396: The Business of Sprinkles with Sweetapolita’s Rosie Alyea

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An image of sprinkles and cake and the title of Rosie Alyea's episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'The Business of Sprinkles.'

This episode is sponsored by Duett.

Welcome to episode 396 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Rosie Alyea from Sweetapolita about serving your audience and transitioning from blogger to shop owner.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Chad Cannon to chat about strategically growing your business through understanding your audience and selling products. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

The Business of Sprinkles

This episode with Rosie is full of inspiration, and we’re so excited to be talking to her this week about the way she transitioned from blogging to running a multi-million dollar product-based business!

A common theme in this episode is the importance of serving your audience, and you’ll learn how Rosie did that as a blogger and now as a sprinkle business owner.

It’s a super entertaining interview, and we hope the conversation opens you up to other ideas and ways that you can be supporting your audience where they need it most!

A quote from Rosie Alyea’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'And I thought, 'There has to be someone out there that actually cares about about this stuff the way I do,' and that's really where Sweetapolita as an actual entity was born.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Rosie got into baking
  • How she realized she wanted to start her own company
  • What her transition from blog to shop was like
  • How community content drives brand awareness
  • Why building an audience is so important
  • What she was looking for by going on Dragons’ Den
  • How to work with the Sweetapolita team


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by, Duett!

Duett is a team of email strategists and copywriters, led by our very own Food Blogger Pro Expert Allea Grummert, on email marketing. They help online business owners and bloggers engage readers, build brand loyalty, and optimize conversions for sales and site traffic through email.

Sign up for a free discovery call with the Duett team to learn how to:

  • Better show up for your audience
  • Send valuable traffic back to your site through email
  • Feel more confident connecting with your subscribers
  • And more!

You can learn more and chat with Allea about your email marketing by booking a call with her here.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

Food Blogger Pro logo with the words 'Join the Community' on a blue background

Transcript (click to expand):

Alexa Peduzzi: This episode is sponsored by Duett, that’s D-U-E-T-T, and they’re a team of email strategists and copywriters who help online business owners and bloggers engage readers, build brand loyalty, and optimize conversion for sales and site traffic through email. Duett is run by our email marketing expert, Allea Grummert. Maybe you’ve heard of her. She’s been on the podcast before. Or if you’re a member, maybe you’ve seen her in some of our email related courses in Q&As. But we actually work with Allea and her team at Duett on our email marketing strategies here at Food Blogger Pro and at Pinch of Yum. So Duett actually has two signature services and audit, which is just an easy way for you to get feedback and recommendations on what you’re already doing. And then their Duett Debut, a service where they will get new or updated email sequences written and set up for you no matter what platform you’re using.

So the Duett Debut is actually kind of perfect if you’ve been doing things on your own for a while and are just finally ready to have someone make sense of your email strategy. So if you’ve been struggling with your email marketing or if you don’t really know if what you’re doing is actually working, I’d encourage you to reach out to Allea and her team at duett.co/call. Again, that’s D-U-E-T-T.co/call. You’ll just feel better about how you’re showing up to your audience, how you’re sending valuable traffic back to your site, and that you’ll feel more confident connecting with your subscribers. And their team is just super fun and awesome to work with, which is always a plus in my opinion. So if you’re interested in learning more about what the Duett team can do for you, head to duett.co/call to book a free discovery call with Allea to see how they can best support your email strategy. So thanks again for sponsoring this episode, Duett, and now we will jump right in.

Hey, hi, hello, it’s Alexa from Food Blogger Pro, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We’re so excited you’re here today’s episode. I’m just really excited about it. There’s something really fitting about having someone like Rosie from Sweetapolita on. And it being Valentine’s Day today, it’s just kind of fun. One of the things that she says right at the end of the episode is that her site and her brand Sweetapolita is an “aesthetic explosion of happiness.” And I just feel like that is exactly what I felt the entire time listening to this episode.

So Rosie talks about how she kind of got started with actually beauty and then moved into blogging, but then also has a product. She talks about those transitions there and how her audience kind of helped fuel her product business. So it’s a really fascinating interview. And actually, one of the really fun things about the episode in my opinion is that Bjork actually says, my favorite word that he says in his Minnesotan accent many times in this episode, and that is the word dragon. So I know that’s kind of an interesting word to fit into an episode about a sprinkle business, but it’ll make sense when you get there. So without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.

Bjork Ostrom: Rosie, welcome to the podcast.

Rosie Alyea: Thank you so much. So excited.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. When I do some interviews, I feel like what we do is we try and talk through the chapters of a book. I think with your story, it’s almost like a series, like these different books that represent a time period where you’re running your business in a certain way, and that’s evolved over certain periods. If we go way back, you started working in a bakery kind of as your first job. Is that right?

Rosie Alyea: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Bjork Ostrom: Was that like, “Hey, I need a job and so I’m going to work in a bakery” and then you found out, “Hey, actually I love this”? Or was it, “I know I love this. I want to get a job in a bakery.”?

Rosie Alyea: Yeah, that’s a great question. I was really young. I was 16, I was ready to get a job in general, and I serendipitously came across this very authentic Austrian bakery in our town that was quite high end. But to be honest, that’s really where the love affair with baking began specifically because my mom baked. But this is really where I learned about and where I really became enchanted with sort of the gourmet side of baking and gourmet ingredients and really understanding the differences between a kind of store-bought chocolate and European chocolate and how all of those things really matter. To be honest, it wasn’t even that granular consciously at the time. It was more just I was enchanted by everything that was going on in the world of baking and just the beautiful things they were creating. I fell in love with baking in general at that point, particularly eating baked goods and loving just kind of higher end things and appreciating them. But because I was so young that that’s just something I sort of banked.

