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My Dad loved to tell people he worked in computers at a time when people would turn to him quizzically and ask, “What’s a computer?”

He was working in the industry long before Jobs and Gates, and were it not for his mental illness, he might have made a name for himself. Even still, and perhaps more importantly, it was work he was good at and loved.

That’s why I tell my clients they need to get creative when brainstorming new careers. I tell them that their ideal career may not exist yet.  Or it may be so new and young, they just haven’t heard of it. The trick has been finding an example of someone who’s doing that right now, not several decades ago.

So let me introduce you to Jesse Jacobs, founder and owner of the Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco.

I was drawn to Jesse’s story, because when you hear about the early stages of his career, he sounds like someone who was lost. He got a degree in international relations, then worked and studied abroad for several years. He bounced around several jobs, including as a shoeshine boy, a magician, and working at the Alaskan fisheries.

His love of foreign languages eventually led him to learn HTML. In the late-90’s he found himself in the Bay Area, in the middle of the dot com boom, and settled into a corporate job building websites and doing IT consulting.

The money was great, but the work became monotonous, and then soul-sapping.

In this interview, Jesse walks us through how he decided to start what he terms a “tea lounge,” perhaps the only of its kind in the world, with zero experience and virtually no financial resources. Despite an industry where very few survive, he’s grown to three locations in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.  For the first 6 years, revenues doubled every year and continue to grow.

And he’s done it selling tea.

It’s a story you have to hear to believe.

What’s so critical about this interview is that it’s a great example of how to turn a rather nebulous passion (in Jesse’s case, a passion for creating human connection) into a tangible, creative and rather profitable career.

Because in fact, Jesse isn’t selling tea at all. He’s selling relaxation, he’s selling belonging and community. In essence, he’s selling a new way of life.

And you can too.

People come to me with a desire to really make an impact, but only see the path of working for a non-profit. I think what Jesse’s story highlights is that there are more ways to make a difference than you’re probably considering. Jesse changes people’s lives with tea. Sven Lindblad saves the oceans by running a high-end expedition company.  The possibilities are endless.

Jesse and I also talk about

  • How rituals can help you achieve career clarity
  • How your to-do list can help you overcome your fears and rejection
  • Why a tea lounge was able to succeed where three coffee shops could not, including a Starbucks
  • Why you need to be absolutely invested in your dream
  • How personal connection can help you overcome nearly any obstacle

Right click to download the audio file (MP3)

Right click to download the transcript


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20 Responses to Creating a Career That Doesn’t Exist: An Interview with Jesse Jacobs

    • On
    • September 18, 2012 at 12:02 pm
    • Carmelo
    • Said...

    Oh, Jen. So many lessons in this. Both in the aspect of business and in life. How cool that you got this interview and presented it to us.

    Isn’t it interesting that he says his competitor is the “system” of a stressful life? And making something work that really has no track record is quite the challenge. It’s inspiring to see someone fly in the face of all the pundits and go his own way.

    Your questions were great. Especially getting to the core of doing what our inner being wants and contributing to the world in our own, natural way.

    Thanks so much Jen.

    • Carmelo,
      Yes, I loved that insight too, and I think that’s an essential take-away for anyone starting or running their own business. We so often see other businesses as threats instead of potential collaborators, ignoring the big “competitor” who has the potential to really grow our business.

      So glad you enjoyed it. This is one of my favorites.

  1. What an amazing stroy Jen. Makes me wish I had not just moved away from California. I was only about an hour and a half away (depending on that ever so ridicules traffic) in Sacramento.

    It’s a shame I never got a change to get in there. But I am glad I can still order some online.

    Never really thought about the difference between what coffee and tea do to your experience. We actually drink both in our household but wanting a more relaxed life I think I will start to lean more toward tea now.

    Wish there was a lounge like that here. Nothing comes close to the experience/ambiance Jesse creates at Samovar.

    On my to do list next time I go back home to visit!

    • Oh, you’re from Sacramento! I used to live there while stationed at McClellan. Where are you now?

      I’ve always been a tea drinker myself. My husband teases I can detect coffee at the part per billion level. Vile stuff, if you ask me, esp. when you could be drinking tea, but I know a lot of people would disagree with me on that! LOL. So I love seeing that Samovar is so successful.

      Definitely stop in when you’re next home. It’s an amazing place!

        • On
        • September 19, 2012 at 11:04 am
        • P. James Holland
        • Said...

        My parents still live in Laguna/Elk Grove. We just moved to North Carolina only a few months now.

        Of all the construction that has gone on in that town…. McClellan is one of the areas that looks pretty much untouched. It could really use a restoration.

        I used to consider coffee “vile” myself until the beautiful Cece (my muse in the picture) really introduced me to it.

        Come to think of it, there are lots of things I enjoy now that I would not go anywhere near in the past. She has this way of making me fall in love with anything! I am pretty sure she has me under some sort of spell…… and I hope it NEVER wears off =-)

    • On
    • September 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm
    • Natalie
    • Said...

    Ah Samovar Tea Lounge, I remember them in the Castro from another lifetime ago. Wonderful to hear they have 2 more locations now!

    I also started asking myself “what kind of life do I want to live” and while I’m still very much at the beginning of this career change journey, being able to answer this question alone has made me more driven to succeed than other more urgent factors (loss of one income etc.). It’s the answer that keeps me focused and reassured that I did make the right decision.

