In the latest installment of Success Stories, a series highlighting the personal and professional journeys of some of the most dynamic entrepreneurs, YFS Magazine speaks with Yasmeen Tadia, a Dallas-based serial entrepreneur, founder of Make Your Life Sweeter, the parent company to sister brands Fluffpop, a gourmet cotton candy supplier and Hotpoppin, a hand crafted gourmet popcorn brand.
Dallas-based mompreneur Yasmeen Tadia is on the rise, building a sweet empire—one childhood delicacy at a time. A triple threat, with three companies under her belt, she balances motherhood and a burgeoning business portfolio that turns childhood favorites into adult experiences.
“We take things that are so normal, that everybody really knows about and grew up with, and we add a twist to it,” Yasmeen explains. “We try to make it healthier, but we also try to keep that experience piece in there; it’s really about bringing happiness to people through food and service.”
‘Spinning’ Startup Success
As a single mom, Yasmeen spent ten years working in corporate America. She found a semblance of success working as a corporate HR director with the largest owner operator of hotels in New York City. But she also found herself at a crossroads.
“My son was three at the time… I had a multitude of hotels underneath me, ten thousand employees reported into my office, and it was very, very stressful,” she remembers.
“At the beginning of 2013 I came up with this idea of making a healthier candy option for my son. And what I love about cotton candy is it doesn’t look medicinal.” Yasmeen decided to take the idea of spinning flavorful, low-sugar cotton candy and ran with it – out the door of her then employer – to launch Fluffpop, the first of many brands to soon follow.
“I quit my job, in January of 2013, and invested my personal savings into this. I’m completely self-funded and I’m the sole founder … I just started working on it,” she recalls.
Like most entrepreneurs, Yasmeen identified a market opportunity that started with her own need as a mother. However, the Fluffpop brand, initially intended for kids, would soon morph into something entirely different. “It was really my son in the beginning, and I thought okay this will be a really cool thing for kid parties, but … it transformed.”
“I didn’t do any kid parties. I ended up getting hired for my first party at Nobu, an upmarket Japanese-Peruvian fare restaurant. It was an engagement party for a client and we did it, and people loved it…”
Yasmeen’s first client exposed her to a new customer base and prompted a product pivot with staying power. “It was fascinating because I used to make the cotton candy about the size of my hand. And everybody was so dressed up for this engagement party… they loved the product, but they said it was way too big. So, I thought I was making it small enough, [but after] market research, people like it completely bite size—the size of a cake pop.”
“There’s always pivots… I mold my product based on our customer. I don’t mold my products based on me or my viewpoints [or] on what I think is gonna be successful. We listen …”
The young, single mom didn’t stop there. She realized she was onto something small in size, with big potential. Early client feedback caused Yasmeen to start asking much bigger questions about her fledgling brand.
“I really transferred it from being this… regular cotton candy to something small and simple, and that’s when we really started [to consider]: ‘Do we get a patent for this? What do we do? Do we get a trademark?'”
So, she quickly began work with a patent attorney and secured the U.S. patent on mini cotton candy. She realized her sweet idea was also a vulnerable one without intellectual property.
“Your brand story is only as compelling as the legal framework used to hold it all up,” NYC-based attorney Kelly Weiner explains. “While it can be difficult to legally claim exclusive rights to an idea, creative components built around an idea may be ownable. Don’t overlook the importance of these elements. Ideas and concepts can be copied… brands cannot.”
Nearly three years later, Fluffpop is a rising star in Yasmeen’s portfolio of Make Your Life Sweeter brands. With a constant influx of product launches on the horizon she’s tasked with a creative loop that doesn’t expire. “I come out, pretty much … with something new every six to eight months,” she adds.
Fluffpop focuses on two models – an experiential service model with live spin and an e-commerce offering. The latter enables Yasmeen to ship directly to clients all over the world, while the experiential service comes fully equipped with a DJ booth where Fluffpop employees spin candy, instead of music, on mini turntables.
“The entire booth lights up. I’ve made the whole booth so that it fits into two suitcases. So we can pretty much assemble and tear down an entire booth in fourteen minutes, stick it in two suitcases and travel anywhere in the country,” Yasmeen explains, “or anywhere in the world.”
Tapping into creative ideas can be an arduous exercise for entrepreneurs. Instead, Yasmeen sought to work smart by staying connected – and undercover – at her clients’ events. Her hands-on approach enables direct customer feedback that informs product development.
