This Couple Left The Circus To Start A $9K/Month Matcha

Published: September 16th, 2020
Alex Balcer
Founder, VIRTUE Tea
from Nelson, Nelson, New Zealand
started April 2017
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello everyone, we’re Andrea Legg and Alex Balcer, founders of VIRTUE Tea in the beautiful Kootenay ski town of Nelson, BC.

We started VIRTUE Tea 3 years ago as well as starting a family (now that’s a little crazy!). We are now parents to two healthy boys and run an online tea business plus supply over 50 coffee shops, restaurants, hot springs, and ski resorts across BC and Alberta.

What makes our teas and matcha exceptional is simply the quality. We have one or two degrees separation with the growers in Asia which gives us much more control over quality and especially knowing the tea growers we buy from are getting a fair price for their labor.

Even though our business has been seriously impacted by COVID, online sales have tripled! I believe this to be from customers turning more to online shopping but also looking for quality tea and matcha. We now ship our tea and matcha to Yellowknife in the Canadian’s Northwest Territories, all over Canada in the US from New York to California.


Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Our tea journey started in a little unusual way. We both lived and worked close to each other in Vancouver and Montreal but never met. We both ran away with the circus on different shows, me with Cirque Du Soleil as a rigging automation tech and Andrea as an aerialist acrobat with Cavalia. It was during my travels in Europe I was introduced to high-grade oolong tea and that was it...I was hooked!

In the process of launching a business, I discovered freedom but it takes work and dedication. Freedom isn’t free.

A few years later I’m working on a show where I was flying this beautiful bird named Andrea who I knew was going to change my life.

The biggest challenge I found was sourcing high-grade tea, making it affordable to tea drinkers, and making sure of an ethical supply chain. Our mission has always been minimizing the environmental impact of the business and donating parts of our proceeds to nonprofits.

What changed was reading Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. Doing what we could to be an environmentally conscious business wasn’t enough anymore... we needed to make a real impact.

So now we’re investing in backyard compostable bags, order tea in much larger quantities to minimize our carbon emission with transport AND we installed a program on our website which lets us know how much we need to donate each month to organizations who plant trees in the amazon to balance the emission created by shipping orders. And this is only for 2020!

Serving iced tea at the local farmers market in 2018

Describe the process of launching the business.

Moving to a small rural town in the mountains of BC to start a family also meant I had to reinvent myself. Even though I had certain financial security working in Montreal for Cirque Du Soleil and on movie sets like X-Men, I didn’t want to be a dad who was home half of the year.

There’s a great self-employment program here called Community Futures which helped me build a business with a bit of financial help until I launch.

I was still working remotely part-time until my son was born but Andrea and I quickly realized I had to be home 100% of the time if VIRTUE Tea was to become a real business.

One of the biggest lessons learned was investing too early in a graphic designer and lifestyle/ product photography. So much can change from conception to launching and 6 months in business. There are cheaper options out there to get started but I do like the idea of working long term with a designer once we have more of a budget.

For me, this new life as an entrepreneur is what I was meant to be. It’s not easy and it takes tenacity. The joy I get from hearing notifications from a new order, going backcountry snowboarding on a good pow day, or simply being home every evening with my boys are somethings I never could have working in the industry I did in the past.

In the process of launching a business, I discovered freedom but it takes work and dedication. Freedom isn’t free.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

An online store is just that...a store. How do you get people to visit the store and create a customer base to support a family? Start with the smallest market possible. How do you do that on a tight start-up budget? Farmer’s markets have been great and we need to interact with the community.

Social Media and specifically Instagram in our case have been a great tool to keep the engagement alive. We don’t need 10K followers but 1K of true followers who buy our tea is what we want. And it happened.

Email marketing is also very important. Programs like Klaviyo help set up automated emails and I have a weekly Tea on Tuesday newsletter which is getting more and more profitable. Not using tools like email marketing or social media is like leaving money on the table.

Reach out to successful business owners in your community and invite them for coffee (or tea in my case). I was surprised and humbled by how generous so many of them were to take even 30 minutes of their time to have a chat.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Today coffee shops and restaurants are slowly reopening which means that side of the business is starting again. I don’t expect things to be back how they were for a long time but we will come out of this financial crisis stronger and better than when it started a few months ago.

It’s a little like a boxing match. I lost a couple of rounds against COVID but I’m still in the ring. I go back to my corner and listen to my coaches. Having a strategy is important and listening to those who want you to succeed also.


Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Oh, it takes tenacity and perseverance. Our decisions have a direct impact on our young family so we try to minimize unnecessary risks.

One big advice would be to reach out to successful business owners in your community and invite them for coffee (or tea in my case). I was surprised and humbled by how generous so many of them were to take even 30 minutes of their time to have a chat.

Also, a fundamental skill to develop in the beginning is photography. You can save tons of money and time by practicing basic photography techniques. Trust me, I learned quickly how expensive it was to hire someone at the beginning because I lacked self-confidence in learning something new. Now I get lots of compliments on how clean my website looks and my Instagram.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

My favorite tools are Shopify, Instagram, and Canva. I recently discovered Later, a social media planning app, and has become part of my weekly workflow.

And for email marketing, Klaviyo hands down! Not using automated emails is like leaving money on the table!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Books: Seth Goding’s This is Marketing, first comes to mind.

Podcast: Shopify Masters. So many good advice and ideas from other entrepreneurs.

And pen and a Field Note because ideas start popping and it’s important to write them down while in the zone.

Skillshare: I do all my photography and design now and taking courses makes a difference.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

  1. It’s never too late to get started! I’m in my forties with a young family. We were so sleep deprived at the beginning and started with minimum support yet after our second fiscal year we hit 100K in revenue. It’s just to show with lots of determination and a teaspoon of matcha in our morning smoothie so much can be accomplished. Especially when two little humans count on us, there’s not much room for failure.

  2. A mistake I see at times is not wanting the business to work enough. It’s still just a hobby yet the main complaint is why it’s not working as it should be. Well, it’s hard to learn how to swim with just one foot in the water.

  3. Make a list of “what if” e.i: what if I traveled to somewhere really far or what if I learned something new and got good at it… now think back of all the things you could have done but now those opportunities have gone by. Will you one day look back and think the same about starting a business? Live it or regret it one day.

  4. “Fortune Favors the Brave”. In other words, you can do this! Starting a business is having to choose between taking the red pill or the blue pill (ref. Moebius in the Matrix). You won’t know the life that awaits you until you take that leap of faith.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!