Many budding entrepreneurs spend years trying to find their one big idea. For lawyer Sarah Holloway, a recreational love of matcha came first; a thriving business, second.
The Monash University graduate was working in mergers and acquisitions in the Hong Kong office of King & Wood Mallesons when a parasite picked up during a month’s aid work in Rwanda put a stop to her daily coffee habit.
A nightmare scenario for many millennials, it sent her looking for alternatives, and she discovered the powdered version of Japanese green tea. “Matcha gives you a much gentler caffeine hit. It doesn’t send your adrenal glands into a frenzy like with coffee, and it has all those antioxidants,” Holloway says.
Holloway graduated from Monash in 2012 with a law and arts degree, the latter focusing on languages – Japanese, Chinese and French – which she credits with her fortunate secondment to Hong Kong. “Hong Kong is definitely where I discovered my love of matcha. I only realised later I had been stifling my whole creative side in the law and that I had a whole other set of interests that needed to get a run.”
From little things …
Holloway’s initial thought was not to take the tea world by storm, but a far simpler goal of selling 10 kilograms of matcha she and fiancé Nic Davidson (who now doubles as her Matcha Maiden business partner) imported from Japan.
“We really stepped in at the right time. There wasn’t any matcha in health food stores, and while some stores sold it in the US, it wasn’t branded in any way. Our big break was when Urban Outfitters heard about us on social media. I thought their email was a scam and ignored it for three weeks. When I finally got back to them they ordered 10,000 units – and that’s when I left my job.”
“I think my main impact in the community is speaking to women who are on the cusp of making that leap into the unknown and are maybe too scared to do so.”
The social media aspect is a huge part of Matcha Maiden and its associated St Kilda vegan cafe, Matcha Mylkbar, home of the Instagram-infamous faux poached egg made with coconut, linseed protein, sweet potato and alchemy.
Future plans involve taking Matcha Mylkbar to Sydney, then to the US (possibly with the help of super-fan actor Chris Hemsworth).
Holloway, now 29, has harnessed the power of her own brand for an image-conscious market. Her blog (Spoonful of Sarah) and Instagram account, populated by ‘fitspo’ shots and motivational quotes, are a millennial recipe for ‘I’ll have what she’s having’, credit-card-loosening envy.
The business was involved this year in the Chobani Food Incubator at the Monash Food Innovation Centre, which supports food and agriculture start-ups and entrepreneurs to develop products and ideas. “It was so transformative,” Holloway says. “It gave us access to experts from Monash across innovation, marketing, industrial design – the whole gamut, really.”
The relationship with Monash isn’t a one-way street. Keen to give back, Holloway defies her hectic schedule to be a regular speaker at Monash events and mentor through the Monash Generator’s Accelerator Program. She sees her calling not just as extolling the health-giving benefits of matcha, but also helping show that life doesn’t always keep to a straight line.
“It’s really important to live by example,” she says. “But I think my main impact in the community is speaking to women who are on the cusp of making that leap into the unknown and are maybe too scared to do so.”