By Stefana Vizman | October 22, 2021
Being in Amsterdam for a couple of years now, I have crossed the streets by Dam Square many times. I slowly became acquainted with the little shops and businesses, especially the ones that somehow stood out. And this is also the case for the Bubble Tea shop called SooTea.
If you ever crossed Sint Luciënsteeg street, you couldn’t have missed it. It’s basically an entirely pink room, with a plastic-ball pool inside, cute toys on the walls and many other decorations – super bubbly! Even if you’re not into Bubble Tea, you’re still probably going to stop to take a look at this shop. Or at least I did. So, when I heard that the shop was actually a student-led and owned enterprise, I just wanted to know more.
We went there on what seemed to be a pretty busy day, and we had an interview with one of the founders, Cindy, and the shop manager, Quinn. We went there expecting to see formal young businesswomen dressed in suits. So imagine how surprised we were to see girls dressed casually smiling and making us feel welcome in their shop. From the beginning, we understood that this was not going to be a classic business story.
We began by asking them, well… how did everything start? And how do 20-year olds who study full time have the money and energy to start a business in the middle of a global pandemic?
SooTea began as a home business, when a bunch of business students who had nothing to do but stay inside in the middle of a national quarantine – and who really liked Bubble Tea – decided to make more, sell and deliver it. Apparently, this small enterprise was a really big success. Soon, they realized that they had more orders than they could produce. And this is how the idea of the shop started.
They didn’t get into all the practicalities of renting the space, making it into what it is now, all the machinery they use and so on. But they did tell us about some of the difficulties they had to face. Everyone that lives in Amsterdam knows how hard it is to find a place to live. The housing market is so competitive that even financially stable people do everything they can from finding a new place to live in Amsterdam. Now imagine that on top of all this, a bunch of international students who don’t speak Dutch come to you to say that they want to open their own business and need a place to do it. Most of us would probably not be so trustworthy. However, they somehow managed.
We then moved on and tried to find out how they manage everything at once – a full-time job and studies. When trying to explain how she makes time for everything, Cindy said the shop is basically an application of everything she learned in school. And although they had to sacrifice schoolwork sometimes, they believe that running this business is just a continuation of their studies. When you study business, your dream is probably to have a company like her own, not have someone to boss you around, and basically have financial independence. So why not start early?
Their teachers also played a role. When they heard of their brave enterprise, they ensured that they could handle everything at once. Without giving them preferential treatment, they guided and advised them on how to have a successful business. The teachers understood that what they were doing was essentially just the practical side of all the theoretical knowledge they would give them.
SooTea has three founders, out of which two are students. In addition, they try to bring opportunities to young people. Their whole team (manager, employees, etc.) is currently made up of young people and students, and they have dreams to expand. They go about things by learning from each other and having a respectful attitude towards one another.
However, there are still sacrifices to make. Besides the sacrifices they make at school, when it comes to their ‘student life, or more specifically, the social side of their student life, they admit that that is also a ‘loss’. However, they believe that the workplace doesn’t have to be a strict environment where people can’t enjoy what they do. And considering that they spend all their time together working for this business, the owners, founders and employees became (more or less) the social circle of each other.
Our discussion ended on a funny note, with Cindy responding to our question “What do you do to unwind?” with an immediate and very abrupt and confident “Sleep.” So this was our sign of letting them go on with their day and customers. And before we could leave, they wouldn’t let us step outside until we’d try the Bubble Tea. And I’m so happy they did! My suggestion: Resting Bitch Face! (Because their Tea names are as unique as their business).