With Giancarlo Marcaccini from East West Tea
Without a doubt, starting your first business has been or will be one of the most challenging ventures you’ve ever set out to accomplish.
However, as a social entrepreneur, you’ll face even greater challenges. From the beginning, you’ll need to have a much grander vision for the influence and impact your business might potentially have. Additionally, social entrepreneurs must solve problems in a way that doesn’t involve cutting corners, putting people or the environment in harm’s way, or sacrificing the core values that are at the heart of their personal beliefs and businesses.
Beyond this, successful entrepreneurs operating within the sustainable capitalism movement must use their mission-driven business to create solutions for the large-scale issues that we face to lead their industry into a future of sustainability and regeneration.
Needless to say, that’s a lot to have on your plate!
You’re going to need help, and since the road to success often means heeding the advice of those who have already succeeded, we sat down with Giancarlo Marcaccini, a successful entrepreneur and the CEO of Yogi Tea Company, which is otherwise known as East West Tea Company.
Throughout the conversation, Marcaccini gives us his best entrepreneurial tips and pieces of business advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs, and he explains how and why they are necessary for entrepreneurial success.
Tips and Advice for Impact-Driven Entrepreneurs from Yogi Tea’s CEO
In this show post and the correspondingSocial Entrepreneurship and Innovation Podcast episode, we learn exactly what it takes to lead a truly mission-driven business like Yogi Tea; Giancarlo also offers tips and advice for entrepreneurs who want to make an impact in their own right.
#1 Cultivate Commitment
Letting Go of the Fear of Failure
Ask any successful entrepreneur from any industry, and they’ll be sure to tell you that failure is necessary to create a successful business. As Marcaccini puts it,
“You’re gonna fail. So, it’s not about trying to avoid failure. It’s about how quickly you bounce back. You know, how long do you want to sit there and feel sorry for yourself.”
Every failure must be seen as a learning opportunity and something to be embraced. Think of a sports game, he explained. When you win, you only go to celebrate. When you lose, that’s when you break down filmed footage, strategize better, and learn from your mistakes.
Don’t be afraid of slipping up. Even now, during the pinnacle of his success, Giancarlo pushes his team to make mistakes:
“If we’re not making any mistakes, we’re just not going fast enough or thinking big enough. So, […] I don’t think the mistakes will ever be over.”
Failures and mistakes should not be seen as a barrier, but as a sign to speed up, slow down, adjust course, gather resources, or take the higher road.
Love What You Do
The surest way to overcome challenges and persist through failure is to love what you do. Because you’re going to be doing a LOT of it.
That driving passion is exactly what will protect you from burnout, allow you to think creatively, and give you the motivation to pick yourself up and try again. That’s why Giancarlo insists that new entrepreneurs,
“Do something that you really love because […] so much of your life is going to be this. [Your business] is your child, this is your partner, this is everything.”
In short, your venture will become your life. To be able to find success and follow through on your business idea, you must really love (and believe in) both the vision and the associated daily actions that will make your dream a reality.
#2 Stay Disciplined
Start with an Overflowing Glass
As they say, love is sometimes not enough. More than just passion for your work, you will need discipline.
You will need discipline not only to stay organized and do the hard work that is necessary, but you’ll also need it to take care of your own health and well-being, which is the foundation for success for anything you set out to do.
Giancarlo wakes up everyday between 3:30–4:30 am with a yoga session and meditation to ground himself before the day unfolds. He asks himself,
“Do I wake up and just let habits or the outside world influence me? Or do I set myself up for success, get myself in that place of mental balance and gratitude and approach my day from that place?”
When your personal mission is framed in that way, the answer is quite simple. You must do what you need to do to take care of yourself every single day. For you, that might involve developing habits that include yoga, meditation, or mindfulness practice; perhaps you might prefer journaling or spending some quiet time to reflect on the book that you’re reading, or maybe you’ll simply wish to take some time out of your schedule to exercise or prepare healthy meals for the day.
Whatever you need to do to center yourself within a state of wellbeing, make a daily habit of it. Only from a position in which your “glass is overflowing” as he puts it, can you take on the day’s challenges, approach problems with greater insight, and give your to-do list the focus it deserves.
Being disciplined goes hand-in-hand with staying committed. Discipline, in this sense, means carving out the space to be able to center yourself from a place of love, gratitude, and commitment. Renewing this sense of commitment daily through disciplined practices will keep the fear of failure at bay, reduce stress, and help avoid burnout.
#3 Keep an Open Mind
Cultivating an Open Mind
Dedicating time for self-care will also help you cultivate a clear and open mind, which Marcaccini stresses is a vital part of overcoming challenges and solving problems.
Another way to open your mind that he encourages is for young entrepreneurs to travel or spend time within other cultures. This exposure will make you receptive to other ways of doing things, give you new perspectives on life, and help you empathize with others.
Having an open mind not only means being able to see challenges as opportunities, but it also allows you to perceive and come to terms with instances when the status quo isn’t working, either for the sake of efficiency or ethics.
