Chau-Jean Lin is the co-founder and company director of Marulin, a London-based company that sources tea from her family farms and friends in Taiwan. Marulin’s teas all have a Taiwanese tea base and are specially blended with a British twist. She started Marulin with a view in making Taiwanese tea accessible for all to enjoy, since Taiwanese tea can be expensive and difficult to find in the UK. The company launched its first range of products in December 2016, and one of the company’s products (English Beauty tea) has been recently shortlisted for the Best Product for a Startup in the FreeFrom Food Awards 2017. As a startup, Marulin currently employs Chau-Jean and her co-founder. Chau-Jean studied an MBA from 2014-2015 at the Said Business School and was a member of Brasenose College. She was able to pursue her business through the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa Scheme through Oxford.
Q: What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I am trained as a materials scientist and never intended to be an entrepreneur. I studied materials science as an undergrad, did a PhD and a postdoc, and then worked in industry.
The idea of the tea company came about when I was a postdoc in France, and the appreciation for tea exceeded all levels that I had experienced in the USA or Asia. My family always had tea gardens but I never wanted to really do anything with that. While I was working in industry, I was frustrated by my impact as a scientist and started selling tea on the side.
I decided to do an MBA at SBS after realising that I wanted to understand finance and accounting a bit better. Whilst I was doing my MBA, I met my business partner, and we launched the company after I graduated. I was able to do this in part to the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa scheme.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: Translating ideas and research results into viable commercial products, which can then be disseminated into the public domain.
Q: How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
A: We did extensive research on the tea and food market in the UK first. After successfully market testing our prototypes in blind tests and focus groups, we decided to bring our idea to market.
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: First and most importantly, be flexible. We went through at least three iterations of ideas before we settled on our product offering and position. Second, be open to learning new things from others. Without the wonderful people we have met and worked with so far, we would not be able to make the type of progress we have had without their advice and help. Third, know yourself. If you understand your own personal strengths and weaknesses, you can find people to complement you.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: Being able to choose who you work with and what projects to pursue to the degree that one is able to. I also love the analysis that is involved – either from the feedback or the data that we get.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: Independent from fashion, I am a fan of the Prada Group with regards to how it has grown from its roots. Although we are far from a fashion company, there are some parallels regarding to the beginnings, heritage, and founders of their company with ours.
Q: If you had 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: I would like to ask Ms. Prada how and when she reconciled being a feminist while designing clothes for women and in what direction she sees the company going if she were to ever step down.
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: When we had our first repeat buyer who was someone that we did not know!
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: Everything takes three times longer than you expect. We thought we would be able to launch our products in September 2016 but we were not able to do it until December 2016. Even then, we ran into issues with packaging and labels the day we decided to launch our brand.
Q: How have you funded your ideas? Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
A: We are self-funded. My business partner works part-time on other projects, while working on the tea project. I was also taking on work for part of the first year of this project to fund it but now work on the tea project full time. I had started to save for/seed this project when I was working full time.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: We are based in London, but we often go to Oxford for market testing and idea generation. The beauty of Oxford is that you have a pool of experts that may push you in a direction that you may not have thought of before. The population of Oxford is very interesting demographically as well.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
A: I’m biased, but I would recommend going to some of the events that SBS and the Launchpad holds for aspiring entrepreneurs. I was at Mix@6, and it was quite fun to meet other entrepreneurs. The Launchpad is quite nice for people who are not sure if they want to go into entrepreneurship and might want to gain some support for their ideas.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Don’t discount even the small experiences. One of my most valuable experiences was working at an ice cream store in high school. When I deal with cafes, I understand the issues they have to deal with – many which you cannot learn from just any textbook. Even today, we know we still have a lot to learn….
Our products are currently available online, at the Timeout Award-winning Yurt Café in London, and through a local producer market (thefoodassembly.com).