Morning Jo: The Will to Embrace Entrepreneurship

When I compare my journey, which started 20 years ago before entrepreneurship was hot, to my friend Kristina’s journey today, I find a remarkable number of similarities. Kristina Tsipouras is the founder of ZOOS Greek Iced Tea, one of the MassChallenge 2014 companies. I asked her about her early influences and what drives her entrepreneurial spirit. Surprisingly, we have more similarities than differences. So, while the times have changed, perhaps the inspirations have stayed mostly the same.

·      Inspired by our fathers – Kristina’s father was an immigrant from Greece who opened a dry cleaning business. My father was a producer in Los Angeles. Both were creators, and both inspired their daughters to be risk takers, knowing we’d always have a soft place to land if our risks didn’t produce rewards. I remember one day talking to my father on the phone just before the first Snip-its location opened in Framingham, MA. I was feeling overwhelmed and far away from home, and I cried to my father, “I can’t do this. I’m not a lawyer but I’m signing legal documents. I’m not a contractor but I’m building a store. Heck, I’m not even a hairdresser, and here I am trying to open a hair salon! What was I thinking? Without missing a beat, he calmed me down, “You’re a producer. A producer has the vision, sees the end result before anything physical exists, and builds the team of experts to carry out that vision. In the end,” he reassured me, “You will win the Academy Award for best hair salon!” Thanks Dad!

·      Ideas come from life experiences – Coming from an immigrant family, Kristina spent her summers in Greece and was inspired by the lifestyle there where she felt healthy and carefree. Her original idea was to bring Greek tea to America in the hot form normally imbibed in Greece, but after playing with the recipes, filters, and processes for making the hot tea bags, she decided to innovate and switched to iced tea. With the hope of disrupting the iced tea industry as Greek yoghurt did to the American yoghurt industry, Kristina set out to build the ZOOS brand of Greek iced teas. While my experience was completely different, I was also inspired by my own experiences as a consumer to create Snip-its. When my first son was ready for his first haircut, I wanted it to be a special experience – a rite of passage from his babyhood to a toddler. After a somewhat heartbreaking experience at a “family” salon, I came up with the idea for Snip-its, a salon specially designed to create an engaging experience for kids and a top-quality experience for moms.

 

·      Successful when engaged – Kristina got As in all the classes she liked, but she got bored easily and did not put in the effort for classes that did not interest her. Ditto for me. While this may not lead to a successful report card in high school, it does bode well for success as an entrepreneur, where passion and purpose trump all else. Knowing what you’re good at and in which areas you need to surround yourself with people smarter than you is critical to the success of any entrepreneurial venture. Kristina knows her strengths (marketing, media, talent, brand) and surrounds herself with mentors and team members (finance, funding, planning) who complement her skills and fill in the gaps where she feels weak. I did the same at Snip-its. I had to: as I mentioned before, I’m not even a hairdresser!

These are the top three that stood out to me. There were others, but I’ll save that for another blog. I imagine these characteristics do not pertain to all entrepreneurs, but maybe there is something to this in the consumer products and services industry. Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of early stage, later stage, and even retired consumer-focused entrepreneurs, and I think these apply (mostly) to all of us. What were your inspirations?

If you want ot learn more about ZOOS, you can visit their website or email Kristina at kristina@drinkzoos.com. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook