Abianne Falla

Co-Founder of CatSpring Yaupon

Abianne Falla is the co-founder of CatSpring Yaupon, the premier producer of yaupon, the only caffeinated plant native to North America. CatSpring Yaupon is the world-wide leader in sustainable yaupon production and is committed to ethical labor practices through its people first employment program. Prior to life as a Yaupon Entrepreneur, Abianne was a CPA for Ernst & Young, and later supported community development for lululemon athletica. At lululemon, she learned the value of building community relationships for a rapidly growing company, and how to maintain them. In 2013, she earned her MBA in entrepreneurship from Acton, where she became passionate about learning fundamentals of business formation from other founders and CEOs and was named a Texas Business Hall of Fame Scholar. She’s been named Southern Living’s Entrepreneur of the Year, received a WeWork Creator Award and an Eileen Fisher Women Owned Business Grant, and named one of Thrive Global’s “Limit Breaking Female Founders.”

Where did the idea for CatSpring Yaupon come from?

We all remember the driest year in Texas history: the great drought of 2011. Statewide we lost 300 million trees. In Cat Spring, everyone had to sell off their cattle, and we were losing 100 year old oak trees. Everything looked scorched and withered. Except one plant that was hanging in there in spite of the really difficult conditions. And that was the yaupon. It was dry – but it was still green. Intrigued, we did some research, and we found it had been consumed as a tea for millenia! And it turns out, there was an incredible legacy of yaupon consumption by virtually every coastal tribe, and it was traded all over North America. Because of this great tradition, we’ve been able to work with incredible native tribes and elders to really honor yaupon’s heritage. Studies were also just coming out demonstrating it to be a nutritional powerhouse in addition to giving a smooth caffeine boost. And that’s what set us out on our crazy journey!

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Does anyone have a typical day in 2020/2021?! As much as possible, we try to have some semblance of normalcy but what follows is a pretty aspirational daily schedule!

Till 9 am, I am intentional to have a slower start to the morning as a family with my husband and daughter. Just as CatSpring Yaupon encourages our customers to curate a moment to step back from the craziness I’ve learned in this hectic, over-stimulated time to prioritize a slower start by holding off on the inbox and chores.
I go to the office a few days a week where I’m finding more collaborations and partnerships for yaupon. It’s been incredibly life giving to be able to partner with so many talented producers whether it’s someone who is great at making tea blends or with chefs that are carefully curating a menu or a kombucha maker that is taking their own spin on the ancient recipe.

Then I’m back to hanging with my daughter whether we’re on a walk, at the neighborhood pool, or running errands for the afternoon before heading home for her early bed time. Then after little bit goes to sleep we have dinner; either my husband (who is a much better cook than I am), my mom (who lives in our back house – the dream!), or I all take turns cooking. I’ll either do a little bit of work with a glass of wine or try to fit in a work out and then off to bed!

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think we can be intimidated by the problems we are facing or the impact that we want to make on our world. We can freeze up and never start. The most important part of the “journey” or the launch is that first step. Just get started. Make a difference in your home, your job, your neighborhood, and then scale that impact. But start somewhere! When CatSpring Yaupon began, yaupon was largely unknown to the average consumer. Since then, we’ve become the #1 supplier of yaupon in the world, a responsibility we take seriously. In the process, we’ve learned a thing or two about bringing an idea to fruition. It comes down to grit and persistence. Whether that’s navigating the complex organic certification process or innovating on a centuries old tradition, we’ve found that if you are dedicated to the process, willing to explore new options, and open to the expertise of others, you can create truly great innovations.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The increase of importance on “whole” eating and consumption. Consumers considering of the health of the body as a whole, the impact on the environment, and the ripple effect in communities as they make purchasing decisions. We’re becoming more aware of how many of our decisions for what we eat and drink affect our health, motivating and inspiring new collaborations on our end to make healthy decisions easy and delicious. For instance, Greenbelt Kombucha is releasing a new yaupon kombucha. Focusing on how our consumption impacts the environment informs how we sustainably wild harvest. Additionally, our awareness of our community as a whole also informs how we hire and how we treat our employees. Nothing succeeds in isolation – and that’s true of so many facets of our business.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Simplifying choices. It’s so easy to slip into decision fatigue over things that aren’t important or aren’t as complicated as we make them. So I’ve found small ways to optimize my life and my home to make decisions easier than ever. For instance, I did a massive closet clean out to narrow down what I owned to a few nice pieces in colors that work for me – grey, white, black, and denim/blue- that can all coordinate together. This allows me to focus on the company, my family, and my own self-care, the things that I really can’t sacrifice. It gives me back the time I need to make the most of each day, with the people who matter the most.

What advice would you give your younger self?

We have one life to live. It’s short. And in that time, one single person can make a difference if they choose to do things differently. So get started.

