Today we’d like to introduce you to Rebecca Razzall.
Rebecca, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Okay! Well… I started out at VH1 and MTV Networks… and then I was a TV commercials producer, and had a good run of that with Driver Media in NYC, for eight years. At a certain point, it was time to move out to LA, and out here I went freelance with my own clients as an exec producer, which was interesting… I’m so appreciative for all the years that I worked within brand content dev & creation. I learned a ton about the importance of building story, and creating value for a company’s advocates and community. Then, three years ago, everything changed when I had the great fortune of becoming a mom to my wonderful son. And, as the ratio of less sleep to more belly laughs grew… somewhere in that crazy lucid joy… I realized it was time to switch gears.
At first, I anonymously ran a creative consciousness blog, which was a wonderful way to stay connected to the world (the esoteric one that is)… and through my explorations there, I found the LA tea ceremony community. These “Chajin” (tea people) ignited a passion for tea that was there since my first cup at age five with my grandma, Sharon… Also around that time, I was getting into transcendental meditation, with my wonderful teacher, Penny Hintz…
And so then totally separate from both my tea ceremony practice, and transcendental meditation… I decided to explore the possibility of having a career in tea. I got certified as a tea sommelier, by the International Tea Masters Association… and then I went for a few other certifications by ITEI (International Tea Education Institute) and TTI (Taiwan Tea Institute)… I’m sure there will be others… And so now, here I am, today… reconnecting with nature’s rhythm, and also weaving that passion and purpose, into entrepreneurialism…
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Hm… I guess I’ll start by saying that tea in its purity, is a solid road… particularly in conjunction with my meditation practice. I mean, it’s just a very balancing plant… so, as one saying goes, “if you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; if you are depressed, it will cheer you; if you are excited, it will calm you.”
But yea of course, if you want to talk struggle, it is totally there as an entrepreneur… And last I heard, startups have a 10% ‘success rate’… oh dear! But how do you define success anyway? Through many ‘failures’, we can all inevitably ‘succeed’… can’t we? Let’s see, there are struggles in many aspects of financing, sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, intellectual property, interpersonal schedules aligning… But, I suppose if anything, I am one persistent mofo… enthusiastically, at that!
My work days are diverse – and they seem to be getting more and more awesomely absurd as we approach our TEASTREAM launch date… I refresh my to-do list each morning, and then stretch myself across the increasingly complex nuances of what appear to be six ‘departments’ of our ambitious, purpose-driven brand. But I drink tea, and meditate twice a day, which keeps things flowing on an upside… Also, living here in LA – we are often in the car… so when I’m not on phone calls, I enjoy making use of that time with all sorts of inspiring podcasts. These usually lead to some of the best rethinks, ideation, and make such a difference in the everyday ritual. Some of my faves include My Domaine’s ‘Second Life’, hosted by the kickass entrepreneur Hillary Kerr, who also happens to be LA-based… I also loved Samovar Stories by San Francisco-based Jesse Jacobs – it is an old podcast from 2011, but it’s so, so good. We met recently, at the opening of his newest location – and I requested more podcasts, of course. And a cup of their chai. I really admire his thought process, and brand. He’s ahead of his time, and super thoughtful about the way they’ve rolled out their business. And let’s not forget Tim Ferriss’ podcasts (Jesse, by the way, had Tim on his podcast, years ago!) – So, I must’ve been living under a rock (or, mom-life)… because I only just discovered all the Ferriss goodness a few months ago – what a gem. Highly recommend.
But, back to that struggle you asked about… what cushions that part, is the “we” aspect – leaning into the bigger picture, and having purpose that feeds into a greater communal good… and then in connecting with other professionals who want to co-create and grow together… there, magic happens… LA for that matter, has become such a fertile stomping ground for the creative entrepreneur… The other day, I met with Sunita Singh, of The Kitchen Terminal, over in El Segundo – from what I understand, they were pioneers in creating their shared-space wholesale commercial kitchen, for LA. And then I speak occasionally with Candice Kim and Tom Ara, both shareholders at Greenberg Traurig – they are young, likeminded can-do attorneys who I lean on, a bit. And I love Josephine Pan, from the Taiwan tea company JT&T, who is based here in SoCal, just a bit further East from DTLA. She is a wealth of passion, resource, and thoughtful consideration… a solid businesswoman. And her husband, Thomas Shu, has such impressive knowledge in oolong tea… I went with them to Taiwan, last year, and had a blast. Indeed, tapping into the talents and enthusiasm of our LA community really makes the world of a difference.
Please tell us about Self-Employed Certified Tea Sommelier & Educator, and Co-Founder of TEASTREAM™.
