Clayton Christopher, creator of Sweet Leaf Tea and Deep Eddy Vodka, spoke to a room of entrepreneurial students and faculty Tuesday. Christopher shared his experiences about the early days of Sweet Leaf Tea, when he used crawfish pots that he filled with garden hoses to brew his tea.
Christopher used $10,000 from his personal savings to start the company before Nestle invested $15.6 million in it.
“It was actually the biggest blessing to start with no money,” Christopher said. “It taught me to be a lot more resourceful and pinch every penny as if it were my last.”
During Christopher’s presentation, he recalled the “not good old days” of creating the company.
“There were numerous times when I could have walked away from that business and thrown the keys in, and I would have,” Christopher said. “And I don’t say that in a proud way.”
Entrepreneurs should develop a strong vision and a list of values to help guide them through difficult situations, Christopher said.
“I had to shut down Sweet Leaf Tea at one point,” Christopher said. “I had to let everyone go. Right and wrong are not always black and white. Oftentimes the right thing to do may be what it’s going to take to keep the business alive. I had to make a lot of tough decisions.”
Christopher is now a mentor at the Austin Incubation Station for start-up companies. Christopher said he wants to help companies avoid some of the mistakes he made while starting Sweet Leaf Tea.
“I wanted to help small companies grow and have the right mind set,” Christopher said. “It’s fun to create value; it is fun to see advice you give cause big decisions. I love business — it’s a game.”
Nicholas Spiller, rhetoric and writing senior, helped coordinate the event. Spiller said he hopes to help foster the entrepreneurial community at UT even after he graduates.
“Austin is great for entrepreneurs,” Spiller said. “It’s the inclusiveness — everyone wants to help.”
Christopher said Austin is a brand that expands
“Austin is like the Switzerland of Texas,” Christopher said. “I label my products with ‘Austin, Texas’ because I’m proud to be from Austin.”
The talk focused on Christopher’s experiences and how other entrepreneurs can learn from them. It was part of the Entrepreneurship Live series coordinated by Laura Kilcrease, former Red McCombs School of Business
“We needed to mingle students and faculty in the school with entrepreneurs in our community,” Kilcrease said. “Entrepreneurship Live presents a serial entrepreneur who has cashed out or sold at least one business.”