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Arsen Avakian

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Profile

Arsen Avakian is the co-founder and CEO of Argo Tea. A native of Yerevan, Armenia, Avakian came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar, completing his MBA at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He also holds a Bachelor of Computer Science from the Engineering University of Armenia. After completing his MBA, Avakian worked for a bit as a consultant before turning his focus towards entrepreneurship.

Avakian’s father is an alternative energy entrepreneur holding more than seventy patents in Armenia and Europe. The younger Avakian followed in his father’s footsteps, founding his first start-up during the dot-com boom. In 1999, while working for management consultant firm Whittman Hart, he founded software-as-service company Blue Meteor. The company eventually failed, but left Avakian with the entrepreneurial itch. From 2000 until 2003, he worked for software company i2 Technologies, serving as the Vice President of Business Development.

After the dot-com bubble burst, Avakian found himself spending a lot of time in coffee shops. Realizing how little tea people were drinking, Avakian began to investigate the possibilities of this neglected market. While in Armenia, coffee and tea were equally consumed, Americans enjoy this beverage relatively rarely. In fact, Avakian noted, tea is a drink of choice throughout the world, with the exception of the United States. Looking into this disparity, Avakian uncovered two big contributing factors. First, Americans are generally exposed only to low quality tea, in the form of over-steeped tea bags. As a culture, they also have a negative perception of the drink, consuming it when sick or only with added ingredients.

With these things in mind, Avakian set to re-inventing tea for the American market. Partnering with childhood friend Simon Simonian and French entrepreneur Daniel Lindwasser, he founded Argo Tea in 2003. The first café, in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, was financed by its founders, using their credit cards as lines of credit. Named in reference to the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts, the café offered innovative tea-based drinks created with a mixologist’s eye. It was staffed by Avakian and his partners, who spent the first eighteen months working as baristas in order to better understand their business.

Two years later, the founders opened a second Chicago location. By the end of 2007 they had ten cafes serving around 20,000 customers a week. They expanded out of Chicago in 2010, opening a location in New York City. By 2013, there were more than twenty-seven Argo Tea Cafes, with locations in Boston and St. Louis. A year later, the company would have a presence in five countries, with 45 tea cafes throughout the Untied States and Middle East.

In 2009, Argo Tea ventured into the retail sector, launching ready-to-drink bottles of tea for sale at grocery stores. The cleverly named flavored teas were sold in more than 10,000 retail outlets by 2013, doubling to 20,000 outlets a year later.

Avakian lives in the Chicago area with his wife, Mika Ishida, and their young daughter Marika.

Companies and Investments

Argo Tea (Co-founder, CEO), i2 Technologies (Vice President of Business Development), Blue Meteor (Founder), Whittman Hart (Management Consultant)

Lessons Learned

That things change and you have to be flexible enough not only to survive, but to evolve and adapt; you have to have persistence and think outside the box—you’ll find the one plus one doesn’t always equal two; it might equal 11 at times. (Avakian, on flexibility, adaptability, and thinking outside the box, in a profile on American Express Open Forum)

We built the business based on these values. If you build on that, everything else will fall into place. (Avakian on the importance of having a foundation of values as you build a business, in an article on Xavier University News)

It was a great entrepreneurial failure story, which was a learning experience, both in how to start a company, how to build a team, how to build sales and customers, but also in understanding that there are a lot of intricacies and nuances working with investors , and how, in a fast-moving industry like technology , truly seeing five steps forward may not be the right thing to do. (Avakian on turning failures and missteps into learning experiences, in a profile in the Chicago Tribune)


Inspiring Quotes

Arsen Avakian's Quotes

Plan, focus, execute and sell.

Arsen Avakian

You need to be a little irrational. You need to be gutsy.

Arsen Avakian

Begin with passion.

Arsen Avakian

Influential Books

Mentors

Yuri Avakian

References


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