4 lessons learned from Lehman Brothers’ collapse: 10 years on, a personal perspective
I realised this morning that it’s exactly 10 years ago since Lehman Brothers collapsed, leading to the most traumatic economic experience of our lifetime. That means that it’s exactly 10 years ago that my husband Stewart, rabbit Dave and me packed up all our belongings in our little blue car and drove from London to Edinburgh to create a new way of living for ourselves. I have a very clear memory of driving towards Watford with the radio on as news of the collapse of Lehman Bros was announced. My husband and I looked at each other as I saw London disappearing in the distance in the rear view mirror.
I felt compelled to get my thoughts down today. I realise this is a wholly selfish act but perhaps it will explain a little about the background to eteaket and some of the life lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I was already pretty anxious because I had left a secure job as a litigation lawyer and signed a lease on a city centre property in Edinburgh with a dream of launching my tea business, eteaket. I was going to start by opening a tea room, and at the time I had absolutely no idea what that involved (which was probably for the best) or how to go about making it happen. However, I remember feeling with absolute passion that I had to help introduce people to whole leaf tea and all the wonders associated with it. I still have that same feeling today. I also remember being completely prepared for my venture to fall flat on its face. It was just something I had to do.
It was a long drive all the way to Edinburgh (we did get some funny looks taking a rabbit for a walk at various service stations) but we finally got there and moved into our rental flat. We’d had to re-mortgage our house in London to scrape together enough money to start eteaket and we’d hoped to be able to sell it quickly and buy somewhere in Edinburgh. Alas, with the economic downturn that followed, that was not to happen. We rented for almost 2 years before managing to sell just before our first baby arrived.
We had also assumed that the business bank loan I had secured in London would be available when we moved city. Alas, it turned out we had to reapply when we got to Edinburgh. We spent a lovely 90 minutes explaining our plans to the new bank manager only to be told that it sounded lovely but they bank wasn’t lending at the moment. That was a bit of a spanner in the works but we scraped together everything pound we had and with some help from our amazing family we manage to launch eteaket. To this day we still have no debt. Perhaps this fear of debt is grounded in the circumstances of our start up.
I had a month between arriving in Edinburgh (where we knew the sum total of 1 person) and getting the keys to our Frederick Street Tea Room. There was obviously tonnes to do but everywhere I went there seemed to be news reports of more banks collapsing and more economic disasters. That didn’t help with my nerves but I ploughed on regardless. I really, really believed that people needed quality tea.
The growth of speciality tea
Looking back from 10 years ago, I find myself getting a little emotional because we made such a big life change at a really difficult time but I’m so grateful we did. eteaket has grown a lot in 10 years. Our Tea Room is still going strong and is at the heart of our wholesale business, which specialises in helping hospitality businesses create a brilliant tea offering. We sell online all over the world, have an innovative Concept Store on Rose St in Edinburgh and are growing our exports overseas. It certainly hasn’t been easy but, as the saying goes, it’s all about the journey so you better enjoy it.
It’s only really been this year that I’ve taken time to look back and take stock. I think, if we’re honest, many of us rush around constantly without really appreciating what we have or what we’ve achieved. I’m eternally grateful to the amazing eteaket team past and present, all our wonderful customers from all over the world and to everyone who has supported us.
Our vision is much bigger than any one person. I hope we’ve helped to create the start of a movement towards appreciating moments and properly connecting with people through the joy of tea. That’s what our Tea Tribe is all about! We want to reinvigorate tea in the hospitality industry, whether it’s your local café, restaurant, office or hotel. By being at the forefront of tea service every day in our tea room we’re in a unique position to do that. We also want to continue to work with disadvantaged children in the UK through our work with Aberlour and have lots of plans to develop this in the future through our Cuppas for Causes campaign.
- Find your passion
In a strange way, 2008 was actually a good time to start a business because there was no room for complacency. I had to know my numbers inside out and make sure I got the best deal on everything. It made me realise that businesses and institutions could disappear in a heartbeat. In a weird way that spurred me on because I was constantly thinking that life is so short that I had a duty to give it my best shot and keep trying. Being in business has certainly made me resilient and it’s imperative that you have a passion for what you’re trying to achieve.
- Learn to live with uncertainty
As a business owner, you have to learn to live with uncertainty. I’ve only recently understood how much of the past 10 years I’ve spent being anxious and worried. I’ve made huge progress in changing my mindset recently and I now concentrate my energy on the actions I can take rather than worrying about what if.
- People are brilliant
I’ve also learned a lot about the inherent goodness in people. Our team, customers, suppliers, mentors, advisors, friends have been and continue to be amazing and regularly go the extra mile.
- Avoid the comparison trap
Another thing common to lots of business owners is the comparison trap. I regularly get very frustrated at our slow growth when I compare eteaket to other businesses but I’m learning to be more patient. I have to keep telling myself that I’ve spent 8 of the last 10 years having and raising two wonderful girls and I’ve found a balance that works for me. There’s no shame in that.
What’s in store?
eteaket really is my first baby and it’s great to see it growing and developing. I’m excited about the future of eteaket and the tea industry as a whole but I’m well aware that there are likely to be bumpy times ahead for the economy.
Is the next economic crash closer than we think? The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned us of complacency this week. Particularly with high levels of household debt, the possibility of a Brexit ‘no deal’, questions over whether the high levels of debt supporting the Chinese economy are sustainable and last, but by no means least, the distinct possibility of a catastrophic cyber-attack against a major bank. There are ever increasing sky high valuations of tech companies that rarely make a profit. With Government debt at unprecedented levels, who would actually bail us out of the next crash?
I’m hoping that whether the UK is wallowing in misery or celebrating our success over the next 10 years (or somewhere in-between), there will still be a demand for a proper cup of tea and a slice of cake. The future is very uncertain but then that’s life isn’t it? The only thing certain is change. We just have to make positive choices and hold on while we try to remember to enjoy the journey.