And then I did love baking, and like I said, my mom did bake. She was a pie baker. She wouldn’t really go into cakes or all of that fun stuff, but obviously just helping her as a kid and as most people do. But interestingly enough, the whole thing, and obviously we’ll cover all that, but it really fast forward to my 30s, and that’s really where I actually ignited that sort of deep love for all those cakes and all those beautiful things when I decided to dive into it myself. But yeah, it was just sort of serendipity.

Bjork Ostrom: When you talk about the finer things in life, whether that be chocolate or a baked good, I can remember experiencing that when Lindsay and I did a trip through Europe and you start to see, “Oh my gosh, there’s these really…” Not that you can’t access that in the US. There’s plenty of those places as well, but just naturally because of where we were going, it’s like-

Rosie Alyea: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it was less about food as sustenance. So it’s not like we’re going to get lunch at Panera, which is still great, but it’s very different when you’re in Europe and you want to experientially say, “Okay what’s the best bakery that we can find right now?”

Rosie Alyea: That’s right. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: I was having this conversation with a friend the other day where my favorite, as a kid growing up in a small town, my favorite meal was like lemon pepper chicken from Perkins. What happens is then you have this incredible meal somewhere else and you realize like, “Wow, there’s these really not only the artisan side of it where it’s crafted in a way that is so beautiful, but also in the actual product itself.” And interesting, in your story being exposed to that at such an early age. Coming out of that, being high school or whatever age you were at that time, and then you kind of talked about being in your 30s, was that kind of dormant and then you were like, “Wait, I really need to get after this” once you got into your thirties? Talk to me about that moment where you said, “I realized I just needed to move forward on this. I needed to do this.” Was that a hard decision to say, “I’m going to do this”?

Rosie Alyea: I always feel that those things and maybe everything in life and everyone else’s life sort of happened where it really was sort of an epiphany. There was really no lead up. So just to rewind and to answer your first part of your question, what’s interesting is it was dormant in a way, but it was really the world of, I think, the luxuries of life and appreciating those good things. So I did fall in love with that, ate all the baked goods while I worked there, spread the gospel of how amazing it was and loved all of that, but not that long after.

So in my young 20s, I had definitely an entrepreneurial sort of core. That’s really where it sort of reared its head in my 20s and I realized that I really wanted to start my own company. It was sort of one of those where it was reverse. It was I knew I wanted to do it, but what was I actually going to do? But I fell in love with the idea of bath and body products because I love that world as well and the artistry of learning how to make them. So my concept really spun off of my love for cakes, and I thought, “What if I make bath and body products that sort of replicate the textures of fluffy frostings and those sorts of things?” And literally, we called it cake. It was called Cake Beauty. It still exists. Actually that was in 2000s, that was a long time ago. But it still exists. And I ended up joining forces with a friend of mine and we created the company together.

It was really kind of funny because it’s my whole love for cake and baked goods was the whole foundation of this brand, but not-

Bjork Ostrom: But not the actual product. Yeah, the branding.

Rosie Alyea: But not the actual product. Exactly. So I love that world, and I loved that piece where even just the writing on the package, just the language, the whole sort of tongue in cheek thing and the colors and the pink packaging, I felt that that really evokes sort of a childhood warm, fuzzy place for all of us and a sense of, in this case it was self care, but from a textural standpoint, it really was we used mixers to make the icing, formulated everything in my apartment in my 20s and learned all of the how-tos of homemade product making. So really it was in me it. It was like I always said, even though I left, you can take the girl out a cake, but you can’t take the cake out of the girl, because then it sort of evolved.

So did that in my 20s. I ended up leaving that company. And like I said, it still exists. My partner at the time carried on with it. I felt I just needed to go a different direction. Having partners is hard. I was young and it was just a lot. Something told me it was just time to move on, so I did. But that love now to be an entrepreneur, but also to be in that world where that whole childlike world where you can just have fun and make people happy, that’s really why I feel I was put on the earth. So I felt a little bit lost because I did feel an inclination to leave, but I also felt so connected still to being an entrepreneur, getting a message out there, getting a product out there, but I didn’t quite know how to tackle that.

So fast forward over those years, I got married, had babies, so it was sort of a good time to kind of audit who I really was, what I needed. But when my babies were quite small, that’s when the epiphany really happened. I was shopping at a bookstore and I found a cake book by Elisa Strauss. I had never been in that world of sort of novelty cake making. She had a beautiful handbag purse on the front and I was just fascinated by that. I was pushing my little one in the stroller, and I just thought, “This is it. This is actually what this has all been.”

So that night I signed up for all the cake and confection classes that I could at a really great school in Toronto that sadly is gone, but it was amazing at the time and had incredible instructors. And then that’s where all the worlds kind of came together. Just a sheer desperation to share my enthusiasm for it, I started the blog because I thought it was more, for me, I just thought I just want to talk about it. The people in my life, I wasn’t going to bore them to tears. They had no interest in it and I thought, “There has to be someone out there that actually cares about this stuff the way I do.” That’s really where Sweetapolita as an actual sort of entity was sort of born.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. So if I could recap it, you had this period where you had this business, you realized you loved it and maybe functionally what it was, the complexity of partnerships and everything that goes into that, that’s one thing. But in terms of the business, building a brand, creating an aesthetic, having that brand an aesthetic be fun and lighthearted, there was a draw there. So you knew that, but it wasn’t a good fit functionally in terms of how the business operated. You knew you need to move away from it. You had this kind of period of contemplation. And then this one specific moment, which is interesting, where you’re like, “Wait, this is it” where you’re at. You said it was at a bookstore. Is that right? Is that what you said?

