Saying no can be a good thing and is sometimes necessary. You don’t have to say yes to every seemingly good thing that comes your way. I found myself naturally getting excited from people reaching out to collaborate and showing interest in my work. It was and continues to be so flattering and I never wanted to let anyone down by saying no. I quickly learned that I’d rather do fewer things really well than do everything and not give each my 100%.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robyn Blair Davidson. Robyn is the founder and artist behind by robynblair, which was born when she decided to turn her candy obsession into literal works of fine art. A customizable vessel designed to display your sweetest desires, each piece of art is a cheeky nod to self-control, how and when we indulge, and the idea that life should be filled with sweet things.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I LOVE candy — always have, always will! Growing up, candy was always a treat and I still love it just as much as an adult. I have the fondest memories of going to candy stores with my grandparents, parents and my sisters. Candy has always brought me happiness and made me smile.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I actually had no intention of making candy into a full-time business! I was sitting in my living room in 2018 staring at a bowl of candy on my table. I was starting to care about my environment and making my space a reflection of who I am, and it hit me that I wanted to put candy on the wall. It’s bright and happy, so why not?
For my first piece, ‘In Case of Emergency, Break Glass,’ I filled a custom-designed acrylic shell with Dubble Bubble gum and printed the title of the work in hot pink block lettering. I designed the exterior case thick enough to give it depth, but thin enough to hang on a wall as fine art.
When friends and family saw the art, they asked if I could make a piece for them too. I posted a collection on Instagram (@byrobynblair) and everything took off from there.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
As soon as I started getting custom orders, my background in marketing and branding kicked in and I was able to take everything I learned from my decade of experience and move forward fast. My previous experience has allowed me to make the right decisions and most importantly, make them quickly.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
If you love something, stay focused and be the expert. I really believe that if you build it, they will come. Like-minded people will show up and support you. Don’t stay away from what you love!
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I innately feel so good when I see (and eat) candy, the bright colors and pretty packaging — it all makes me so happy and hopefully that never changes. It stays fresh and enjoyable because no piece I make is the same as the last. I continue to push myself daily to find new inspiration for my work, which is reflective in everything I do.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
The biggest downside is that as much as I want to work around the clock because I eat, breathe and sleep my business, I have to draw the line somewhere and finding that line is difficult. I enjoy that I get to make all the final decisions myself and it’s amazing to see when the choices I’ve made come to life.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Honestly, I never thought this would be a business, so I didn’t think about it beforehand! I jumped right in and having no preconceived notions has truly allowed each day to be better than the last. Sure, there are always challenges, but I get to do what I love and there’s nothing better than that.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Nope! Not yet. I’ve had many stressful moments and sleepless nights, and sometimes I’ve gotten to a point of “how am I going to get through this,” but never once have I thought about NOT doing it. I have a really great support system and when I get frustrated or stuck, I have amazing people who will listen and support me no matter what.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’m not sure about the most interesting story, but the most interesting thing I’ve learned is that although it’s a business, the art world is a community filled with the most supportive people of one another. I’ve been in awe of the artists I’ve met that have been so helpful in my journey and I intend to return the favor as I grow.
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?
I haven’t always been right with an idea of how a certain candy I’ve wanted to work with would look and at the beginning I would buy way too much of a candy before trying it out. When it wouldn’t work out, I’d be stuck with bulk quantities and have nowhere to keep it all. At a certain point every bowl I owned was filled with candy leaving me with way more candy than I needed for my art and way more candy than I should have lying around to eat! Sometimes mistakes lead to the best ideas though because it was while sitting at my apartment staring at filled candy bowls that I came up with the idea to make my printed candy dishes.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My family! I come from a long line or entrepreneurs, starting with my grandfather, and both my parents. They always told me that I can not only do anything, I could build anything. With hard work comes great reward and my family laid out this path for me through leading by example my entire life. To this day, they continue to be my mentors, my gut-check and my sounding board.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Through my collaboration with Dormify, I was able to work with them on an incredible program they created for Hope For Henry, an organization that is reinventing how hospitals care for seriously ill children and their families through innovative programs that entertain, reduce stress and empower children to be active participants in their own care. Upon hearing their mission, they wanted to get involved and launched A Room of Your Own, a program that helps ease the transition from home to hospital for these children who are extended stay patients. I donated my prints to Dormify’s room decorating bags that will be distributed to 150 patients across 3 hospitals.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Think about something you want for yourself and make or create it. I did this by mistake but realized how successful it can be to stay true to something you personally want and love. If you want and love something, chances are good that others want it too.
- There isn’t one way to start a business or grow an idea. People who were once masters can give great advice from their experience, but their way isn’t the only way. Take all the advice you can get, but take it with a grain of salt and stay true to yourself.
- Saying no can be a good thing and is sometimes necessary. You don’t have to say yes to every seemingly good thing that comes your way. I found myself naturally getting excited from people reaching out to collaborate and showing interest in my work. It was and continues to be so flattering and I never wanted to let anyone down by saying no. I quickly learned that I’d rather do fewer things really well than do everything and not give each my 100%.
- Engage outside help where necessary and recognize that you can’t do everything yourself. There’s so much pressure when starting your own business, a lot of which is self-induced, in needing to be the best at everything or being able to do it all yourself. Once I was able to accept this, I was able to really focus on the things I do best and take by robynblair to the next level.
- Embrace mistakes. If I didn’t do this, I’m not sure I would have allowed myself to see printed candy dishes instead of just seeing way too much candy when looking around my apartment and seeing the filled bowls.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible 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.
Although I didn’t create this idea, I do believe small acts of kindness can change a person’s life. I have been on the receiving end of this and try to live every day with that in mind. I don’t know if this would qualify as a movement, but I do know it’s something everyone can participate in and I believe if everyone does a little, it would make a big difference.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is 5% what happens to you and 95% how you react to it.” I’ve been living my life by this quote since I read it in 7th grade and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. I continue to remind myself that the way I handle any situation is the greater cause of what comes next and how it makes me feel.
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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Spanx Founder Sara Blakey. I have always been so impressed with her story and the way she turned any challenge and every setback into motivation to move her dreams forward. She continues to remain the sole owner of her company and has built an incredible business without giving any of it away. As a female entrepreneur, wife, and mother of four, she also inspires me to want to do it all.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.