In our Nifty 50 spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Jamah Dacus, founder of Modest Mix. Modest Mix sells loose leaf teas, is based in Reno, Nevada, and has been in business for five years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start this business? Why this business and not a different one?
Jamah: I love making people laugh and I make incredible tea blends. The names of my tea blends are very cheeky, they have a lot of cuss words, but all in a very positive light.
I have been in the health & nutrition world for over 25 years. At the time when I started the business in 2014, I couldn’t find anyone that was doing what I am doing. So I went for it, built Modest Mix, and I’m so glad I did. I have amazing customers and love what I do everyday.
R: How did your passion for Eastern medicine and nutrition start?
J: My parents had a restaurant since I was four, so food and hard work have been a big part of my family. I became passionate about food, how it’s grown and where it comes from. I was first introduced to the true nature of factory farming, the poor treatment of farmers, and the growing use of pesticides on our crops at a very young age.
At fifteen, I was hired as a cashier at a high-end health food grocery store. There I learned extensively about nutrition and the flavor of over 2,000 different plants, grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, etc. Continuously studying, I eventually became the person everyone sought out for health and nutrition advice.
My 20’s were spent like most of my peers, I ignored everything I knew about nutrition and focused on partying. Though I did continue to further my career, working for start-ups and building businesses from the ground up.
In my 30’s, I got my life together, and I became the marketing director for a large organic nutrition company. I worked directly with Naturopathic practitioners and Chinese herbalists. This is where I truly started understanding the benefits of Eastern medicine. I became fascinated with concocting herbal remedies, and I was damn good at it.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
J: I started with designing my tea blends first, the packaging has evolved over time. Finding the right suppliers that were fair-trade and organic took a lot of research. I’m still always on the search for high quality wholesale ingredients.
Packaging initially started as simple as possible, with food-grade zip-lock bags and labels which I printed. Over time my packaging has evolved, and we are actually doing a full packaging redesign as I write this.
R: What was the process like of evolving your packaging?
J: I started simple with food grade zip-lock bags, I just wanted to get my product out there. Later as my company grew, I moved to rice paper bags, which were more sustainable. I loved them, but my labels didn’t stick on them (if anyone needs thousands of rice paper bags, I’m your woman).
I now use high quality stand-up pouches that are recyclable and eco-friendly. With expanding into more retail stores, there’s never a dull moment.
R: How did you find your fair-trade and organic suppliers?
J: The short answer is, extensive research. I eventually found a few wholesale suppliers that shared in the same ethical principles I have. My suppliers source from small fair-trade farms worldwide and buy in large bulk quantities.
I was then able to purchase in smaller quantities, to always keep my ingredients fresh. It wasn’t the cheapest, but it was the highest quality, which was more important to me. I always want to make sure that my ingredients taste amazing, provide the benefits my customers deserve, and that the farmers are treated well. Mission accomplished!
R: How do you make your product? Yourself? A manufacturer? What’s your process like?
J: Everything is made in house by me and my team. I design the tea blends, package and ship everything from our commercial kitchen and herb warehouse in the Sierra Mountains.
R: How big is your team at Modest Mix? Do you like being a team leader? What are the biggest benefits/ challenges to your business expanding past yourself?
J: We are a very small “TEAm” ha-ha, get it? Currently it’s just my right-hand woman, Christina and I. I moved the company to different cities twice in five years, losing my team each time and having to rebuild. Christina is a god-send, she and I do everything, and we rock together.
When we have a huge order, I will pull in my B-Team. I have an amazing group of friends and even local customers happy and willing to help when need be. I have always been in management, and I love guiding a team. I am definitely looking to expand our team very soon.
I prefer the small business feel, where my team feels as if they have a true say in what is happening with the business. I don’t call myself a boss although let’s be real, I am a total boss. But in the shop, we are a team, through and through. I learned from past management that an unhappy employee is the last thing you want. I try to keep it fun and lighthearted, we are usually blasting our favorite music, and taking quick dance breaks.
