Ha took part in all three of our flagship programmes through our WEAVE initiative, with big aspirations for her traditional tea brand. She gained confidence and knowledge that brought growth and success to her business.
I truly trust that I have had a guide, like a lighthouse. I am not afraid that I might take the wrong road. I have had a lodestar that shows me the clear journey for me to follow.
Ha Shanam is an entrepreneur living in Ta Xua A Village, a rural village in Northwest Vietnam. She is the founding partner of her business Tay Bac Tea and Specialties Company, which specialises in selling Shanam tea, an ancient snowshan tea brand. She is one of 12,000 women entrepreneurs in Vietnam and Indonesia trained through our WEAVE project with USAID, Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™, Kinara Indonesia and WISE Vietnam.
I started my business in 2017, with big aspirations to bring ancient snowshan tea, a traditional but little-known tea, to both the domestic and international market. I started my career working in the marketing departments of big corporations, so I felt I could use my marketing and communications expertise to do something completely different. I was really excited to showcase my country’s agricultural heritage and bring snowshan tea into the mainstream.
It was quite a shock to me to move from the well-oiled machine of a large corporation, with multiple departments for specific tasks, to being a small start-up where everything depended on me and my actions. I felt that I was starting from zero. As well as getting used to that, I was faced with two major obstacles: ensuring we had enough capital, and ensuring our product was visible to our target audience.
The reason we needed such a lot of capital when we first launched was the product cycle of our tea. Because it is a luxury, unusual product, most of our sales happened at the end of year, when people would buy Shanam tea as gifts. In order to get ready for this rush of sales, we had to buy a huge amount of tea from farmers in the first half of the year, which naturally created a cash-flow problem.
The second problem we faced was one I felt equipped to solve with my marketing skills. Our product was the first tea brand in Vietnam made from ancient snowshan tea trees, and we needed to make clear to our target audience what sets Shanam tea apart from the ordinary tea they are used to, for example the fact that all Shanam tea products are made from ancient tea trees that are more than 100 years old. Once we had established ourselves in Vietnam, we also launched in the international market, positioning ourselves as an alternative to ancient Chinese tea.
The first step in my journey with the WEAVE initiative was downloading the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s HerVenture app. Initially, I sped through all the app’s lessons in about a week, and then I took my time to study each learning track separately and work out how I could apply it to my business. Having HerVenture is like having a map for running a business. I truly trust that I have had a guide, like a lighthouse. I am not afraid that I might take the wrong road. I have had a lodestar that shows me the clear journey for me to follow. I also shared the app with my staff, so that we can all work more professionally.
I then took part in the Road to Growth programme, which further strengthened the direction of my business. Before the programme, my accounts were very messy and all over the place, but the financial literacy I gained on the programme allowed me to ensure our finances are now all set up properly. As it was an online programme, it allowed me to be proactive with my time. I usually study in the evening, after I’m done with all my other work. The clarity the programme provided also allowed me to expand my business, and I opened up a showroom for my brand in Hanoi.
Next, I was matched with my mentor Abhilasha, who was from India and an entrepreneur herself as well as a coach. She was very understanding and patient and helped build my confidence in myself and my business. Together, we worked on a bold new business plan and implementation strategy. By Spring 2021, the new business plan had been in place for a few months, but we were forced to put everything on hold due to the awful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Vietnam. Thankfully, I had my mentor, and Abhilasha supported me to review and revise the plan, and then pivot my business accordingly.
My mentor was very understanding and patient and helped build my confidence in myself and my business.
Before starting on this journey and becoming an entrepreneur, I would have never thought that I would be able to start up a business on my own. I always thought entrepreneurship was for men. However, taking part in the WEAVE initiative allowed me to realise that I can do this. All three programmes allowed me to see beyond the immediate problems presented by the COVID-19 crisis and focus on the bigger picture. I now have enough confidence, enough knowledge and enough reason to better operate my business.
I’m so proud of everything we as a business have achieved already. The success of our business has allowed us to pay Snowshan tea tree farmers in rural Vietnam double what they made before we came to work with them, which means that they can afford better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. In the future, I would love Shanam tea shops to be on every street corner of Vietnam – a place for communities to learn about tea and tea recipes and enjoy a cup of tea together. I’m also excited to bring Shanam tea to more international audiences.
Find out more about the WEAVE iniative
Our WEAVE initiative supported over 12,000 women across Vietnam and Indonesia from 2020-2021. It was the first initiative by the Foundation to bring together all three of the Foundation’s flagship programmes: HerVenture, Road to Growth and Mentoring Women in Business.
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