How Sweety Landed the #1 US Retailer as their First Customer

Summary of Episode

#77. Tiffany Yang, the co-founder of Sweety, shares her journey from taking her family’s small shaved ice cream shop and creating a nationally distributed brand in stores like Walmart and Costco. She shares the wild tale of landing Walmart as Sweety’s first retail customer and the challenges the startup faced along the way. Tiffany also highlights the importance of storytelling, persistence, and staying true to your brand values in the startup world. 

About the guest:

Tiffany Yang is the co-founder of Sweety, a mochi ice cream startup, alongside several family members. Formerly, Tiffany worked in marketing and strategy at Vans, Mattel, Taco Bell, and Neutrogena.

Podcast Episode Notes

[00:01:04] Can you give us a little bit of background on yourself and kind of your journey to entrepreneurship?

[00:02:32] What is the origin story of Sweety as a company and a brand?

[00:08:54] How does it feel working for yourself rather than working for someone else? 

[00:10:17] How big is the Sweety team? 

[00:10:47] Can you just give us the story of Walmart?

[00:20:35] Why shouldn’t Walmart be your first customer as a CPG brand?

[00:24:16] Could that negotiation go another way? 

[00:26:40] Has your let’s just try it mindset ever come back to bite you? 

[00:31:26] What were those conversations like? 

[00:32:57] What steps should others take to scale a CPG brand? 

[00:35:40] What's brand blocking?

[00:37:50] How do you communicate with your customers and community?

[00:39:18] What's the one thing that a new CPG brand should focus on first?

[00:42:22] What does imposter syndrome look like for you and what are you doing to kind of push through it?

[00:46:25] What is your #1 piece of advice for early stage entrepreneurs?

[00:48:30] Where can people connect with you online and how can our listeners support Sweety?

Full Interview Transcript

Ethan Peyton: Hey everybody and welcome to the Startup Savant podcast. I'm your host, Ethan. And this is a show about the stories, challenges, and triumphs of fast scaling startups and the founders who run them. Our guest on the show today is Tiffany Yang. Tiffany is the CMO and co-founder of Sweety. 

Sweety is a mochi ice cream brand that was originally started in 1978 by Tiffany's aunt and uncle. In 2019, Tiffany and her two cousins stepped in to revive and grow the brand. Since then, they've gotten their product into more than 2,000 retail stores nationwide. and I'll vouch for them. I sampled some Sweety mochi last week and it is hands down the best mochi that I have ever had. 

So we'll talk more about that. But before we jump in, a quick reminder to subscribe to Startup Savant on whatever platform you're listening on. It's a big help to us, so we appreciate your support. All right, let's get this show on the road. Tiffany, how's it going today?

Tiffany Yang: Wonderful, so excited to be on your show.

Ethan Peyton: I am stoked to have you here. Let's just jump in real quick and can you give us a little bit of background on yourself and kind of your journey to entrepreneurship?

Tiffany Yang: Absolutely. I feel like I didn't ever think I was going to be an entrepreneur. My career started, gosh, I worked in investment banking in probably my first job, somehow then found my way into business school, transitioned into marketing, ended up working in a strategy slash strategic insights role at various companies in Southern California including Vans, Mattel, Taco Bell, Neutrogena. And then somehow found myself being the founder of a mochi company. Pretty unexpected, but, you know, selling ice cream is not the worst thing in the world, makes everybody happy.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, absolutely. I like it when whatever the product or the service or whatever is something that people can get excited about. It's like back when I was selling insurance, it was like, hey, can I quote you and maybe save you 15 bucks a year? And people are like, does that gonna take me more than three seconds? Cause if so, then no. But yeah, ice cream, let's do it. All right, so speaking of ice cream and of the brand Sweety, as I mentioned in the intro, This is not something that was started just yesterday. This brand itself has been around for a long time. Can you let us in on kind of the origin story of Sweety as a company and a brand?

Tiffany Yang: Sure. So, Sweety started as a little shaved ice cream shop in Monterey Park, California, which is, you know, back in the, gosh, like late 70s, early 80s. It was a primarily Latino and Asian suburb. And it's still really the San Gabriel Valley where you can get some of the best Asian food around. And that's how it started. And back then, importing and access to Asian flavored ice cream really is not what it is today. And my aunt and uncle really wanted to find the flavors that they grew up with, the red bean ice cream, the matcha ice creams that they remember from Taiwan. And it was hard to find. And so they said, well, let's just figure out if we can somehow make it.

And so my uncle was a dentist at the time, and he decided to take an ice cream course at UC Davis for a couple of weekends, came back, bought some equipment on auction, and rented a factory space about a mile away from the shaved ice shop. And there they went to kind of just put this thing together, and somehow they managed to figure it out. They started making popsicles. They were making ice cream. 