R: What’s important to consider when you’re trying a new tea blend? How many trials do you go through before you have a new one you want to sell?
J: There are three ways a tea blend comes to fruition: flavor profile, health benefit, or a new tea title I want to use. When it comes to creating a blend purely on flavor, I am a master at combining unique ingredients to achieve what I’m after (cue my parents being chefs and possibly a bit of child labor in the kitchen).
When it comes to creating a ‘benefit blend,’ like promoting sleep and relaxation (“Zen as Fuck” for example), I scour my herbal books. From there I design a blend with the most beneficial ingredients, while keeping a tasty flavor profile. Some of these herbs honestly taste like gym socks, and it takes skill to know how to turn a gym sock into something you want to put in your mouth every night.
Lastly, a funny name, like “Sorry To Hear You’re Such A Pussy,” which has been a long-running inside joke with my best friends. This one had to become my Cold-and-Flu brew, so I designed that specific tea based on the name. When it comes to finalizing a blend, everyone and their mother is invited to a tasting. It’s pretty fun getting the neighbors and community involved.
R: What was your initial investment for Modest Mix? How did you get the money?
J: It was not a large set-up cost, I was able to cover everything myself. My initial investment was around $2,000. I personally designed the logo, website and all graphics to help cut costs. I was grateful for friends and family who helped me any way they could during the start-up phase.
R: Where was the first place you sold your product? How did you get started?
J: My first sales were on my own private website, which I built. I have since branched out to Etsy, which I have done really well with. Early on I took the initiative to contact several subscription box companies, and lo and behold, Maxine of BuddhiBox was in the same city.
We met for lunch and had an amazing connection, we’ve been business partners ever since. She believed in me and my brand-new business, bless her. Both she and I have grown so much in the last five years. Sometimes it takes just a smile, maybe a martini or two and a damn-good product to get a door open. I am never afraid to fail or put myself out there, I have learned every lesson in life through failure and risk-taking. So bring it!
R: Where do you sell your product now?
J: The majority of my sales are online from my website & Etsy. I am unable to sell on Walmart, Amazon, etc, due to the language on my product. I could edit it for the big-box guys, but to be honest, I try to stay away from them. I love small businesses and local retailers, they are where my heart is. I sell in a lot of small coffee shops in Lake Tahoe as well as spas, restaurants and hotels. I also love doing local markets and events.
R: Why do you try to stay away from big box stores?
J: I don’t think my branding works for the big box companies. I mean, almost every blend has the word ‘fuck’ in it. Of course it’s always in a ‘you fucking rock’ tone, not a ‘fuck off’ tone, I like to keep it positive. Besides that though, I have always focused on small businesses because I feel like that is where the heart of our communities are.
I want to keep the quality of my product and my customer service at a high level, which I don’t feel works in most of the mass market. I want my customers to feel connected with me and my brand, I love building at a grassroots level. It keeps my heart and my brand in a really authentic place.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
J: Any retail space that needs a fun and cheeky tea brand.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of Modest Mix? If so, how?
J: I do most of the marketing on Facebook & Instagram, it is the easiest way to be seen by more people. I also hired Springbot, a service that helps with emails and social media ads.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with Modest Mix?
J: Being a single-woman owned business, I have had to spread myself very thin. I am not big enough to hire a team of people to help, so going at it alone (with one or two employees to fill orders), has been the most challenging.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with your business?
J: Honestly, it’s when people call or email me to tell me that my product has enhanced their lives. That was what I wanted to achieve in the first place, so having it become a reality has made it all worth it.
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
J: Don’t wait until it’s perfect to launch, just go for it! You will iron out the kinks as you go.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes that you think about often?
J: With every failure comes a lesson, and with that lesson, you will better yourself and your business/brand.
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
J: Not having a boss? I’m kidding, sometimes that sounds dreamy. In all honesty, it’s having the freedom to grow my brand how I want to grow it. I think of a product, and I can execute it immediately, without having to wait for someone’s approval. I love having full creative control.