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Secrets of Success: Sean Shafik

There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Sean Shafik, cofounder and CEO of TK Hibiscus. After years working on Wall Street for banks like Lazard and Goldman Sachs, he decided to switch careers and developed a concept that was missing in the health market. Sean started TK after seeing first-hand the health benefits of hibiscus tea as it relates to helping lower blood pressure. (Hibiscus is loaded with antioxidants and has been known to help lower and maintain healthy blood pressure as well promote heart health.)

Sean is passionate about building a company that creates nutritious, affordable and delicious products to help people live better lives. His iced teas, which are USDA Organic, gluten-free and kosher, are currently stocked in more than over 350 stores across 27 states, including Whole Foods.

His startup story began when a routine checkup revealed his blood pressure was starting to elevate―which, he says, “wasn’t a shock given my love for salty foods and a job in investment banking at the time.” Sean’s father “put on his doctor’s coat and recommended I start to incorporate hibiscus tea into my daily diet.” Sean grew up in a tea-drinking household and his Egyptian-born father was an avid drinker of his native version, karkadé (“car-kah-day”).

After adding the tea to his daily diet, Sean’s blood pressure returned to normal and, as Sean puts it, “The seed of an idea began to take root.” He and his brother Ryan began to experiment with different kinds of brews and blends, found a natural sweetener, chose their favorite flavor combinations and TK Hibiscus was born.

Sean says, “I’m not sure I know all the secrets but in the startup game persistence and never giving up are critical.”

Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Sean Shafik: I played with Legos a lot as a kid and I like building things so I wanted to be an architect. I also play guitar and there was a period when I wanted to be in a band when I grew up.

Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?

Shafik: I have always wanted to build something and control my own destiny. I was unhappy working on Wall Street but I always admired some of the entrepreneurs who were my clients and I was fascinated by their stories about how they grew their companies. I knew that is what I wanted to do eventually and when I saw the opportunity I jumped.

Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Shafik: There is not one pivotal moment that I can point to. The growth in TK is a function of multiple moments, decisions and strategies.

Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Shafik: Stop thinking about doing it and go for it. People like to talk about starting their own [business] one day and then rarely move beyond the thought. There is never a “perfect” time to do it, but you just have to take the jump and then make adjustments along the way as challenges present themselves.

Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Shafik: Making sure that networking is part of their overall strategy. A lot of what happens in business is because of relationships that are formed. You have to put yourself out there and connect with people in order for opportunities to pop up.

Lesonsky: Do you have a small business prediction for 2015?

Shafik: I continue to see technology presenting great new opportunities for small businesses across all industries in 2015.

Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?

Shafik: I don’t really have a favorite book. From a business point of view, I read Andrew Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive in college and I still consider that one of the better books on business out there.

Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Shafik: “This company has not built its defining product yet.” – Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour.

I like it because even with a portfolio of category-leading products, they still have the mentality of continued product innovation to drive growth. What initially started off as a better athletic T-shirt has blossomed into one of the largest athletic apparel companies on earth.

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Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.