As an ethical business venture, you’ll have to solve problems and sometimes operate in unconventional ways. Unlike many entrepreneurs, being a socially responsible business owner means you must be able to take into account how decisions impact not only your team and profits but also the wider community and environment in which you operate. Leading a sustainable business will mean taking a multi-dimensional, open-minded approach to problem solving.
More than this, having an open mind will help you survive the hardest part of starting any business: survival mode.
Surviving Survival Mode
You might already be experiencing what most entrepreneurs endure during the start of their business: survival mode.
Survival mode is the period of time in which you might be barely scraping by. Perhaps it’s when you’re operating within a shoestring budget, or maybe it’s just being able to cover expenses or figuring out the best way to grow with the limited resources you have. It may even mean working ultra-overtime just to fulfill the demands of the job.
Whatever survival mode means to you, for the most part, it is likely to be a very stressful place to find yourself in.
The resulting stress from survival mode often narrows our view, or it can lead to disillusionment or burnout. You’re stuck thinking about what kind of income you’ll be generating this week and hyper focusing on every single financial or temporal decision at hand.
At times, this narrowed view can prove costly. Even during survival mode, Marcaccini encourages small business leaders to practice patience, retain the broader vision, and keep an open mind.
“Having a bigger perspective – that gives you the ability to see more possibilities.”
Developing a mental habit of peering from the crow’s nest, especially when things get tough, will help you envisage long-term solutions, organize more efficiently, and orient yourself from a space of creativity rather than anxiety or fear.
#4 Put People First
Importance of Teamwork
From his basketball experience, Giancarlo learned directly about the importance of working as a team. People bring different skill sets and strengths to the table, so it’s important to bring on board business partners and employees who will complement your own strengths and weaknesses and vice versa.
For Giancarlo, this meant finding a balance between people with more corporate knowledge and individuals with more experience in the area of social impact.
“I think if you can merge both worlds, I think you get the best of both worlds.”
Investing in a team with diverse backgrounds and skills who are passionate about different things will fortify your company against the many different kinds of challenges that will undoubtedly present themselves.
Teamwork is so important that Marcaccini explains his best advice for first-time entrepreneurs is to “learn how to hire good people, and learn how to create an environment to make people successful.”
Put People Before Product
He goes on to explain how, throughout his career, he has seen great products fail because of a lack of teamwork, and mediocre products thrive because there was a group of talented people behind it.
So, what’s the lesson here? Unquestionably, you need to put your people before product or service.
With the right team of people behind you, you will be able to adapt your products and services to changing resources, a fluctuating market, and developing business models. By first improving the quality of your team’s communication, skill sets, and bonds of trust, it will allow you to pivot when necessary and set you up for many different kinds of successes down the road.
Create an Environment for Success
The question is, what is the best way to keep good people on your team? For that, you’ll need to create an environment that nurtures success.
While this can be linked to a vast array of different elements, for Giancarlo,
“It’s really putting people with their talents on the right team and the right jobs. So, when they’re done, they’re not exhausted because they’re doing what they like, what they’re naturally good at, and they go home and [can therefore] be good parents or great people in their community, have energy and prana to give back to their community and everything [else].”
Creating a company culture in which people can openly discuss their opinions and needs will encourage trust between everyone, and it will give you better insight into which person is right for which job/team.
Employees and co-workers are more than just their roles at work; first and foremost, they’re people! This means you’ll also have to create the right balance between their work and personal lives within your company culture. You’ve got to know when to let your employees hang up their hats for the day and celebrate together, even when the successes are small. As soon as you can afford it, give your employees benefits, paid time off, and other company perks.
All of these methods will help your team feel appreciated, allow them to care for themselves and their community, and maintain the balance that will keep them around for the long haul.
#5 Root Yourself in Sustainability
Giancarlo’s mindfulness practices have instilled in him a great sense of oneness, not just as a concept, but as a way of being in the world. He explains that when you are rooted in the actual experience of connection and existing as one, you can’t help but ask the following questions:
“How do you interact and participate and be in relationship with your growers? How are you in relationship with Mother Earth? How are you in relationship with your supply chain? How are you in relationship with all your employees? What products are you putting out for your customers?”
Everything is connected, and so the ethical entrepreneur must root themselves in that truth and act accordingly. Every single aspect of your business, from sourcing to marketing, must reflect that sense of oneness and goodwill.
Go Beyond Sustainability
This means going beyond the status quo and further than merely sustaining our current practices and norms. It’s about facilitating an age of regeneration where we don’t just replace what we took, but we proliferate it for future generations.
For Marcaccini and East-West Tea Company, this means partnering with NGOs, supporting regenerative farming initiatives, and building LEED-certified manufacturing plants. For you, it might mean these things too, or it could involve going for your B Corp, Fair Trade, or Climate-Neutral certification, becoming a 1% for the Planet member, or using plastic alternatives when you can.
Being a socially minded business leader sets you apart from other entrepreneurs. It will mean going that extra mile, walking in other people’s shoes, and often taking the long road. As we move into the future, it will also mean reaching beyond sustainability as YOGI Tea Company does; this entails not just striving to opt-out of unfair practices, but to reach for the very pinnacle of what it means to be a regenerative business.
