It's no secret that significant health-related conditions like heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc., hit the Black community harder than any other ethnic group. This was glaring during the height of the pandemic. With this in mind, Sherronda Daye, a food chemist and trained chef and owner of three businesses set out to narrow this health disparity gap in her community. She said, "I was just tired of watching my community die. We were already dying pre-COVID. We already have pre-existing conditions for external reasons, and then when COVID came along, it exacerbated those conditions."
Sherronda created simple, nutritious teas that help strengthen a person's immune system called Defense Tea. Sourced ingredients from local farmers, the teas have fresh fruit and powerful ginger roots. She said, "I just knew that I needed to do something to help us defend ourselves from it, from an enemy that we couldn't see." Within each bottle is inscribed with Psalm 91, where God promises to be the defender from all things.
What are you most proud of when it comes to Defense Tea?
Sherronda is most proud of the positive impact the teas have on the community. People recognize her and the teas when she's out in the community. They call her the Tea Lady. She said, "I am proud of the way that we were able to show our community that this is a product that is grown by us, made by us for us because the farms are all minority-owned farms that I source from."
Sherronda is proud that the chain that links the delivery of Defense Teas are Black and Brown small business owners who have a hand in positively stimulating the economy while improving the health of the Black and Brown community.
What fears did you have along the journey?
Sherronda had a different perspective on this. She didn't fear failure. Her faith is the foundation of everything she does in life. But she admitted, "My greatest fear is being great. I don't fear failure. I actually fear being 'her' because I know that I'm her, and I fear what comes along with that." Sherronda entered a space in the business world that she didn't have any connections to. She had to learn a different landscape which was the beverage space.
Sherronda doubted herself from the beginning, wondering if the formulas were correct, if the combinations of the ingredients were good enough, and whether people would believe in what she had to offer. She said, "Defense Tea challenges, what we know about healthy drinks because there are no preservatives there aren't all of these chemicals and things you can't say and spell. And I knew that would ruffle a lot of feathers and get some attention because literally what you see on the bottle is what's in the bottle."
Lastly, she feared if this business would be as successful as the others. She didn't believe that people would be interested in drinking healthy drinks and thought the ingredients would scare people off. Her product targets the Black community, and she feared it wouldn't be palatable.
What's the biggest risk you've taken so far?
Sherronda believes every step of the entrepreneurial journey is a risk. She knows that she can take her three degrees and apply for a job but working for someone else isn't something that Sherronda wants to do. She said, "I rather have a risky life."
Tell us about any major setbacks that you had and how you recovered.
Sherronda had quite a few setbacks on her launch during the pandemic. She needed materials, but because of the shutdown, companies weren't operating. She needed bottles, labels, and caps but couldn't purchase any. As a result, she changed bottles four times in search of suppliers. She would buy bottles, and then the companies didn't restock because of the uncertainty of COVID.
When asked how she recovered, Sherronda said she didn't make the constant change in bottles a big deal; instead, she focused on the brand and how it could help. She hyped the brand up so people would focus less on the constant shift in materials. They didn't announce the changes and focused on delivering superior tasty, healthy teas for the community.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
Entering a pitch competition was new for Sherronda. In her 11 years in business, she's been fortunate enough to have met people who wanted to invest in her company. She always walked in the belief that people are givers. Sherronda said, "So this pitch competition was the first time I had to prepare myself to ask."
Despite doing numerous presentations in the past, she couldn't help the nervousness apparent in her body. She had a pep talk with herself, "It wouldn't come together until one day—literally it might've been the day before or two days before I just put really big pieces of paper on the wall. And I was like, let me just own this. Because nobody can pitch this business better than me." She removed the distraction of the word pitch and focused on telling her story.
Her advice to those entering pitch competitions is, "It's yours, and nobody can tell the story about your journey and your product better than you. Just tell your story. People buy from people that they like. People respect people that they like and that own it. Don't second guess yourself. Remember your, why, you know, remember where you were and what you felt in the moment when you were like, 'I gotta do something. I gotta create something to solve this issue, solve this problem, and help advance this.' And if you remember, the people sitting there judging you don't matter because this is your opportunity."
Sherronda used the pitch funds to expand on her R&D and to hire another person to work closely with the Defense Tea community.
