The Inside Story

WHEN UNPLANNED TURNS OUT TO BE THE BEST PLAN OF ALL – THE STORY OF SARAH DAVIDSON & MATCHA MAIDEN

“I had to unlearn so much about perfection and just taking action. I ripped off the band aid about getting things out there before you’re ready. The truth is you’ll never feel ready. And if you take things too seriously, you squeeze out the fun.”

Sarah Davidson (Holloway) is the type of woman that makes you feel anything is possible. Her bubbly personality, her self-deprecating nature and her generous spirit make you want to be part of her camp. The camp that says ‘hell yes, I can do this!’ 

The truth of the matter is that Sarah pretty much can do anything. From corporate lawyer to founder of her own highly successful retail brand, Matcha Maiden to host of her own podcast, Seize the Yay.

Sarah interviews highly successful entrepreneurs about their journey to success — the highs and the lows. She is a powerhouse.

So what is it about Sarah Davidson that makes everything she touches turn to gold? Is she just part of the lucky club — insanely smart, a proactive ‘can do’ attitude and good looks to match, or is there a carefully thought out formula that is the backbone to how she operates?

Lucky for us, we get to find out.

____

A BOOK WORM AND BALLERINA

Sarah tells me that growing up she was a bookworm and a maths nerd. She loved brain gymnastics of any kind. But she was also highly creative; her weeks were filled with ballet, concerts and creativity of all types. One of her favourite pastimes was to make magazines. She had her scissors and glue and would craft out fashion Sarah style. These two seemingly opposing parts of her personality were always at play.

At one stage her ballet career was looking truly promising, but the gruesome hours of training became all too much for Sarah at an age when all her friends were meeting boys and hitting the party scene. She just wasn’t sure ballet was the future for her.

She spent all of her primary school and high school years doing as much as she could. So when it came to final graduation she was hoping that it might become clear on where she should focus her energies, but alas, it didn’t. Without a strong pull in any particular direction, Sarah decided that starting down the path of law was a good sensible decision. She felt this career direction would open doors for her.

Sarah’s university years were no different. She kept all the extracurricular activities going while preparing to get a position in a law firm. She was thirsty to learn.

“Mum always said to me, if you don’t know what you want to do, you might as well do something. So that’s what I did,” shares Sarah. “I just wanted to learn as much as I could and start this career.”

“Where does this motivation and drive come from?” I ask. “Did your parents push you to achieve?”

Sarah tells me she is adopted. She was born in South Korea and at 6 months old her very white, country bumpkin parents from Victoria, Australia gave her a new home. Sarah didn’t have the stereotypical Asian tiger parents pressure to do law and medicine. Her decisions were her own. Her parents didn’t put her under any kind of pressure. They just wanted her to follow her heart and do what she was good at.

The problem is that Sarah loved everything and was good at so many things. Is there some kind of career where you can do it all?

FROM LAW FIRM TO START UP

Sarah was running fast. She had three good years at a very successful international law firm. She didn’t hate it. She was happy. But in the back of her mind she thought maybe in 20 years or so she would do something else. She now had a life plan. She was able to travel all the time, she had great mentors. It ticked all the boxes.

“Looking back in hindsight I can see that it satisfied a particular part of my personality but there was not a lot of room for my creative side,” shares Sarah.

During her time at the law firm Sarah had the opportunity to accompany her partner Nick to visit a school in Rwanda. Nick ran his own creative agency and had been sponsoring the school. This experience was incredibly transformative for Sarah.

“I had my first epiphany about happiness. The children were so happy in this tiny community just playing with leaves. I came back with an attitude of gratitude. And a questioning heart. As a society why are we so unhappy with all the things we have — we’ve created these layers of stress and busyness and they’re so unburdened,” Sarah frowns.

Unfortunately that’s not all Sarah came home with. She managed to pick up a gut parasite on her travels, which left her completely run down and suffering from adrenal fatigue. Sarah was so out of touch with her body, working crazy hours that she didn’t even notice she’d lost 15kgs. It wasn’t until she collapsed at work that things came to a head. She had an expedited introduction into the wellness world and part of that was a recommended ban on coffee.

Disaster!