I still remember as kids, our grandmothers would make the red bean in the house on these pressure cookers that had the super rattly tops and all six burners were going and it sounded like things were going to explode at any second and the smell just like permeated the house and it just like, like when I think about it and talk about it, I can still smell that. And so I don't think we knew any other way to grow up. 

So on the weekends, all of us kids would kind of pile in the minivan and we'd go to the factory and we'd get assigned jobs, even though we were probably way too young to be working in a factory setting. My job was to man the Popsicle stick machine. I think I was 10 at the time. And my job was to make sure that machine stayed filled. And once that was done, I would babysit my cousins, who ironically I work with now. We would move on to stamping boxes. There weren't printers at the time. And so we had these little rubber stamps that we'd stamp like, this is the flavor of this box. Or we'd seal popsicle stick packages. Again, nothing was really automated. 

And so we handed all of this. Got plenty of burns on my hands. But again, I think that's all we knew and it was super fun. And we just got to do this as a family. And as we grew up, nobody expected that we would ever go back into the business. We were expected to go and get your nine to five real jobs. And that was kind of the older gen in our family. They said, oh no, you don't wanna work in this. Like this is, we did this so that you guys can have real jobs.

Ethan Peyton: Right.

Tiffany Yang: And... So then fast forward to 2018, 2019, they were ready to retire. By then the company had expanded to just selling to little bodegas, little Asian mom and pop stores that you would find in any town. That was kind of the farthest that it really went. And it kind of had a stronghold in Asian markets. They were really losing money at the time though, because the number of import products coming in at a really low price was saturating the market and they found…

Ethan Peyton: Right.

Tiffany Yang: …it just unable to compete.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: And so they're at a point where they were going to shut down. The plant, the brand, they figured, nobody's gonna wanna buy this. We don't wanna go through the effort of doing that. And my cousins and I kind of sat down, I feel like it was probably a New Year's Eve, like our Chinese New Year dinner or something like that, where we get together. And we said, wow, this is such a shame. Like we have such fond memories of this, growing up as kids working in the business. It was such an important part of our lives and kind of look at each other like, well, should we try to do this? And keep in mind, like we all had real jobs and it was such like a silly idea. And I'll tell you, our family was, they were against it. They're like, there's no way. You don't want to do this. You should stay in your comfy jobs. Like, why do this? And we said, well, how about just like, let's try it for a year. And if it doesn't work, we promise we'll go back to our jobs.

Ethan Peyton: Right.

Tiffany Yang: And somehow we made it happen.

Ethan Peyton: Nice, nice. Yeah, and that kind of reminds me of, there's a saying out there that is, hard times make strong people. Strong people make easy times, easy times make soft people, soft people make hard times. And this kind of ideal that, you know, one generation came in and laid the groundwork so that the next generation could have it easy, is really, you know, That's kind of how you see these legacy businesses kind of go by the wayside or these fortunes that are amassed by one generation kind of, I don't necessarily, it's different in every situation, but maybe squandered or mismanaged by the generation that comes next. 

And it sounds like you guys really wanted to step in and just try something and not just go with the kind of the flow, the status quo, the, okay, I'm supposed to just get this nine to five and that's what I'm gonna do. It sounds like you saw an opportunity and you jumped at it. And that's entrepreneurship, that's what I love to hear, I love to see that. It's super exciting. So here's a super basic question. Do you feel like you are, I mean how do you feel now that you are the quote unquote job that you do is yours instead of working for someone else?

Tiffany Yang: I don't think I could ever go back to working for anybody else again. I mean, it's kind of an incredible feeling knowing that everything that you do directly impacts like how somebody experiences your product, whether or not they learn about it. I think that working in a corporate job for so long, you kind of just feel like a cog in the wheel. You don't really know what if, you know, if what you're doing really impacts anything. And it couldn't be more different as an entrepreneur. And I mean, that's like I do everything just, I think that's probably typical of many entrepreneurs, like everything from, you know, pushing in like a big cart of product into a trade show to like taking out the trash and every... every little thing that needs to be done, like one of us, we just, we do it. There's not, there's not the thing where you say like, Oh, well, that's like, you know, that's below my pay grade. Like, no, you just, you team up and you just get the work done.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, how big is the team over there?

Tiffany Yang: It's pretty small, more like five full-time people.

Ethan Peyton: Wow, that's awesome. So yeah, if you're not taking the trash out, nobody is.

Tiffany Yang: Nope, that's right, that's right.

