My first boss: British tea mixologist Krisi Smith

·4 min read
Krisi Smith, co-founder of Bird & Blend
Krisi Smith, co-founder of Bird & Blend. Photo: Bird & Blend

Before the age of 23, Krisi Smith had held 37 different job roles. Her employment status often resulted in the same fate: fired for being too inquisitive. She is now co-founder of a business valued at over £18m ($23.9m).

Smith realised that she either had to dial down her curiosity, or start her own business to make money long-term. This led her to co-create Bird & Blend, the award-winning tea mixology company. With over 100 blends, 14 retail stores and over 125 employees across the UK, Bird & Blend has been "reimagining the ultimate British staple of tea" since 2013.

Bosses who have an open door policy and listen to you when you come with suggestions for change, to collectively make things better, are in short supply. When you end up working under one, it makes a massive difference to your happiness in the workplace.

It was coincidental that it happened to be at a tea company I once worked in my myriad of previous jobs where "no idea was a bad idea". At DavidsTea, a Canada-based blending company, their approach was to enable staff to have room for creativity and innovation.

We were encouraged to make mistakes. And this was a massive pivot in my learning — that actually I was doing the right thing.

Co-founders Krisi Smith and Mike Turner started the company in a back bedroom at Krisi's childhood home
Co-founders Krisi Smith and Mike Turner started the company in a back bedroom at Krisi's childhood home. Photo: Bird & Blend

My boss, Michelle, wanted me to be making mistakes 20% of the time. That was an acceptable percentage to her as it meant I was learning and trying things out. As a fellow woman, Michelle was also a great role model for me. That can sometimes be tricky as there is a short supply of women in the field.

When the team at Bird & Blend makes mistakes now we act quickly. If you try three things and two of them might fail, the one thing that has worked you double down, act super quick and expand it out. I didn’t have a pathway in building Bird & Blend. I've just relied on that approach to work and being empowered to make mistakes.

I have a passion for tea now but I was really driven by building a business as I thought it could be done in a better way. I enjoy being challenged and being given extra responsibility has been a crucial part of my development.

Going through all my different jobs, I did that stereotypical thing of: "What am I doing with my life, am I being challenged?" I was always getting into trouble for asking too many questions or being idealistic and it caused me to work in many different industries. 

I have strong values and when things aren't done in a particular way I struggle. But I picked up some really fundamental things along the way. My vision was to build a company which gave people empowerment to know what their "why" was.

Bird & Blend now has 14 retail stores, including its Brighton flagship store (Photo by David McHugh / Brighton Pictures)
Bird & Blend now has 14 retail outlets, including its Brighton flagship store. Photo: David McHugh/Brighton Pictures

The original name for the company was Bluebird Tea. When I was a ski instructor in Canada, a "Bluebird Day" came when there was fresh snow and blue skies — and you don't get that very often. Schools used to shut and the consensus was to go out and enjoy that perfect day. And so we wanted to build a business where people are recognised and to give satisfaction, fulfilment and progression.

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I wanted to feel like I was building something that was exceptional and meaningful, too. To do that I came to the conclusion that doing it my way was more rewarding. Rather than asking the questions of others, I can ask them of myself and my team.

I used to get the typical "she would be really good in that role if she didn't ask so many questions". What I've done now is turn things that were negatively described, turned them into an asset and it's a core part of who I am. For me, that's very fulfilling.

For more information on its tea mixology blends visit Bird & Blend Tea Co

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