Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to chat with Vera Damouni, the founder and owner of both Planet Cookies and Vera’s Cakes in Monrovia, CA. As we listened to the story of her start-up journey and picked her brain about lessons along the way she was able to paint a beautiful picture of both the joys and the challenges of being an entrepreneur.
With 15 years of experience under her belt, Vera chuckled when we asked her to talk about the greatest business lesson she’s learned. Like many entrepreneurs, she could talk for hours about the countless lessons learned but decisively narrowed her thoughts down to talk about the most important thing that an entrepreneur needs: commitment. She drew a parallel between owning your own business and being in a long-term relationship, because if you want to be successful it takes major commitment to stick by your business day in and day out. In her own words,
“You have to be so committed to this as if it was as if you gave birth to it as if it was your own child. You have to… feed it daily, you have to nourish it daily, you have to love it daily. You have to figure out what’s wrong with it. If it’s sick, like we’re not making money… what are we gonna do to bring it back?”
Back when she was still deciding whether to open up her own bakery or not, Vera and her husband literally had to decide what kind of a baby they wanted to have. They were contemplating having a fourth child together (they already had three young boys), but instead of having another child they opted to begin laying the groundwork for her to open her own bakery. As a result are still tending to their chosen “big child” today.
When they made their decision years ago, Vera wisely realized that she couldn’t have another kid and at the same time pursue her dream of starting a business and do both with excellence. The commitment that her business has required parallels the commitment and responsibility that it takes to have a child or be in a long term relationship. All of those things take love, respect, and the daily devotion of time.
Continuing on with the relationship parallel, Vera would advise any entrepreneurs who are just starting out to make sure they are pursuing a business that they will love. From her experience, the most successful and happiest business owners are those who have built their business out of interests they currently pursue. Vera put it best when she shared that,
“You have to love what you do. You have to have a passion about it… it’s a love, it’s a relationship. This is something you’re gonna be doing every single day of your life. And you want this to be a long relationship… because that’s what defines your success.”
It is clear from her 15 years of success that Vera loves what she does. When she talks about the cakes and cookies that she creates for customers, you can hear the passion in her voice. Everything that you see in her bakery today, however, came from humble beginnings. Back when the idea of opening her own bakery was just a sparkle in her eye, Vera used to polish her baking skills by baking for her family members, then for neighbors, and eventually for area farmers markets.
After her very first appearance at a farmers market selling banana bread (and selling out within 45 minutes), she decided that the effort to bake all the banana bread wasn’t worth the money made and didn’t attend the next one. However, it turned out that her bread had gone viral and people were asking all around the market where the “banana lady” was. After that, Vera knew that whatever it took, she had to attend again.
She went to the next farmers market armed with 70 loaves of bread, which meant, she recalls with a laugh, that her oven had been running for about the last 70 hours, since she was operating out of her home at the time. From that moment on, she started expanding and scaling her business, moving it out of her house and into a rented kitchen, then finally into her own bakery.
Since starting a business takes that kind of dedication and commitment, she recommends that anyone who is considering starting their own business ask themselves,
“How much do you love the business you are opening? Can I do this every day? Am I willing to sacrifice all my time? Am I willing to come in and work all the extra hours?”
Honest answers to the above questions will give the most insight as to whether budding entrepreneurs will be happy with the commitment they are entering. Once the plunge is taken and one starts their own business, Vera stressed how important it is to have goals and know where you’re going.
“You should have a ultimate goal in the beginning when you start your business of… where you want to be a year from now.”
And, she admonishes, be constantly measuring your efforts against that goal. Don’t set a goal and then forget about it for the rest of the year; hold yourself accountable to checking in to seeing how close you got to reaching it. Then evaluate what you could be doing differently to get closer to that goal.
Even though the recent economy hasn’t made owning and operating her own business easy, Vera contributes a lot of her success to the fact that she remains flexible and always tries to learn. She confesses that she is always reading, even in her “time off”, and is always taking notes whenever she visits other restaurants and bakeries. Not only does this allow her to stay sharp, it keeps her inspired and full of new ideas that she can implement in her own business.
So while starting your own business is never easy, being committed, making sure you love what you’re doing, and sticking to your goals can increase your chance at happiness and success as an entrepreneur. With that, we’ll leave you with one more thought from Vera:
“Without commitment you can’t have anything because [you] could walk away and say ‘I’m not coming to work this week’. And then what’s gonna happen… everything’s gonna come shuffling down. So [by] being committed… you’ve conditioned your mind to believe in that commitment [and] you are just totally devoted to it.”
What do you think? Do you have your own business commitment stories? Have you taken the plunge as an entrepreneur and learned anything different? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you!