Ethan Peyton: All right, so I wanna jump into another story and I heard bits of this story when we had our pre-show chat and this is the story of Walmart and kind of being, well, I'm not gonna spoil it. Can you just give us the story of Walmart?

Tiffany Yang: I'm happy to. I think this is the story of how we landed at the number one retailer as our first client. And I think anybody in the food and bed space would say like, no, you don't want to do that. You don't want to take on Walmart as your first customer. You know, it really started at the launch of Sweety back in 2019. The three of us, we didn't know anything about the food and beverage space. We didn't know how to sell into stores and we were applying at every opportunity, every contest, calling people we knew, just trying to figure out like, how do we get a foot in? And I think especially in the frozen space, it's incredibly challenging for a small brand to break in super high slotting fees, you really, it's kind of a David and Goliath issue, right? Like you have the big, big brands that really take up all the shelf space. 

And at the time, we saw that there was a contest that Walmart was holding called Open Call, where they're looking for US made products and from kind of, you know, mom and pop businesses. And we said, well, they're never going to reply to us. Like, let's just try. We don't have any customers, but like, let's just try. Let's see if they respond. So we filled out the application online, sent it in, and my cousin, Stacey, like after a couple of weeks, she said, I think this is legit, but it also could be a scam. Like, I think I got a reply from Walmart. And they said they want us to go in and pitch at the Burbank store. Like, okay. 

So my cousin, Stacey, lived in Portland at the time. So her brother and I are in LA and we said, okay, so like, let's do all the things that we need to prepare. And I want to say they gave us maybe a week to get like a week's notice. So we said, okay, well, we're available, like, let's do it. And on that day, we got dressed in our spiffy little suits, and got a cooler and, you know, printed out our pitch deck. at the neighborhood FedEx. So nervous, like palms sweating, drove our way up to Burbank. And then we found ourselves in the middle of a, like basically a store. 

And we looked at each other like, okay, well there must be an office somewhere, like maybe a break room, like where we're gonna present. I brought my projector. I mean, I felt like I was like, I'm ready, I'm ready to go. And... And we kind of looked around and we're like, we really know what's happening. So we kind of walked around the store and it looked like they had a little area in the produce section that was being fenced off for something. We're like, well, that's not us. We're just going to go see if we can talk to an associate. And they had us wait by like a customer service desk and we're just sitting there. And eventually somebody pulls us over to the produce section. And it was just us standing there. And Sean and I look at each other like, what is happening? Like, this is so weird.

Ethan Peyton: Hahaha.

Tiffany Yang: Five seconds later, a full camera team with a store manager comes around and shouts, you've done it. You got the deal. Like you guys are going to Bentonville. No, we're being…

Ethan Peyton: Goin’ to Bentonville.

Tiffany Yang: …pranked.

Ethan Peyton: Hahaha.

Tiffany Yang: Going to Bentonville. We're getting pranked. This is not like, like what? And they gave us a little ticket in blue. That was like, you've done it. You're going to be one of the folks like, pitching to the exec team in Walmart. And like, I mean, talk about our minds being blown. Like this doesn't happen, right? Like we're a brand new business. 

And so yeah, so a month later, we flew into Bentonville. And in the meantime, they had asked us like, hey, can you put together just a little, just a short little like 30 second sizzle on your brand so we can learn more about you? Like, okay, yeah, I wrote a script. You know, I had it on my laptop. I had set up a super janky video production area. I bought a backdrop from Amazon. Sean sat on a radiator because that was the only height that would work. And that was the only way we could make it work. I learned iMovie over the course of a weekend. We threw in some stills in conjunction with his video where... When I rewatched the video, you can hear cars zooming by because we just…

Ethan Peyton: Oh yeah.

Tiffany Yang: …didn't know like audio equipment or like…

Ethan Peyton: Hahaha

Tiffany Yang: …that you needed a microphone. We're like, this is cool. We'll just film it like with our iPhone, this works. And we sent it in. And when we arrived in Bentonville in the convention center, people were saying hi to Sean. Like, hey, that's the mochi guy. That's the mochi guy. Like, how do they even know who we are? Like we're one of probably hundreds of people here. And we get to the office and it turns out that they had selected a handful of brands and they were playing the video on loop. We find out later that they had all of their employees vote on their favorite brand slash brand video and we were one of the top five.

Ethan Peyton: Nice.

Tiffany Yang: And that's how everybody knew like, what you know who Sweety was like we were getting high fives from employees. I mean it felt amazing. And on the day of the open call meeting, we were sat in a big auditorium. You know, they led us to the front. We had like Sweety, like on our seat. I was like, Ooh, this is like the Emmys or the Oscars. 