In this way, social entrepreneurs stand out from most entrepreneurs—they are not only leaders in their respective businesses, but they also seek to be leaders in their community and the wider world.
YOGI Tea Company: Driven by Purpose and “Sustainabli-tea”
YOGI Tea was established in 1984 by Yogi Bhajan, a Kundalini yoga instructor based in Portland, Oregon. Starting with just one tea made from ginger, cinnamon, clove, black pepper, and cardamom, the company now distributes over 40 organic tea blends throughout the United States and Europe, and it is one of the top tea brands in its domestic market.
The Sikh Dharma, which is the religious community Yogi Bhajan belonged to, still owns East-West Tea Company – YOGI tea’s parent company. In alignment with their beliefs, YOGI is a certified B Corp that uses ingredients that are 100% USDA organic and non-GMO project verified.
To minimize their impact, YOGI Tea has also begun to support regenerative farms and initiatives through partnerships with non-profits and via their sourcing practices. Furthermore, they have built the first LEED-certified tea production facility in the world.
They partner with and donate to several international and local NGOs that are focused on empowering communities through education, healthcare access, mindfulness practice, and conservation.
Giancarlo Marcaccini, CEO of YOGI Tea Company
Even as a college student and athlete, Giancarlo Marcaccini had an entrepreneurial disposition and sold t-shirts and gear during recruiting trips.
After spending many years as a professional basketball player in Europe, Giancarlo continued along his entrepreneurial path and began a gelato company with his brothers. Together, they grew that gelato business into a national food service company that serves nationwide airlines and offers co-packing and manufacturing services for other food-related firms.
Over the years, Giancarlo began his yoga practice and was eventually asked by those running his yoga studio for business advice. Once they saw his flair in this area and learned about his background in the food industry, they asked him to be a part of the board of East-West Tea Company, another business venture they owned.
In 2018, Giancarlo Marcaccini was brought on board as the CEO of East-West Tea Company, which is more commonly known as YOGI Tea. Through his dedication to mindfulness practices, he has maintained the values of service that the company was founded on and has breathed new life into every aspect of the business.
“I think how you approach anything is how you approach everything.“
What Should Every Beginner Social Entrepreneur Know?
Want to start your first business but don’t know where to start? Want to grow your company, yet you don’t know what the next step should be? Most beginning entrepreneurs will want to learn the importance of experience, the value of getting a mentor, and strength that comes with community.
Seek Out Valuable Experience
As Albert Einstein points out, “the only source of knowledge is experience.” While this definition might be a little narrow, experience is one of the greatest resources you can give yourself.
Dealing in something you know well will help you keep overhead low early in the life of your business since you’ll avoid the expense of hiring consultants. It will also save you lots of time that could have been spent navigating the steep learning curve that is necessary when entering a new field. More than that, it will also most likely mean you will have the knowledge to solve problems effectively and the passion to stay motivated.
If you don’t yet have experience in your field of interest, volunteering is a great place to start. You’ll make important connections in this area of work, learn the skills of the trade firsthand, and encounter the numerous other benefits of volunteering.
Find a Mentor
When you don’t have experience, it’s best to hear out those who do. Listening to successful entrepreneurs tell you about their career journeys will give you the insight you need into best practices.
Reach out and talk to people you admire in your community, join business groups and the local chamber of commerce, follow your hero on social media, and get networking. Not only might you find yourself a mentor and hear some valuable business advice, but you also just might find your next business partner, find opportunities to raise capital, or invest in other businesses in the process.
Prefer staying in? Listen to podcasts like the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Podcast, which features interviews with fellow purpose-driven leaders and successful entrepreneurs.
Read biographies, books, and more articles to learn about how others stay focused on their goals, including how successful entrepreneurs developed their financial plans, grew their customer bases, and created marketing strategy.
Build a Community
No matter how much experience you’ve gained or how many mentors you have, you will need more help. You work hard, but there’s always more to be done.
Don’t forget what Giancarlo said! You’ll need to hire well and create an environment for success. Teamwork makes the dream work, after all.
Beyond putting people first, you’ll need other resources, programs, and other companies to fill in the blanks. You are sure to run into problems outside your and your team’s wheelhouse. And that’s why it’s important to build your community, keep that stack of business cards stashed, and network. network. NETWORK!
Additional Resources and Links Mentioned in the Episode:
- The Afterlife of Billy Fingers: How My Bad-Boy Brother Proved to Me There’s Life After Death by Annie Kagan
- Kiss the Ground by Josh Tickell
- Honey Lavender Stress Relief
Grow Ensemble Contributor
Alma Rominger is an educator and farmer passionate about regenerative agriculture, composting, gardening for mental health, and outdoor education.
Alma believes that the health of the earth and the health of its people are intrinsically connected and has spent her entire career advocating for both. She currently specializes in Bokashi composting systems and soil ecology through her work with Compost Queens, a women-owned community composting company based in the San Antonio area.