Honest Tea's CEO Seth Goldman

Honest Tea’s CEO Seth Goldman

BY DAVID COHEN / AJT //

In 1998, Seth Goldman co-founded Honest Tea with Barry Nalebuff. It started as a company that had a goal of producing a low-calorie, semi-sweet beverage aimed at “more sophisticated, grown-up tastes.”

Although the early years were tough, eventually the brand experienced great success and was bought by Coca-Cola in 2011. The story of Honest Tea is chronicled in a recently released graphic novel, “Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently – and Succeeding.”

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Goldman was at Emory recently to speak about his book, the company he helped to create and how he strives to inspire change in the world one bottle at a time. After he spoke, the Jewish Times had a chance to sit down and ask him a few questions.

Atlanta Jewish Times: Your new book, which details the story of how Honest Tea came to be, is a departure from traditional business books in that it is a comic. How does this reflect on Honest Tea’s culture as a whole?

Seth Goldman: Just as the beverage shelf did not need another sweet beverage, the business book shelf did not need another business-as-usual-business book. So we chose to tell our story in comic book form – it’s still a substantive book. My co-author is a Yale economics professor, but it is accessible to a much wider audience.

AJT: You said during your presentation that Honest Tea owns half of the world’s supply of kosher, organic white grape juice which you use to make Honest Kids. It’s easy to see how organic, white grape juice fits into your company values, but why does it have to be kosher?

SG: Within the first year of launching our business we made our products certified kosher by the Orthodox Union because we want our drinks to be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible, including my family!

AJT: Besides Honest Tea products being kosher, what other Jewish influences have made their way into your products?

SG: One of my favorite phrases from the Torah is “Justice, justice shall you pursue…” I take the message to mean that it’s not enough to pursue justice, but how you pursue justice is equally important.

So, if we had a business that gave away our profits to charity, but the business was focused on selling an unhealthy or environmentally extractive product, then we would only be performing half of our responsibility.

At Honest Tea, we strive to make all of our interactions – with our consumers, with our suppliers, with the environment – consistent with our values. I use the word “strive” because, as the Pirkei Avot quote goes, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work but neither are you free to desist from it.”

We should never fully achieve our aspirations – if we do, then we should have aimed higher.

AJT: If you could give just three words of advice to an aspiring entrepreneur today what would they be? 

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SG: Buy our book!