors. My regulars include the tippy black teas from Assam, which are the perfect breakfast accompaniments, and the flowery oolongs of Darjeeling, which are perfect for sipping on a balmy afternoon.