The Sugarfina Story: How Rosie O’Neill Built a Candy Store for Grown Ups


The Bench Team


July 18, 2019

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Bench makes life easier for entrepreneurs by doing their books for them. In this series, influential people talk about what it’s really like building a business.

The following is Rosie O’Neill’s story as told to Jared Lindzon, for Bench.

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When you leave a stable job to start a business, you believe you’ll recoup your financial investment one day. But there’s one thing you’ll never have enough of again: time.

A lot of entrepreneurs start their own business because they dislike their bosses or their previous roles, but that was never the case for me. Before I met my now-husband and co-founder Josh Resnick I was the director of marketing for Barbie at Mattel, where I had worked for the previous seven years. I was really happy with how my life was going at that point, but I had always wanted to create something of my own.

On our third date Josh and I went to see a screening of the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and got caught up in a conversation over why there was no such thing as a candy store for adults. That conversation reignited my entrepreneurial itch, and not long after we both quit our jobs to start Sugarfina.

I had to give up a lot in my personal life to transition into entrepreneurship: Josh and I both put $30,000 of our savings into the business, I downsized to a studio apartment, cut my living expenses significantly, and had to get comfortable with not having any disposable income. I gave up my weekly mani-pedi appointments and shopping became a thing of the past.

Much to my surprise, it didn’t really feel like a sacrifice though—it was surprisingly liberating. Maybe it was because I was in love, but I really didn’t feel like I needed those things in my life anymore. We didn’t pay ourselves for the first four years we were in business, but the real sacrifice for me was time.

Going from a nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday lifestyle to working 100-hours a week and putting out fires at all hours of the day and night was a major shock to my system. It’s kind of like having a baby; people can tell you how much of a responsibility it is, but you don’t really know until you do it.

I had always been a workaholic, but going into entrepreneurship was like pouring gas on the fire. I became totally work-oriented, and the things I used to get a lot of joy from went by the wayside; things like spending time with friends and family, or self-care habits like exercising regularly.

I really felt like I needed to invest every spare moment into the business because I had gone from having a team of 10 tremendously creative and talented people working for me to being in a position where Josh and I were doing everything, and I mean everything, ourselves.

We were packing candy into cubes to put into boxes to fulfill ecommerce orders ourselves, I was handwriting notes to put into every shipment, and the customer service line went directly to my cell phone. Around that time I also taught myself Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop and designed our website and packaging, all while trying to figure out how we were going to finance and scale the business. My mind was constantly ping ponging from big strategic things to really tiny details that I couldn’t let fall through the cracks, which required a completely different kind of mental focus.

As difficult as it was, I really loved the experience of learning new things and getting my hands dirty. I also look back on that experience as being one of the most valuable to me as an employer, because I now have at least some first-hand knowledge of nearly every role we hire for.

We began working on the business in May of 2012, launched our ecommerce store in July and continued to do everything ourselves until October of that year, aside from some occasional help from friends and family. Even as we began hiring the first members of our team, however, the effort I was putting in didn’t get any lesser, just more high-level.

Today, I probably still work just as many hours and under just as much stress as before, but it’s a different kind of stress. Now it’s the kind of stress where I can’t solve every physical problem: I have to really have a great team and make sure I’m hiring the right people, training people, discovering people who might not be great and moving them out to upgrade the team as needed. That’s what we really focus on now, and in a lot of ways those types of problems are harder, because you can’t solve it yourself. You need to be a good leader and a great attractor of talent. I’m confident in the people we’ve hired and the culture we’ve built, which allows me to take a step back, although many things still require my involvement as we scale the business.

I don’t regret any of the sacrifices I’ve had to make, but the experience has taught me to put a greater value on how I spend my time. A lot of the financial lifestyle adjustments I made seven years ago haven’t reverted back, despite the success we’ve had. I still enjoy living a leaner lifestyle, I’m completely over my shopping habit and I have a new appreciation for the time I get to spend with friends and family; I’m even making time to go back to the gym on a semi-regular basis.

I’m still a total workaholic, but at least I can go to sleep each night knowing that if something goes wrong I can trust the people I’ve hired to put out some of those fires for me.

Illustration by Danielle Vallée.

More stories in this series:

This post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, business, or tax advice. Each person should consult his or her own attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor with respect to matters referenced in this post. Bench assumes no liability for actions taken in reliance upon the information contained herein.
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