Candace Nelson Shares Sweet Secrets to Success
November 14, 2022
Candace Nelson is a serial entrepreneur, a New York Times bestselling author, Wall Street Journal contributor and an expert in turning one’s passion into a profitable business. Her book, Sweet Success: A Simple Recipe For Turning Your Passion Into Profit will be published by HarperCollins Leadership this month.

Candace Nelson revolutionized the baking industry when she left a career in finance to start Sprinkles, the world's first cupcake bakery and Cupcake ATM. Nelson followed with the launch of Pizzana, a growing chain of Michelin Bib

Gourmand-awarded pizzerias leading the third wave of pizza in the US. She continues to expand her portfolio of investments with CN2 Ventures and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons, and Norwich terrier, Willy.

You just came out with a book. Congrats! What can you tell us about Sweet Success?

There is nothing like the feeling of taking a risk, betting on yourself and bringing a vision to life.

We may see Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerburg and mistakenly believe that entrepreneurship is unattainable, but the reality is that any one of us can be an entrepreneur! I’m living proof of that. It doesn’t have to be about sending people into space – I built an empire out of a simple cupcake. In Sweet Success, I set out to demystify entrepreneurship in order to inspire the next generation of female founders and disruptors.

What began to make you feel comfortable in your own ideas and how would you recommend others find their comfort too?

Dream big but start small. I want women to dream big unwieldy, unreasonable dreams, but test and validate their assumptions before going all in. Entrepreneurship is about taking calculated risks, not throwing all caution to the wind.

What that meant for me was baking out of my West Hollywood kitchen to make sure there was an appetite for my product. In 2004 it was the height of the low carb craze and there was no such thing as a $3.00 cupcake- they were 75 cents at Ralphs. I wanted to make cupcakes artful and aspirational. Even though everyone said it wouldn’t work, I had a gut feeling it would and I set out to test it. Sure enough people were happy to eat carbs, as long as they were splurgeworthy and craveable which is just what my cupcakes were.

For other businesses, starting small and validating could look like running ads to a waitlist, using surveys to test your thesis or launching a hero product before developing an entire line. The key is to find some validation before you go all in.

How did you let go of what “they” were saying and start to understand that you instinctively knew what to do?

The ability to tune out the noise and listen to your gut is a muscle that can be developed over time. Growing up, my family relocated every few years. Walking into new schools and seeking new lunchpals every couple of years was scary and uncomfortable, but ultimately built my self-reliance. When you actively put yourself in situations that are outside your comfort zone, it will help you realize that you can do hard things and build your confidence and self-trust.

Do you think your instinctual understanding of what to make was a born talent or one you grew? And, if so, how might others grow theirs too? Your special mix of industry expertise, personal experience and insight is called your unique insight and it allows you to see things others don’t. In the case of Sprinkles, my unique insight was my mix of passion for dessert, familiarity with the bakery landscape, experience in the business world and openness to opportunity which led me to strike out on the right idea at the right time.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

When you’re building a business and the path looks insurmountable just remember everyone who created something magical got there by first taking the small steps. If you’re on the right path, before you know it those small steps will build momentum and lead to outsized results.

You recently wrote a blog post about surviving and thriving in the recession. What tips can you offer readers for their own businesses?

1) Offer a smaller piece of the brand.

Consumers pull back on spending during downturns, but there are still small luxuries and strong brands that people will make room for in their budget.

The term “lipstick effect” was coined by Leonard Lauder in 2001, when he observed that lipstick sales tend to be inversely correlated to economic health. The idea is that many consumers will find the cash for small indulgences during hard times, even as they forgo buying bigger, more expensive items. And it’s not an urban legend. A well-known beauty founder told me recently that sales of her upscale lip scrubs had soared during the Great Recession.

2) Don’t slash sales and marketing if you don’t absolutely have to.

Although it’s tempting to cut out all marketing-related expenses in a market downturn, this impulse can be shortsighted. Market downturns offer an opportunity to take market share and gain a competitive advantage. Studies have shown that the brands that cut ad spending during a recession tend to lose market awareness and cede brand recognition to those who continued to invest. In a less noisy ad environment, it’s easier to be seen and heard–and it’s less expensive to get in front of those customers

3) Find the fun.

Consumers are looking for frivolity and fun during economic depressions, especially one that comes on the heels of a morale-crushing pandemic. Brands that can offer a form of escapism will come out on top.

You built a business with your husband. And, have made it work. What advice can you offer for others who may be considering the same thing?

Most people I know can’t imagine working with their spouse but Charles and I actually met working together - in investment banking. Investment banking is a high stakes, high stress environment and I knew if we could work that hard for someone else we could certainly do it for ourselves.

Charles gave me the confidence to start Sprinkles because he believed in me and my idea. I hadn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs, and I didn’t know the first thing about starting a business, so having a partner with that faith in me gave me the courage I needed.

If you are considering working with your spouse, here are some tips for making it work:

1) Communication is key. Make sure you schedule meetings at work to connect and debrief so that you don’t have to squeeze it in at home between discussions about homework and doctors appointments.

2) Delineate responsibility at work and home Sometimes the home stuff isn’t clearly defined and it needs to be. If you both have an important meeting and your child is sick, who’s taking him to the doctor? Does one person own that responsibility or is it case by case? Either is fine, if you discuss it in advance and everyone has buy-in. If one person feels like they are always the one sacrificing, there will be resentment.

3) Learn how to argue. The most important skill you can develop is conflict resolution. If you can argue “well”, you’re golden.

Who are women you admire right now?

Martha Stewart. Almost 20 years ago Martha gave me the confidence to embrace the domestic arts as a career without it feeling regressive. Today she inspires me with her endless reinvention. She is as cool and relevant today at 81 as she ever was.

Maria Shriver. Her Sunday Paper is like a weekly bible for me. I love the way she leads with openness, kindness, and compassion.

What’s one thing you cannot live without?

La Colombe oat milk draft lattes. The draft aeration gives the latte a creaminess that resembles a milkshake. It’s rich and delicious and tastes like a treat.

What’s the next big trend you see on the horizon?

Retail is back! Customer acquisition online has become too expensive. DTC companies are embracing retail and I’m here for it. Brick and mortar retail adds to the fabric of our local communities.



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