Rosie Alyea: Yeah. Yep.

Bjork Ostrom: And you’re looking, you’re like, “This is it.” And so-

Rosie Alyea: That was it.

Bjork Ostrom: … Sweetapolita you said started the blog. If people were to go there now, it would feel like a shop. What did that transition look like from… You probably don’t refer to it as a blog now. You probably refer to it as a company or like an e-commerce site. How do you refer to it now?

Rosie Alyea: That’s a great question. To be honest, that part wasn’t easy because I’ll be really candid with you, people, I want to be honest with that. That was a hard transition in a way because having the blog, it was all about the community. And I was very much steeped in that. That’s what it really was to me. The only reason I really gained any type of success, I guess you could say, in the way of growing the audience of the baking blog was through other bloggers that sort of was just very much the community style. And I’m sure it still is today where, “I support you, you support me. If you post a new post, I’m going to repost it to all my friends.” I was really the power of numbers there that really helped bring attention to my little blog in the corner of the internet. But people definitely responded to the whole aesthetic and the colors and that whole childlike piece. So I felt it got bigger than I actually expected, to be honest. People were just so enthusiastic about everything to do with this blog.

But through that process, I was lucky enough to write the book. So that’s a lot of bloggers that’s the trajectory, and that’s exactly what my dream was and I was able to do that. But it was really during the book piece that I realized working with the sprinkles, that this is actually really where I think I see myself needing to go from an entrepreneurial standpoint in the sense that I love blogging, but at the core I’m a consumer packaged goods fanatic and I felt like I had something really fun, a message that sort of my second chance on the cake beauty thing to do it sort of my way and to really spread happiness in the world.

So when I realized that that was sort of the next phase, it gets complicated because I didn’t want to abandon blog readers at all and I didn’t want them to feel like I was kind of given up shop there so that I could go… Because I know how that might appear, like, “Oh, well…”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Rosie Alyea: But it’s hard. I really need new challenges in life. I loved blogging, but I felt like it was absolutely sort of a stepping stone. I certainly didn’t want anyone to feel like I just abandoned it. And I wish I could have. I certainly didn’t consciously choose to not blog. It’s just I had children and I’m trying to run the company. It grew quite quickly and I didn’t expect it to go the way it was going to go so quickly. And to be honest-

Bjork Ostrom: The product side of it, is that what you mean when you say-

Rosie Alyea: The product side of it, yeah. So I launched the sprinkle products on Etsy to start. I just did a small little collection of what we call sprinkle medleys. That’s really where the magic happened in the book writing was I thought, “What if the sprinkles themselves could become the highlight?” Because my voice as a baking, I guess we’ll say teacher in terms of when you’re blogging and you’re trying to share information, my style is to try… And it just came about naturally. And that’s that I want everyone to know that if I felt like if I could do it, you could do it and everything is approachable if we just break it into the right pieces and we describe it properly and we give you the right tools.

So that sort of teacher aspect of things for me and making things approachable is where I thought, “Well, sprinkles in themselves, that industry hasn’t changed in decades. So even just from a creation standpoint, what if we put the highlight on the sprinkles and we start working with them in a way where they do all the heavy lifting and you don’t have to spend six days in the kitchen to make a really cool cake? Your kids can get involved, but you can still add some really cool wow factor.” I love that it was just a quick, easy way to make a cake amazing. So I really included that in the book, and it was then I realized with no intention of creating any type of company out of it. It’s just that readers were starting to say, “Where do I get those sprinkles? How do I get those exact sprinkles?” And I thought, “Hmm. That’s actually really interesting because what if I could change the category and update it after all these decades where there really hasn’t been much change in the world of sprinkles?”

Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting to look at-

Rosie Alyea: Sorry. I know I’m telling you the whole story, but…

Bjork Ostrom: No, it’s great. What’s interesting for me to hear you reflect on is, so you had cake, which was you used food as the branding but it wasn’t the actual product, but realized you really loved product. And then you had this step into creating content in the food space, but realized that what you really wanted was to develop product. And so it’s like you can see how you’ve circled around that.

Rosie Alyea: I know.

Bjork Ostrom: I think a lot of our journey as entrepreneurs is figuring out where the best place for us to land is as it relates to how we do work, what we work on, where the draw is. I think to be light on your feet insofar as you’re willing to follow a pole in a certain direction and not feel like you have to continue to do the thing you’ve always done, it’s cool to see you do that. The result of it is you will have evolutions and you look back five years… So it started in 2009, is that right? The site?

Rosie Alyea: Yep. The site started in 2010. I wrote the book in… I started in 2012, it launched in 2015. And then by that summer I created my small collection of sprinkles to launch.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. And then today, would you say how you view your work is 90% product? When you’re thinking about stuff, are you thinking about product or are you thinking about content?

Rosie Alyea: Well, that’s a great question. To sort of circle back because I know I gave you the whole shebang there with the last question, but I guess I technically didn’t answer your original question, which is leading to this piece. But because of all of that and it’s sort of evolving into a brand, and the brand is an e-commerce site, therefore all things Sweetapolita lived sort of on an e-commerce site, but I held onto the blog separately. For this whole time up until last year we had it just there. I wasn’t adding to it so I felt a little weird about just letting it sort of live there. But thousands of people are accessing those recipes every day. So I thought, “I’m certainly not going to remove that. I want people to still enjoy them.” But from more of just a sheer convenience standpoint and from a brand standpoint, I felt that we definitely needed to bring those things together.