Ethan Peyton: Hahaha

Tiffany Yang: We have our, we have our company and I want to see this is pretty rad. And all of the C level folks. like from Walmart, they get up and speak and like we have our, you know, I see our packaging like on a podium, which again, like so unreal. And it gets to a point where like they call Sweety and another company up and their chief merchandising officer said, you got it. You've done it. Like you're getting an on the spot deal now, you know, you can meet with your buyer later, but like you've done it. You're in Walmart. And I feel like we're all on the verge of crying.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: It just, like, we just didn't think that this could ever happen for us. And the idea of making something and continuing the legacy that our family has built, we just thought for sure, because we were so inexperienced in this, that it was gonna fail. But like, just that moment kind of cemented like. Okay, like this is something, like we can make something out of this. And little did we know that was kind of the start of a very, very up and down journey.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: Because like ultimately they set our on shelf date as March, 2020.

Ethan Peyton: Uh-huh.

Tiffany Yang: And like the meeting was…

Ethan Peyton: That's a date some people remember.

Tiffany Yang: …that's a, that's a date that is cemented

Ethan Peyton: Hahaha.

Tiffany Yang: …in history. Right? I think everybody looks like, where were you when this happened? Um, now we all know, like the world was basically shutting down in March, 2020. And basically the day the week that our mochi ice cream hit shelves. That Friday, we heard like, Oh, all the schools are closing. Get some supplies. And we thought like, okay, maybe two weeks. Like we're going to be back. Like no problem, right? Yeah, no, like times has dragged on and on…

Ethan Peyton: Oh yeah.

Tiffany Yang: …we're like, oh, this is real. Like I think we're gonna go bankrupt because nobody is gonna want mochi ice cream. That's such a luxury item, right? We're too busy buying the last can of spaghetti sauce or toilet paper. 

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: Like who would have thought? It turns out that Ice cream is very much of a comfort item. And…

Ethan Peyton: Sure is.

Tiffany Yang: …when there's nothing else on shelf, maybe you're willing to take the chance of buying this little brand, Sweety, that you may not have heard of, but you're willing to give them a try. And that is indeed what happened. We found a very loyal set of customers who found us and came back and... gave us a try over and over again, and then we found new customers from there. And what, two, three years later, we are still on shelf at Walmart and growing. And we've expanded from our existing kind of thousand store count.

Ethan Peyton: Nice, and so you've just grown from there. I know you all have gotten into other stores, whether they be more mom and pops or some pretty big name grocers out in the West, and I'm sure there's others as well. But I have a question for you. You specifically mentioned that Walmart or lots of CPG brands say that Walmart shouldn't be your first customer. Can you kind of fill us in on why that may be the case?

Tiffany Yang: Yeah, I don't think we learned that the hard way later. It turns out that the Walmart system is incredibly complex.

Ethan Peyton: Okay.

Tiffany Yang: And there's nobody really to kind of handhold you through that. Now I will say that our like, bless our first buyer. I love him to bits. He really kind of shepherded us through the Walmart system. And just trying to figure out the logistics of getting frozen… I mean, number one is like in-house, like getting production up to the point where you're servicing so many distribution centers for so many stores. Like the rate at which they order, it was just beyond anything that we had experienced. And there's not a lot of lead time.

Ethan Peyton: Right.

Tiffany Yang: So they essentially tell you like, okay, well, we want this in two weeks. And so it's, I think for a small company, your capital investment in raw materials, in packaging, right, and then for us, it's also storage costs.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: So you need, most likely you won't have a freezer that's large enough to store everything that you're, you know, scrolling away for Walmart. And then, so then you need to go find outside freezer space, which is extremely expensive.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: So, I mean, that's just kind of the nature of our story, but I think this happens quite a bit. And so people say like, hey, trying to scale for Walmart is a bit of an impossible task when you don't have that experience. So start local, start small, learn your way through the system and start regional, because…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: …then you won't need to worry so much about trying to get like a fleet of trucks over to wherever it is that you're distributing from. And when I think when we got into Walmart, we weren't even with the big distributors like UNIFI and the Caches of the world. And so we had to figure out like, okay, we need to get a third party consolidator because we don't have our own trucks. Somebody is gonna need to get this very perishable and temperature controlled item…

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: …to the Walmart central DC. And then it kind of gets disseminated from there. And so when you don't have a full-time logistics person, you kind of need a team of people to make this happen. And I think maybe it was just out of ignorance that we're like…

Ethan Peyton: Hehehe

Tiffany Yang: …yeah, we could do it. We'll just figure it out. I mean, I will say, we did talk our buyer down from his initial ask because we said, okay, we think that store account is too big. We don't think we can keep, we can make it and we don't want to disappoint you later on.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: And I think for me, that is probably like a good cautionary tale for other brands. Like don't over promise and under deliver because these large retailers, they work so efficiently that if you mess up, there's somebody else waiting in line to replace you.

