Founder Profile

Sashee Chandran

Tea Drops

For bringing innovation to the tea industry.

The daughter of immigrants from China and Sri Lanka, Sashee Chandran grew up steeped in the ritual of making tea. But the slow process of brewing loose-leaf tea didn’t fit into her Silicon Valley tech schedule as a digital marketer at eBay. After tinkering in her kitchen, she finely ground and compressed the leaves into a product that simply dissolves in water—no tea bags or strainers required. “Tea is thousands of years old, but the last true invention in this category was when the tea bag was invented,” Chandran says. That was around 1908. Tea Drops became a hit at farmers markets, so she quit her job in 2015 to pursue the project full time. Soon after, retailers like Anthropologie and Nordstrom began stocking the product. Fast-forward five years and Tea Drops, the company, has raised $8.4 million to date and is on track to pull in eight figures in revenue in 2021. While about 75 percent of Tea Drops’ sales come via e-commerce, the product is on shelves in 2,000 retailers nationwide, including Whole Foods and Costco. And in July, Chandran obtained a patent for her invention. “Persistence and grit alone gets you pretty far,” she says. “For someone with no technical or chemistry background, it was just sheer will to push that [patent] through.” Tea Drops initially responded to the pandemic by going into survival mode: Chandran let go of some staff, everyone on the team took a salary cut of at least 20 percent, and the company renegotiated terms around purchase orders with vendors. But then as the team frantically researched consumers’ tea buying habits in early 2020, they discovered a gap in the market that Tea Drops could fill: boba bubble tea. About a month later in May 2020, the company’s boba kits--complete with tea drops, sweetened condensed milk packets, and boba pearls--launched. Tea Drops sold millions of dollars from that “hero” product and wound up exceeding revenue expectations for 2020. --Lindsay Blakely

Company Information
Industry
Food & Beverage
Location
Los Angeles, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Jennet Chow

Evolution Design Lab

For making the software that makes your shoes.

Evolution Design Lab manufactures shoes for partners under private labels, and the company has its own brand, Jellypop, but its software is the main event. Built under the guidance of founder Jennet Chow’s husband, Michael J. Chen, a software developer who previously worked at Disney, EDL’s software offers to connect clients directly with factories overseas. The buyer can monitor how much material designers use and what colors, and even create line sheets in a matter of minutes, a process that typically is not so simple or environmentally safe and has a much longer start-to-finish timeline. The software has also been helpful in managing EDL’s environmental concerns by cutting down on material used in the prototype phase. That makes sense: If you’re better able to manage what goes into a product, you can curb the chance for surprises and hiccups.

Evolution Design Lab’s software came in handy when Covid hit. Chow was able to continue communicating with factories in other countries and with buyers who were working from home. “The issue now is a lot of design firms can’t go overseas because of Covid,” says Chow. While that’s led to more direct business for her company’s software tools, the manufacturing and logistics difficulties have helped EDL get better visibility with retailers. “We have taken over a lot of [our competitors'] shelf space,” she says.--Alicia Doniger

Company Information
Industry
Software
Location
Pasadena, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Sarah Chung

Landing International

For using the beauty business to fight for social justice.

Sarah Chung discovered that beauty can be a vehicle for social justice. As founder and CEO of Landing International, Chung runs an agency that helps indie beauty brands get discovered by larger retailers by working with them to present their products, and manage and fill orders. When multiple social justice concerns took precedence in 2020, Chung and her Los Angeles-based team wasted no time in finding ways to help underserved communities. “With the Black Lives Matter movement, we thought about how our little corner of the world could make a difference for the positive. We reached out to Black-owned brands and offered our services for free, and with the rise in Asian hate crimes, we highlighted more Asian brands. Consumers want to buy from brands that understand their needs. We’re bringing them more choices,” Chung says.--Anna Meyer

Company Information
Location
Los Angeles, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Kelly Ann Collins

Vult Lab

For promoting Covid testing in vulnerable rural and minority communities.

In the midst of a pandemic, Vult Lab founder and CEO Kelly Ann Collins relocated to her grandparents’ farm in West Virginia. The digital agency focused on humanitarian causes, which Collins founded in 2013, was already losing clients. Collins’s hometown of Morgantown had become a hot spot for Covid in the state, and many of her family members had come down with the virus.

One of Vult Lab’s operating principles is to use social media for good. Through social media, the business began spreading the word about Covid-19 tests. This drew the attention of the National Minority Quality Forum (NMQF), which asked Vult Lab to create a coalition to help advance coronavirus testing in rural and minority communities.

The company recruited the National Rural Health Association, Quest Diagnostics, and a host of other organizations on initiatives to fight the pandemic. It is now working on a five-year public health outreach project with the CDC and the NMQF’s Center for Sustainable Health Care Quality and Equity. Vult Lab also partnered with Twitter for Good, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, and NMQF to create a “Covid Diaries” series that documents how the pandemic is playing out in vulnerable communities. Through the online fan convention HomeCon, the company has been holding live events on Twitch to spread vaccine awareness.--Amrita Khalid

Company Information
Industry
Business Products & Services
Location
Washington, District of Columbia
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Jennifer Cramer

Spices.com

For staying nimble--and keeping things spicy.

During Thanksgiving weekend 2009, Jennifer Cramer and her husband needed to orchestrate a plan to make use of a recent, bulk purchase of artisan salt. At the time, if you wanted a spice or salt that was fancier than generic grocery store offerings, your only option was to go online and buy it by the pound. Or pounds. So, they decided to fill vials of salt to sell to friends and family; they also thought listing them on Amazon would be a convenient way to make them available. Providing pinches instead of pounds would become her high-growth startup--a marketplace called the Spice Lab. The orders kept coming, and Cramer adopted new products and production processes. Today, the Spice Lab’s products are processed and packed in a 125,000-square-foot facility in Pompano Beach, Florida, that includes a design department, R&D kitchen, offices, and a showroom. With six production lines, the company says it can produce more than 100,000 units per day. In 2020, when the pandemic created all kinds of supply chain issues, Cramer jumped in to fill in the gaps. “We did it all to fulfill orders that other, larger companies that can’t pivot as quickly were unable to do,” Cramer says. “We were able to get extra supplies here and there and piece things together, and we ended up garnering a lot of new business. Last year, we grossed just over $17 million. We plan on doubling it this year.”--Anna Meyer

Company Information
Industry
Food & Beverage
Location
Pompano Beach, Florida
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021