Also, life is not school. We are often taught to wait for the right answer or only do what’s “correct”. In real life and in business, there’s no one right answer. Sure, ask all the tough questions, do the research, but the goal is to narrow the region of darkness and make a decision within those parameters. Not to find the one “right” choice. So don’t be paralyzed by waiting for the one choice, do the hard work and then move forward!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Sustainability is about more than the land. That’s why we’re more committed than ever to creating change in our communities, too. We know the criminal justice system is broken, and we’re taking a stand against the inequities that system creates. We hope to be an example — to other small businesses and larger companies — of the difference an understanding employer can make in the lives of our employees. That’s why we work directly with probation officers in rural communities to hire individuals who want their future to look different than their past. In our packaging facility, we hire women with a history of generational poverty. And by offering flexibility in our scheduling, we help make sure their next crisis doesn’t mark the end of their employment with us. To me, it makes sense: there are so many individuals in our community that are marginalized and not fully recognized for their value. Why would we build our company any other way?

We understand the value of community and the power that comes when we work together. We also know that sustainability is about more than the land. It’s about people, too. That’s why we’re renewing our commitment to you, to our neighbors, and to all the supporters who, over the years, have made us the little company that could. So grab a cup, and settle in. It’s going to be a wild and enjoyable ride!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Narrow the region of darkness and then move confidently forward within. I learned this in theory at Acton (an alternative MBA in Entrepreneurship) — but it’s not until building CatSpring that I realized how true the principle is. We often approach education and life as if there’s one correct answer. If I’ve learned one thing as a founder and CEO, it’s that there’s never a single, correct response. Get creative: there are so many ways to build a company. There are as many paths to funding, customers, sales channels, and options for sourcing that you’re willing to entertain — and chances are, innovative approaches will prove successful in the long term. Throughout your decision-making process, gather all of the information you can to “narrow the region of darkness.” If you ask enough questions, you’ll reduce the range of choices — and feel confident making a decision.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Know your story. Spend time seeking to understand who you are and what’s important to you. Have conversations with your co-founders and customers about your brand story. We’ve learned a lot about our company and yaupon by listening closely to our audience. What were the follow up questions our customers had? Where did people want to know more? Where were people seemingly confused? It’s the most important part of your brand so it’s worth honing.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

There are many to choose from. I think one of the biggest challenges of growing an agricultural and manufacturing company like ours is the fact that growth is tiered. When one process changes, most of the other processes have to change at the same time. I’m often upgrading several aspects of the company at an inflection point. And since growth is tiered, some of the choices we made in the past were made with constraints or factors that are no longer true. So when we are evaluating our next batch of decisions, it’s important to put everything back on the table and make sure we’re not accidentally using some old limiting factors or assumptions.

One of my biggest mistakes to date has been not hiring to meet the demands of the next stage, or not being clear about which projects I needed to hand off to other people on the team. Oftentimes, I’ve shouldered more of the burden than necessary, and the new hire has spun her wheels because she wasn’t set up for success. The success of individuals on your team will make or break your team. I’ve learned it’s important to empower them, and to release everyone to run their race or play their part. It’s important to know what you’re great at, figure out what you can learn, and surround yourself with talented people who can do the rest. That said, I’ve also had to learn which things are worth learning so that I can do them myself, even if it’s only to do them the first time. Actually rolling your sleeves up and doing the work empowers leaders to know how to hire for the role.

As an entrepreneur, I wear many hats, and I’m called to solve diverse problems. I can’t do it all alone. Thankfully, I’ve managed to surround myself with brilliant, creative people, who allow me to ask endless questions and seek their advice and experience. Surrounding myself with champions and creative people has given me the boost to keep going when times get hard. They’re often the ones asking tough questions to help me make sure I’m propelling in the right direction.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Consolidated life management. As a mother, wife, business owner, homeowner, etc. I am responsible for so many things that require regular admin. I’d love help with managing all those repeatable tasks. Calendar reminders can only go so far!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A small battery powered milk frother. Since my trips to coffee shops have been drastically reduced in the last year, I’ve loved being able to elevate my coffee and tea game at home. It’s a small purchase (like $15!) but one that has brought a little joy to many a morning!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Notion. I use this as a shared project and content scheduling tool, daily calendar for repeated weekly tasks, and research project organization to name a few. It’s a great, free software that is easy to edit on your computer and phone to make project management easy wherever I am.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I read mainly fiction. It’s how I unwind and relax… and my favorite book is still Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas. It’s amazing.

What is your favorite quote?

An error only becomes a mistake if you refuse to learn from it”

Key Learnings:

  • Be confident about what you know and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and accomplished what you’re aiming to do.
  • We’ve chosen to define success as when everyone in our community succeeds. It makes sense. CatSpring isn’t just a company: It’s a way of life. And our brand is about so much more than a product.
  • In every cup of fresh-harvested and roasted yaupon tea, we like to think we’re sharing a bit of ourselves, our family, our Texan roots, and our unbridled commitment to leaving the world a little better than we found it.