After working on Wall Street for 7 years and attending law school in the evenings, Mya Jacobson (age 34) realized that her life was not her own anymore. So, when the financial company she worked at closed down, Jacobson wanted to find something that would ‘feed her soul". So, in 2004, she started baking cookies in her apartment and by November 2005, she opened the doors of her gourmet cookie shop, Feed Your Soul, to the public.
Since starting Feed Your Soul, Jacobson has received a lot of press coverage. She’s made appearances on CNBC’s ‘The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch’, was featured on several NY metro media outlets such as the Jersey Journal, NJ Biz, The New York Times, amNewYork, NJ.com, the Star Ledger and News 12, and had her cookies featured in a number of bridal publications.
After contacting Jacobson via e-mail, I visited her at her store in downtown Jersey City for the interview. She showed me around to the back of the store, introducing me to her employees who were busy at work. She explained to me the process of creating the cookies and told me a bit more about her business. Then, after getting a "tour" of her shop, she treated me to some delicious honey oatmeal raisin cookies and we sat down, at one of the tables set up at her shop, for the interview.
YOUNG MONEY: So you started Feed Your Soul after the financial company that you worked at closed, but how did you make the mental shift from being a Wall Street employee to owning your own cookie factory?
MYA JACOBSON: Well, I think it’s always an adjustment to go from being an employee, to being an owner of a business. I think inherently in my personality there was a creative side, so I wanted to fulfill that creative side, and if anything, my business experience helped me, because I thought in terms of business, rather than in just terms of baking. And so many people who start a business, don’t understand what it takes to go from having a creative hobby, to actually figuring out profit margins, and budgeting, and how you’re going to survive and earn a living.
So, I think it was a natural growth, and I’m still learning. It was an easier transition, because I understood that I belonged in a creative environment and I knew what it took to get there financially.
YM: How did you feel when you first opened Feed Your Soul in 2005? Were you nervous, excited-describe what was going on in your mind on that day?
MJ: It was a mix of emotions. I was very excited, I was inspired, I was passionate about what I do. I was a little overwhelmed, because you don’t realize until you’re actually in something, what it takes to get it started, there’s always a lot of bumps in the road, so you figure it out. You take each day as it comes, and while you have a big picture on the horizon in your mind, of what your dreams are and where you want to be, I think you really have to take it day by day, otherwise, it can be so overwhelming that you don’t want to do it anymore.
YM: I know that you got some friends and family members to help you with your business, but did you face any criticism from other friends and family members? How did you overcome this criticism?
MJ: I don’t think it was so much criticism. I knew that I had a quality product. I think the hardest part was customer service. You get customers calling, you think you have this great product and you got it into the supermarkets. It’s great that it’s in the stores, but then you have to figure out, when people complain, how you’re going to handle it, because you’re still a small company.
YM: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced while running Feed Your Soul? How did you overcome that challenge?
MJ: The biggest challenge is growing, because it’s one thing to be very small and it’s one thing to be a huge company, but when you’re somewhere in the middle, you have eight departments, and you’re running all of them. And you need money to run all of them and you want to grow, but all of a sudden you can get a million orders but you don’t have the capacity because you don’t have the machinery, so you need more financing. So you deal with the issues of money and how you’re going to grow. But if you don’t get the money and you don’t grow, you’re always going to be treading water in the same spot. I think the biggest issue is going from being something small to becoming bigger.
YM: How is your business adapting during these hard economic times? How do you still manage to stay afloat and succeed?
MJ: I think we were fortunate, or unfortunate, because we’re still small. So even if we hit 1 percent of the population, we’re still growing. But I noticed it in my supermarket line, so we actually had to reduce the costs. So when you have to reduce the price for the customer, you have to make sure all of your costs are still low enough so you can produce the product. I think that the product we have is timeless, so you have to make sure you have a timeless product. We have something that’s good for everyday. People will still spend $20 on a birthday gift. So our niche market is still out there. There are people that still will spend $20 on a high end gourmet gift.
YM: What advice can you give to someone looking to start their own gourmet food business?
MJ: If it’s in you to do it, and you have passion and you have drive to do what you love, figure out a strategic way to do it, because you can’t just open and start baking. Aside from the permits and the licenses and the money, you need a plan. If you don’t have some sort of strategic plan, you can’t run a business; you’re stuck with a hobby.
YM: What would you say are the most important keys to entrepreneurial success?
MJ: The keys to entrepreneurial success…..
1- You must have passion for what you do.
2- You must have a strategic plan in order to achieve your success.
3- Know your own strengths and weaknesses and surround yourself with those who can offer you knowledge.
4- You must be resilient and take calculated risks! -able to jump hurdles and roll with the ups and downs.
5- You must believe in your product/service and exude an energy that allows others to believe in it as well.
Moustapha Camara is the co-founder of T-Shirt Magazine, an online magazine focused on the t-shirt industry and t-shirt culture, and co-founder of Cashletes, a money themed streetwear clothing line. Camara founded T-Shirt Magazine with his older brother AJ in March 2008, at the age of 17, and Cashletes in the January 2009. Camara currently resides in Jersey City, NJ.