Open Mindedness. Closed minds don’t see opportunities. Open minds create opportunities
Basic Understanding of Finance. Profit, Profit, Profit. Focus on no debt at all, find ways to make things happen
Relentless Organic Marketing. If it gets your name out there, even a little, do it. Zero in on what is working and do more of that
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Priscilla Sweet and Michael Sweet. With the last name Sweet, it is no surprise that Priscilla and Michael have become entrepreneurs in what could be described as an extremely competitive environment in the world of celebration baking. They are the owners and founders of Silver Rose Bakery, a service dedicated to achieve what they call ‘Sweet experiences’ through online ordering of personalized, as well as custom, cakes and desserts the most important celebrations in life. For more information on Silver Rose Bakery visit https://www.silverrosebakery.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Priscilla: I had a pretty chillaxed childhood. I had my friends, my toys. I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut until I was 15 and I remember the day we moved. We literally stopped at the DMV so I could get my driver’s license! So, at the age of 15, I drove my family and I out of the place I knew for 15 years to Arizona. As far as doing things, my parents were blessed enough that we could travel — a lot, we went camping, a lot. I grew up picking berries from my backyard and apples and peaches from the trees in our yard. I grew up selling lemonade and cupcakes and my parents yard sales. I had dogs, hamsters, ferrets, my neighbors had horses. I met my best friend in 6th grade whom until this day I am blessed to still call my best friend even though we live thousands of miles apart. When I was 8, I got my hair stuck in a hand mixer! You would think I would be traumatized by that and here I am — owner of a bakery. I drove golf carts up and down our quarter mile long driveway. I experienced the seasons from changing color leaves to snow to humid summers and amazing Springs. I fell off my bike and broke a few teeth, played video games with my older brother, and had countless sleepovers with my friends and my cousins. We didn’t live far from New York City, so I experienced Broadway shows, Times Square, Christmas at Macy’s, FAO Schwartz, hands down the best hot dog carts anywhere! I told Michael, he has not lived until he has had a hot dog from NYC, and I’m determined to take him there. Yeah, my childhood was pretty good!
Michael: I wasn’t the socialite kid. Nah, I was the kid with the lemonade stand making the big bucks, for a kid anyway. I was kid making jewelry on the street corner or building huge racetracks for my Hot Wheels cars or playing video games. I was the kid that went laser tag with his dad, had two rooms to himself, and every opportunity to explore the world around me. Yes, I was the loner who did it all alone and was super happy with what I created. I did have my close friends. The ones who to this day I can still call on though we don’t see each other as often as we used to. I was the kid that got the awards at school but hardly understood why (I didn’t feel I put in enough effort). I That ambition to create stuck with me through my middle school and high school years. I built or expanded clubs in school, got local big-name figures to speak at school assemblies, and even got the honor to take a trip to Europe as a student ambassador. Even through college where I started an honor society in Kinesiology only to pivot my degree to business, losing out on having the label on my degree. Ha, I still made it, it’s mine. Nowadays that honor society is helping future will-be kinesiologists, physical therapists, and medical doctors. I put my hands into the software world but never found my partner in crime, my Steve Wozniak of sorts. Then I met Priscilla and we are building a bakery empire!
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
While I was still working full time, I dabbled in cakes and one day after my shift I was sitting in my car and I got a phone call from a lady who was looking for someone to make her an Italian Cookie Tower for her son’s wedding. We chatted about details and she ended up booking with me! This was our first wedding as “a bakery” — cut to the day of the wedding and we had over 300 Italian cookies that we spent the last 24 hours baking and we had to somehow turn that into a tower. We had used the kitchen at the venue to assemble it and 3 hours later we had a 2-foot-tall Italian cookie tower that Michael had to carry about 30 feet to its final location. It was the most stressful thing I personally have ever done but the reactions and the feedback we received afterwards was an “oh yeah, this is what I want to do.” I couldn’t wait to get our second, third and fourth wedding. Now having done hundreds of weddings, it continues to be the driving factor with why we do what we do.