Ethan Peyton: Well so that actually brings up a really good question. If you, so do you feel like that negotiation could have gone the other way? I mean, if you weren't the winner of this contest, do you feel like you might've come to this buyer and said, hey, we can't do that, we can't fulfill that many stores. Can you please, you know, like turn the initial volume down a little bit? Do you…

Tiffany Yang: Yeah.

Ethan Peyton: …think that there's a world where he's like, oh, well, no, we need this much or nothing?

Tiffany Yang: You know, I don't know because he was like, I'm so glad that you're honest with me.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: Because he said, I've worked with many other accounts that have just nodded yes to whatever the ask is. And then come six months later, they can't fulfill it. And he's like, I'd rather know now what numbers you're able to provide. So then I can plan my assortment. Right. And set the planogram appropriately. It just… I think it just allows them to be able to allocate space appropriately and plan and all the other like million products that need to fill that shelf. Like these guys are so busy. They get hundreds and hundreds of emails a day. And so the fact that we even got like 30 minutes of this time is so precious. And like that was a big lesson for me to be like, hey, if you run into any issues, like just be just be honest.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: Don't try to hide it. Don't try to backpedal. Don't try to promise like, yep, yep. Just smile and say yes. Like it's being honest with them at the get-go and you can try to plan around like any sort of like shortages or anything like production is used or anything like that.

Ethan Peyton: I love that. I love it when like the real, the honest, the hey, we're just out here trying things. I love it when that wins. And it doesn't require the, you know, okay, they do need this number, so we're gonna go raise 10 bazillion dollars. So we have just to, you know, essentially kind of still prove out the model. I'm really glad it worked out for you. And I'm super, super happy, you know, just personally to hear that honesty won the day, that's awesome, that's awesome.

Tiffany Yang: Thank you.

Ethan Peyton: All right, so I've heard something that you've mentioned in a different format like three times now, and that's kind of this, let's just try it. Once when it was, hey, let's just try this business for a year, once when it was, hey, this Walmart thing, maybe it may not work out, we may never hear back from them, but let's just try it. Hey, we just got. accepted by Walmart and maybe we can't fulfill all this stuff but let's just try it. Is there, it's clearly working out, but has there ever been a situation where that kind of mindset came back to bite you?

Tiffany Yang: I mean, uh, a little bit. And like, as much as I, I mean, talking about logistics is kind of boring, but honestly for the past two years, like if the layman knows the term logistics, like you got to, you've got to figure that is, that is going to be a large part of any startups journey, right?

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: For us, it was launching a new product. And so we had our line. And you probably know from the ice cream frozen novelty space, like innovation is kind of everything. And we wanted to introduce a new flavor. And at the time, we said, well, we are such a modern Asian-American brand. What are some flavors from childhood that we absolutely love? Like, can we visit the old archives? Like, let's go back and ask our parents, like, what did you guys used to make? Like, you know, we kind of have some faint memories. And they made an ube flavored mochi ice cream, like before it was cool.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: And like, okay, yeah, let's try that. That sounds good. Not knowing how difficult it is to source ube.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: And. We're a brand and the three of us feel very strongly about ingredient sourcing. Like we don't like putting flavors, additives in our product. If we're going to have an Ube mochi ice cream, it's going to have Ube in it.

Ethan Peyton: Right.

Tiffany Yang: Not a substitute, not a sweet potato.

Ethan Peyton: Hehehe.

Tiffany Yang: Which apparently like that is like an easy substitute or just straight up flavoring, but that's just not what we do. And so. We kind of said like, yeah, like let's try to make this. Wow, it was incredibly difficult to source. And when we finally found a vendor, they promised us Ube for months. And it wasn't until we were supposed to ship to the vendor or we were supposed to ship to DCs in February, in December. of the year before, like basically two months before they called and they're like, yeah, there's…

Ethan Peyton: Oh man.

Tiffany Yang: …not enough, you're not…

Ethan Peyton: Oh. Whoa.

Tiffany Yang: …getting it. And this is like we source from Southeast Asia. And this…

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: …is at a time when, you know, the docks weren't loading. There was a bunch of labor issues, like there were ships just kind of stacked out in the open sea, like waiting. And…

Ethan Peyton: Right, clogging…

Tiffany Yang: …we're like…

Ethan Peyton: …up the Suez Canal.

Tiffany Yang: …we're screwed. We're screwed.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: This is not going to happen. and we're going to get kicked out of our retailers because we promised…

Ethan Peyton: Oh man.

