My name is Sarah Hannington. I work (part-time now) in a full-time marketing role for a large company and started MyCustomCandy as a side project 5 years ago. We custom print candy hearts and mints for large brands, celebrities, and influencers. MyCustomCandy started as a side project and quickly out-produced my full-time c-level position. I now split my time between my original full-time job (which I have now negotiated a reduced schedule for) and MyCustomCandy.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I graduated from college in 2004 with a degree in finance. I didn’t feel quite ready to become a stockbroker and wear a suit every day so I took a job with a local marketing company that my friend worked for. That position turned into several promotions and within 5 years I was running the company’s 10-person marketing team with a marketing budget of $4 million a year. I quickly learned the ins and outs of marketing and built up the confidence to know that I could run my own company at some point.
You don’t need some secret skill, you just do it and figure it out as you go and it seems to fall in place.
I had thrown up a couple of random websites with some different ideas I had come across and made a little bit of money here and there but nothing amazing. The idea for MyCustomCandy came about because we were looking for an idea for Valentine’s Day to send to our clients. One of my staff came up with the idea of custom printing on those iconic little candy hearts. We looked for them online but there was no one offering that product at all. I eventually called several manufacturers and found someone who could do it for me. The candy was a huge hit and I decided to throw up a website and see if others were interested in that same product. I used my knowledge of SEO and ranked on page 1 within a couple of weeks. Orders started trickling in and it looked like I was on to something.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
The orders kept coming in and eventually the manufacturer that we were using couldn’t keep up. We had to start turning down large orders and realized we were at a turning point - we needed to either figure out how to bring the production in the house or close the business. It took about a year of tough research to figure out how to produce the candy, print on it and set up a food licensed facility, but somehow we pulled it off. Once production was in the house we were able to fill every order that came in and could easily just extend our hours as needed when we had a huge last-minute order come in.
We’ve now had production in-house for 3 years and every year we get smarter and more efficient. We attract really big clients and they all need their product FAST. We have the flexibility to extend our hours on the fly as needed in order to deliver whatever is needed to our clients.
We continue to grow every year and have tried to just expand our reach a bit more every year by increasing our marketing.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re doing great! We are just about to close on a new building to expand our production facility. That will give us 300% the production capacity which we will need as we continue to grow. We’ve been profitable since day one with the exception of the year we brought manufacturing in-house (since there were several large investments that year).
Our long term plan is to expand our offerings to other types of candy products and increase our off-season business (right now we do the majority of our business in the 6 weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day which is quite hectic and stressful).
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
There have been COUNTLESS extremely stressful things we have gone through growing the business. From running out of candy in the middle of a huge order and having our shipment stuck in a snowstorm, to having machinery break down when jobs were due the next day, to completely botching Kim Kardashian’s huge order and having to open the facility in the middle of the night to fix the job and get to her the next day. We’ve really taken things one step at a time and just learned as we went.
The main thing I feel like I have learned so far is that there isn’t one secret ingredient to being a business owner or an entrepreneur - well maybe determination and fearlessness but no specific skill. You don’t need some secret skill, you just do it and figure it out as you go and it seems to fall in place. I was nervous for years that maybe there was some skill I might not have in order to run my own business but I quickly realized that I could do it as I just touched through and learned as I went.
I was the kind of person who had business ideas all the time and just typed them into the notes on my iPhone for years. But I realized after implementing a few of those ideas that all it takes is to actually DO those ideas and eventually one will stick. Coming up with ideas and talking about them without doing anything is completely worthless. The only difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is the actual implementation, persistence and hard work. If you have those then if you go hard and long enough something will likely stick.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use shopify which is honestly a godsend. To be able to have an e-commerce site that is as robust as it is and have the fulfillment and everything so simple and already thought out is what makes us able to efficiently and profitably produce at our volume. We would have never been able to afford to build that from scratch and I don’t know if the business would have worked at all without that component.
We also use Upwork for some of our designers and other work that we don’t have a full-time need for. That is extremely efficient and cost-effective for us.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The How I Built This podcast is amazing and is the perfect little dose of inspiration to keep me excited about the future.
Some of my favorite business books are Measure What Matters, The 4-Hour Workweek and Principles by Ray Dalio. I also love The Millionaire Next Door and The Richest Man in Babylon for personal finance books.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Just start and keep trying and learning. I would say marketing is probably the most important skill to have when it comes to being an entrepreneur so I’d learn as much as I could about marketing before I started.
Neil Patel is a good person to learn from. He has a podcast and a blog and he definitely knows his stuff.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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