“Wow, you made a beautiful cake. You should open a bakery!” Me to Priscilla… Obviously, that wasn’t an immediate “ah ha” moment for Priscilla but it sure was to me. I started dreaming of all the potential cakes she could design. Perhaps, I’d even bake them, deliver them, and sell them for her. The thoughts buzzed through from ear to ear for a day and then again when she made another cake. Priscilla got an opportunity to make a small wedding cake for a couple holding a small gathering at their apartment community room. She loved making it and I enjoyed delivering the cake for her. I truly believed this could be something, but that wouldn’t happen until a year or so later when a single phone call from a lady, who we didn’t know, gave our bakery the opportunity to go from a potential to a full-time reality. From my point of view, I remember when I heard about the call, I got crazy pumped. I had no clue how to bake but damnit I was going to be a pro-in-a-month. So I became a pro and we delivered a “Sweet experience”.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Priscilla: Starting a bakery in the middle of summer in Arizona. Pre-COVID, it was common knowledge that the event industry and bakeries had very little business in the summer because it is just too dang hot. People don’t have events, they don’t get married, and not much really happens. Yeah there’s birthday celebrations but not enough to justify this as a full-time gig. Well unbeknownst to us, that is exactly what we did! I quit my full-time job, steady paycheck every 2 weeks to start cake decorating full time. So here we are, in our home kitchen — we have a modest website, we’re getting on every free local directory we can find, and we basically just sat around waiting for orders to come in! Looking back, it was such a rookie entrepreneur move. Not having the knowledge of everything that came with the territory but that’s what being an entrepreneur means — always learning, figuring stuff out as you go, failure is a common and often occurrence but the difference was we didn’t quit.
Yeah, so about the crash course in baking. I’m very much a learn from mistakes kind of guy… I remember, though dreadfully this still happens once in a blue moon, my first days of putting batter into a pan and placing the pan in the oven only to smell smoke and see the kitchen turn smoggy. It wasn’t until I opened the oven door that I realized the mistake of filling the pan too high with batter. There was literally molten cake lava pouring onto the floor of the oven and coming out of door. How the kitchen didn’t catch fire is the mystery we shall forever contemplate. The lesson here is simple. Less batter in the pan, obviously. Today I use an ice cream scoop and have a scoop count that guarantees the cake won’t overflow and we won’t end up with excess waste after the cake is leveled.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
To start, they don’t go all in. The food industry is hard core. It is saturated and you have to be able to tell people why they should pick your product. Pick what you are going to make and make it the best dang “whatever’ and sell it! Second, they try to be too big right at the start. With too many products, it’s hard to stand out. With too little selection — you limit your potential market. Find a product you can streamline. Third, they put tons of money into “branding” — branding is important but that is something that comes naturally with the progression of the business. We didn’t have our brand until we figured out what our focus was, and it is not only until recently that we are now building our brand image (an improved logo, colors, look & feel, etc.). So, do what you love and do it hard and hustle and your brand will create itself. Lastly — they fall into debt right at the start. Starting a business is not a get rich quick scheme and if you start off in debt are you really making any money?? BUILD the business, start small and work your way up instead of taking out massive loans — that comes later when you have a business plan and you have a solid product/direction. In our opinion, loans are meant to grow a business, not start one. If you can build a business with the dollar in your pocket, you’ll always succeed.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
- Create the simplest version of what you are trying to create and go try and sell it. In other words, figure out your market — you may be surprised that all along you were targeting the wrong prospect or missing a potential market.
- Be open to pivoting. Too many entrepreneurs are dead set on a product that no one wants but they still think it’s a good idea, and it fails. Listen and absorb all and every feedback you can.