So this year we brought the blog in. So it does live now happily, everything lives on one site. But to be honest, I think just out of sheer necessity, it’s become more about how we can work with other content creators who celebrate the product that we’re using, and I feel like that’s a win-win. I am sad to not have time to do those. I don’t feel like that chapter’s necessarily over as far as diving back into baking and cake decorating ideas and recipes. It’s basically a byproduct of scaling the company and trying to understand where I’m best suited and where I’m just best suiting my time. But when you’re growing quickly, I have to wear all of those hats.

So to rely on this amazing community out there that are so talented at using our product, and just in general they’re talented, but the way that they can use our product and showcase it with all of their different personalities and appealing to different groups and different skill levels, I feel like that’s the real goal, is now the community itself creating the content with us and for us. In some cases, they’re creating it without really any direct connection to us in the sense that they’re buying the product, they’re using it and they’re just excited to share it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, talking about it.

Rosie Alyea: So you’re just seeing all this wonderful, amazing content. But we do work with a few specific content creators who will work with us in advance and sort of take some of our visions and bring them to life, and some cases just going fully on their own inclination in terms of what they should do with the product. So it’s still rooted in community and it’s rooted in that same baking community. My role has just changed slightly, but it’s been delicate and it’s been a little bit… You want to be all the things to yourself and to everybody else, but sometimes you just have to stay focused and realize that even if it’s just temporary, the focus for me right now really just has to be on supporting the brand because it has evolved and we do operate pretty large business and have a lot of employees.

It’s more the operational piece and the product development piece that I’m excited about. I loved blogging and it’s so much a part of me, but I feel like I can still do some of those sort of inspiring people and making things accessible. That’s all part of what I do now. It’s just wrapped up slightly differently.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. I think anytime that we can talk about this world of an online business from a different angle, it’s beneficial. What’s great about your story is you have the experience of one of the ways that we talk about it a lot, which is like content creator with a small team potentially supporting you. And you alluded to this, it just looks different from a business perspective when you shift to selling a product. Can you talk about what that was like to go from the mindset of creator with maybe small support team to your role than while still creating, you probably are doing more big vision thinking, management potentially, hiring, team building? Can you talk about what that was like to evolve who you are within the company?

Rosie Alyea: Yeah, absolutely. I think a part of me… And certainly not to put a negative spin, there’s nothing negative about any of it, it’s all just learning experiences and trying to figure it out along the way. But at the end of the day, it all was born in the world of my love for baking. And so I wish I could hold onto that piece of content creation personally with these two hands longer, but I had to make that transition.

But I think to be honest, it all happened so fast. For me, that was more of the challenge is. The actual brand and the packaged goods did so well right out of the gate because the audience was already there and they knew and they understood and it fit right into what they loved to do and why they loved my recipes in particular. Just this particular community obviously gravitated towards maybe it was the aesthetic or whatever goodies I chose to do they were really relating to that and loved that. So this was an audience that was ready for this. But I tried to do it sort of slowly and transition slowly, but it really just kind of happened. So I-

Bjork Ostrom: Could you pinpoint a year for that was?

Rosie Alyea: Yeah, so I launched it in June 2015, and I launched that out of my house. So I was-

Bjork Ostrom: That being the first product?

Rosie Alyea: Yeah, it was a collection of, I think, it was nine Sprinkle Medleys I call them. That’s sort of our little cute name for the mixes. So I did about nine of them. They’re themed. They have little names. They sort of celebrate a whole theme in themselves. I put them in just one size bottle and sold that on Etsy. But I had made an announcement through the blog, “Hey, celebrating the launch of my new sprinkle shop.” It really did take off rather quickly. And because I was working from my house and my kids were so small, it was a lot of literally just scrambling. It’s the fun organic growth of a company that sort of a garage opening company where it’s just you and you’re packing the boxes and you’re mixing the things and you’re answering the emails.

I was so grateful for the community that was really steeped in the blog reading who came along with me. I worried a lot about people feeling that I sort of abandoned my role as a content creator to switch it in for this. Maybe that was the evolution I had to do. I had to go that way because I just felt like I needed more. So to be honest, it all happened kind of fast. But I tried to maintain at that point at the beginning, still sort of showcasing different ways you could use the product by posting different cakes that were very approachable and hung on for a while.

And then slowly, I just had to pick my battles if I’m being honest. But it was exciting and it’s all part of it. For me, it represents, I hope, to anyone out there that loves the world of food in any capacity or any type of category, but particularly food bloggers and people who just know that they want to be part of it and they don’t exactly know what their role in it is but they know that that’s what gets them up in the morning, that it’s not necessarily the path that you expect. You can absolutely monetize a food blog and become… You know all the magical things that starting a blog can do from a monetization standpoint, but it also can act as an incredible platform sort of bounce from. And now you’ve got this community and you’re networking and you understand that if you conquered that, what’s sort of next? Maybe it runs concurrently with what you’re doing or maybe it’s just the evolution of you as a person in the world of food and how you can create a job for yourself out of it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. One of the things that I think is important to point out is one of the repeating things that we hear people talk about is like, “I want to build my site to get to this number of page views in order then to apply to an ad company to get money from that or sponsor content,” which I think is all great. Another option is to think about doing audience building in order to get to a point where you understand that audience and what their needs are and offer a product to them.

