In today’s podcast episode, we discuss how to quit your 9 to 5 job to start your own business. We feature Daphne Subar, the founder of Subarzsweets, an online gift-giving bakery specializing in a unique baked good, Subarz. Daphne had been enjoying the practice of law for over 25 years until she decided to follow her dreams and passion in baking. After quitting her job, Subarzsweets was launched in 2016, and it has experienced consistent growth and expansion over the past 4 ½ years. It is continuously becoming a hit for every occasion, whether personal or corporate events. Her personality of constant learning, adapting to change and doing what she loves making a difference, always looking for new ways to make this world a little bit sweeter, bite by bite.
- How she transition from practicing law to starting her bakery business
- What are the effective strategies to start a business
- How the “Just do it attitude” helped her start
- The initial steps to quit your job and launch a business
- How to start small but still create the opportunity to scale
- How to make your business stands out
- How to overcome the obstacles you encounter in running your business
- How your mental headspace affects your business success
- How her business helps people in need this pandemic
- How to use your network to gain customers/referrals
- Why digital presence is incredibly valuable at this time
Esi Magic: Welcome to the LA Goals podcast Success Uncovered featuring LA's most successful game-changers. I'm your host Esi Magic. Today we are going to be discussing leaving your 9 to 5 to start your own business and how to do that. We have a very special guest, Daphne Subar, founder of Subarzsweets and she is the perfect example for this because she left her business of 25 years in law to start a bakery. Welcome, Daphne.
Daphne Subar: Thank you. I'm so glad to be here.
Esi Magic: So am I that you're here. As I mentioned, you had such a big transition from working in law to a bakery. I would love for you to tell us the very beginning, what made you decide to go from a completely opposite business to something that is on the full other spectrum, I guess you can say. [laughs]
Daphne Subar: Of course, it was a big, big change. Sometimes I think back and I'm like, "Did I really do that?" Yes. I did not hate being a lawyer. People automatically assume that I'm out to lawyer bashing, but no, I liked what I had been doing but I wanted to do something else, I wanted to do something I was more passionate about. I never thought that I would start my own business.
Backing up a little, I had always loved to bake. I have three daughters. One has severe food allergies, one had some medical condition. I was always in the kitchen tweaking recipes, experimenting, trying to find things that they would all eat and enjoy. I baked for years. When my youngest daughter was in third grade, she had to come up with a flyer of a pretend business for her computer class in elementary school, and she had made this flyer that said, Subar, my last name, S-U-B-A-R, all bars, one bakery, and had a picture of me and had a picture of a cookie. She printed it out, and we put it on the fridge and it was on the fridge for years.
I always talked to my daughters about, "One day, maybe I'll open a bakery. Wouldn't that be nice?" I always had that flyer on my fridge as a little reminder. The girls would always remind me and I loved to bake. People would always ask me, can I bake for them, or why don't I sell my stuff? I'm like, "No, it's too hard. I know everything can go wrong. I'm a lawyer, I know all the things that can end up in litigation and all that." I was nervous for a long time.
Then, fast forward, probably about 10 years, and actually, my oldest daughter was graduating college with a degree in theater, and she was going to pursue that career by doing stage management. I got a lot of unsolicited advice saying, "Why would you let your daughter go into theater? There are so many more practical careers, things that are more financially stable, things that are just a little bit more middle string," all that.
I said, "She's young, and let her follow her passion. We should all follow our passion. Let her try it, if she fails, she fails, you never know, but let her try it." It was actually one of my other daughters who said to me, "Mommy, you've been talking about opening that bakery for years. Look at the flyer on the fridge. What are you waiting for? It's time for you to follow your passion."
It was really my kids reminding me that we should all do what we love and try it that pushed me to do it. In 2016, I officially left the practice of law and launched Subarzsweets.
Esi Magic: Wow, that's so amazing that you mentioned your kids, though, because it reminds us of how, when we're kids, we believe we can do anything, and then as we become grownups, it's like, "Oh, that's too hard, or it's too much work, or it's not going to work." Did you always fully believe you could do it, or was there something always in the back of your head that's like, "No, that's not going to work?"
Daphne Subar: There was always something in the back of my head. It was that thing in the back of my head that kept me from doing it earlier. Even now, it's been four and a half years, that thing sometimes still creeps up on me. Sometimes it's like, "Are you really doing this?" I sometimes, literally, have to pinch myself and say, "Yes, I am a small business owner, and I am a baker." It's weird. I still don't believe it at times.
