Bright Ideas: The True Story of Honest Tea

honestThey’ve been telling the Honest Tea story for years. “We grew it from five thermoses and an empty Snapple bottle with a label pasted on it to over a hundred million bottles a year,” Co-Founder and CEO Seth Goldman likes to say.

Goldman and his former business professor at the Yale School of Management, Barry Nalebuff, were frustrated by the lack of good-tasting, but less-sweet beverages on the market so they started making and selling them in 1998. By spending less money on sweeteners, they realized they could spend more money on high quality ingredients, eventually going all organic and fair trade.

The story ends with big payday, somewhere north of a hundred million dollars when Coca Cola bought the company in 2011, but it’s not the end of the story that Goldman and Nalebuff want you to focus on in their new book, “Mission in a Bottle, The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently – and Succeeding.”

“This book is really emphasizing all the things that went wrong because if you can avoid the mistakes that we made that will save you millions,” says Nalebuff, still a professor at Yale University’s School of Management but no longer with the Honest brands.

Just as their less sweet drinks filled the gap between diet and what Nalebuff calls “super sweet,” when they began to appear on retail shelves in 1998, the book is different. Instead of standard text, it’s written as a comic strip.

“The business world or the book shelves didn’t need just another business book. Traditionally entrepreneurial books are a little bit about patting themselves on the back. We wanted the book to be honest so we shared the real challenges we went through,” says Goldman, who came up with the idea while reading comic books with his three sons. One of them had really gotten hooked, “I was supposed to tell him ‘don’t read comic books, do your homework,’ but he kind of lured me in with the comic books. I said we’ve got to find a way to make a business book as engaging, as inspiring, as a comic book can be.”

On some level, maybe they’ve done just that.

“Mission in a Bottle,” has been out for two months and has spent six weeks on The New York Times Best-Seller list for hardcover graphic books, including two weeks at number one. Though the book is categorized as a graphic novel, “it’s not fiction. So I’d prefer that we should call it a novel graphic,” Nalebuff quipped.

He has high hopes for the format, “lessons that are learned visually really stick with people, right? If you want people to remember the lessons, show, don’t just tell.”

To do that, Goldman and Nalebuff teamed with New York illustrator Sungyoon Choi. Perhaps best known for her work in the book, “American Widow,” about a 9/11 widow, Choi’s drawings have appeared in The New York Times and New York magazine but there was a two-sided learning curve for this project. She’d never read a business book before and neither Goldman, nor Nalebuff, who’s written five other books, had taken on a project using comic book-style graphics.

“Those bubbles are basically the length of a tweet and so, it’s written in tweets, with good grammar.”
Nearly two years in the making, “Mission in a Bottle,” has already popped up in college classrooms, not only at Yale, where Nalebuff has used it, but the University of Michigan, the University of Maryland, American University and Babson College.

Nalebuff has high hopes for the graphic novel as a teaching tool. In fact a study the University of Oklahoma released earlier this year says students retain more information after reading a graphic novel than they do with a traditional textbook.

Nalebuff, who’s written five other books, isn’t quite ready to replace the traditional textbook but, he adds, “It’s not as if people are doing a lot of homework these days. If you get somebody to read it and remember it … call it a victory.”

Want to read more? Click here for the book’s webpage.

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