“I am the one that serves almost ninety percent of the time. I’m like the wait staff for Fluffpop. Because people … they don’t know who I am, I get free market research directly from my client’s guests. We can tell immediately whether somebody likes the product or they don’t. People are very, very honest to a server when they think they’re not connected to the product.”
“Always act, or treat people, in a way as if somebody else is watching. You never know who you’re gonna meet, and I think we can make the world a better place by doing that.”
Her approach offers unique value. “The difference is that we go directly to the client. I can hear instantly where someone’s like, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever had!’ or [if a flavor isn’t a hit]. So, I’m on a headset with my team, and I’ll say … stop spinning a specific flavor. So, it’s really about knowing your customer, being involved and never, ever thinking that you’re above anybody else.”
International ‘Sweets’ Appeal
Fluffpop launched domestically in the U.S., but has quickly gained international acclaim. When asked how the brand acquired its first international customer, Yasmeen is quick to credit the borderless appeal of social media.
“I’ve tried so many different ways of doing social media in the sense of hiring really expensive firms to handle it for me and hiring social media experts… I realized, the best person to do social media is the person that is in and out of the job every day,” she says.
This meant Yasmeen would have to bring social media marketing efforts in-house. “I mean, I had a call [recently] with somebody from India wanting to open up a Fluffpop in India. The amount of money there for events is astronomical and she found me on Instagram.”
Social media can be hit or miss. For Yasmeen, she’s found that Instagram yields results. “I think Instagram is the highest profit generating revenue stream for me… Everything else is through connections,” she continues.
For Fluffpop, online engagement is one piece of a much larger puzzle. Offline marketing plays a substantial role in Fluffpop’s expansion. Yasmeen’s first international client, Delta Faucet, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of branded kitchen and bathroom faucets, hired Fluffpop after the company’s marketing head, Kristen Smith, met Yasmeen while “spinning” at a Neiman Marcus event.
For Yasmeen, brand growth is all about relationships. “So, it’s really keeping up with people and developing those relationships… I think my product is good, but I really think you have to go above that and have service and have a people piece to it,” she says.
“I base my whole business on service and relationships. We don’t pay for any advertising.”
Success is not without its challenges. For Yasmeen, learning to managing life as a single mother and breadwinner, while running a business, was difficult. “I mean, my biggest challenge is my social life. I work a lot, and I also have a five year old. As a single mom, you know, my life has changed dramatically in two years.”
“I’m really struggling with the balance of my life right now. Although it’s a blessing that I’m able to support my son fully … my biggest challenge is making sure I can keep my customers happy, but also have a life and take care of myself. I don’t sleep a lot. That’s my biggest challenge too, but I know all entrepreneurs have that issue.”
When work-life balance seems elusive, Yasmeen is committed to making it work by exposing her son to her business. “Being able to take him along with me … one, it teaches him work ethic and that nothing is going to be handed to you on a golden platter. [He knows] mommy works very hard.”
For example, “I had this business trip to Dubai, I took him with me, so he could see what it’s like, but also so we get that personal time together.”
For Yasmeen, she has learned a more practical approach to success – it starts with brand recognition and inspiring other single moms. Traveling from coast to coast and meeting people that are familiar with the Fluffpop brand is a win in her playbook.
“Be memorable. Everything in life is an interview. Go in and get coffee at a coffee shop. You have no clue who you’re going to meet.”
“I’ve always wanted to create something that became a household name… I don’t think of them as success stories, I think of them as blessings. We’ve been blessed in so many different ways… The biggest blessing that has come from this whole thing is I can be a single mom, and I can show women that … all it takes is you putting passion and hard work into something and being a good person and good things will happen.”
“The fact that I can influence other women, to just try their best and do great things… that is my success story. That is what I live for.”
When asked about her future plans for Fluffpop and Make Your Life Sweeter brands, she laughingly admits, “I don’t even know what I’m eating for lunch today. So…”
“In all honesty, I did not even think it would get to where it is today… My goal was never to make millions off of this. My goal was to make the world a better place and show women and men, and show kids, that hard work pays off,” she exclaims.
“Being a good person and taking care of people and caring about one another… we can make the world a better place. And if I can do that in the next five years … that is more than a blessing for me.”