Esi Magic: [laughs] When you were going to work, though, in your law practice, did you have those days where-- I know you said you don't want to knock the law industry, but did you have those days where you're just daydreaming like, "I'm bored. Do I want to be here"? Did you have those thoughts creep up on you as you got towards the later years of your practice?
Daphne Subar: I really didn't. I enjoyed what I did. Every once in a while, yes, I would have that thought, but it wasn't like a lingering thought. It wasn't that I was ready to leave the practice of law, it was that I was really ready to start the bakery. It was really that that pushed me over. Luckily, I have my law degree. I can always go back if this fails. That's what I told myself in the beginning, that was the thing is, "I can always go back to practicing law, but if I don't try this now, I may never know."
I owed it to myself. It's hard to justify to my kids who were then like 15, 17, and 21, I think, why you don't follow your passion. It was really that I had to show them that, you know what? You can do whatever you want if you try your hardest, and just put your mind to it. You can do it, you can try anything. You never know if it's going to succeed. You don't know unless you try it.
Esi Magic: Got it. How soon were you-- Because, obviously, you were saving money and preparing for that, but at what point-- because I know you said you launched it in 2016, when did you start that preparation process? Was it like a year before? Was it a couple of years before? How did you start that exit strategy?
Daphne Subar: I'd always toyed with it ever since that flyer had been on my fridge, but I didn't really have a real exit strategy. I just started maybe even the six, seven months before, I just started thinking about it a little bit more seriously, but I still wasn't sure what it entailed. A friend introduced me to a friend of hers that actually had a pie shop, and she had started-- similarly, she'd started out of her house and all that.
I had met this person, I went over there, and I shadowed her for a day. She encouraged me a lot. She's no longer in the business but she encouraged me a lot. I kept saying, "What if this goes wrong, and this goes wrong?" She finally looked at me and she's like, "Stop thinking like a lawyer, it will be okay." She said she started it really not knowing what she was doing and it worked out fine and I should just try it.
Literally, when I decided to do it, one day I just decided this is it and I closed my eyes and jumped. Maybe I could have been more prepared, I don't know. I'm constantly learning. I hadn't really been preparing for a while. I'd been thinking about it and then I had shadowed her and I had the idea in the back of my head and I was fooling around with a name for the business, but I didn't really prepare much more than that. In some ways when I look back, I probably didn't know what I was doing.
Esi Magic: [laughs]
Daphne Subar: I hate to admit it, but it's probably true, but I worked hard. It's been a lot of hard work and a lot of learning. It's grown. When I launched in 2016, there was one product-- There was one flavor, one size box, and it actually looks nothing like it does today.
Esi Magic: Wow. You mentioned also this idea of having something that you can go back to. How important do you think that is in general? Do you recommend people start something when they're at the point where they do have that fallback? Like, "If it doesn't work out, I can always go back to this?" Or are you more of the perception that that's just what I did, but if you want to do something, just go for it? [laughs]
Daphne Subar: I think part of that depends on your personality and part of it depends on where you are in your life. Let's say my daughter who was graduating college, and I said just go into Theater, follow your passion. She did not have a lot of responsibilities really at that age. She didn't have a mortgage, she didn't have a family that she needed to help support, any of that, so that's a good time to do it.
I think I worry too much to have just jumped into it without knowing how to fall back. I had given up the practice of law. I was no longer practicing law when I started this. It's just on those days sometimes where I'm like, "Did I really do this?" I just remind myself, "I can always go back. If I'm not loving what I do, I can always go back and start practicing law again."
I don't know if that really answers your question. I think part of it depends on the personality. If you can do it without worrying, then jump right in and do it. That's my recommendation for people. You only live once, you might as well just try what you want to do.
Esi Magic: Yes, I agree with you. I think it depends on your personality and how much risk-averse you are if at all. I would love for you to tell us your very first step. Take us back to, "Okay, I've decided that I'm going to launch this as a business." What is the very first thing you then did?
Daphne Subar: The first thing I did is I wanted to be a real business. I wanted to have a unique baked good. I didn't want to be someone who was just selling a product that other people had, like just selling a cookie or just selling something else. I wanted something that was unique and like nothing else out there in the market. The first thing I did was a lot of experimenting in the kitchen.
I had made mandel bread for years and mandel bread is like a biscotti and they're very hard and crunchy. You almost need to dip them in coffee or milk. Those were very popular. I wanted to do something that combined the crunch of the biscotti but do something really fun with the flavors. The first thing I did was come up with the type of product I wanted to sell. After experimenting in the kitchen, I can came up with subarz, which combine the crunch of the mandel bread or the biscotti with the sweetness of the cookie. That was the first thing.
Then in my mind, I'm like, "I'm ready to go, I'm going to do all these different flavors and all these different things." A few business owners said to me, start small and start simple. Don't go crazy in the beginning. That was some of the best advice they gave me. In the beginning, once I established that product, I only had the one flavor. Then I started to sell that and then every month for the first year, I actually introduced a new flavor, and people could subscribe initially and get the new flavor every month. The first thing I did was establish the product exactly how I wanted it to be.
Esi Magic: Makes sense. Were you doing that out of your home or did you get a location first?
Daphne Subar: Out of my home. I could do it out of my home. There's a provision in California where you can bake out of your home, so I did it out of my home. I did it out of my home for the first two and a half, three years.
Esi Magic: Wow. That would explain the quality as well, because I've definitely heard some stories of how people like they get a location first, they buy their website domain and they don't even have a product yet. [chuckles] Whereas you focused on the product, make sure you had something that people want to buy first, and then you focused on all the logistics and turning it into a full-on brick and mortar type of business. Did it ever cross your mind to first, let me go get a location and do all that first, or was this just the natural way you felt you should do it all along?
Daphne Subar: In my mind, I originally thought, "Oh yes, I'll have this cute little shop and all this," but then people kept saying start small and start simple, which is why I started online and I'm still, now I am online again. I'm primarily online. I also wanted it to be a product that was different and that was very unique and that when people received the product that they could tell how much thought went into it, that it wasn't just your cookie or it wasn't just your cupcake, because that time there was a lot of cupcakes. I really wanted a product that was unique because I felt like having something different really make my business stand out.
Esi Magic: That makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. You also mentioned that a lot of people told you different things. How important do you feel that mentorship is in these types of situations? Was it just constantly asking your family and friends or did you actually watch videos of people who've done it before? How did you get the majority of your knowledge on how to do this as a business?
Daphne Subar: Primarily was from other people with other businesses and some family and some friends. It wouldn't have to be another bakery, it could be another small business or just another business. I went into this mode of being a sponge and trying to learn as much as I could from everyone else, which I loved because it was very different than anything else I had done.
I do remember learning from other bakers and learning from other businesses and learning just from neighbors, and my neighbors, it's interesting, when I come up with a new flavor, I actually rely on my neighbors. I put them in little ziplocks, originally, and it was marked A, B and C and I'd hand them out to different neighbors and then they'd get to taste them all, after, call me or text me and let me know which flavor was the best.
I relied on different people for various different levels of information. I never had one mentor per se. It was just learning as much as I could from others who had been in the business.
Esi Magic: Cool. Did you ever watch any of those TV shows on like The Food Network, The Bake-Offs, and we got Carlos Bakery and all those types of shows?
Daphne Subar: Actually it's funny. My youngest daughter, the one who did the flyer for me, Shira, she used to watch that show a lot with me. I did watch them somewhat, I didn't watch them for a great period of time, but I did watch them some, yes. They're always fun to watch and inspiring, all that, yes.
Esi Magic: I agree on the inspiring part. For me, definitely, I tend to watch a lot of things that even if it seems like it's just for fun, just a TV show, I still walk away from it feeling inspired some way. I definitely love that. Starting a new business though is very difficult. I would love to hear about some of the obstacles you faced and how did you overcome that?
Daphne Subar: There's always been obstacles, and a lot of it was just jumping in and not knowing and learning. Obstacles. There's always little things. In the beginning, I didn't even have an Instagram, that's an example. That I wasn't very aware of social media and the importance it can play and actually, it was one of my daughters, again, it's my daughters. They're going to hold this over my head when my listen, like, "See, mom, you should listen to us more often," but they had actually set me up Instagram because I had no idea that that is really a way to market your product or yourself.
That was something I learned early on. Obstacles? Probably the biggest obstacle was that thing in the back of my head that we talked about earlier that was doubt. I had to, several times, just push that away and say, "I got to just do this now, I got to give it my all," and to stop doubting myself and to stop feeling like I'm pretending to be a business owner.
That really was the biggest obstacle. All the other obstacles, which could be from sourcing product, to my boxes, to finding a kitchen, all those little things, you can work around and there's so much you can learn just by being on the internet. I've taught myself a lot about those little obstacles.
I also didn't realize the importance of just networking in the beginning and just meeting other people, and that's been great for many reasons. First of all, everyone has a great story, everyone no matter what they're doing, there's a reason why they're doing it. It's so interesting just to hear from others and I didn't really have the opportunity to meet so many interesting people when I was practicing law. Because a lot of my free time was either networking for business or more related to clients and that type. Now, I'm able to meet so many amazing entrepreneurs. Everyone has a story, and I think I totally just deviated from your question, so I apologize.
Esi Magic: That's okay. I love what you're saying, it's very relevant and I really like how you mentioned your mental headspace can actually be such an obstacle for you. Because literally, you can have all the resources, you could have funding, you could have mentorship, but if you're not in the right mental headspace, it's not going to work. Right?
Daphne Subar: Exactly. I remind myself at least once a week when I'm baking or packaging, I could be doing this, or I could be doing some legal research and I just remind myself how much fun I have creating a product. This product I'm so lucky because most people send them for gifts. They're generally sent to, most of the time, to celebrate something exciting or good or a birthday or graduation or just anything, or just telling someone they're thinking about them.
I feel like I get a little peek or I get to share in that person's celebration, which is really nice. Especially during these crazy times where you feel isolated and you feel like all the news is bad. People are still celebrating things and people are still thoughtful, so it's great.
Esi Magic: That just goes to show how you made the right decision in pursuing something that you really love because the fact that, those feelings of seeing somebody celebrate a birthday or just they want to just binge on biscotti or something like you mentioned, that leaves you feeling satisfied at an intern keeps you motivated, right?
Daphne Subar: Exactly. Who doesn't love eating something sweet and fun? I get to send it to their door, so no, it's been great.
Esi Magic: I definitely love eating things that are sweet and fun, so that definitely was what attracted me to interview you. I want to talk about clients because this type of business at the beginning, especially, you need clients coming in and it's really hard to get some. How did you do that? How were you able to secure that first amount of traffic? Now obviously, you get some walk-in traffic and things like that, but at the beginning of those early stages, how did you get people to buy your product?
Daphne Subar: It's all online now, so I'm not really getting walk-in traffic, just to clarify that. In the beginning, I really just put the word out to friends and family. I still remember in the beginning, my website was up, it'd probably been like two, three days and I was sitting watching TV and I saw an order come in on my phone from actually an old high school friend that I had not spoken to in years, and he placed the first order. I still remember these now, he places orders consistently, but how excited I was.
I was lucky. In the beginning, it was a lot of friends and family that supported me and they helped spread the word. As people receive Subarz's gifts, then they would then order, so it could be that you're sending it, let's say, to your sister-in-law, well, now your sister-in-law loves it, so she's now ordering.
In the beginning, it was really word of mouth and it just snowballed, it was great. I've been really lucky, people that receive the product love it, so really speaks for itself. In order to expand, I just need to make sure that more people get it and see it, but I've been really lucky with getting the word out. I network hard. I reach out to people I know, and everybody's sending gifts, so I just remind them nicely about Subarz and how great they are as gifts.
People really want to send a different gift this year, especially people don't want to send that fruit basket or that box of chocolate. People really want something a little bit different, and so subarz are really perfect for them. Then I think after the first hall-- I launched in the end of June of 2016, the first holiday season was great. I had no idea what to expect.
Since that time we've learned a lot, and now I know that really people want us to make it as easy as possible for them. Our corporate clients know that we really just handle their gift-giving for them. They tell us what they want, who they need to send it to, and we just handle it and move forward, because that's really something a lot of people don't need to worry about.
Esi Magic: You mentioned the power of referrals. Would you say that that ultimately is what led to your success, or is there something else that you would say, "that's why I made it", type of thing?
Daphne Subar: Power referrals are a big part of my success. Actually, I need to ask for written recommendations and testimonials more because I really don't, but yes, referrals have been a big key. Everybody knows people that can benefit from my product really. Referrals have been great as well as just reminding people.
Sometimes people just forget and so they go to send the easiest thing that's popping up in their computer. It's referrals and it's just consistent marketing.
Esi Magic: Nice. You mentioned taking most of the orders online, so I'd love to get into your transition, during this time we are in a pandemic and a lot of people have closed their doors, some are still open, but only for pickup. How have you adapted during this pandemic?
Daphne Subar: It's been interesting. It hasn't affected my business as much as it affected other businesses. I had a few retail locations that would carry my product or people could order online and pick up from those establishments, though that isn't happening anymore because of the pandemic.
When that pandemic initially hit, I was trying to think of a way to help when everything shut down completely in LA. For the first couple of months, I actually hired some unemployed Angelinos to make my deliveries for me, rather than overnighting it with UPS to USPS.
Esi Magic: It's amazing.
Daphne Subar: It was great. It's a win-win. It was really helping them because they suddenly had time, so I would let them do all my local deliveries. I had a bunch of unemployed hairstylists, restaurant workers, I can't remember what else,there's a little bit of everything. They would do all my local deliveries, which was great. They would leave them on the door, ringing the bell almost like a ding-dong ditch type thing.
That was one way that I adapted. Since then, the business just keeps taking off. I think people because they're trapped at home are more likely to send gifts. I've seen how thoughtful people can be right now. Since most of our gifts or all of our gifts can come with a handwritten note and they're presented in a very beautiful manner, so you can see what people are sending since I see all the orders.
People are sending gifts to a neighbor of, let's say, their grandparents, and they'll be like, "Thank you for checking on my grandparents," or somebody sent to a different neighbor, "Thank you for dropping off groceries for my aunt the other day." People are being so thoughtful. That has helped the business quite a bit. It also is just a constant reminder about how nice and thoughtful people really are.
Esi Magic: I really love though how you've brought in, like you said, local Angelinos to help you with the business who might've lost a job or who need some extra cash. I think that's absolutely amazing. I really commend you on that.
Daphne Subar: Thank you. It was great. Why not help? I need to get them from point A to point B, I might as well try to help as many people as possible. They were very appreciative and I was appreciative. That was great.
Esi Magic: That's awesome. You mentioned your online ordering system. Did you have that already set up from long time ago or was that something that you adopted during the pandemic?
Daphne Subar: No, I've always been primarily online. I've changed the format a little. I changed the host and all that. I've changed how you do it, but I've always had an online presence.
Esi Magic: That must have been very valuable though, because then that means when the pandemic hit, you didn't have to do nearly as much as some other businesses, you had to switch from a completely retail location to having an ecommerce store or whichever. I think that's a really good point you made is that switching to digital, we should already be transitioning into the digital world if you can. If there's any sort of way that you can have a digital presence, you should have it because you never know what's going to happen.
Daphne Subar: You never know what's going to happen. If I wasn't product-based, I could actually go somewhere and run my business, except I'm product-based. I keep thinking of people that are service-based, if they're digital, they could really be sitting in a house on the beach somewhere, as long as they have internet and they can be running their business.
Esi Magic: Yes, definitely.
Daphne Subar: I don't have that luxury, but for many people they do. I think everyone today needs to really have a digital component.
Esi Magic: It reminds me of one thing that I've been recommending to people because I have clients as well is like, even if you can't sell from your location, there's so many other things you can offer like training or how to's or write a book. There are so many different ways that you can adapt to this type of situation.
Daphne Subar: Exactly. It's interesting. I was listening to someone speak the other day and she's like, "When the pandemic hit, there was two types of people, one that just went into full-on hustle mode and figured out ways to adapt, and ones that just said, they're going to read a book and write it out," because I don't think anyone thought it was going to last this long. Those people are probably trying to hustle now. I kept hustling and I kept trying to think of new ways. I think in order to do that you had to have been involved digitally somehow.
Esi Magic: Yes, definitely. One of the great things about your business is actually that you ship nationwide, I would love for you to tell us how people at home can order some of your sweets and taste all that you have to offer.
Daphne Subar: Yes, we do offer nationwide shipping, and subarz are great to send because they require no refrigeration so they're easy to ship. Orders can be placed at subarzsweet.com, that's S-U-B-A-R-Zsweets.com. Until the end of November, we're going to be offering 10% off to all LA Goals' listeners, so just use the discount code LA Goals at checkout, and you'll get 10% off your order.
Esi Magic: Sounds good. You guys heard that at home subarzsweets.com and you can try some of these bars that are making big waves. This is going to wrap up part one of our interview. Stay tuned for part two. We're going to talk to Daphne about different mistakes that either she's made or she's seen other people make that she wants to recommend against it.
Social media tips, obviously, you have a wonderful social media feed. I'd love to hear about how you adapted to social media because I know you mentioned that that was something that you had to transition to and your daughter helped you. Also, as well as your three tips for success and just some of the tools as well, the specific tools that you use to help grow your business. Head over to LA Goals for that, and we'll see you there.