Surviving cancer inspired Loren Brill to start her refrigerated cookie dough company, Sweet Loren’s. Brill was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma shortly after graduating from college. “After going through what I went through, I saw first-hand how food is tied to health,” she says.
She started to eat healthier, but she still had a self-proclaimed sweet tooth. “I decided to embark on a journey to create the best-tasting, most wholesome cookie dough possible. I hired my little sister as my official taste tester and, after thousands of pounds of all natural cookie dough, my top secret recipes were complete,” she says. When she started to get orders from family, friends and friends of friends she realized “the world needs better-for-you sweets” and started Sweet Loren’s in 2011. Now she says her cookies are sold in 7,000 supermarkets, and her New York-based team is constantly coming up with new products. We spoke about her career path and advice.
Gross: What advice do you have for other women who hope to start their own businesses?
Brill: My best advice is to spend time defining the things you are truly passionate about. Align your passion with your strengths and a need in the marketplace, and then you have a recipe for success. If you create a business around something that you are truly inspired by, not only will you be able to get others to rally behind it too, but you’ll have the strength to fight for it every day. Starting and running a business isn’t easy, but if it’s for something you love, then it isn’t work, but more of a mission.
Make sure you know what your end goal is too. How big do you want the company to be? What lifestyle do you want? What role do you want to play? This will help you build the business plan around your passion so you know what success looks like. I also think it’s vital to surround yourself with support from a team that is passionate about what you’re doing and friends, family and mentors that have your back. I truly believe we each have unique gifts, and the journey of life is to find yours. So, go find yours! Once you find it, why deprive the world of something that could make it a better place?
Gross: What are your responsibilities as the founder and CEO of Sweet Loren’s?
Brill: When you are the founder and CEO of a company like ours, you really are chief of everything. As the company has grown, I have been able to build an excellent team. I get to focus on the things I love the most: setting the vision and culture of the company, keeping the company financially sound, creating the best recipes possible, representing Sweet Loren’s at press and media events and being the face of the brand since it is called Sweet Loren’s.
Gross: What are the most important characteristics someone needs to have to be successful in your role?
Brill: To lead a company into the future, you have to be so passionate that it is contagious, such a hustler that nothing will get in your way and such a visionary that you can see the future clearly so that you can lead the company in the right direction. You also need to have such a positive can-do-it attitude that you’ll turn major challenges into major growth opportunities.
Gross: What are three characteristics you look for when you’re hiring a new team member?
Brill: I look for passion, drive and integrity.
Gross: What are the most important skills for doing your job, and how did you develop them?
Brill: The most important skills are leadership, coaching, risk-taking, hunger, communication, trust, vision, innovation and optimism. Some of these came naturally, others I have honed through practice, learning from my mentors and entrepreneur groups I am part of.
Gross: What’s the biggest lesson you learned at work, and how did you learn it?
Brill: I learned I couldn’t sustain the business alone. That was a huge eye-opener for me because I realize that it is actually all about the team, culture and advisors that we build around us. I can have the vision and steer us in the right direction, but it is the team that can execute the day-to-day better than me, actually. It is the team that makes us sustainable and scalable. It’s the team and their personalities that help to build the culture and represent the brand. Team members and our advisors and mentors have taught me so much. I learn every day.
Gross: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Brill: I was fortunate enough to meet Hoda Kotb from NBC’s Today Showand she said to me, “I look fear in the eye and say, ‘You don’t scare me.’” It really resonates with me because there is scary stuff we face every day — in business and personal life. Fear is what ultimately holds us back from achieving our dreams.
Wayne Gretzky also has a quote that I love and that hangs by my bed, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” I am surprised by how many of the crazy shots I have taken [and] won. Fear can hold us back from taking the shots, but then we don’t even have a chance to win.
Gross: What is your business advice for other young professional women?
Brill: Do something you love and believe in so that you get to live your dream and feel aligned with what you work on every day. I believe that nothing feels better than finding something you want to give 100% of yourself to. You’ll not only feel lit up every day, but it will be something that will compel you to grow into the biggest, best version of yourself.
Elana Lyn Gross is a freelance journalist, Forbes contributor, and student at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Find her at elanalyn.com.