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Ted Vu and his business partner, Scott Nguyen, were still in college in 2001 when they launched Tastea as a drink delivery business based in Vu’s garage. They soon started selling their drinks at festivals, where they proved extremely popular with young Southern Californians. Before long they decided it was time to open their first brick-and-mortar location.
The big challenge was money—they didn’t have any. The bank laughed when they asked about a business loan, so Vu and Nguyen maxed out their credit cards, borrowed against their cars and took personal loans from family members who believed in what they were doing.
“And that’s when the hard work began,” Vu says. “We hired a contractor to help build our location and bootstrapped wherever we could to conserve costs.
We’ve heard that the less money you have, the more creative you need to be, and that was certainly the case for us.” Their vision, tenacity and hard work paid off. Today Vu and Nguyen have three Tastea locations and recently started selling franchises.
Vu writes about the value of creating a strong bond with employees, paying attention to the numbers and sticking to a realistic budget:
“The most important thing we did right was to value our employees from the very beginning. Even though we had little money to start, we treated our employees as family. This created an immediate and loyal bond with our team, which fostered passion, creativity and dedication. As a result, they were our strongest advocates. They spread the word to our target market and played a crucial role in our early success. Remember, this was before lots of social media sites were available to help get the word out—we were entirely dependent on word of mouth, and our employees provided the loudest voices.
Treating all our employees as respected team members translated into our signature customer experience, the consistently positive way our team members serve our customers. Of course, not all our early decisions worked out so well. I wish we’d put greater emphasis on the importance of the numbers: our target sales per hour, the cost of goods sold, labor costs and other key indicators. In the beginning, we had strong sales but not equally strong profits, because we overstaffed and prepped too many perishable ingredients that later went to waste. We finally figured out the right balance, but it took a lot of trial and error, much of which we could have avoided by spending more time analyzing our data.”
To read the rest of Ted’s story and the stories of other small business owners like Ted, download our eBook, “What I wish I knew.”