How Hiya Tea Used Kickstarter to Turn an Invention into a Business

Dr. Tetsuo Nakatsu has been inventing products for years, first as a scientist for a large research firm that created flavors and fragrances for companies like P&G, Unilever, and L’Oreal, and now on his own as a consultant. In his spare time, he’s also come up with various design concepts, most of which he ultimately scrapped because he figured their successful development would require millions of dollars.

But when Dr. Nakatsu devised a new method for making cold green tea quickly without sacrificing its integrity, his son, Ko, decided to test the potential market and consumer acceptance via a crowdfunding site for creative projects.

Ko Nakatsu and his business partner, Eric Lai, in July posted a design project on Kickstarter, where they raised their goal of $3,500 — enough for an initial production run — in less than a week. That sum eventually grew to nearly $25,000 and convinced the trio to launch the tea, dubbed Hiya (pronounced HEE-ya), into a business. Hiya means “cold” in Japanese.

What Dr. Nakatsu discovered was that he could transfer the essence of green tea by agitating it in cold water just as effectively as brewing the tea in hot water. He also discovered that by using finer, granulated tea leaves, he could dramatically reduce the processing time. Using finer leaves, however, required a new tea bag.

“[My father] designed a specialized tea bag, and we fill it with the highest quality all-natural green tea from Japan,” Ko Nakatsu explains, adding they’ve partnered with a master tea sommelier, Haruhide Morita, to create a special blend of tea. They also are working with a mixologist, who plans to create cocktail recipes with Hiya.

To make Hiya tea, you simply put the tea bag in a bottle of water and shake it for 10 to 15 seconds. The new process shaves hours off the time it takes to brew green tea to drink cold because, traditionally, you steep the tea in hot water for a few minutes and then have to refrigerate it for four to 12 hours.

Kickstarting the Business Online

“I always thought a fast-brewing green tea was a great idea for a product and possibly a great company, but an idea and prototypes just aren’t enough,”  Ko Nakatsu says. “You need the right collaboration and an extensive marketing push to build it into a business.”

Kickstarter was a perfect place to test market the tea, and a great place to find its first customers, he adds. In the months since the project was posted, 654 backers have pledged $24,478 and provided more than enough feedback to turn the invention into a business, Hiya LLC, based in Los Angeles. Hiya’s backers, who came from 26 countries, received tea as their “reward” for donating money. (Their contributions are viewed as pre-sales and do not give them an ownership stake in the company.)

The additional funding is helping to launch the company. The partners opened an online store at hiyatea.com and are now talking with high-end hotels, retailers, and distributors.

“With Eric’s experience with design, my background in research and strategy, and my dad’s expertise as a scientist, [we have] the right collaborative mix to turn this simple invention into something that can have a positive impact on healthy living,” says Ko Nakatsu.

About M. Sharon Baker

Veteran freelance business writer M. Sharon Baker creates compelling content that helps companies connect with customers. She's also a freelance journalist and blogs at Every Word Counts.
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