Sure… I’m currently consulting as a tea sommelier for various businesses who want to further their offerings. Whether it’s curating a custom loose leaf tea menu, or suggesting pairings, or simply training staff to properly prepare and serve good teas… I’m continuously amazed by how many businesses invest in fine loose leaf, but then they don’t realize the nuances of water temperature and steep time. Half of them actually burn the tea! What’s up with that! It’s satisfying to do my micro-part, to help further the experience for consumers and those who serve, for that matter…
I’m also giving educational talks. I was in Austin, TX the other week, presenting at Guan Yin tea house, with one of their cofounders, SoHan Fan, who is also owner of West China Imports. He and I and a few other tea geeks trekked through Guizhou, China, together this past spring… We joined my family friend Rui Liu, who owns a beautiful tea company called Grass People Tree… her leaves are from ancient and indigenous trees that grow wild in primeval forest… check them out! So, in Texas, we shared our experience of the Guizhou terroir, and served limited artisanal teas to the local tea-heads. It was quite fun. And then David Lee Hoffman, otherwise known as ‘Tea Guru’ on Wikipedia, invited me to give a talk at his Tea Museum near San Francisco, in early September. I was honored by his invitation and support, as I look up to him and his accomplishments in life very much… I’m pretty sure he might be one of the coolest humans I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with, and he refers to me as ‘Squirrel’! Not sure why, but I kind of love it, and him for that matter. He, along with one of my teachers, Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court, were really instrumental in paving the way of fine teas (Camellia Sinensis) in the US. And, anyone who is into puerh (a coveted type of collector’s tea, which is fermented and stored over time… and it can be very pricey), knows both of their names… I’ll also be teaching a workshop over at PLANTLAB, here in LA, the last weekend of September. It’ll be an introductory user’s guide and tasting of teas… so, watch that space! I love what Shannon and Eric have set up over there… they’re running an inspiring plant-based culinary school and think tank.
Finally… wait, am I still talking about what I do? Why yes, yes, I am… Stop me if you want, but actually please don’t – because I’m really passionate about this next part! I’m co-founder of a purpose-driven tea startup, TEASTREAM. My partner in that is Tim Wildin, a childhood friend who was also founder of a Southeast Asian brand called Shophouse… there were a few locations opened here in LA… I admire Tim and his work very much, so I’m excited that our paths have aligned to launch this project together, which is targeted for January 2019. Gulp! In the land of entrepreneur, there are quite a few no’s, but some occasional ‘yes’. I recently was accepted into a Female Founders Office Hours program, which was nice. I’ll take all the mentorship and good female Joojoo that I can get – it’s an inspiring community of women helping women. And speaking of, at TEASTREAM, we have an amazing creative agency partner, Preacher, who I’m grateful to be working with – the CEO over there, Krystle Loyland, is a smart, solid business person. We’ve known each other through both work and friendship for a dozen years… so it’s fun to be full circle working on brand content together, again. Between me here in LA, Krystle in Austin, and Tim in New York, we make it #werk.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
If I had to start all over… I don’t think I’d do too much differently, really… Ups and downs, I actually love the learning process there… and I’m satisfied with the way my career as a producer went… I was fairly ‘sought after’, often turning work away, recommending others… and I had a lot of fun globetrotting, working with brilliant creative people in film, and singing after-hours karaoke, following many of our wrap dinners… caveat: after a LOT of endless hours of hard work, that is… but heck – I’m still passing on production gigs! So funny… (And tempting! I love producing!)
But on this new path, in my ‘second life’… one of my mentors, David Lee Hoffman’s advice, is to “make sure you have fun.” I think that is some of the best advice, really… but ask me again, in a few years, please. There is bound to be a long list of things I could have done differently. That’s pretty much unavoidable as an entrepreneur… And I read “Mission in a Bottle” by the Honest Tea founders, who are super smart… boy was that a good, eye opening read… I think as long as you learn from your mistakes… it’s all good (as long as it’s not too costly – eek!)… Fail, fail, and fail, until you succeed… Yea?
- Website: rebeccarazzall.com
– (guy in red jacked with me in floral jacket): David Lee Hoffman and Rebecca Razzall
– (group of us from our Guizhou, China tea caravan, at organic tea garden): left to right is Tea Master Farmer Rao Deng Xiang, and then SoHan Fan, Jess Wilczak, Kripa Nat Davis, Rebecca Razzall, and Rui Liu.
– (wearing caps and lab coats at Rao Deng Xiang’s organic tea manufacturing in Guizhou, China) – that’s myself Rebecca Razzall, and my friend SoHan Fan, owner of West China Imports
– (the black and white portraits of TEASTREAM co-founders): that’s me Rebecca Razzall and Tim Wildin. The photographer who took, is Jason Leiva.
– The photo of me amongst baskets of tea leaves that are out for withering, was snapped in Alishan, Taiwan.
– The photo of me looking gleeful at a tea eco-garden was taken at the top of Alishan, in Taiwan, as well…