Sarah was used to drinking something like 10 cups of coffee a day and had to give it up completely. In the beginning it was brutal. She would get panic attacks and the shakes. She took a month off work to repair her health. Her first job back at work was in Hong Kong. All she could think about was how she would get through the crazy Hong Kong hours without coffee. It’s there that she discovered a healthy alternative to coffee — matcha green tea powder. It has half the amount of caffeine as coffee and is slow release into the bloodstream, so the effect is sustained. Instead of a spike and then a crash you get a three to four hour buzz. Plus most importantly for Sarah it’s gentle on the adrenal glands. Sarah was hooked. She was in Hong Kong for about 8 months. Nick came to visit and he too became a fan, swapping out his coffee for matcha. Everyone was talking about matcha tea, even the Kardashians were drinking it, but there was not one brand that focused on the health benefits. Matcha was becoming a buzz word in the West, in the East it was centuries old.

When Sarah and Nick arrived back in Melbourne they tried to find matcha, with no luck. They tried to order online but the minimum order was 10kgs. Too much matcha! They ordered the large amount with the view to sell some. And that’s how it all started.

Sarah and Nick had no experience in selling retail products, but they did well from day one. How so?

“Why it did so well is because the only thing we actually knew how to do was create the brand. We did that first before we figured out how to sell anything. It was kind of the reverse of what you should actually do. Nick has a creative agency and I was the target consumer. We created the name Matcha Maiden, the logos, the colors and the Instagram page. The aesthetic we decided on very quickly. And I felt excited. I started to realise that I’d stopped doing drawings and doodles and creative stuff,” Sarah recalls.

Sarah spent a lot of time at the legal firm distracted by the fonts she liked, the playful language and puns she wanted to use. She and Nick weren’t taking things too seriously, it was a side project. The pressure was off. So because of this Sarah feels they did a better job. They weren’t searching for perfection all the time.

“Oh this funny little thing that we’re going to sell to our family and two friends,” that was our attitude, shares Sarah. 

Sarah and Nick literally had the brand and product ready to go within 3 weeks of returning home from Hong Kong. Speedy, speedy.

Then they had a thought!

How do we ship it?

They went to the post office, hand wrote out addresses and that was it.

UNLEARNING ABOUT PERFECTION

Sarah’s whole career to date had been about perfect. Her current job was about how to move full stops around. Everything was sent to 55 people for approval before getting it out. This is the first time she had ever applied a ‘done is better than perfect’ attitude.

“I had to unlearn so much about perfection and just taking action. I ripped off the band aid about getting things out there before you’re ready. The truth is you’ll never feel ready. And if you take things too seriously, you squeeze out the fun”, Sarah shares.

Sarah truly believes that if she had planned this business out thoroughly, she never would have got it off the ground. There were too many variables. Her naivety was the success.

GOOD IDEA, LET’S SPEND 24/7 TOGETHER!

Sarah shares that in the beginning working with Nick was so fun. They had such different careers and such different schedules that getting to spend so much time together was refreshing. In fact it was lovely. For six months Sarah continued her job at the law firm while they played catch up in understanding how to run Matcha Maiden. The demand was strong. There was a lot of scrambling but it was exciting.

After six months Sarah had to make a decision. They could no longer fill orders unless she went full time. Nick was already sort of working full time on the project. The next step was up to her. 

She made the jump — working together and living together 24/7.

The change was difficult. Sarah had to adjust to a completely new way of life and way of working, she wasn’t coping with loss of her workplace identity. And now it was make or break time with Nick. Was this the best thing they ever did, or the dumbest?

“The biggest thing going into business with friends and family is you actually take more liberties with them than you ever would with a third party business partner. So, if I thought his idea was crap I wouldn’t sugar sandwich it like a normal person. I’d just say, ‘I hate it, that’s so dumb’. And then I’d wonder why we’d have an argument. Or I’d have a fluffy, girly idea and he’d say ’have you thought about the figures?’ We didn’t have the right boundaries between work hats and personal hats and that took us a really long time to figure out. Plus we had to do some major work on our communication. But as soon as we got into the flow, it’s been the best thing ever. Our skills are so compatible, we fill each other’s gaps. We’re really clear on whose strengths are where. The parts of us that are different have rubbed off on each other in a really nice way,” Sarah smiles. 