Tiffany Yang: …this item because we thought like, yeah, we could do it. Right? Like not knowing how difficult it was going to be. And I think the three of us spent probably a week's worth of time, like 24 hours a day going through every single conceivable vendor calling everybody who we knew to get something that we were okay with putting in our product. And we found lots of vendors who were like, oh, you know, totally sugared up items, had all these additives and like, we had to say no. And I think there's something about not compromising on product standards. 

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: We're just big sticklers about that. And so we could have taken a shortcut, but man, like we cut it real close. And I would say that is when That is probably, like ultimately we did it. We were a little bit late. 

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: At that time maybe we were not the favorite vendor because like we made it, but like it wasn't on time. And so that's a case where like, you know, when the, hey, like let's just try it…

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: …did not really work out in our favor. And I mean, it happens like. Ultimately, it wasn't that big of a screw up, but you know.

Ethan Peyton: So I'm assuming you were honest with your buyer and it just, you know, that honesty kind of led to, okay, it's okay to be late because, I mean, I'm just assuming here. What did, what was, I mean, you were a little late, you weren't super late, it didn't get you kicked off the shelf. What was the, what…

Tiffany Yang: No.

Ethan Peyton: …did those conversations look like?

Tiffany Yang: Yeah, they were not great. It's was like getting yelled at a little bit.

Ethan Peyton: Ooh.

Tiffany Yang: I mean, I don't blame them because like we're making their jobs difficult, right? Like no store really wants to have a section sit empty.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: Right? They plan everything down to a T, where you're supposed to have stuff. in the store when you promise it's supposed to be in the store. So I want to say we were maybe a week late, but like a week feels like ages for them. And we were worried that…

Ethan Peyton: Right?

Tiffany Yang: …we weren't going to get that spot back, which…

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: …a lot of times happens. So yeah, we've learned our lesson there.

Ethan Peyton: Well, that's a heck of a lesson to learn. So, all right, I wanna move to, so your expertise and your background is in marketing and branding. And essentially what you all have done here is you've taken this small brand, that was started many, many years ago, and you've essentially scaled it into this nationwide CPG. So I want to... I wanna play pretend that you're going to teach a class, a college class on how to do this from a branding, a marketing angle. What are kind of the steps that you took to make this happen, assuming that you're teaching a class full of people who don't know what we're doing?

Tiffany Yang: I mean, I would say that we probably made a lot of mistakes, but I feel like that's also good to let people know, right? You know, when we first started Sweety, the only thing we had money to do was packaging. And I knew that probably was not the right path, like coming from a branding marketing background. Like the right thing to do is you're supposed to have a whole brand environment. designed? Like, what does it look like in the environment when it, you know, when you bring it to life from a digital from a website perspective? Yeah, no, we didn't have money for any of that.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: Right? It's time. It's time to get real with your audience. We were not some unicorn startup with millions of dollars in funding, like we were kind of taking money out of our own pockets, like we…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: …didn't want to borrow too much from family. And so we had our package designed and that was all we had. We mocked up a quick and dirty little website using the photography assets that we had. And that was how we went to market. Like, did I try to play photographer and shoot images in our office? Yes.

Was that a mistake? Yes. It looked horrible. Yeah, I kind of learned the hard way. Like, okay, well maybe like there's some shortcuts you can take and some that are just straight up not professional. And we kind of learned the hard way like, okay, so there are some stuff that you do need to professionalize and we're able to find freelance photographers and basically curate what we could…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: …of a brand environment. And like, keep in mind that we are up against. you know, the biggest brands in the world, that household names that everybody has heard of. And I just think that between the three of us, I think we have a pretty good design eye and we led a lot of what our current packaging looks like. We knew that we didn't have a lot of money to spend on marketing. And so our packaging had to work extra hard for us.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: And back then, It's not like how it is now where everything is bright and colorful, like super bold colors. We felt like we had to do a really good job of brand blocking right at the freezer because that was probably when somebody was going to encounter us.

Ethan Peyton: What's brand blocking?

Tiffany Yang: It's just the idea that everything looks super cohesive and really grabs that buyer's attention. Like just from all the time, and I'm sure you've heard this too, like you'd literally have, you know, parts of a second to grab a customer's attention at shelf. And it's even harder in the freezer space where like things get frosted over, you're behind…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: …a freezer door. And we thought, let's do super bright colors, much more modern than what you were used to seeing from kind of the Nestle's, the dryers of the world, right?

