Two entrepreneurial visionaries from the Rohrer College of Business at Rowan University co-founded a cold-steeped tea brand that aims to spearhead fulfilling careers and a transparent culture.
The company’s slogan, “tea brewed differently,” embodies a vision established by Kayvon Jahanbakhsh, a senior finance major who co-founded the company.
This past Friday, the annual New Venture Competition was held at the business school. Students presented new venture ideas to a panel of industry-based judges in a competition for the first place prize of $4,000.
Rewind to this time last year, when Jahanbakhsh and 2018 marketing graduate Mike Lombardo presented their tea brand, Topos Teas, at this event. Their brand is now carried at five regional Whole Foods locations and a Minigrow in Manhattan.
After winning the New Venture in 2018, Topos Teas focused on building brand awareness and a strong core team of sales, finance, marketing and social outreach. Jahanbakhsh and Lombardo fostered a sincere and forthcoming relationship with their advisers. Topos Teas advisory board is composed of trusted individuals who guide the creators’ decisions.
Throughout Jahanbakhsh life, his older brother Anthony has had a front row seat to watch his younger brother’s milestones. He now officially acts as Topos Tea’s “tough love” voice of reason.
“My brother is one of the most business savvy people I know, and he’s helped me shape financials and really develop and grow a business,” Kayvon Jahanbakhsh said.
California became the first state to require publicly traded companies to have at least one woman on their board of directors with 2019’s conclusion as the deadline to do so. Having a woman’s influence, regardless of the quota, is critical to Topos Tea’s vision of commonality and values in their business and brand model.
Naomi Kent will take her seat on the Topos Teas advisory board in 2019. Her specialty is counseling social media strategies and marketing.
Jahanbakhsh and Lombardo place great emphasis on quality, especially in the early stages of creating a brand. This initial move determined their advantages throughout the long process of scaling the business.
“[Topos Teas] aims to be the most transparent food and beverage company the world has ever known,” Lombardo said.
The two founders Utilizing a ten-hour cold steeping process they created, one they claim draws every natural flavor out to its full potential.
They credit much of their success to the rocky and early stages of business development that taught them what not to do.
“If we were to start all over again and have it go smoothly, we would have lost all the value we have now,” Jahanbakhsh said. “I wouldn’t change anything. It was frustrating, aggravating and it took a long time, but we learned a lot in the process.”
Absorbing all the expertise and applying feedback to their brewing and business model led them to their biggest deal yet: two New Jersey and three Pennsylvania Whole Foods deals.
The Amazon-owned company saw the potential in an early developing business that is continuously evolving. This was the first time Jahanbakhsh and Lombardo saw the commercial end-stage of their tea.
Watching people pull tea off the shelf and then sit and eat their lunch with Topos in their hand was surreal for the co-founders.
Founding Topos Teas gave Jahanbakhsh and Lombardo the opportunity to attract talented people earlier in their careers than their advisers did in theirs.
“We have given people opportunities to learn on such a broad scale. My motivation is to continue growing the business so that we can all continue to grow with it,” Jahanbakhsh said.
The team has an array of Rowan alumni and current Rowan students working with them. David Nipps, a 2018 alumnus, is currently developing toposteas.com. Lauren Burke, a 2018 alumna, designed the very first label in class at Westby Hall and is still designing all the Topos Teas graphics. Junior Brittany Eng is earning internship credit towards her degrees in public relations and advertising this spring as their social brand manager.
“You actually see how your work directly impacts a company. Your work holds more value than if you were working for a large corporation,” Eng said.
“You can impact people in a different way by giving them internship credits. Having interns was the first really cool thing we got to do,” Lombardo said.
Topos Teas aims to hold meaningful significance in their team members’ careers, as well as contribute to environment and social issues.
Earlier in 2019, Topos Teas became a member of 1% For the Planet, an organization that brings together businesses who dedicate one percent of their annual income to environmental non-profits.
In an initiative called “One Tree Planted,” Topos Teas planted 25 trees in California.
Future plans are already on the horizon for the brand.
“We want to fund inner cities, sponsor cleanups, combat drug use and create scholarship funds for people who want to go back to school,” Jahanbakhsh said.
Lombardo plans on disrupting the “natural” claims other food and beverage companies make. All the ingredients of the two flavors Topos currently offers are clearly listed on the front of the label. The simplicity of their tea and leading an honest and fulfilling life excites Jahanbakhsh and Lombardo.
“I want to change perceptions of what’s healthy. The transparency in ingredients is what I want to shift,” Lombardo said.
Letting people decide when, where and how to drink the tea fuels the fluidity of the brand. Being a naturally caffeine-free tea presents endless possibilities. Jahanbakhsh and Lombardo want drinkers to feel however they wish while drinking Topos.
“When I think of Topos, I think of a more contemplative time, sitting, chilling and thinking. That’s what I appreciate about it,” customer Matthew Pittman said about the tea he’s been drinking since summer 2018.
While the basis of the teas is green rooibos tea leaves, the real foundation and growth of Topos Teas stem from the people within the company. Sending emails at 11 p.m. on Saturday nights, holding team brainstorming sessions once a month and strategically facing challenges is what will springboard Topos Teas into the world and hands of whoever wants to drink fresh tea.
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