Sarah admires the way that Nick’s a self teacher. If he doesn’t know how to do something he will figure it out. This doesn’t come naturally for Sarah. If she doesn’t know how to do something her first instinct is to find a course. She has a self confessed tendency to overthink.

“29 people in a room will look at a problem and not be able to think their way out of it or come up with the same few solutions. Nick will just come in and spend two seconds and be like, ‘duh, do it this way’. He has this really unique way of solving problems. He’s a true lateral thinker,” Sarah proudly explains.

“What would Nick say is your greatest skill?” I ask.

Her ability to build relationships. When she started the business she knew nobody. She had a huge Rolodex of corporate bankers and lawyers but not a single connection in the entrepreneurial world. But over the last five years she has effortlessly made friends and connections which has helped them build the business.

Sarah loves this quote by Maya Angelou… “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And this is how she tries to live her life.

WHEN TWO HEADS BUTT

But it’s not always roses for these two superstars.

Like every good couple they have their triggers and buttons get pushed.

“Oh my god, yes,” Sarah opens up. “I love the fluff. I love the feminine energy in the community and love to embrace it. I can get carried away, make a big decision and commit to a big marketing project and he’ll be like ‘did you even think if we are making or losing money here, seriously?’ and I respond, “well it may lose money but what an amazing brand awareness exercise!” That really makes him cross. But on the flip side, the thing that annoys me most about Nick is that he’s so across the numbers in our business but when it comes to personal admin or other important adult things, he just doesn’t care about it. He would just like to run his business, and then forget to do his personal taxes for a year. He hates admin. I love admin. His management of the admin is a sore point for us.”

BUT LET’S NOT STOP AT ONE BUSINESS

Nick is now much more behind the scenes with Matcha Maiden. He works on structures, the financials and big picture thinking, and he has kept his creative agency, plus launched two other startups in the last 5 years. Together Sarah and Nick have created their Matcha Maiden cafe in Melbourne called Matcha Mylkbar, got hitched and had a fur baby. Sarah has gone on to build a highly successful personal brand as a speaker, presenter, with her very own podcast called Seize the Yay. And to top it all off her first book has just come out. Seize the Yay is about as much goal-kicking, ground-breaking and memory-making as life permits. This is Sarah’s personal philosophy. Her personal brand is a forum to talk about the entrepreneurial journey towards realising your greater potential, sharing the beautiful and the ugly and everything in between.

I ask Sarah what she thinks the essence of an entrepreneur is, what makes them tick? Where does the drive come from?

“It’s an interesting question, I think it comes down to a sense of adventure, an ability to explore what you can apply your drive to, which means you’re more likely to walk away from other things and go into business despite the risk,” Sarah explains.

THE DREAM FOR THE FUTURE

It was a steep learning curve for Sarah and Nick. They achieved so much, but by year four the business stopped being a start up and all the fun and exponential learning calmed down. It no longer needed novelty and noise, it needed stability, structure and growth. Sarah had to step into a role that she realised she didn’t love. She spent a year in that space, and finally gave herself permission to evolve and recognise that you can outgrow things or things can outgrow you. And maybe there is a new chapter. Sarah and Nick have restructured the company to give her the freedom to explore other things. 

“When I came to that realisation at once I began to make change. I delegated to other people in the business. My mum took over the wholesale side of things, we outsourced a lot and we recently signed a deal for a big investment partner to take over most of the operations.”

This gave Sarah the space to start her podcast. Sarah loves puns, loves word art, loves linguistics and working with language. She has discovered a whole new side to herself. She loves talking to entrepreneurs and hearing their stories every day. This is where she wants to be.

Sarah Davidson might just be the only person on the planet who has managed to create a career for herself where she gets to tap into her nerdy bookworm side and her creative side, and… do just about everything.

SARAH’S ADVICE ON BUILDING A BRAND

Don’t wait for things to be perfect before launching. The truth is, things are never going to be perfect, and in the meantime you miss out on opportunity.

SARAH’S LIST TO INSPIRE

Dr Richard Harris – the anaesthetist cave diver who saved the Thai soccer team in 2018. His book is AMAZING! I loved every page and that definitely inspired me. It’s called Against All Odds, written with fellow rescue diver Craig Challen.

Words: Emma Scott
Photography: Lauren Bamford & Matcha Maiden

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