TE 35: Jennifer Odera: Founder of Shanti Tearooms

Jennifer Odera is the founder of Shanti Tearooms: a modern take on the traditional high tea experience that sells premium loose leaf teas, infused locally in-store, complimented by cuisine from around the world at branded tearooms. Using her experiences from traveling around the world, Jennifer hopes to capitalize on a concept that pushes against the technologically frenzied lifestyle and offers something more relaxing & filled with conversation instead of texts, Facebook messages, and Snapchats.

Click here to download the show on iTunes!

In this episode you will learn:

  • How to take your personal experiences and turn them into a marketable experience for the rest of the world.
  • How to understand your culture & environment.
  • Why Jennifer chose not to wait till she retired to start her business.
  • Why Jennifer’s business is a no cell phone zone. 
  • How Jennifer has worked through the change in lifestyle while starting her business.
  • What made Jennifer turn down her dream job. 
  • How to be risk rational instead of risk averse. 

Links & Resources:

Full Show Notes:

COMBINING PURPOSE WITH PASSION

“My passion is food,” Odera says, “I love food and I love service.”
Jennifer says she believes in following her passion “Becuase when it’s something you’re good at, it makes work a bit easier, and we all have to work for a living.”

The business’ genesis comes from her passion to travel and try new things. That, she says, is what pushed her into hospitality.

A Hotel Management graduate from Les Roches School of Hotel Management, Jennifer is currently working toward her MBA at Babson College. This is where Teenage Entrepreneur Podcast host Jordan Agolli catches up with the hospitality entrepreneur for an interview.

Jennifer worked with a number of big hotel chains before returning to school for her graduate degree. “Everything’s very structured, orderly, and I always just dreamed of doing it on my own. But,” she says, “I felt that I’d work for an entire career, and when I retired, I’d take my savings and start my own business.”
She credits her mentors from within the industry for changing her mind. Saying she realized doing in on their own was everyone’s dream, but, “you get married, have children, have much larger considerations and you can’t just go off and start your own business.”
That’s when she realized that the present time in her life was probably the best time to start something new. “I’m young and have nothing to lose, and could respectably move back home with my parents should I try, and fail,” she concludes.

WELCOME TO SHANTI TEA

Shanti Tea is an indoor botanical garden set to encourage community over a cup of tea. “Having traveled and lived in several places… the Middle East, South Asia, Europe or even Kenya, there’s a huge culture around people taking time out in the day to go for a cup of tea,” says Odera.

She says America is much different, “it’s a very coffee, go, go, go culture. Even when you’re having coffee you’re on your phone, your iPad, you’re working always moving.”
She says she recognized the need for people to slow down, to have a tranquil space that encourages relaxation, “have some fresh air, and have something good to eat.”
With her restaurant, she says she’s trying to modernize the high tea culture. Having worked in London for a while, she knows that high tea is a delightful setting. “a delightful meal, between three and seven, consisting of a couple of courses and then dessert.”
In Boston, however, where Jennifer now lives, “it’s kind of boring, and five star hotels. Saying she felt a need to revamp the Boston high tea, give it some interest and make it a fun environment people would be drawn to as a break in their day where people could spend a few minutes and “get ready to go out and have a better day and be a better person.”

To emphasize the relaxation feature of her business, Jennifer says she’s considering making a no cell phone rule for Shanti Tea. “You cannot pull out your iPad, or any form of electronics. It’s really bout sitting still, engaging in a conversation,” or just sit quietly alone, “it’s ok, whether you’re a housewife, or a super busy working person, it’s ok to take a few minutes to relax,” she explains.

Odera says she has plans to integrate teas from different countries, and showcase the different things people eat with teas. Her business has recently started a tea party services where her employees cater tea parties for up to 12 people.

“We sit with you, talk about decor, the kind of vibe you’d like to have, and then we’d choose a theme.”

THE HISTORY OF JENNIFER ODERA

Jennifer grew up in Kenya. “Growing up in Kenya, entrepreneurship is not something anybody ever really talked about. Everybody was still quite traditional.”

She says the culture really pushed their children to be doctors, lawyers, “something really substantial.” She says her parents didn’t consider hospitality as a real career.

“People tend to go into entrepreneurship as a backup plan when Plan A didn’t work out… having said that,” she continues, “it’s also because being a developing country, there are limited jobs, so people are now seeking other opportunities and other ways of making money.”

The 29 year old Kenyan native says most in her generation have formal jobs. “They’ll work in a bank, they’ll be a lawyer, a doctor, but, they’re also very interested in making passive income.”

Additional careers such as real estate is a growing career field with places like the Nairobi capital growing exponentially. “Everyone is investing. Now, they’re looking to try and draw in the 20s and 30 year olds to invest in getting their own homes” with lower mortgage rates and increasing passive income production.

Jennifer says she and those in her generation are pretty much held to the expectations of society and their parents. “But, having said that, I think [the entrepreneurial spirit] was simmering somewhere down under, because my grandparents are entrepreneurs. They’re teachers… they opened a school… training people to get certificates in service and hospitality.”

She explains that the knowledge of entrepreneurship as there, but that society is so driven towards working somewhere amazing and earning a living working for someone else.

Before moving to the US, she had been working in Kenya for three years and says her family recognized that she was not happy. When her dream job finally opened, she didn’t apply, which caused her to start asking about her motivation and purpose. The company had created the job after Jennifer had joined the management trainee program.

“It was an awesome opportunity, but at that point, I just felt like when I looked at my boss’ role, and I looked at his boss’ role, they weren’t lifestyles that I wanted,” she explains.

After that realization, Jennifer says she gained more perspective, and her parents started to see her dissatisfaction, “so by the time I started to articulate the fact that I think I should do something else, they were like, ‘well, we weren’t surprised.”

THE FUTURE OF JENNIFER ODERA

Jennifer says she has nightmares at times due to the amount of risk she’s taken in coming to America. “In the first year, you’re dreaming and creating, talking about your business plan, and everybody is oohing and wowing, so you’re very motivated to go,”

But, now, in the second year, “you’re actually making a life’s plan and reality sets in and your realized there’s a standard of living you’re accustomed to, and how much will you sacrifice?”

The nightmares, she says, comes from thinking about the business constantly. “For a solid month I had nightmares eery day that my business would fail. Because, in my mind, I was like, am I missing out on an opportunity to be networking with bigger companies, get a stable job? I had a dream, [without] any funding.”

ADVICE FROM A TRAVELING BUSINESS WOMAN

Jennifer offers wisdom gained from traveling and starting her own business for young entrepreneurs. “Stop being afraid, of being risk averse. Become risk rational. Analyze and think bout what you want to do. Don’t leap before you have a plan. Make that plan,” she encourages.
As part of the plan she’s made for herself, “it’s actually transitioned into actually planning out a budget for the entire year after graduation to make sure I can live within a particular level, and be able to work on my business as well.”

But, on the other hand, Jennifer cautions “know your situation and talk to people who are doing what you’e doing, and try and get as much hands on experience as you can to really look and see if thise is something you can do and can pursue.”

It’s tough, she warns, “you essentially do it alone, nobody’s doing it quite like you are.” To combat that loneliness, “have a community of people who can at least understand the conversation and the frustrations… build a tough skin, and understand that it doesn’t happen overnight.”