Conversations with Innovators — Q&A with Paolo Stuppa and Marco Lam of Performance Tea



This week we are talking with Paolo Stuppa and Marco Lam, founders of Performance Tea.

Paolo is an entrepreneur, technology sales executive and endurance athlete. Married for 20 years and proud father of three kids under 11 who rock.

Marco has practiced Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture for 18 years and has a style of practice that accelerates peak performance and expands flow states. Avid martial artist and backcountry skier, Marco has been married for 20 years and is proud father of a daughter who rips on her tele skis!

Performance Tea is advertised as “Functional Tea for the Evolved Athlete.” This appears to be a new product category. What makes Performance Tea different than what is already on the market?

Paolo: You’re absolutely correct, it’s not just herbal tea or like any tea. We offer the single most powerful combination of tested, adaptogenic functional teas anywhere on the market today. They are formulated to meet the demands of athletes but made for people on the go. It’s tea 2.0 in tech speak and an evolution in where natural products to fuel active consumers are going. Customers are demanding cleaner, healthier products that fit their fast paced lives. Therefore the natural space is experiencing an innovation boom to meet those needs and opening the door for companies like Performance Tea.

Marco: Most athletes use products that are a combination of sugar and caffeine for a short-term boost in energy but this is not an optimal practice. I see young athletes in my practice already suffering from immune issues and slow recovery due to their poor practices. The question is what are the optimal practices for peak performance and optimal recovery? The answer is Performance Tea. I say that a bit off the cuff as it is only part of an integrated training regimen but our product is unique in its approach. By using small amounts of caffeine combined with herbs with adaptogenic properties, we use the stimulus to get the ball rolling and the adaptogen herbs to keep the cadence. You’ll find that you don’t have the drop that you experience with higher caffeine and sugar products and that the stronger cadence over time builds greater stamina and resilience in your body and mind over time.

What inspired Performance Tea?

Paolo: I grew up drinking tea and I’d take it like clockwork throughout the day - it’s a habit. One day I was drinking tea after a crossfit WOD and realized I forgot to take my supplements... again. Candidly, I was fed up feeling like crap from new and strange synthetic supplements and simply didn’t like taking pills. So, at that moment I decided to find a fortified herbal tea product that would suit my needs. I searched and it didn’t exist, so out of necessity I set out to create it. A purpose-built, natural product using tea as a delivery system to optimize performance and recovery.

After a lot of experimenting in the lab (my kitchen) with limited success I realized I needed a new approach. I reached out to my friend and mentor Eric Olden and he introduced me to Marco. This is when the concept really came together, his expertise with tea and herbs and the impacts on an individual's system is profound. I experienced the power and benefits of herbs first hand under some rigorous conditions and knew I had the found the holy grail.

Marco: Paolo deserves the credit for this one. He came to me with the idea of fortifying tea with vitamins and I was a little hard on his original idea but said the concept was very viable. He was strongly committed to drinking tea so we had a shared passion. Paolo loves green tea and it’s such an incredible health-giving drink just on its own. I shared with him that you could augment it with herbs to achieve a higher degree of performance and sustain it in a way that is unlike any product out there. I did a health intake on him like I would with any client given his exceptional workload and intense training schedule, I formulated a herbal program that would optimize his strength and recovery. I asked him to try it for a month and get back to me. When he got back to me, he was on fire about the gains he made and how energized he was feeling. I admire that he gave up a lifelong morning and afternoon espresso ritual and put his faith and training on the herbs! We realized we had come across something really special that would benefit more people than just Paolo. Folks who trained really hard and work really hard everywhere!

Why does the system use three different kinds of teas – Longevity, Power, and Down Time?

Paolo: We designed the Evolved Athlete system for two reasons: 1) Athletes generally have a system (as well as entrepreneurs, professionals, etc.) so this fits into their routine, and 2) there is no silver bullet... that one thing used to optimize performance and maximize health and wellness benefits. Therefore we offer three formulations that fit the flow of our customers’ lives throughout the day. For example, you take Longevity in the morning and during the day, it’s our daily drink. You’d take Power before, during and after a workout or event. A lot of clients use it when they feel they need a boost during the day as well. Then at night you’d take Down Time to help with sleep and recovery. I take the Longevity and Down Time hot and take the Power cold - it’s delicious.

Marco: The system is designed for long-term performance and to regenerate the long-term reserves of the athletes. The metaphor I often use with my clients is that when you use a stimulant, including coffee or tea, it is like using a credit card. It borrows a little bit from the future to pay for today. If you pay your balance off each month, it is a great tool to manage your finances and give you some extra capital when you need it. If you keep spending more than you can pay off, your financial future is suboptimal. This is similar with caffeine but it is your long-term reserves stored in your adrenals that get compromised. In Chinese Medicine, this storage is vital to your will and your ability to push through obstacles once things get really challenging.

The Longevity and Power blends have only a 1/10 the caffeine of a normal cup of tea but are strengthened with adaptogenic herbs that keep you going much longer than just the boost of caffeine would. Adaptogens are not borrowing energy or depleting your reserves but helping you adapt more quickly to the stressors that you face either in your training or just in the day to day challenges of life. The Down Time blend balances the long-term use of the other two formulas by helping you rest and restore at a deeper level than you normally would. It is amazing how often athletes overlook the power of good sleep and restoration in achieving peak performance!

What’s the market for Performance Tea? What kind of consumers are you targeting?

Paolo: Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world and has been growing for over 20 years. There is also a big focus on natural products and health and wellness globally. We’re in the sweet spot where these mega trends intersect and selling into a captive market. I’d be lying if I told you how big it is, we simply don’t know at this stage. Our goal is to get established in this new category and take a leadership position. We see herbs and tea as a platform for a plethora of next generation products and we’ve got some cool stuff in the R&D pipeline.

In terms of positioning we’re not targeting the pedestrian or traditional tea drinker. You’ll immediately see it by visiting our site, seeing ads, packaging, and our messaging. We’re after the athlete or active consumer that drinks tea with a product and brand that fits their lifestyle. This demographic are generally early adopters and are willing to invest in new products that provide an edge. The pay off is not just performance gains but being able tell their friends. We’re also building a community for these like-minded individuals to share their experiences and stay connected. Again, this is not tea, it’s Performance Tea.

When’s the official launch date?

We launched in January and are open for business! We sell direct via our site and are actively seeking affiliates and retail partners.

We are also actively pursuing companies that have placed healthy living as a priority. Performance Tea would make a great addition to support those programs and in any break room.

Our goal is to build momentum and do a crowd funding round later this year.

What piece of advice would you give to a first-time entrepreneur starting out?

Paolo: Enjoy the journey, focus on micro goals and embrace constant change because you’re going to have some character-building days. I’m a big believer in asking for help and being genuinely passionate because that energy is infectious. Also, get comfortable making pivots and letting the market (clients) not experts validate your idea. Remember that on those tough days there’s nothing a good workout and a cup of Performance Tea won’t cure.

Marco: I’m humble enough to know that I probably could receive more advice at this stage than to give it. That said, breathe. It is not going to get done in a day. Break down complex tasks into smaller doable ones that can be done incrementally. Focus on what is important and don’t shy away from the tasks that are difficult or out of your wheelhouse. Keep moving the ball forward and asking for help when you are over your head. Try to be humble and appreciate those who work hard for your brand, both your early adopters and the folks who help run the show.

For Conversations with other thought leaders and innovators, see innovator Rick Scheer and Jeff Farris of Red River Tea Company and innovator Harper Connell of Peppermoon .

For more information about related legal issues, read our Professional Services industry page.  


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