Support isn't always given to Black and Brown women in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
Black women have always had to prove themselves regardless of their skillsets and background. Sherronda shared, "That we have to be more of the very thing that they say is the reason they don't help us. We have to be more of the angry Black woman, more of the strong Black woman, more of them—whatever they say that we are. We have to be more of it because we've got to do more to get the attention that people who don't do anything seem to get.
And it is the most frustrating thing. And yet it is the most driving force for me. Most mornings, I'm going to show you that at the end of this, when that success thing happens, there will be none of y'all that said y'all did it for me, but God or whoever decided they wanted to support us because it's not out there.
You have to prove yourself. It's like if I haven't proven myself enough, if I'm going to college, getting multiple degrees, which statistics say that Black women don't do. I haven't proved myself enough to be 19 and have a baby that is now a college graduate herself with no debt because I paid for her education, but that's not enough.
I employ others, but that's not enough. So you get to the point where you say the hell with it. I'm not trying to be enough for you to prove myself to you anymore. I'm going to be more than enough and more than the one you choose to support. It's so frustrating.
But I will say that I've realized that the temper tantrums that we throw for the support that we don't get further intensify their reason not to support. It's like feeding fuel to that fire. So I've just figured out a way to do it and to set the s*** on fire every step of the way. And knowing that it burnt down because you didn't give it to me."
What's the most critical lesson that you've learned about business?
Sherronda learned always to be ready to pivot. She said, "Keep the pumps on and always be ready to pivot. You just never know when, and I think that that speaks to the strength and tenacity of the Black woman." In the literal sense, Sherronda does indeed have a pair of pumps in her trunk. Most importantly, she learned to be less rigid. This helped her see opportunities that she would otherwise have missed.
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to succeed in business?
Sherronda believes every entrepreneur needs to be honest and have humility. When she built her first business, she vowed there wouldn't be any ingredients in the recipe that she wouldn't feed her children. She said, "I always wanted my products to be honest." Sherronda doesn't forget where her journey started, and she doesn't want to be at a place where her success prevents her from being relatable. Sherronda said, "I think that more will be given to you if you operate in the space of humility. And more opportunities will come to you."
How do you measure success?
Sherronda's life mission is to give to others and support people on her path. She said, "If I can help somebody on this journey, if I can make somebody's life sweeter, one bite at a time, one sip at a time, then I can say it was successful because other than that, it's not about the money. What's money, right? It's not about the awards. Did it change somebody? Did it give somebody what they needed? Success for me is fulfilling the purpose that I was given in this life and on this earth to do. And that is to help, and that is to give, and that is to think of others before I think of myself."
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Sherronda loves her consumers and working with the people. She receives pure joy knowing that she's changing someone's life at that moment because when she launched those businesses, it came from a devastating place in her life. She hopes that her products give people a moment of reprieve from whatever they might be experiencing.
Next is, she loves giving her children a birdseye view of her impact. Sherronda loves teaching and modeling for her children how to be a positive catalyst for change in other people's lives.
What do you think the future holds for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs?
Sherronda said, "We take the initiative. Can nobody ride the waves like a Black woman. We are about to ride the hell out of this wave, and then next thing you know, we're going to own the whole ocean. And they'll have to pay us to ride the waves that we now own. They done messed around and allowed Black women to find a way to carve out spaces that belonged to us in the first place? It's a wrap. It's over—game over. It's done. They're going to be sick of looking at us."
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel over the moon about your progress?
Sherronda hopes to have her businesses operating without being physically present. She said, "That is what I don't think that we give gifts to ourselves as Black women. We don't sit down and allow the works that we've done to speak for us. We feel like we always gotta be in there. We always gotta be in the kitchen. We always gotta be in the front. We always better be moving and carrying." When she can take a vacation with another Black woman while their businesses are fully operational, she'd feel over the moon about her progress.
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
Sherronda talks to God in prayer then sees her therapist. That balance has helped her through the losses and shifts in her life.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
"To whom much is given, much is required."
What is a book and podcast that you would recommend?
You're A Bad Ass by Jen Sincero.
Jamal Bryant and Bishop Murphy.
What's your favorite business hack or app you can't live without?
What's one food item that you have a hard time saying no to?
Macaroni and cheese.
What's next for Defense Tea?
Defense Tea will be collaborating with other holistic brands and developing other complimentary products to continue supporting the wellness of their consumers.