Rosie Alyea: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: The hard work is always the audience building, it’s product as well.

Rosie Alyea: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: But if you launch a product without an audience, it could be a really awesome product, but it’s going to be harder to get started than if you launch that with an audience. And to your point, one of the things you can do, and I think it’s worth pointing out, is find people who do have that audience and start to partner with them.

Rosie Alyea: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: You kind of take the opposite place of sponsored content where you then are working with people who are influencers. So tell me a little bit about what today looks like. What does your role look like? Even what does the team look like? Because I’m guessing that looks very different than what it would look like if you were running creating content and had kind of a small support team around you.

Rosie Alyea: That’s right. Yeah. Well, first of all, to what you just said, I totally agree and that’s exactly it. I just want to touch on that really quickly about you’re saying when you have an audience, sometimes building the audience is the first layer to then find out what… So if you have an entrepreneurial core and you know that you actually are really interested in bringing something to market and what better time than when we’re so supported. Small businesses, they’re so supported. And you see Shark Tank. And in Canada we have Dragons’ Den, which incidentally I was just on this year.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh really?

Rosie Alyea: Yeah, I did. But it was neat because they spoke to that. One of my favorite Dragons said to me exactly that, “The fact that you built an audience and the fact that you knew what they wanted and then came in with a product is sort of a textbook building a brand case study.” I think that’s so true, and that’s why I want to say if you think big and if you have ideas, this is exactly what this can do for you by building that audience and understanding and being part of a community first and foremost, and then really understanding where the gaps are from a good standpoint if that’s what you’re interested in doing. But now-

Bjork Ostrom: Before we get too far away from it, the Dragons’ Den, because I know a lot of people will be interested in that. You don’t have to do it in your pitch mode, but can you tell us generally what your pitch was to the dragons?

Rosie Alyea: Yeah. Okay, let’s see if I remember. My whole family knew it off by heart because I repeated it daily. I was very nervous. I’d wanted to go on for about four years, truly really was ready to go. And to be honest, it was sheer fear that held me back. So for me, last year, that was the year I just felt like I’m not going to let fear stand in the way, so I did it. So it was a big personal growth thing. And as a professional, I felt that was a big step that I needed to take. My pitch was… Oh, how did I go? Okay, it was something like, “Hi dragons, my name’s Rosie Alyea, blah, blah, blah.” I went through what I was asking for. I went for a big ask, but we can get into that another time. But it was a big pitch.

Bjork Ostrom: When you say big ask, do you mean like company valuation?

Rosie Alyea: I definitely put a high valuation, but I was asking for 720,000 so that we could actually set up our manufacturing facility in our current space.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Rosie Alyea: To be honest, I was really, I’m really looking for a mentor. From an investment standpoint, that’s really where scaling the brand in a really big way is sort of next on our list. So that’s where I started, was with them. But I was really also just curious to see what these very different entrepreneurs would say in general about the path and where I am and the brand itself. Maybe I was looking for some validation there or just something, some sort of professional outsider opinion. But I genuinely wanted to work with them.

I can’t remember exactly how it went, but I had an am amazing, cute, like dessert trolley filled with sprinkled and sprinkly desserts. I went in with the pink outfit and my little sprinkle sweat outfit, and I went in. They were just so great. They were just so warm and received everything so genuinely. I told them that Sweetapolita is a cross between Betty Crocker and Willy Wonka, and that I talked about basically that the category hadn’t changed in decades and I saw an opportunity there to evoke that childhood, keep the childhood in all of us alive, at which they cheered. They loved that. That really is our mission, is to keep the child and all of us alive and to inspire bakers, professional, and home bakers knowing that our product can take things to the next level.

I can’t remember it word for word, which is actually tragic, but that was the gist. So really very much about everything being from the heart and colorful, and we want to take over the world, obviously global sprinkle domination. And they loved it. They were fabulous. They were so enthusiastic. It was quite a chaotic episode. It was about an hour and 10 minutes, but they do edit it down to the required seven. So it was a lot of excitement and a lot of feedback. But I told the whole story about the blog and the book and the whole path. They felt very strongly that that is the ultimate optimal way to build a brand, is to start with a community that you understand and that gets you and that understands that you are just part of that community and you want to provide something that you think will elevate their lives in some way.

Bjork Ostrom: So did anybody invest?

Rosie Alyea: I did get five offers of the six dragons. Robert Herjavec was back this year to Dragons’ Den. He’s from Shark Tank, but he’s Canadian and he’s originally Dragons’ Den.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, sure.

Rosie Alyea: He went down to Shark Tank I think for 10 years. And then this year he just came back here. So I had six dragons this year. I did get five offers. I ended up taking a deal with Arlene. So she’s our marketing guru, beloved Arlene.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool.

Rosie Alyea: But to be honest, yeah, I’m not sure if it will fully pan out, but it’s just the way that goes.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ve read about, “Do those deals actually happen?” You come to a handshake agreement, and then you get to the nuts and bolts of it, and sometimes it does work out and sometimes it doesn’t.

Rosie Alyea: Exactly. Yeah, that’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you share what the terms of the deal were? Just because I think people will be interested in that.

Rosie Alyea: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: And even within that, how did you come up with the valuation going into it? That’s also feels like a hard thing.

