Interview: Tracey King

Tracey King left New Zealand at the age of 16 on a tennis scholarship to the United States. Four years later she graduated from university with a degree majoring in psychology and spent the majority of her 20s juggling playing in professional tennis tournaments with study towards a Masters in Sociology and Social Research, followed by a PhD in Health Psychology. Now back home in New Zealand, Dr King is the founder of premium beverage company Ti Tonics, a range of premium iced teas. Chelsey chats to Dr King about how her business came about and some of the challenges she’s had to overcome.

How did the idea for your business come about?

I somewhat randomly met two very smart scientist guys, Pete and Andy, and was telling them about the challenges of running a fresh/short shelf life juice business. They in turn told me all about polyphenols and where the true health benefits of juice, fruit and vegetables come from. About 20 minutes later, we decided to go into business together!  It took about another four years though to get Ti Tonics out of the lab and onto the shelves.

Was it something you had been thinking about for some time before you found the right people to help get it off the ground?

Not at all – in fact, it was the other way around. I met the right people and then we dreamt up the project together!  Then we needed the next 'right person' to come along before it really took off – my business, and now life partner, James.

What were the biggest challenges you faced when you were setting up your business and getting it established?

Wow, how much time do you have?  Finding working capital, product and packaging challenges and mishaps, getting suppliers to take you seriously and work with you, fighting for fridge space and distribution in a channel dominated by big players.

What challenges have you had to overcome to move into the overseas market?

All of the above, plus having to learn along the way about each market - competitive landscape, pricing, distribution channels, regulatory issues, freight and logistics, currency fluctuations and product stability. It's not for the faint-hearted!

How has your background as a champion tennis player shaped how you approach business? Does it help to have that competitive streak?

I once gave a presentation to a fierce group of high-net worth individuals (think Dragon's Den on steroids) called The Athletic Entrepreneur because I believe there are so many corollaries between being a top competitor in the sporting arena, and winning in the business arena.  One of my favourite sayings from my tennis days which I still live and work by now is, “It's all in the follow-through”. In regard to having a competitive streak, the first investor who wasn’t a friend or family member who wrote me a cheque once said to me, “Women lack ambition”.  He wasn't trying to be an asshole; he thought he was simply stating a fact.  To this day that bothers me; it was a deep comment and one which we could all do with reflecting on.  Do we need to be more competitive perhaps?

You hold a masters degree in sociology and social research and a PhD in health psychology. How closely are your studies related to your business?

Business life is psychology/sociology. Why do people buy what they buy?  What motivates them?  What inspires them?  These are psychological, cultural and behavioural questions.

Do you have any specific business training, or have you been able to learn while doing it?

I've learned on the job. Fortunately my previous years of academic training resulted in pretty good research skills, so I can find information fairly quickly.  I'd like to do more workshops though – I'm a big believer in continuing professional development.  

What’s your golden rule when it comes to gaining a good work/life balance?

What's that? LOL If I had to pick one strategy for promoting overall balance and wellbeing, for me it would be getting some exercise. In my case I have in recent years come to love going for walks.  Fairly fast-paced walks with baby in her pushchair has helped me step away from the computer, get fresh air, stretch the legs, sleep better at night – and burn a few calories along the way/keep the kilos off which makes you feel better about yourself too.  Exercise doesn't have to painful to be effective (I never knew this as a competitive athlete!), and my training as a psychologist taught me that positive mental health is greatly helped by being physically active.  I can't recommend finding what works for you strongly enough!   

If your office was on fire, what things would you save first?

My laptop and my iPhone.

I couldn’t run my business without...

A sense of humour and my supportive family.

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