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: Like bright poppy colors, and we're gonna make that the brand signature and we're gonna make that work for us. And so back then, like that wasn't a thing in the freezer space. And so we certainly took a chance there. And that was how we launched. Like we built up a tiny little social media following, figured out Instagram, TikTok, got some freelancers to help us out. And we still have a really, really small team.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: And I like, I can't convey enough to people that like, you don't need to spend a ton of money and to build up a huge staff. You can be quick and nimble as a small brand and still build a loyal following. I think this idea of building community is really important. Like, you know, a lot of times, like we're still the people replying to emails and like handling customer service issues because we just want to make sure that people are happy…

Ethan Peyton: Yeah.

Tiffany Yang: …with their product and have a great experience. And I love getting folks' reactions. And so just even that aspect is super important to me. This idea of really, really being there for your loyal customers and making sure that they get a product that tastes great and they're willing to tell their friends about.

Ethan Peyton: Is this community that you mentioned, is this something that is kind of facilitated between you and the individual customers kind of as a one-on-one? Or is there, do you also facilitate a location where customers can interact with each other?

Tiffany Yang: I mean, it's all of those things, right? It's like with social media, like people can absolutely engage with each other. And then from a one-on-one perspective, like whenever we are demoing, when we're doing a pop-up, like those are always opportunities for us to have that one-on-one interaction with our customers.

Ethan Peyton: Gotcha, gotcha. So then it sounds like you found a couple of, you know, channels that don't require a ton of dollars behind them to kind of do the work, like do the outsized work compared to the number of dollars that you're spending. And what I'm hearing is, you know, social media, and again, going back to that. idea of like, hey, ice cream is a thing that you can get people excited about. Lots of colors and fun, you know, illustrations and that sort of thing really can catch people's eye. And then I think maybe the other kind of main channel is just that being on the shelf, having that good shelf location in stores where people are walking and having that, you know, high visibility. Do you, do you feel like? if a new brand comes in and doesn't have either of those things, what's the one thing that a new CPG brand should focus on first?

Tiffany Yang: I think it's genuine storytelling. For us, like the content that really performs the best are when we're on camera…

Ethan Peyton: Okay.

Tiffany Yang: …talking or kind of like these up close demos of our product, really kind of seeing that texture and understanding what Mochi Ice Cream is all about. And I think all of that took us by surprise. Cause we kind of said like, well, who really wants us on screen talking about stuff? And we were, like all three of us, like we're a little bit shy, we're a little bit uncomfortable being on camera and we had to get to a point where like, okay, well, as a small brand, this is kind of what you have to offer. Like what really makes you different? It's our founding story and in some ways it's us, like how we've built this business and... I'm not really, you know, I'm happy to talk about our ups and downs. Like hopefully that helps somebody out. I try to be on the startup communities. Like there's a lot of those like for, for. CPG founders, like food and bed founders. I try to be present on those, like one to network, one to meet other people. Like maybe I can save somebody some money and, you know, some, some errors like when we made mistakes. So yeah, it's we're, we're now getting more comfortable being like putting ourselves front and center.

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: Now that we're like, okay, well, I think people want to see us and want to see what we're about and really understand the people behind the brand. And yeah.

Ethan Peyton: All right, this is gonna be, well, fun for me, maybe less fun for you, sorry.

Tiffany Yang: Uh oh.

Ethan Peyton: But, all right, so when we were talking in our pre-call chat, I asked you a question and it was essentially, I know you're marketing, every business, most businesses have to do marketing, so I asked you what your superpower was in marketing and your response was, It was more honest, we're going back to that honesty, it was more honest than probably any response that I've ever heard. And that was, you said, I've got huge imposter syndrome. And so, and I think that that's something that probably, whether we admit it or not, that almost all of us deal with at certain points or some longer than others. I know specifically that I've dealt with it in many different areas. But here you are saying that you have this imposter syndrome and yet you've got this business that's in, this brand that's in 2,000 stores nationwide. So what does that imposter syndrome look like for you and what are you doing to kind of push through it?

Tiffany Yang: Yeah, it's one of those things where I feel like maybe people don't talk about it enough. Like, I don't, whenever I listen to podcasts with like other founders, they're always big and boisterous and talk…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: …about how much money they've made. And I personally don't really feel like that. This wasn't, you know, I was never an entrepreneur and every day I feel like I'm figuring things out as I go. A lot of times I go to a store and I see our product on shelf and I kind of stand there like, I can't believe that this happened. A lot of times I'm still in a place of like, I can't believe we did this. And I still have this fear that things will come crashing down, right? It is very easy to get delisted from a retailer. What am I doing to push forward? I don't really know. do little, it's like, I mean, gosh, it's so generic, but literally like a day at a time. I feel very lucky to be doing this with my family members. I've heard from single or solo founders where they say like, hey, this is like a pretty isolating experience and you feel…

Ethan Peyton: Mm-hmm.