Rosie Alyea: Yeah, this piece is crazy. They could have definitely given me a much harder time. For those of your audience that only knows Shark Tank, it’s extremely similar in the sense that your valuation is everything. If you come in with something aggressive, 99% of the time they’re going to beat you up about that.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Rosie Alyea: And so I was very nervous about it, but it’s funny, I knew where my safe spot, where I was going to go. I was going to ask for 400,000 for 10%. This was going to be my ask. I practiced it that way for weeks, and this was what it was going to be. Valuing a business is very difficult because-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s like the value of the business is what somebody will pay for it.

Rosie Alyea: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is different if you have real estate because you can look around and you can see all of these other businesses or all these other buildings that people have bought in your neighborhood and say like, “Okay, per square foot, this is generally what it is.” And you can go 10% over or below.

Rosie Alyea: Exactly. There’s definitely a general formula that I’ve noticed over the years pitchers’ using and what works and where it falls apart. But it was hard because I feel like the brand… Of course, everyone believes their business is worth everything, and I wasn’t in that mindset. I’m very much a Dragons’ Den fanatic. I know where you have to be in reality. I understand that. I completely get that. But I had some advice, some good advice from a very solid source saying, “I just think that’s too low. You can do what you want, but if you’re willing to roll the dice, I think you should go higher.” So I actually don’t completely know… I actually feel some other force bigger than me moments before I went on, literally I was in the green room.

Bjork Ostrom: Wow. Cool.

Rosie Alyea: I was in the green room and I still couldn’t figure out what my ask was going to be.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s so awesome.

Rosie Alyea: I know. I thought, “What?” So I went pretty big. So I ended up leaving the company at about 8 million instead of 4.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Rosie Alyea: I don’t really know why. I don’t really know what happened there, but I felt that we do have good margins, but obviously operationally there’s a lot of operational costs. But in general-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, which is where it’s different than a blog, it’s like-

Rosie Alyea: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: … you have employees and you have manufacturing, and you have…

Rosie Alyea: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Rosie Alyea: Everything. But I feel that the strength of the brand, we haven’t even scratched the surface. We’ve never even really had a sales team on the ground. We’ve never had distribution. We do everything direct to consumer. We do have a couple large customers, but we haven’t even scratched the surface. The brand I know is strong. For whatever reason, I had an idea of what it needed to be and where I needed to go. So I went in. And so when I asked for 720,000 for whatever it was, 8 or 9% already, their ears were up, but I thought, “Oh gosh.” So I just was willing to take a chance. I don’t know. For whatever reason, I was just willing to take a chance.

Robert told me… Well, they loved it. They were freaking, he’s like, “I love it. As you know, you can tell we all love it, but my prediction is you’re not going to get a deal here today.” And I was like, “Okay. That’s okay.” I was willing to just let whatever happened happen. And then after that I ended up getting five of the offers. So they all loved it. No one beat me up about it. They loved the brand and they did not really go down the road of trying to beat me up on why I thought… With their offers, they sort of reframed their idea of what the valuation would be, chopping it down by more than 55%, 60%. So it was clearly in their heads, a big ask. So with Arlene-

Bjork Ostrom: But I feel like also with that, one thing that’s worth pointing out is I feel like you want to invest in people who do a big ask. I think that’s a part of it.

Rosie Alyea: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: If you’re going to come in under pricing it and not confident about it, it’s a little bit of an indicator of who you’re investing with.

Rosie Alyea: I agree. And to be honest, I’ve watched so many episodes. I’ve watched every episode probably 25 times each, literally. I love the show. I love analyzing the numbers. And then at different phases of my business, I go back and I watch other entrepreneurs at those stages because I wasn’t there yet. So I couldn’t really relate to certain pitches. I could relate to smaller companies, but as we were growing, I thought, “I’m going to watch that again and see what their costs are, what this is.” So in a lot of ways it’s sort of been an entrepreneurial university in that way, kind of real time within Canada.

So yeah, with Arlene, I ended up doing… Well, I agree with you first of all. I felt like if I go big, it’s a great start. I don’t why. I don’t know. But she ended up offering, it was I think 28% equity for the 720,000. She stood behind my thought process that was challenged by one or two of the other dragons, which was that actually manufacturing and becoming also sort of an ingredient company to large, large format companies and manufacturers. So huge companies making cookies by the tens of thousands, those types of things. And actually producing this product as an ingredient, a raw material, opens up a massive, massive door right there. And that, I actually think, is one of the secrets to our growth from a revenue standpoint. It doesn’t really speak to the brand growth, and that’s a separate objective, which is going to happen concurrently, but she was right on board with that and she totally agreed and the manufacturing. But it was a 28% equity and 10% royalty until she got her money back. So it was a pretty-

Bjork Ostrom: And then she’d still have the equity?

Rosie Alyea: And then she’d still have the equity. It’s hard because I actually think that that part I can wrap my brain around if it’s the right partner, because obviously with that sort of backing and that sort of experience behind me, because I started as a… You know what I mean?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.

Rosie Alyea: If I’m learning this as I go, like I… I definitely have my instinct-

Bjork Ostrom: The question is like, it’s a big piece of the pie, but how big can that person make the pie?

Rosie Alyea: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: And if you have a partner who’s going to help create a really big pie, then your slice, whatever percentage that is a lot bigger.

Rosie Alyea: Exactly. Right. Would you rather have 100% of a small pie or 72% of a massive pie is really the question. And I get that. Funny enough, my driving force is not money at the end of the day. It’s obviously an amazing thing to set yourself up financially for yourself, for your retirement, for your children, but I’m an artisan. I’m not really wired to make sure that I get 100% of 50 mil. I want to feel like I’ve made the right choices is my biggest objective. And I want to make sure that I spread the word of the brand, that’s like, “I want to spread the happiness.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yes, totally. And that’s what I was going to say as you were talking about that. Simon Sinek talks about revenue or money as fuel for the mission in order to get you where you are.