- Find upsells and cross sells that the market is open to buying. So, for example maybe different colors? Flavors? Scents? Sizes? Textures? You may be able to split off pieces of your product to make a basic option and offer upgrades or add-ons. This could lead you to another product line you never thought would stem from your original prototype/idea/ If it is a service you are offering (not tangible) — can you create levels of service? Maybe build a subscription or membership around it? These are questions that will open your mind to new opportunities.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
No doubt, starting a business is overwhelming! Don’t over analyze or over complicate! A lot of people feel they must have all the answers before they start. That’s not the case — you figure out so much in the process that even if you do feel you have everything in place, once you start you WILL have to change things around and if you start with that you set yourself up for frustration and then you will want to give up. Also, keep your emotions in check — you will be getting a lot of feedback you don’t want but it is necessary to guide you in the right direction. Don’t make decisions when you’re emotional. Then of course, there’s the classic Nike saying…” Just Do it”. Just start!
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
If you’re looking for an invention consultant, you are looking for someone else to create it. There are so many resources out there that can be taken advantage of that will lead to the same if not better results. You must ask yourself — how much do I value this idea? Do I value it enough to put my time and hard work into it or is it something I am hoping will just take off?
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Bootstrap the crap out of your start-up! The more you value something the more committed you are to it. Putting every dollar to work for the business will result in less frivolous spending. You will respect and value the money coming in from the bootstrap method as opposed to venture capital. The appreciation for the result and the success is different. Venture capital is important at the right stage in your business. When you start with venture capital you already are giving away intellectual and actual ownership of your idea from the very start. When you are at a point where the only means of achieving a particular goal that will greatly expand the business and there are no other ways to do that through your own means — then seeking venture capital may be the best option.
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
Regarding patents, not particularly — our business is not there yet, and we don’t know that it will (again you never know and this goes with being open to pivoting). We can, however, speak to ingredients and other materials that require distributors. Shop around. Do the research. Pay attention. Ask questions. Read labels. Do a price comparison. Do a cost analysis. Perform a quality analysis. In terms of finding a good distributor — know their terms inside and out. Ask questions about production, volume, requirements. Know your state and local laws about labeling.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Extreme Ownership Mentality. Be in it 100% or don’t bother “I don’t eat until it’s done”
It was your decision, own it. Build processes that work, ditch what isn’t working.
Story: We were in it to win it. Michael was unemployed and Priscilla quit her full-time job to start the business. Funny thing is, when your livelihood is on the line and your bank account is depleting you figure it out! We didn’t go out to eat, we conserved on gas. EVERYTHING revolved around building the bakery. It was either that or go back to work and neither of us were fond of that idea. We put ourselves in the mentality that the decisions we were making directly affected our progress, our success, and ultimately our happiness. We constantly changed things, methods, time management, etc. We never got too comfortable with the way things were going — to this day it is an everyday conversation of what do we do next. Progress — all the time. We started with farmer’s markets and we came to a realization after packing up one night (which is a lot of work). Michael asked me “What are we doing?” It was obvious we were both unsatisfied with the results we were getting and completely sideways to our original plan which was to do weddings! We found ourselves at the market because we needed income — we needed money coming in. After that night, we started focusing our energy on targeting and marketing to the clientele we WANTED not NEEDED.
2. Self-Esteem & Strong Ego. Having an ego is what makes you successful. Ego and Esteem come from what you value (the product/service/whatever). Put your emotions in check, not your ego.
Story: This continues from the story above — it was finding out what made us happy what brings up happiness. Being able to be absolutely confident in yourself to produce what you want out of the business. Also, not letting societal norms and influence keep us from achieving our happiness which has led to our success.
Priscilla — I was never an artist. I never considered myself a creative person much less artistic in any way. My background being in retail yeah, I could make some eye-catching displays with decorative pillows, but never did I think of myself as talented. So, having someone push your limits and being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a character-building trait. I am in a position now where I challenge myself more than ever and as a cake artist will always do because every order is different. If you had asked me 3 years ago while I was sitting at my computer signing up my bakery in a local directory if I ever though I would be making an anatomically correct heart completely out of cake, I would have told you were nuts! I will never have the skill. Guess what? I have made an anatomically correct heart cake and I took that order like a boss! I do that now — I own my skill. I own and appreciate myself to say — yeah, I can do that! I may not have the blueprint for the cake, but I have exercised my brain to learn how to effectively strategize how to pull off difficult cake designs.
