Having worked with entrepreneurs in the past, I’ve found many startup founders were driven by either a desire to “get rich quick”, or a desire to be “their own boss”. In certain rare cases, however, you run into a founder that built a business around a long-held passion. Rosie O’Neill is just that kind of entrepreneur: one that built a business around the childlike love of candy and her mission to recapture that excitement and extend it well into adulthood.
I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. O’Neill speak in the fall at the ACG Los Angeles Business Conference this fall, where she headlined the Women’s Forum. West Monroe sponsored the forum as a demonstration of our commitment to advancing women leaders in business.
As the founder of Sugarfina, Ms. O’Neill traveled the world seeking and collecting sweets that reminded her of the joy she felt as a child when presented with a sweet treat. It was a passion that was shared by her partner and co-founder Josh Resnick. The two built the business on a whim as more and more friends asked how they could gain access to candies they sourced from far-off countries.
With the recent closing of their Series A round of funding at a valuation of $35MM, the business is primed for growth. Growth in the US has been fueled by a wave of social media. Sugarfina’s strategy has been to cater to Instagram followers and can most readily be seen in the staging and presentation at each of their stores. By creating opportunities to touch and interact with the product, along with perfect lighting and coordinating wall colors, getting that perfect photo is made all the easier in an effort to promote sharing.
Even the setting for the conference, at the Beverly Hilton hotel, was a beautifully adorned space made even more festive with candy “Bento Boxes” at each place setting. It’s a strategy that has fueled Sugarfina’s efficient growth without spending a dime on advertising. In their next stage of growth, they plan to expand into the global markets of Asia and the Middle East, where there exists a strong culture of giving and sweets.
It was a great discussion that covered the history of Sugarfina balanced with O’Neill’s openness sharing her challenges hiring the right staff, struggle to delegate, and self-awareness to recognize her own strengths and weaknesses. It was a conversation I felt very fortunate to hear. Going in, I admittedly was expecting the Women’s Forum event would be focused on gender issues like gender inequality or how Ms. O’Neill overcame barriers as a woman in business. What I found, on the other hand, was an opportunity to learn from an entrepreneur that built a business around a passion and a culture that focused on experiences. For me the session was a lesson on two front: first, how truly fascinating it is to see the culture of food and experiences overlapping to create new markets for growth and differentiation; and second, how my own biases had nearly blinded me from partaking in an opportunity to be inspired.
Pictured above: members of the West Monroe Los Angeles team with Sugarfina founder Rosie O’Neill.