Rosie Alyea: Yes, exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: And it feels like that’s exactly what you’re describing is like, it’s important insofar as it helps me move this thing forward.

Rosie Alyea: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: And functionally, it’s really important to have that because you’re going to be able to do things differently, reach, you’re going to be able to impact more people.

Rosie Alyea: Exactly. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense.

Rosie Alyea: Exactly. And I love Simon Sinek. That’s exactly what it is. I consider it this baby that I think can really… If I was selling widgets, I think as someone who’s an entrepreneur, I would love to just see success. But because of the nature of the product, because I feel like it gets humans engaged in something that brings them happiness, gives them a sense of sort of accomplishment and creativity and it gets children off their phones and it gets them in the kitchen and it gets people starting their own companies using our product to celebrate, to elevate their goods and to bring new customers, all of it, to me, I feel like it’s a mission. I mean, I’m not saving the world, but in my way and what I’m good at and what I find exciting, I just feel like if we can get this thing as big as possible, we can actually infiltrate so many humans and actually elevate even in a 1%, just bring some form of happiness or connection to childhood or a sense of, “Wow, look what I made.”

It really is so multi-tiered that way, and that’s my absolute objective. That’s why I didn’t really expect it to grow the way it did. Maybe because I was in the moment and I was more wrapped up in the actual just what can I do in this moment with my hand, what can I create, what can I offer. But I would say this year, last year, so 2022 with going on Dragons’ Den, was really indicative of the fact that now it’s been long enough that we have sort of a choice to make. We can maintain what we’re doing or we can level up and I can actually try to… I would love nothing more than to become a wholesome mainstream household brand in the world of baking and not just sprinkles, but sort of the new Betty Crocker, like I say, meets Willy Wonka where we can bring some level of this to everyone’s home for what it means to them.

Yes, it’s great to have a growing business and have revenue, but it’s just so much more than that. I really believe we can do that, but it’s going to take a bit more fuel.

Bjork Ostrom: Capital, yeah.

Rosie Alyea: It’s going to take more people. You asked me about what is life look like now. I started in the kitchen. I managed to pull it off from home by myself for 12 months. I was able to get it to 300,000 in sales just out of the kitchen after year one, which was really exciting.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s incredible.

Rosie Alyea: I wasn’t really focused on that at the time, I just knew I was very busy. And then I slowly added one employee, and then we moved, and then we outgrew that space. We’ve moved three times. So now we’re in a warehouse with offices in the front. It’s about 10,000 square feet, so it’s a fair amount. We hold about, let’s see, about 50,000 pounds of sprinkles at all times, lives in there.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s so awesome.

Rosie Alyea: Which is pretty amazing. The novelty of that never wears off. But let’s see, we’re at about eight employees. We have a lot of employees supporting sales, but what I’m really looking for now is to build more of a management team.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Rosie Alyea: And this is new territory for me. And counting on others to have the vision that I have, I mean, it’s just going to take an army for us to actually get this to where I think it could be. So everything’s sort of changing and scaling up at this point, but there is this I miss creating things with my hand.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We talk about that transition from maker to manager and you at some point are going to come up against that and you need to make the decision, “Am I going to make this transition?” It’s just impossible to think about you spending time making five hours a day, four hours a day, whatever, eight hours a day, even two hours a day, like, “Hey, I’m just going to go and be an individual contributor in a sense. I’m going to make this thing and create this thing” while also scaling a brand and thinking about investments and trying to figure out how to get an influx of capital to bring manufacturing it.

Rosie Alyea: Yeah. Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: You just can’t do it all.

Rosie Alyea: No.

Bjork Ostrom: And so at some point you have to make that decision. Either way is okay. It’s okay to stay as a maker. It’s okay to stay as a manager. It’s hard to do both though and to do both at an increasing capacity.

Rosie Alyea: So true.

Bjork Ostrom: There probably is some level of balance that you can have, but naturally you can only do so much when we all realize it and figure that out.

Rosie Alyea: You said it. You got it. That’s the biggest challenge for me, is I think there’s a guilt piece. I don’t want to ever want those original readers to feel like I abandon them.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Rosie Alyea: But I think if you really believe in the mission as a reader, then you understand what it’s all about. And it’s not about me just trying to monetize. And even if it was, I think it’s hard too. I think maybe it’s good for communities to know that blogging is a lot of work and ingredients are expensive, and you do need to… We all want to grow our own… We want it to make sense and to be able to provide for our family so that we can do it as a living. So that part of me is always there.

But I feel like that phase might not be over. I’d love to be get us set up to a point where I can go back to the roots of it all and really immerse myself in that. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to parlay into finished goods like if I can design fun things and create recipes, but also offer the tools to make it at home and it’s an extension of the brand. There’s all kinds of ways to attack it, but you’re absolutely right. I reached a point where I had to sort of decide was I going to be the maker like the artisan, or was I going to be an actual manager of a brand, and I had to choose a manager of a brand.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What I love about what you said is it doesn’t have to be forever.

Rosie Alyea: That’s right.

Bjork Ostrom: I had a conversation with a friend and he was working within a business for a company. It was a very personality-centric business. The guy started out, he was blogging, he was doing all the content creation himself. And then they scaled up and it became more about the team. And then eventually, he started to have these days where he talked about it’s kind of like going into the lab. And for him it was all digital content creation, but he was able to do that because he had gone through this season of building support around him, so then he could have these lab days that I think allowed him to access some of the original inspiration that brought him to do what he did.