Michael — I’m totally confident in me. Yet, that wasn’t always the case. The self-esteem to embrace who you are, and true self-confidence requires you to establish your hierarchy of values and be never wavering. That’s tough when my former frame of mind was “let others tell me what to do.” It’s reinforcing to myself the things I made are my own. Starting the bakery for me was an absolute. It must happen. It must be created because it will bring me the most happiness (besides Priscilla, she brings me tons of happiness being my wife). I’m a deep thinker and I’m also a big risk taker regarding business. My pivot to embracing my own ego came after reading The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand. When I bought the book, I remember being nervous about how others would perceive me buying a book with such a title. So, I made myself more uncomfortable. Screw it, let’s give it a read. I would go out for lunch to popular restaurants and read the book there. I discovered over time that honestly, I couldn’t careless of who was looking at me. Rather, I am enjoying myself while reading… Anyway, not to preach but being only 5 foot 2 inches with a hearing impairment, I had to stop hiding behind self-imposed limitations, nor could I embrace the societal norm of expecting participation trophies. I can and do embrace life to its fullest and produce that which brings me happiness!
3. Open Mindedness. Closed minds don’t see opportunities. Open minds create opportunities
Priscilla — Collaboration over competition. When entrepreneurs begin their journey, it’s like they are afraid to ask questions about how to launch their business — but I feel like that is the best way to immerse yourself in your industry. There is a saying that goes “If you want to be successful — do what successful people do.” So, by talking to successful people you can possibly avoid the mistakes they made — you’d be surprised how many people are willing to share their stories and their failures with you. Now if you flat out ask for a recipe to steal it — that’s different! That’s not what this is but maybe asking how you found the right ingredients — how long did it take, etc. Ask for feedback. This is super important to stay relevant in your market. Read the reviews — even bad ones, ask how the experience was. Take all that feedback and make changes — if you’re not able to adapt and change you won’t survive.
Michael — The most irritating thing in the world is speaking with someone who is completely closed off or simply listens for keywords in order to begin yapping their ideas. And it’s always ideas and never reality. Either of the two kinds of people I generally steer clear of because I really don’t want to waste my breath speaking to them, nor my ear space to listen to nonsense. Why not? Both types are closed minded. That is, they built a wall around their psychological world. They begin telling you one of two perspectives. The first tends to be a positive outlook. They explain how excited they are about something, like a would-be entrepreneur who just came up with a business idea, this whatever hasn’t been created or is hardly worked on at best. These folks perceive that a little somehow makes a lot and they are so pumped they can’t even open their eyes to any other opportunities (or pitfalls) that may be directly related to what it is they are psychologically invested in. The other is the ‘Negative Nancy’ types, you know the types. The ‘yes, but’ people, held back by some psychological barrier that stems from a lack of self-confidence mostly. Okay, now I do love chatting with solid open-minded people. I don’t necessarily care if we see things the same. Rather, I want discussion, debate, and an equal demand to know more. These folks make for an outrageous experience that benefits both of us. We both gain from one-another’s opinions, experiences, and knowledge. In the end, we both achieve insight and that is awesome!
4. Basic Understanding of Finance. Profit, Profit, Profit. Focus on no debt at all, find ways to make things happen
Priscilla — Basic rule…if you don’t have it in the bank you can’t get it, Period. I used this in life in general and I applied it to our business. We did take out a credit card to start building credit and they were for necessary purchases like mixers. We didn’t splurge on dinners or personal luxuries. Take some time to learn about proft and loss. How to read a P&L report. Understand what you are really making — you may have made 1,000 dollars but did you deduct expenses? Understand how to get to your bottom line. Without understanding this you cannot grow your business. As much as numbers are overwhelming you need to know them.
