Mosi Tea CEO Paul Davis and COO Gavin Jocius share what it’s like to launch an award-winning business in the Bull City
By Amber Watson
When entrepreneur Paul Davis first came up with the idea for a portable, all-in-one tea infuser, it was a matter of fulfilling a personal desire to enjoy loose-leaf tea and other beverages easily on the go. Mosi Tea was officially incorporated in 2019, but the LLC dates back to 2017 when Paul, its founder and CEO, started working on the project.
We asked Paul and Gavin Jocius, his business partner and COO, about Mosi Tea’s successes, challenges and connections to Durham.
Can you give us a brief biography of your personal and professional lives?
PAUL DAVIS I grew up as a missionary kid living in Africa for 10 years and called many places home before settling in Durham a decade ago. My wife and I have been married 10 years and have two boys with one more on the way. I’ve spent time working in both e-commerce and [software as a service]. Prior to Mosi, I was the fourth employee at a high-growth e-commerce company that grew from $0 to $22 million per year in four short years. I then co-founded Boostopia, a support operations software company.
GAVIN JOCIUS I grew up outside of Toronto and have called North Carolina home since 2006. I met my wife [while] working at Duke University (with both a master of arts and master of business administration from Duke, I’m a die-hard Blue Devil fan), and we now have two girls. I’ve spent the past two decades working in e-commerce and information technology. Prior to Mosi, I ran the Raleigh-based online art brands Canvas on Demand and Great Big Canvas with more than 200 full-time employees, selling wall art all over the world.
What was the inspiration behind the creation of Mosi Tea?
PD The idea came from a need to solve my own problem of not being able to brew different drinks in one bottle and it not being easily portable, hence Mosi’s tagline: “Brew anything, anywhere.” I wanted to create an easy way for anyone to brew high-quality tea or coffee while they were away from the kitchen.
What makes Mosi stand out from other tea products on the market?
GJ Our patented Mosi Tea Infuser is the world’s first multi-brew device that allows you to brew the perfect cup of anything on the go: coffee, matcha, tea, cold brew, etc. The infuser is made from double-walled, BPA-free Tritan, which is durable and shatter resistant. It also has a leakproof locking lid that allows you to open and close it with one hand. The infuser also comes with a silicone sieve for holding loose-leaf tea that is reversible and easy to clean. The whole point is to make it as easy as possible. Fill the sieve with tea/coffee and water, flip it for the desired steeping time, turn it right-side up, and you’re ready to enjoy it!
How many employees does Mosi Tea have?
GJ Right now, it is just me and Paul in Durham and a collection of highly skilled professional contractors around the world. We have our product manufacturing team in China, our tea-growing and blending partner in India, virtual assistants in the Philippines, copy editor and content creator in Virginia, and a growing list of influencers in different locations globally.
After investing in and learning more about Mosi Tea, what made you, Gavin, want to become more involved?
GJ I started a small [venture capital] firm that looks to invest in disruptive technology and services in industries with very large total addressable markets. Mosi fit my investment thesis because tea is the second- most drank substance on Earth behind water, and loose-leaf tea, for the most part, is brewed with archaic methods that are centuries old.
The United States is an on- the-go beverage market that values convenience, and younger buyers are looking for coffee alternatives. When Paul managed to raise [close to] $500,000 through crowdfunding, that told me there was a high probability of product-market fit. Finally, when Mosi secured a design patent for the All-in-One Infuser, it checked off all the boxes that I was looking for from an investment standpoint.
It was Paul’s origin story, however, that made me want to also invest my time and energy to helping grow the brand. He has a real, authentic passion for tea and product innovation, which is key for building a sustainable long-term brand.
How has your background in marketing and e-commerce contributed to Mosi’s success?
GJ Regardless of what I am selling online, there are certain e-commerce fundamentals I always look to optimize, including conversion rate, customer lifetime value to customer acquisition cost ratio, and average order value. Prior experience managing agile in-house development and marketing teams comes in handy when trying to improve those key performance indicators. The best methods for driving traffic to a website, however, are always changing. Part of our success will come from controlled experiments in new traffic channels like TikTok. We must constantly be willing to try new things.
How has the Durham community played a part in making Mosi Tea a reality?
PD Having both lived in Durham for a decade or more, we definitely call the Bull City home, and there’s no shortage of entrepreneurs, dreamers and go-getters here. What really makes Durham unique is that it feels like a community – everyone knows one another, and they are quick to help in whatever way they can. It’s a very affirming community.
GJ There are so many experienced mentors here that continue to give us guidance and help make introductions to the right people when needed. There is truly a sense of community and pride where folks want us to succeed. We are also very thankful for the free coworking space at Frontier RTP.
We designed the product here in Durham with an engineering team and did multiple prototypes. The manufacturing takes place in Ningbo, China, with three different factories, given the number of different parts.
What do you think was/is the key to your recent funding success for the company?
GJ In addition to the [nearly] $500,000 raised through crowdfunding, we closed a seed round of $440,000 in capital. In addition to Paul’s company vision and founder narrative, a fundamental aspect that resonated with investors was the infuser-plus-tea subscription model. Similar to a razor-and-blade or printer-and- ink model, the ultimate success of the business long-term lies in driving lifetime value with tea subscriptions.
What has been the biggest business challenge for Mosi thus far? Its biggest success?
GJ Our biggest success thus far was winning the Best Tea-Making Equipment Innovation, Consumer [category] at the 2022 World Tea Best of Awards, [a] program [that] recognizes tea leaders and innovators across key categories and is voted on by the global tea industry. This recognition was a real vote of confidence from respected members of the tea industry that validated years of hard work.
Our biggest challenge has been global logistics during the pandemic. With our Kickstarter campaign, we have deployed infusers to more than 85 different countries and territories, from Saudi Arabia to New Caledonia. We have dealt with skyrocketed shipping container costs; our entire infuser inventory stranded on a ship in the Port of Los Angeles for weeks during the holiday shopping season; customs issues; and factory lockdowns due to COVID-19. It has been a confluence of setbacks that we have learned to take in stride.
What is the best business advice you have received?
PD I have recently been meditating on this Winston Churchill quote: “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” I feel like when you’re growing a startup from the ground up, raising money, trying to get channels to profitability and doing something that you believe in, you have to keep grinding. It’s your attitude and how you respond to the ups and downs that are important, because they are inevitable.
What is a major lesson you have learned from starting your own company?
GJ Cash flow is king. We try to be as fiscally responsible as possible. As a company that manufactures and sources products and inventory from around the globe, we need to be extremely disciplined when it comes to our cash flow. There are countless potential hidden expenses with a global supply chain that you need to stay on top of if you want to survive. That, and having very supportive spouses!
What are you looking forward to sharing next from Mosi Tea?
GJ We are very excited about our tea line. We spent almost two years sourcing all different types of teas and have an amazing partner in India. We recently went to Assam in northeastern India to tour multiple tea gardens and experience the entire manufacturing process from leaf to cup. We plucked leaves, toured the factories, and met and interacted with employees and local villagers. We are confident that we have some of the most premium and ethically sourced loose-leaf teas on the planet, and we want as many people as possible to experience them.