James Fayal always knew he would be an entrepreneur. Amazon Ads helped make his brand Zest Tea a success

October 7, 2022 | By Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter

Zest product

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James Fayal started his first business in high school, developing a tool to help people oxygenate wood for dying hearth fires. He grew up in an old Connecticut house with a fireplace, so the invention was something he could use in his everyday life.

“An idea has to be something that’s actually of interest to me. If it’s not applicable to me, it’s not something I’m going to pursue,” he remembers. “I was always surrounded by entrepreneurship and always knew that’s the direction I would go, but I didn’t know when and didn’t know how.”

As a 16-year-old, Fayal would go around to local home-goods shops and sell his wares, which gained some traction in his hometown. But as he was preparing to leave for college, he needed to start thinking about the next stages in life. Does he stay in the fireplace tool business? Or figure out his next big idea?

Headshot of James Fayal, Founder, Zest Tea

James Fayal, Founder, Zest Tea

“Let’s just say that the market for devices to restart dying hearth fires in 1700s houses was pretty limited to a specific part of New England,” he says. “But at that point I had years of schooling in being an entrepreneur.”

The hearth tool business might have dissolved, but Fayal went off to college where entrepreneurship remained on his mind. After graduating, he was working as a financial analyst when inspiration for his next idea struck.

“I was working finance hours, and I needed a way of staying alert,” he says. “And unfortunately I had a lot of gastro reflux issues because I used to be a competitive swimmer. So I became an avid tea drinker. But tea doesn’t necessarily get you through a 12- or 14-hour day in finance.”

That’s when Fayal started playing around with the idea of a lighter, healthier tea-based energy product. Like the fire tool, a tea-based energy drink was something he could actually use. To get the idea off the ground, he created a crowdfunding campaign, and in 2014, he launched Zest Tea, selling mostly through word of mouth on his own website.

With the help of Amazon Ads and educational resources from the learning console along the way, Fayal has grown Zest Tea into a nationally known brand that sells in thousands of brick-and-mortar stores and online. In 2020, he made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and has expanded the brand to include not just bagged tea, but also canned iced-tea energy drinks, CBD tea, sparkling tea, and more.

Brewing an idea into a successful tea company

By 2015, Fayal was working 110-plus hours a week, balancing his day job with his fledgling tea company.

“I got to the point where I looked at myself and my psyche, and I was like, I either need to go full time or kill this. Those are my two options,” he says.

Making the decision to quit his job and go full time into Zest Tea was terrifying, Fayal says.

In those early days, the challenge for the company was brand awareness.

“Nobody knows who you are,” Fayal says. “The biggest challenge in the beginning was, How do you take this product that has good word of mouth and good reorder rates, and economically expose it to a wider audience?”

A big shift for the brand, Fayal says, was when they started working with Amazon Ads. By 2017, Fayal says, Amazon Ads became a major strategy for Zest Tea.

“Realizing that Amazon itself is a place for discovery was a big thing,” Fayal says. “It went from, ‘We’re going to sell on our website,’ to ‘We’re going to meet the customer where they are,’ which is a very different way of thinking. It was a major inflection point when it came to growing the brand.”

Learning how to grow a successful brand with Amazon Ads

Fayal’s entrepreneurial, hardworking spirit has always been core to the Zest Tea brand. And it turned out that consumers connected with this as well. As the brand grew, Fayal found that medical, tech, and IT professionals were some of their most loyal customers.

“We use the term knowledge worker a lot,” Fayal says. “We came to realize that our customers were people who were using Zest for the sake of productivity, and that became the message for us.”

Fayal just needed to learn how best to reach these customers who were looking for a brand like Zest Tea. When the brand was first starting out, Fayal says he really only had access to a “hodgepodge of online resources and advice. And most of that really conflicted with each other in a lot of ways. It was a really frustrating way to learn.”

A shift in this education came when he started using Amazon Ads’ learning console, which he says “really brought it all together in a digestible, comprehensive way.”

The educational resources in the learning console built on the knowledge Fayal had gained on his own in the early years of Zest Tea.

“You find yourself learning a lot—even the most basic things, like ad optimization, or keyword optimization, or how to optimize page listings,” he says.

— James Fayal, Founder, Zest Tea

Now Zest Tea uses Amazon Ads’ learning console to onboard new members of the team.

“Being able to use the Amazon Brand Bootcamp for new members and get them up to speed dramatically faster has been the most helpful part,” Fayal says.

For new brands, Fayal suggests getting in there and learning how to use automated ads and sponsored ads. “It makes a massive, massive difference,” he says. He adds that it can be important for brands to also learn how to follow the metrics that Amazon Ads provides and understand how their own campaigns are performing.

Meanwhile, Zest Tea is continuing to grow. “We’re experiencing a major shift in the company,” he says. They’re expanding to offer more products, more flavors, and more options for customers. “The high-caffeine energy teas were the first step, but now we’re broadening our scope to focus on making a diverse array of clean, effective, and flavorful food and beverage products for all functional needs. We’re about to launch three new hot teas for digestion, immunity, and sleep, as well as a line of non-tea powder packs for energy, focus, and hydration.”

As the brand evolves, Fayal says it will be key to use the knowledge he and the Zest Tea team have cultivated in this journey with Amazon Ads. “That’s where the brand metrics page is going to be incredibly helpful, because we need to understand how to compete in these new categories,” he says. “We found the Brand Bootcamp so helpful because we’re going to be starting over in a new category, and we need to rebuild the brand with a whole new audience.”

Whether it was selling fire-starting tools as a teenager or growing a successful tea business as an adult, Fayal’s journey as an entrepreneur has always been about learning and growing. And that’s never going to stop. “I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Fayal says. “There’s always value to add. You still need to bring yourself back to school every once in a while.”

Ahead of Amazon Ads’ 2022 unBoxed conference, explore the Amazon Ads learning console to find out how our products and solutions can help grow your brand. You can also learn more live at unBoxed during our learning console hands-on-keyboard session.