Michael — A single dollar in your bank account is a positive. It can be built on and it is imperative that you find a way to make that one dollar, two, then four, then 16. When we started, we had whatever was in our individual bank accounts. Which wasn’t much… But it was in the green. There was money and that meant we could grow it. In order to understand business success, we needed to be always aware of our profit/loss statement and balance sheet. Primarily the balance sheet to start. In the early days of our business the balance sheet consisted of how much was spent versus how much we have gained and what is left in the bank. Very simple three numbers rather than broken down micro-sections. This let us see over time how we were doing and even the market trends for each season. As we grew, we saw all three totals grow. We simply wanted to be certain the ‘in the bank’ and the ‘gained’ totals each heavily outweighed the ‘spent’. It took some time, but man did it feel awesome to go way beyond break even. Remember, when it comes to finance, it’s profit, profit, profit.
5. Relentless Organic Marketing. If it gets your name out there, even a little, do it. Zero in on what is working and do more of that
Priscilla — Organic marketing takes work. Organic, in my opinion is not having to pay for it. So, in the early days in order to get our name out there we took advantage of networking opportunities, events, social media. Our social media to this day is entirely organic growth. Yeah, you got to get business cards and marketing material but make sure that paper is going into the hands of your power partners. Attend farmer’s markets and see what people are buying and talk to people. Build your own website — put flyers in grocery stores. Find out what works and do that.
Michael — Yeah, if we could try it for free, we did it with one exception. The one exception is we aren’t the persistent salesman types. We prefer attacking through online social media, networking, offering free samples, and finding ways to always be seen or mentioned. I remember years ago in our early days; our district councilwoman had her office call us. She was in a mindset that we were a huge business that established a new facility in the area. When we sat down with her for lunch, she learned otherwise is was simply shocked at how huge we appeared even though we were still a fledgling business. We were cheap o’s back then. If we could do it for free, it was done. If we could get a great ROI from it for free, we did it even more. This didn’t mean adding dollars. Rather, we put much more time into it. Here’s a freebie, find a social platform that fits you and take full advantage of it without spending a single penny. Not a penny on ads, not on quality stock/professional pictures, not a penny. Okay, some money was spent. Ha ha, I remember when we straight up bootstrapped and the biggest marketing expense we had was the 50 dollars spent on a 1,000 pack of business cards. We put those dang cards in every hand we met, we placed it on every community board we found, we made sure every prospect at a networking meeting or exposition got a business card with a warm smile. We took full advantage of our last name ‘Sweet’ and being in the business of cakes and desserts. You knew of us, even if you never met us, and that is a trend we haven’t stopped even though we have a pretty substantial size marketing budget these days.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
Priscilla — Yes, have a passion for it yourself! If you believe in the product that you are creating you will portray that when you talk to people. If you’re crazy about it, they will be too — it will be that much easier to sell. Get excited when you talk about it. Smile when you talk about it. Also, accept the feedback from people. You may be excited about it but if the market doesn’t want it — change it. Then get excited about it again.
Michael — Make the simplest version of the product and get it in people’s hands. This doesn’t necessarily mean free samples. When we started, we sold a dozen cake pops for 12 dollars plus free delivery. It was a loss then, but they have been a customer of ours for years now. That said, get the feedback. You may have a revolutionary idea, but people need to understand it, experience it, and in the food service world taste it. Once you achieve really positive feedback after zero or a bit of tweaking, then push it with organic marketing like no other. You need more feedback more development of your brand and its awareness. Build a personality to your business that can gain momentum. We built a reputation of being very attentive to the overall experience our customers have. If it can affect the experience of, they have with our product, then we are going to ask about it. That sense of personal one-one commitment to our customers, plus a delicious cake, meant our customers experienced our ‘why’.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Priscilla — We pride ourselves and our company in creating a ‘sweet experience’ not only because we have a last name to live up to (yes, our last name is Sweet), but because when we started this that is simply what we wanted to do — make people happy through cake and sweets. We also love to give back to the community whether that is through mentorship or charity. We do support a local organization here by the name of Child Crisis Arizona. CCA is an organization that removes children from toxic home environments and places them in loving foster homes so they can have a productive childhood. They also facilitate adoptions and teach parents, grandparents and those who are looking to raise kids how to do so. So, education is big! Children, animals and education are topics that are near and dear to our heart and we do not become associated with the organization until we have personally toured and talked to the person in charge of donations and knowing exactly where the money is going. Currently a portion of our website purchases go directly to Child Crisis Arizona (customers also have the option to donate through their purchase or increase the donation).
