Over the years as he and the company have raised funds, Dan Klein, CEO of Tiesta Tea Company, has gotten a chance to meet many types of capital partners. In these meetings, there's something specific he's looking for.

"There's really one core thread that we always look for and it's somebody that understands our passion and willingness to drive the business forward," Klein says. "That doesn't necessarily have to be a passion for tea or for a specific product line, but just more the passion around helping us grow the business, helping us scale the business and really just trying to find like-minded people."

A lot of the company's capital partners, he says, are in the food and beverage industry. These executives, some of whom are based in Chicago while others are across the U.S., have been executives or founders at some of the biggest CPG companies in the world, while others come from smaller but very successful brands. That experience, he says, is something not all founders get when they start a business.

To identify the partners that he was going to pursue for the company's Series A, he targeted people in the food and beverage space. To do that, they would go to industry networking events and look for people who were passionate about the business but also knowledgeable about the industry.

"I did a lot of networking, a lot of late-night events — cocktails, dinners," he says. "It's not easy to do those things but it really was very valuable for us in finding the best capital partners that we could."

To continue to move the company's growing brand forward after the pandemic hit in 2020, Klein says he and his team worked to pivot the business to be more digital friendly, expanding the company's offerings on its website as well as its presence on e-commerce platforms, and drove digital marketing efforts as much as they could.

'Because up to that point, we had really focused a lot of our marketing spend on retail marketing initiatives," Klein says. "When the pandemic hit, a lot of those initiatives, like in-store demos or merchandising, just weren't available to us. It really forced us to be very nimble and quick about moving more and more to digital and it's been a great payoff for the brand. The brand continues to grow. We've actually seen some of our best growth over the last two years than we ever have."

The next phase of growth, he says, revolves around bringing loose-leaf tea to a larger audience.

"We focused over the past several years really on tea drinkers in general," he says. "But now that the brand is starting to gain more and more traction and our name has gotten more recognition in the food and beverage industry, we want to bring this product to not just traditional tea drinkers."

Klein spoke at the Chicago Smart Business Dealmakers Conference about what he looks for in investors beyond capital as well as the company's plans for growth. Hit play to catch the full conversation.