What Doesn't Kill You, Makes You...

There's a good old saying: "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger!" I suppose it's true up to a point. If you endure a difficult moment in your life and come out on the other side, you gain experience, probably confidence, and this could be your competitive advantage going forward.

On the other hand, if you're constantly in a state of mortal danger for years, does that make you super strong and bulletproof? I doubt it. I believe it would either make you numb or burnt out. Or both.

So far, we haven't had easy or relaxed years at Renegade Tea Estate. We've faced challenging but interesting times (2018, 2019), Covid madness (2020, 2021), and outright crisis (2022, 2023). The impact of the war in Ukraine on us has been discussed many times, and I won't revisit that storyline. It's enough to say that we were very close to closing down our farm at the end of 2022.

Some days have been rough...

Luckily, we didn't. Instead, we decided to push forward, one month at a time. And in that sense, it has worked out. We're still alive and have just started our Season 7. We're definitely in a better place today than we were a year ago; we even made our first profit in 2023. With our expected harvest almost fully sold out again, we can probably look into the future with a tiny bit of optimism. Unless... the weather plays tricks... or the exchange rate in Georgia makes another swing... or... the list continues.

So, after years of fighting for our survival, are we stronger now? To be honest, I do not know. If the good days finally arrive—and I hope they will—maybe we can look back and say that yes, those difficult years shaped us for this success. But it is probably fair to say that the crisis we had at the end of 2022 forced us to make some changes and look under every stone to improve our efficiency as much as we could. And this helped us achieve our first small profit.

The season starts with positivity!

On the other hand, years of hardship and crisis have taken a toll on our team. Most of us have been very close to burnout, as years of bootstrapping and challenging personal finance matters have added to the difficulties we've faced as a business. Hanna and Mario stepped out at the end of 2022, and this winter, Tomas had to make the decision to return to an office job because the family budget needed stability that our business could not provide. We hope he can still join us for some weeks in the summer to make tea, and hopefully, the company makes further progress so he can rejoin us soon.

So, from the original founders' team, it leaves just me and Kristiina to welcome the start of the new season, and it hasn't been easy for us either. Welcoming Saskia to our family at the end of 2022 and trying to keep everything functioning has been challenging. Luckily, our local Georgian team has stepped up big time over the last couple of years, and to be honest, I think we are better positioned operationally than we have ever been. Our background with Kristiina is in marketing and product development, but since the start of the Renegade project, we have been spending 80% of our time dealing with operational issues. But step by step, we have been able to pull out from daily affairs to focus on things where we can be most useful. Alex, Giorgi, and James have taken responsibility for our field works, and Mariami did wonders last year getting all our teas packed. While tea-making has and will still be my and Tomas's domain, we have trained Alex to be our 3rd tea master, and he is making great progress every month.

Alex, Giorgi, Mariami and James

So, maybe we are stronger than two years ago. But is it because of the crisis or despite it? I don't know. What I do know is that surviving and developing are two different things and require a different approach. At the end of last season, I personally felt either irritated or numb for most of the days, having lost any kind of creativity or energy. When all your focus has been on "surviving" for a long time, it's suddenly difficult to start thinking about the future. When bad news hits you with weekly regularity, it eventually becomes hard to break out of the circle and suddenly find positivity. Unfortunately, without positivity, belief, and positive goals (just surviving does not qualify, really), no development will take place.

So, that said, Kristiina and I took time off this winter. To relax, step away from the daily hassle, and think about the future. I think it worked out well. Not only did we get more energy to start the new season, but we also penned down some new ideas and projects that you will hopefully hear about soon.

Saskia wondering around in Portugal.

Game on!