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Name: Dionne Laslo-Baker
Business: DeeBee’s SpecialTea Foods, Ltd. , organic tea-pops
Industry: Food & Beverage
Location: British Columbia, Canada
Reason for starting: Three years ago this March, I was in the kitchen with my two boys, Joshua and David, one of whom has a diet that excludes refined sugar, artificial coloring and flavoring. David was making tea, Josh was making frozen treats and they were rallying over who was going to do what with mommy, when Josh piped up and said, “Mommy, let’s make teasicles.” I had one of those “light bulb” moments, rushed to my computer to discover that nobody in the world was making a certified organic tea / herbal tea and fruit frozen novelty (commonly known as a popsicle) so I set out to create my own.
I have a PhD in medical science specializing in maternal fetal toxicology. I loved what I was doing and never would have dreamed of starting a food company. However, when my kids came up with the idea for a TeaPop, I couldn’t let the idea go. I felt that by building DeeBee’s and creating the world’s first organic TeaPops, I could not only teach my own children that you can create a healthy treat that does not have refined sugar or artificial anything, but also show them that one mom can take a little idea, reinvent her career and make that little dream a reality. I also felt that DeeBee’s could provide a stage by which I might be able to use my educational background to teach others about the impact of the foods we eat on ourselves and our planet. For example, many people are not aware that tea is typically not rinsed after it has been plucked from the camellia sinensis plant, often the first water that the leaves touch is in your teacup. The level of pesticides in non-organic tea has been shown to be particularly high in some teas. This is just one example of tidbits of information that I hope might trigger thought and discussion around the topic.
Related: Read about another Food & Beverage entrepreneur working with organic tea here.
How do you define success? For me success is achieved when you see the spark in one of your team members eyes, when you see that you have inspired them to join you in the journey. Success is not in simply achieving the final goal but feeling proud and empowered through the path taken to get there. Although the path may have winding roads and dead ends, perseverance, determination (staying power), passion, and drive pays off in so many ways when you can celebrate the successes along the way. I also feel that success is defined in what I to teach my children through the process of building a transparent, philanthropic company. Seeing my boys create their own small businesses, David is a nature photographer who sells cards with his photos on them and Joshua builds and sells computers from scratch, makes me realize they are watching my every move and learning through my journey. If they can learn through what I am building, I have succeeded.
Biggest success: My biggest success personally is in watching my children grow into well rounded members of our society. At DeeBee’s I feel that our biggest success occurred when we were honoured with New Exporter of The Year from the British Columbia government and shortly thereafter launched chain wide into Sprouts Farmers Markets across the Southern US. My initial gut instinct when I decided to create our company was to launch our frozen novelty into the Southern States where it is warm all year. We were able to take feedback from our trial launch last summer, create a significantly improved and more affordable organic TeaPop for our first “official” launch this spring. Over the past month we have watched sales take off at Sprouts. With every positive note of feedback we get from Sprouts, it becomes more difficult to wipe the smiles off the faces of our DeeBee’s family and team!
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? We are a small company run by one “Mamma” who tries to oversee and help her baby take its first steps. Although DeeBee’s is like my third baby, I have two other “babies” (now 11 & 13) and my best friend, my husband, at home who crave my attention and quality time. Since starting DeeBee’s it’s not unusual for me to work a 12-15 hour day, miss school events, head into my office at home rather than cuddle with my kids in front of the fireplace and completely give up our social life. Finding balance as a working mom and the leader of a start-up is challenging. I want to watch my boys grow from little boys into teenagers, but be able to maintain balance. To do this I have assembled and worked closely with my team so that I have the ability to step back and feel fulfilled in both aspects of my life.
Initially we had exponential success at a fast pace, to test whether this might be a viable company I submitted our first prototypes to the World Tea Media for the Best New Product Award. To my surprise we won, we decided to head to a trade show in the US to see what the retailer response might be, we had line-ups down the aisle and were rated as one of the top products out of almost 200,000 by food editors from Good Morning America and the Wall Street Journal. The success came fast and furious before we had even completed package design! When the hard work really set in, such as establishing a network of distributors and broker (sales) teams throughout North America, I quickly discovered that the pace would slow down significantly. Moreover, after significant financial investment by my husband and I, the challenge of raising money (something that neither of us had done before), made me realize that slow and steady growth was the better choice with my original vision in terms of the product attributes remaining the same.
Related: A Dose of Inspiration from Eleanor Roosevelt
Who is your most important role model? Although there are many women who I see as role models and inspirational figures for different aspects of my life. Christine Day would be one of my most significant role models. In one of her speeches, she said, “Take leadership, don’t wait for it. Inspire, empower lives, and believe you have the ability to change the world.” I respect women who feel that they can inspire and educate through the work they do both personally and professionally. I feel that it is critical for women like Christine Day and others in the business community to get out and speak to young (and young at heart) women about creative and innovative ways to use their passion and their education. Women can challenge themselves intellectually and practically. A role model for me inspires others to find their passion and reach toward things that they may have never believed possible.
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Edited by The Story Exchange