    The only problem is… this speaks to what he said about having a quantifiable list, and not allowing himself to get discouraged – is that as the end of my list approaches and my rough deadline is in sight, I find myself feeling the dread of maybe I made a mistake. And even the thought of pushing the deadline back and the consequences of that action, have me wondering how do I know when enough is enough?

    • Natalie,
      Yes, yes, yes! Answering that question is critical and I think it’s a surprise how hard it is for many of us to answer. And you know, the answer changes as we go along. Our life changes, our priorities change, we refine the answer. So that’s the other thing. You never stop asking and answering that question either, which is why the JOURNEY is so important.

      Have you already watched the videos for the No Regrets Career Academy? I think that would help you. There’s really no mistake in this process. That’s the key reframe. You are constantly discovering, testing, refining. At some point you may make a leap with the best information you have (as Jesse did), but it’s not unrecoverable. If it’s not what you thought it would be, you go back to your process and do it again. But the process is so important. Without that, the leap feels permanent. It isn’t.

      Let me know if that helps!

        • On
        • September 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm
        • Natalie
        • Said...

        The testing and refining is key and I think that’s what I have to keep reminding myself. Patience with myself through the process is another thing…

        Thank-You Jennifer!

        I just started watching the Career Academy videos.

        • Excellent. Patience is not one of my strengths either. But if you’re going to be impatient about something, make it your own actions and momentum instead of the world rushing to meet you halfway. When I focus that impatience on myself, I find I’m much more productive (and forgiving). :)

    • On
    • September 18, 2012 at 8:57 pm
    • Susan B.
    • Said...

    Great interview, Jen. I especially liked hearing about the way Jesse conceived of his tea lounge idea and how he persisted with all the banks.

    • Me too, Susan. So inspiring. I know I catch myself not moving forward on ideas sometimes because I’m so afraid of rejection. I think his idea of having a list and just committing to that is really helpful. You never know when your “yes” is about to come through. :)

  2. Hi Jennifer,
    This is one of the more inspiring stories I’ve read. Living in San Jose (just a short distance from SF) I’m definitely going to make it a point to visit the tea lounge.

    (BTW, I was born in North Highlands and both my mom and dad worked civil service at McClellan – but this was back 30 years ago when they did)

    You are spot on about there being many different ways for people to make a difference – not just non-profit work. I personally struggled with this in my position of technology support within a commercial real estate company.

    The brokers my team was supporting were making six, even seven figure incomes. I was struggling with the thought my entire career was based upon making other people rich. I then realized as a manager, my focus was on enriching and developing my staff. Just the change in perception made a tremendous impact for me.

    Great read, thank you!


    • Bill,
      Yes, that’s a great way to reframe how your job, ANY job, can be seen in a meaningful light. It’s like the story about the boy throwing stranded starfishes back into the sea, and someone says, “There’s too many. It won’t make any difference.” And the boy replies, “It made a difference to that one.”

      Glad you enjoyed this–I did too!

  3. Hello, Jen! :) Long time no see. Crazy summer!

    Thank you (and Jesse!) so much for this interview. I really enjoyed listening in and am heartened and inspired by his story. I am in the process of relaunching my website (hopefully early next year) and am thinking a lot about exactly what I want to do and how I want to do it – not feeling like I need to mimic my peers and colleagues. It’s a challenge to step outside the “normal” mindset and get creative about how I approach. It’s not that I’m lacking creativity, but I definitely fall prey to automatically trekking down the beaten path without stopping to believe that I might be able to bushwhack a new path. I am going to be doing things that are new and different for me, but listening to Jesse makes me think I should go ahead and push the envelope even further – dream bigger and dare to shine, right? :)

    All jazzed up now. Thank you!

    PS – I LOVE the slowing down theme of Jesse’s business and philosophy. Part of my new approach to my marketing business will incorporate a similar theme. Can you imagine? Slow marketing. Crazy talk. 😉

    • Oh, I’m so excited to hear that you’re moving forward with your plans and that this may have been helpful in clarifying some of the ideas you already had “brewing” (couldn’t resist). Definitely come back and tell us all about your envelope-pushing, dream-daring, shining bright plans when you’re ready!!

      And yes, I think the idea of Slow Marketing is brilliant, as they say here in the UK. :)

      • On
      • September 25, 2012 at 8:03 pm
      • Margaret
      • Said...

      Oh, Normal Mindset, begone! I love this interview, and had to chime in here with a continuance of this thought, which crosses paths with another post I love: http://remadebyhand.com/2012/09/whose-path-are-you-on-anyway/ check it out! Refining your purpose is always a good check-in, I think. :)

      • Ha! I used to be a rule follower too–must be the military scientist in me. :) And actually, there’s nothing with following rules, as long as you consciously decide to do so. It’s the mindless following that’s the problem, and because it’s mindless, we’re often not aware we’re doing. It’s like my cats pawing at a closed door when there’s another one open right behind them.

    • On
    • September 25, 2012 at 8:11 pm
    • Margaret
    • Said...

    Love this! I’ve been to Samovar several times- try to get in a visit every time I hit SF. We have a local version in DC called Teaism, with a focus less on native experience and calm so much as interesting international flavors and local community connections, which is another good direction, I think.
    Two biggest takeaways (and I loved the bullet points you listed, Jennifer, those really help solidify points in the discussion!) for me: one was already mentioned about the stressful way of life competing with the business, and there’s a whole lot more I could say on that… may turn it into a bog post! second was the media fast allowing Jesse to make an intentional impact based on uncontaminated thinking. Like that a lot, since I abstain similarly. :) Keep up the great content, and thanks for making it available!