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Comic Books, Iced Tea, and the Secret to Winning in Business

Honest Tea founders Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff explain—graphically—how they brewed up a successful company.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

Once in a while I receive a business book that, like a box of Cracker Jack, comes with a prize inside. I enjoy these promotional gewgaws; often they engage me more than the books that they accompany. Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently—and Succeeding (Crown Business, 2013), which arrived with a bottle of Honest Tea’s Honey Green Tea, is an exception: In this case, I was engaged equally by both.

Mission in a Bottle succeeds for a couple of reasons. The biggest is that its authors, Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff, offer a combination of practical experience and theoretical insight that’s atypical of business-book authors. They founded Honest Tea in 1998 in one of the most competitive CPG categories. They grew it to the point that Coca-Cola invested US$43 million for a 40 percent stake in 2008—and eventually bought the company lock, stock, and barrel in 2011. Goldman is still the company’s “TeaEO,” which is indicative of how highly the new owners think of him. And Nalebuff, Honest Tea’s ex-chairman, was and is a professor at the Yale School of Management. An expert in the application of game theory to corporate strategy, Nalebuff and  Adam Brandenburger, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, popularized the concept of co-opetition back in the mid-1990s.

The second reason I find Mission in a Bottle intriguing is its manga format—it’s a comic book for businesspeople. I’ve seen a few manga-style business books over the years, but it’s rare to find a really good one. Generally, this is a style that lends itself best to easily explained subjects, like Dan Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need (Riverhead, 2008), a fast read that offered up six pieces of advice that I thought made it a must-read for every new and aspiring member of the workforce.

Mission in a Bottle is different kettle of fish altogether.

It’s about the growing of a company—a complex subject with a host of nuances that can’t be ignored without risking gross oversimplification. Somehow, Goldman and Nalebuff (and illustrator Sungyoon Choi) pull that off. I think it goes back to three things that they identify as underpinning Honest Tea’s success: a commitment to mission, clarity of thought, and a well-developed sense of humor. 

Theodore Kinni
Ted Kinni

Theodore Kinni is a contributing editor of strategy+business. He also blogs at Reading, Writing re: Management.



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