Tiffany Yang: …like you have the weight of everything on your shoulders and there's really nobody to lean on or talk through your issues. And I'd say this is where this idea of like, family and having them as my co founders has been incredibly rewarding. Like people always ask us like, do you guys get along? Like, do you get in fights? Like, like, I hate to say it, like, we don't, we actually get along really well. And being in this business together has allowed us… has basically allowed us to be more connected than we I think before we were kind of just going through everyday lives, like had our own jobs, different parts of the country, like really no reason to connect other than family gatherings. But we get along really well. 

And I think ultimately we really listen to each other. And it's totally OK. Like we've met with each other, like can tell each other, like, oh, what issues you're going with. And there's I don't know how it works in other companies. if they feel like they have to pretend like where they know what they're doing. Like I say this to my cousins all the time, like, okay, well, I've never done this before, but like I'll ask around and I'll figure it out. There's really no other way than to do that. 

And so far it's been successful. I, yeah, I think just having the courage to do it, right? It's like, what do they say? Like you... don't get the opportunities of like, if you don't try, there's a better way to phrase that. But it's like, that's just really how we look at it, right? It's like, you gotta take a stab. Otherwise there's just, the door is permanently closed.

Ethan Peyton: Yeah, yeah, it's exactly what I wrote down on my piece of paper, let's just try. I think… I really appreciate you sharing that. I think that it's really, really valuable to hear, again, we're back to honesty, this openness of sharing what your experience actually is. And maybe it's not, you know, all bright and shiny and rainbows and whatever, but like, it is what it is and you're getting through it and one day at a time, and I think that message is probably the most important message that, especially younger founders or less experienced founders can hear, so thank you for sharing that.

Tiffany Yang: Thank you.

Ethan Peyton: All right, we're gonna move into my favorite question, the question that I ask every time, what is your number one piece of advice for early stage entrepreneurs?

Tiffany Yang: Oh. My advice would be you're gonna hear a lot of no's and we still hear no's all the time. You just have to be persistent and keep knocking on doors. And I feel like this is a very generic piece of advice, but I follow it every single day because, you know, we're still pitching retailers, right? Like everybody out there is. Even if they say no the first time, we keep going back. Every available opportunity. We'll email them, we'll call people like. Network every opportunity possible, it's. We just try to keep going. 

And, you know, like network right? Lean on people you know, be brave and talk to somebody at that network meeting where. you might feel uncomfortable. We've all had to get there, just like you're in these big trade shows, like you get in spaces where you don't know a soul. We've all had to kind of get comfortable with learning to network in these spaces and really just trying to find opportunities and like not taking that first no for an answer because one day somebody will say yes and that's how it worked out for us and it kind of continues to work out that way. And I also think just stand firm in what you believe in and your brand ethos and that level of like integrity and don't sway from that. Um, that's something that we've kind of held very strong at Sweety for the years that we've been in business. Um, and I think that is what makes us different.

Ethan Peyton: That's such good advice. Thank you so much. This has been so much fun. I'm so glad that we had you on the show. I've just got one more question for you. It's real easy. Where can people connect with you online and how can our listeners support Sweety?

Tiffany Yang: Ah, so definitely DM us through TikTok, through Instagram, @sweetyicecreamco. I will most definitely see that. And you can also write us on That's our website. And feel free to shoot me an email there you can find me and we are available at Walmart and Albertsons, Safeway, Vons and a very large club store in the Southern California area dropping hits.

Ethan Peyton: Ooh, all right, cool.

Tiffany Yang: Yes, that will be coming very soon.

Ethan Peyton: Very soon. Nice. Well, congratulations on all your success. Again, I'm so glad we had you on the show. And if there's ever anything we can do to help support Sweety, you know what? I'll just stop right now. Everyone, stop what you're doing. Go buy some Sweety Mochi. It's freaking great. It's definitely, hands down…

Tiffany Yang: Thank you. It's summer.

Ethan Peyton: yeah, yeah. And it's a great treat. It's not too big. It's perfectly sweet. I usually don't, you know. end up as a brand spokesman on this show, but this, your product is worth it. It's awesome. Go try some.

Tiffany Yang: Thank you.

Ethan Peyton: Alright that’s going to be it for this week’s episode of the Startup Savant podcast. Thanks for listening in!

Before you head out, remember that if you liked this episode, send it to your bestie! Sharing is caring, and everyone's a winner when you send that link.

Catch us again next Wednesday morning for another episode of the Startup Savant Podcast. And until then, go build something beautiful.

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