Allison Ullo believes in the importance of carving out time for yourself throughout the day. Her line of herbal teas, Leaves of Leisure, is designed to accompany such moments, which is why each tea is named for a pastime or an activity that may spark memories. (Think “road trip” and “picnic in the park.”) The botanicals used are said to have detoxifying and healthful benefits with low amounts of caffeine (but lots of flavor). The New York City entrepreneur hopes her teas can provide a delicious, good-for you alternative for anyone looking to cut back on coffee – or even alcohol.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
Tell us more about why you started your business.
Almost a decade ago I stopped drinking caffeine after my doctor attributed my mood swings to the amount I was consuming. To be fair, I was working full-time during the day and then working a second job waitressing at night until 4 a.m. – coffee was my crutch.
I dove headfirst into finding an alternative beverage that would leave me feeling refreshed and uplifted without the anxiety or false sense of energy. Tea became my go to, specifically herbal tea, but finding herbal teas that felt exciting and trendy was like finding a needle in a haystack. My journey led me to launch a collection of six teas. Each tea is based on a leisure activity and full of detoxifying, mood-boosting and healthy ingredients.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
In a world full of drinks with sugar, syrups, alcohol and caffeine, Leaves of Leisure tea was created to help you feel refreshed and uplifted without the additives. We invite you to slow down, live intentionally and enjoy every sip. Our teas bring a sense of nostalgia to the everyday moments of your life by inspiring memories of the relaxation and creativity you find on the weekend or on vacation.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
My biggest success to date was getting my first press hit in a major publication. I do public relations full-time and get press hits for the brands I represent daily. But doing PR for yourself is so different, and as a small brand, success takes so much longer. It resulted in the largest sales day to date.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
A combination of financial and manpower issues. Launching the tea brand was tough enough, but actually making tea bags and filling the canisters was very expensive. So I recruited my family to help. To date, we have made over 50,000 tea bags!
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
I currently work two other jobs to help support and bootstrap my tea business. Leaves of Leisure is my side hustle and has taken a lot of personal sacrifice in order to bring it to life. A ton of people have told me they didn’t feel my business would make it, or that people wouldn’t buy it and that it wasn’t interesting. You have to be your own biggest support system because no one else will be.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Don’t give up. Find a mantra that works for you and keep going. There will be more hard days than great days, especially in the beginning, so it is important to have a routine that works. And, be your own biggest supporter.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I hold to the belief that the best medicine is a hike outside, a warm bath, a good book and not surprisingly, a hot cup of herbal tea. On hard days, I carve out space for myself and remind myself that success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow climb to success and we have to find inspiration, even when we are only seeing 1% gains.
What is your go to song to get motivated on tough days?
“Get into the Groove” by Madonna.
Who is your most important role model?
My most important role models are all the women entrepreneurs that have come before me. I am addicted to reading success stories of those that took the plunge before I did and hearing about their mistakes, wins and also their advice.◼