Johnny Pujol on Passionate Business and Being a Nontrepreneur
By Alex Burt
Photo courtesy of Johnny Pujol
Many a bibliophile finds solace lost between the pages of a new book with their hands cupping an aromatic cup of tea. In fact, Johnny Pujol has built an entire business, NovelTea Tins, around crafting premium blended teas and housing them in witty tins that are artfully designed to pay homage to the novels that inspire them.
Under the delightful email pseudonym Don Quixotea, Pujol agreed to chat with the BCC Voice about how an idea like this came to fruition, and what students looking to create businesses of their own should know.
Sitting down with Pujol at local Berkeley haunt, Caffe Strada, it’s not hard to see how he’s able to bring his ideas to life. With a palpable energy that buzzes through the air, Pujol exudes passion and excitement for everything he is a part of, especially NovelTea Tins, which he describes as more like a hobby than actual work. What “started off as a joke over Christmas” of 2015, has snowballed into a viable business that keeps on growing.
A bit of a crowdfunding savant, Pujol started his first company, SimpleWater, through a booming Kickstarter campaign, and was able to pull off the same success for NovelTea Tins blowing their initial goal out of the water. He’s turned to the masses again to expand the brand and bring in new products. One look at their site shows why these tins are such a hit. With beautiful, thoughtful imagery and punny titles with a touch of whimsy, like “Pippi Ooolongstocking” and “Matcha Do About Nothing,” these tins are one-of-a-kind. Part of this vision came from the simple, wholesome desire to encourage more people to read and find joy in the ultimate bliss you can reach when you combine it with a delicious cup of tea. Pujol describes his vision saying that:
“So much of the world is theater and people wanting things that are human. Literature talks a lot about human vices, obstacles, and challenges that, sorry, you just can’t learn at Berkeley [or anywhere else]. When you read a book, you step into a character’s life, and you learn to empathize. You become a more caring and more thoughtful person when you’re reading. ”
Pujol credits his partner Jorgen Stovne with pulling off their artistic vision by sourcing incredible talent and collaborating on eye-catching designs that are Instagram ready; drawing in followers by the thousands and giving them the perfect fodder for a chic “bookstagram” to show off.
Photo courtesy of novelteatins.com, featuring six of the site’s most popular tea tins
Pujol says that they “don’t release anything that doesn’t look good, unless [he has] a crazy idea at two in the morning, but then [he] can count on Stovne taking it down.” He goes on to say that in today’s society you “have to show people everything, and prove why they should buy your product over someone else’s” which is why presentation is vital and he’s grateful to have Stovne’s impeccable eye.
The dynamic duo met when Stovne stayed as Pujol’s Airbnb guest, with the two linking minds and never looking back. Pujol and Stovne balance each other out well; Pujol acting as the unflappable “yes we can” man with contagious enthusiasm; whereas Stovne serves as a more grounding force, honing in on the fine details and technicalities. Pujol says that without his “idiocy [NovelTea Tins] wouldn’t have become tangible, and without [Stovne’s] brilliance, it wouldn’t have become viable.” It takes a certain “kind of bravado to say hey this is going to work” and have other people buy into that too.
Pujol had “little intention of becoming an entrepreneur” saying that he “hates the word, in fact” and that you will never hear him refer to himself as one; a funny stance for someone who is running three start-ups. But, all kidding aside, this nontrepreneur’s real motivation comes from feeling “unmotivated by the ideas others were giving [him].” So, he set out to bring his ideas to the table and surround himself with the talented, hireable, people who can help make it happen. Pujol humbly describes himself as someone who was never a good student or particularly good at any one skill, but as one who is full of ideas that are “ninety percent trash, with the remaining ten percent having the potential to strike gold once in a while.”
While the puns come easy, that’s been the only easy part in Pujol’s business endeavors. When asked what advice he has for budding entrepreneurs, Pujol acknowledges that there are so many different ways of starting a business.
“I think my way of doing it so far has been a very unglamorous one; we have always been on a tight budget. We have always been doing things that are new. If I were to take my advice, it would be to mimic things that are working and tweak them. That’s a much safer and less risky way of being an entrepreneur. It may not feel as satisfying, but it might make your job a bit easier than trying to do something entirely different.”
Pujol checks in with himself every day, looking into the mirror, and saying “Hey, today you’re probably not going to make any money; you’re probably going to fuck up.” As long as he can keep being OK with that, he keeps moving forward and urges others to do the same. He also says that they should prepare for this feeling, and lack of money, not to go away for a long time.
Pujol’s biggest piece of advice is to link up with a fantastic partner like the one he’s found in Stovne. Someone who will hold you accountable and isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. They should make up for the areas you lack in so that your business is as well-rounded as possible. Don’t build yourself a team of people who all think the same as you do, Pujol explains, that doesn’t leave room for growth like a diverse group of individuals does.
Most of all, you have to persevere and be persistent. Persistence has gotten Pujol far in life, from building companies to getting into UC Berkeley’s Masters of Engineering program with no engineering background (it only took three tries and a whole lot of hard work).
Keep pushing forward with passion and dedication, and success will follow, or not, but at the very least you’ll learn from the experience.
To enjoy the Novel Tea Tin experience for yourself, visit them at: