How a Movie Date Changed Sugarfina Co-Founder Rosie O’Neill’s Life Forever
Sugarfina is a company we’ve adored since it started making Champagne- and rosé-infused gummy bears, because candy and wine is a genius combo. Fanciful collabs such as Disney’s new Mickey Mouse collection or Tito’s vodka cordials are just a few of the reasons we’re hungry to know more about how Rosie O’Neill launched her confectionery empire with co-founder (and fiancé) Josh Resnick. In this week’s How to Quit Your Day Job series, we sat down with O’Neill to learn how she built a luxury candy boutique that counts Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Alba, and Julianne Hough as fans.
Meet the Candy Pro: Rosie O’Neill
Before starting Sugarfina, Rosie O’Neill was the director of marketing for Barbie for several years. But a conversation after a movie date with her future fiancé, Josh Resnick, changed the course of her life forever, in more ways than one. He’d taken her to see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, prompting the couple to wonder why grown-up candy stores didn’t exist that were just as fun as Wonka’s fictional factory, but catered to a sophisticated crowd. In 2013, they opened the first Sugarfina candy boutique in Beverly Hills. Now, the company has 50 stores in the US and Canada, was named one of “The Best Candy Stores in the World” by Architectural Digest, and is the must-have wedding and party favor for anyone and everyone. Below, O’Neill tells us how she makes the sweet magic happen.
Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?
Rosie O’Neill: I’m always inspired by people who wake up at 5am, meditate, exercise, read a book, and cook a full nutritious breakfast, all before going to work. I’m not one of those people. I sleep as late as I possibly can and usually hit the snooze button at least two to three times.
B+C: What inspired you to start your company?
RO: On our third date, my co-founder (and now fiancé) Josh took me to see the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. After the movie, we started a lively discussion about candy and wondered, “Why isn’t there a candy store for grown-ups?” That was the spark of the idea that eventually led to Sugarfina.
B+C: How do you challenge yourself as an entrepreneur?
RO: I always challenge myself and my team to be market leaders, not followers. If we’re going to create something new, it needs to be awesome and innovative, not just in the candy world, but across all industries. This type of thinking led us to create CandyDrop, a new mobile gifting experience where you can instantly send someone a gift and they get to pick out their favorite candies. It’s easy and fun, and it solves a problem — you don’t need to know what kind of candy they like and their shipping address to send the perfect personalized gift.
B+C: Tell us about how your family and friends help support your business.
RO: In the early days, our friends and family were our lifeline, especially during the holiday season. Josh and I tend to say yes to too many things, so we were constantly overcommitting and getting in over our heads. Like the time we partnered with Facebook on a Valentine’s Day gift promotion and got 18,000 orders in two hours. At that time, a typical online day was about 20 to 30 orders, so we basically had to call in favors from every single person we knew. Our entire extended family packed and fulfilled orders. We even had a friend who’s a pilot make an emergency flight to get more supplies from one of our candy makers in Northern California. It was absolutely insane, but we got it done.
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
RO: The best practical advice I’ve ever received is to “eat a frog for breakfast,” which means doing your most difficult, dreaded task first thing in the day. If you can get through that one thing, the rest of the day feels a lot lighter and easier. The best life advice comes from Josh: “Ask for what you want.” So often, we are shy or want to avoid confrontation or making what feels like an unreasonable request. But if you put it out there, many times you’ll be surprised that you get exactly what you’re looking for. If you never ask, it’s 100 percent guaranteed not to happen. But if you ask, there’s a good shot you’ll get what you want and maybe even more.
B+C: What do you love about your job?
RO: It’s really fun to break the rules and do things that haven’t been done before. The confections industry is huge, but there hasn’t been much innovation in decades. We have a lot of fun bringing our wacky ideas to life, like Green Juice Gummy Bears ($7) or chocolates infused with Casamigos Tequila ($9). I couldn’t do anything without our amazing team. I’m so proud of the people who work with us and all of the passion and creativity they bring to their roles every day. They inspire me and make me love this job even more than I ever thought possible.
B+C: Name two female heroes who you think should get a shout-out.
RO: I have a huge girl crush on [founder of ban.do] Jen Gotch and all of the things she has done to help normalize mental health conversations in the workplace. She recently partnered with Iconery to create statement necklaces that say “Anxiety,” “Depression,” and “Bipolar,” ($48 each), which is a great first step in opening the door to a conversation and helping people realize that they’re not alone.
I’m a big fan of Daina Trout, co-founder and CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha. Not only is her product awesome, she’s a total rockstar who exudes positive energy and has created an amazing company culture. We just moved to a new office and we have Health-Ade Kombucha on tap for our team (yes, I realize that’s the most LA statement ever).
B+C: If you could tell aspiring creative women anything, what would it be?
RO: Be bold. Be different. When everyone else is going right, go left. It takes a lot of courage to create something new, and the best way to stand out is by being dramatically different than everyone else.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!
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(Rosie O’Neill photos via Hanh Nguyen; product photos via Sugarfina)