Michael — Okay, so I am going to be very capitalistic in my answer. By achieving my value of personal happiness through my productive efforts, the ‘world’ (by that I mean those who’ve experienced my product) have benefited in a positive way. They have received “cheerful memories and lasting smiles” which is the consequence of me achieving my values, of Priscilla achieving hers. Now, does the world in general benefit from Silver Rose Bakery. That is something I am determined to create. I want to see my bakery in every state of USA and possibly the world. Still, on a selfish note, I do value charities, particularly charities that help children is crisis. Me and Priscilla both have a personal and business philanthropic agenda to support a single local charity that truly accomplishes its mission to improve the lives of children literally in crisis. Here in Arizona, which is the only state we operate out of at the moment, our attention is on assisting the success of Child Crisis Arizona. We are so fortunate to have built a solid rapport with this wonderful organization. Every order from our bakery includes a small denomination set aside for the organization, even our customers can elect to add a monetary donation.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Priscilla — I truly wish that I could erase labels. Labels that are used to describe people. We are all individuals with the same right to pursue our own happiness and I wish I could teach those who are not confident to go after their dreams. I wish I could inspire the upcoming generation that you aren’t entitled to anything. You can have whatever you want — if you work hard and dedicate yourself to that goal. Hustle everyday in something that you love to do. I want to erase the notion that because you are a certain race, age, height, economic status, etc. — that those things are limiting — they are not! The only thing that limits you — is you.
Michael — To teach that equal is unfair. That as humans each of us is our own minority, our own individual, our lives are our own. Your life is yours. I am on a mission to prove that being self-interested is great, the self-confidence is the paramount to your success, and that self-esteem is your understanding that you are someone. Your life is yours to make your own happiness, you must be extremely productive to further that happiness. If your production positively impacts others, that is merely a consequence. You are your primary value. Your life is yours!
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Priscilla — oh man, so many amazing influencers — but if I had to narrow it down, I would have to say Richard Branson. I was first introduced to Richard Branson through a podcast in our networking group. I know very little about Richard Branson but what I do know is that he is a successful businessperson who is also human. Money changes people — and if you can’t share your secrets to wealth through mentorship and take care of the people who got you there you have nothing. Appreciation is key. Simon Sinek and Gary Vaynerchuk are also 2 people who I would just listen to when we were first starting — both of them gave me the kick in the pants to get going and to evaluate my core values. I have questions for them too lol.
Michael — The one person who I’d love to have met is unfortunately no longer alive, Ayn Rand. She is a true hero in a philosophical sense. She is continually demonized and that is a truly a terrible travesty. Still, I must name someone who in my mind is a hero in a business/entrepreneurial sense. I doubt this person will see this, let alone see the value of putting time aside for me. I know me and him don’t share the same philosophical beliefs, but Jeff Bezos if you read this, let me say Thank You. Thank You for being a hero in the eyes of entrepreneurs, in the eyes of businesspeople, in the eyes of those who stand for capitalism, in the eyes of those, like me, who can idolize you in a sense of a being a hero in business. Yes, I use Amazon.com every day. Damn is it eating my wallet but damnit the value it brings is too great to set aside and my world is happier for it.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Priscilla — Thank you for the invitation!
Michael — Cheers and thanks!