Rosie Alyea: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: I think it kind of sounds like that, you’re referring to that.

Rosie Alyea: 100%. No, you nailed it. That’s exactly what it is. I think that it’s important to reconnect. The irony there is too often what that task was, whatever that art was, for me it was obviously baking, the irony there is the blog was actually a byproduct of the fact that that was my hobby and I love to do it. So at the end of the day, making time for something that makes you happy and sort of your hobby. And for me, I would love to be able to just actually have the time to do that. And if it’s in the content creation way, even better. I would feel really reconnected to my roots and where the whole thing began. I don’t think I can ever completely that go.

So yeah, let’s call it it’s a temporary hole so that I can figure this out.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s a season.

Rosie Alyea: But no, sometimes it’s just the way it has to go. But like I said, what’s amazing is having a massive community out there doing the same sort of stuff that’s celebrating and using our product and carrying on that whole energy and that whole “keep the child in all of us alive” by baking all these nostalgic cakes and all these fun things. So it’s still a win, but yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s different.

Rosie Alyea: It’s different.

Bjork Ostrom: Businesses evolve and people evolve. So as we close out, usually we talk about where people can find you. But for your case, I’d be interested to hear you talk about three separate things. One is the brand. If people want to buy the product, how they would go about doing that? The second would be if there’s a creator who would fit solidly in this space and they’re interested in working with you, if there’s a way to have that conversation and how you work with creators or influencers. And the third would be investors. Is that something where if somebody came to you and said, “Hey, I would be interested investing in this at better terms,” would that be a conversation you’d be interested in having? So kind of the three buckets of folks who might be listening.

Rosie Alyea: Yeah, absolutely. What was the first one? What did you say? The first was-

Bjork Ostrom: Just products.

Rosie Alyea: Oh, product.

Bjork Ostrom: People who would like, “I want to buy that.”

Rosie Alyea: Oh, like, “Where to find it?” Oh, of course. So everything lives on our e-commerce site, so that’s sweetapolita.com. It’s a great place to go even just for inspiration to be honest, because we do… Obviously we sell sprinkles, we have hundreds of skews. We love variety. We consider our product an art tool so we like to make sure we have kind of all things considered for different events, different tastes, different aesthetics. So it’s quite a sea of color and an aesthetic explosion of happiness. So it’s worth just going just for that. But under each product that we sell, we try to also show content that’s been created with our product that we work.

And your second piece there was how do we work with content creators and would we consider working with them in serious ways. So we do that. I’d love to work with some of them on an even deeper level where they are actually part of our team and they’re creating content, living and eating and sleeping this brand and creating content with us, for us, as an actual member of our team. So that’s sort of next level.

But right now we have a roster of some amazing content creators. We don’t necessarily only work with them and ask them to create. We sort of see if anyone has created something that we feel is right on brand, we will reach out and pay them for their content and then we’ll use that on our website so we can just show people in the moment, “This product, here are some of the amazing things you can do, sort of different skill levels that you can do with the product.” So that’s all integrated into the website and that’s how we use our fabulous content creators now as well as sharing it on social media of course. Really, we just want to inspire people and show them what all the fascinating things you can do with sprinkles. Some are predictable, some are not.

And then as far as investors go, 100%, I’m completely open. I’ve had a few people approach me even prior to Dragons’ Den, and I thought, “Well, I want to wait and see what happens there.” That was my real kind of mothership of opportunity. And now that the dust is settled and I have a better understanding of where we’re going and what we need, yes, I’m absolutely ready to entertain and engage with other investors to see if we can find the right partner. I’m just really looking for someone that will be a mentor.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Rosie Alyea: That’s really what I’m looking for. So yes to all of those things.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great, Rosie

Rosie Alyea: It’s an adventure.

Bjork Ostrom: Really fun conversation. For me, I learned a lot. I know it provides that additional angle for other people to look at. And also a lot of inspiration. Your story is really inspiring in the work that you’ve done and your stick-to-itiveness and ingenuity and just general business acumen-

Rosie Alyea: Thank you so much.

Bjork Ostrom: … is going to be really inspiring for people. So thanks for coming on.

Rosie Alyea: Thank you so much. I’ve had an awesome time. I love it. I’ll talk sprinkles all day long, so we’ll be back.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. We’ll do it again sometime. That was good.

Rosie Alyea: Yeah. Awesome. Thanks so much.

Bjork Ostrom: Thanks.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey there, it’s Alexa. Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. We hope you enjoy this episode and we hope you got something out of it, some nice little nugget that you can take and apply to your own blog or business.

I wanted to let you know that we actually have a free download. It’s a PDF all about monetization. One of the main reasons why people want to grow their food blogs, grow their online businesses is to make an income, is to make money from doing what they love to do. We actually have this ebook, it’s 100% free to download. Speaking of monetization, it’s free. So it talks you through 16 different ways that you can monetize a food blog. We’re very familiar with things like display ads or sponsored content or affiliate marketing, but there are so many other ways to monetize a food blog and in this ebook you’ll learn about 16 of those ways. It’s a great e-book. One of our favorites and one of our most popular. And like I mentioned, it’s free for you to download. So if you’re interested in downloading this e-book, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/podcast-guide and you can just put in your name, your email address, and you’ll get that e-book for free. Again, that URL is foodbloggerpro.com/podcast-guide, and you can download it right there for free.

All right, thanks for tuning in. Again, we will see you next time, next Tuesday. And until then, make it a great week.

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