Whole Self Systems Interviews Julia Friedman, Founder of Sconely
Julia Friedman is the Founder and Chief Strategist of Sconely, an LA-based delivery-only bakery. Each scone is handcrafted in small batches, freshly baked, and hand delivered, and each scone tells a story. We interviewed Julia about her own journey as an entrepreneur:
What were you doing prior to launching Sconely?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur since I was 16. I’m into projects and creating things. I had a small business as a kid - I’d create jean jackets and either paint them or embroider them and sold them to distributors. So I’ve always been interested in creating something and getting them out to the public. I went to art school at Washington University in Saint Louis and was thinking I was going to be an artist, but became allergic to the material I was using, so I switched gears.
In my early 20s I started to work with an artist who was very established at the Art Institute. I was traveling with him to implement exhibitions at museums and galleries all over the world. And then at one point he tells me, “Well you’re really good at this - you should start a gallery”. I was like, “Ok,” and so I renovated a space in the West Loop in Chicago and got funding together and opened a gallery. Then I decided the best opportunity was in NYC and I moved the gallery to NY. And that was a culture shock. Very tough, obviously - it’s the biggest art market in the states. And so I did that for a few years and then I closed the gallery and started to work as an art consultant for a startup consulting firm. Then I got interested in startup life.
Then I got sick. And everything shifted in my life and had to switch gears and figure out how to get better. I moved from NY to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I started something called Exchange Works which was a platform for visual artists to exchange their art for resources. It was exciting, but then I felt antsy because Santa Fe isn’t really a business center - not a place to get activity going in whatever field - it’s kind of a relaxing place, so I moved to LA.
Then my mom got sick and she passed away. I was really close to my mom and was with her a lot towards the end. And I was just devastated. And I really wanted to do something to honor my mom. She was an avid baker and our family was always very focused on food. I forgot to mention during my cancer journey, I changed my diet and it was very difficult to find food that I could eat, especially when going to an event, so I started creating scones. I thought they were interesting because you can do so many things with them and were relatively healthy because they have less sugar and you can do a lot of things with vegan and gluten-free. So the scone idea was actually started a very long time ago.
When my mom passed away, I was just like, “Ok. This is the moment that I need to do something.” I just started developing Sconely. And that took a while cuz the food industry was new for me. So I was working with a chef and a nutritionist and some business advisors and trying to think of the right angle . At first it was going to be a social platform with more interactive technical focus. I realized I had to stop and focus just on the food because people had no idea who we were or what Sconely was. So I started a kind of delivery-only bakery specializing in sweet and savory scones for events and gifts, and that’s how Sconely happened.
Would you say that the turning point was really the passing of your mom?
It was the combination of the health issues and the desire to have some options that I could eat. I thought there was a business idea there because, well, everybody eats, and healthy-style baked goods was becoming more popular, but yeah, my mom was like the catalyst, the final moment where I said, “I gotta do this now...” do something with kind of the sadness I was going through.
Moving to LA without family or friends I felt a need to do something that made me feel good. The scones are named after friends and family and it brings a lot of pleasure to say that I’m making a “RubyQ” or “Suzi Sunshine,” my sister. I always have to have some reason behind this. It’s not just a scone; There are a lot of things packed into it.
Was there a clear moment when you doubted yourself?
That probably came later. The first year you spend developing recipes, and I worked with a really innovative chef. We worked together on these different flavors which was a lot of fun and sort of satisfying. Then launching is hard. I think after a year was when I thought, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But now we have monthly or weekly deliveries that are more consistent.
What was it that helped you to say, “I can?” Was it something inside you - was it your inner voice? What gave you the courage to commit?
I know that you really need a good 5 years for any small business. It takes a while to get known and you have to persevere. So I live pretty minimally. This is my focus. I don’t go on vacations; There are a lot of things I just kind of give up to focus on business and give it a shot. But once you start to have some successes then you’re like, “Oh ok, I can do this!” And that’s what’s going to help me get to the next step.
What were some of those little successes along the way?
Well we deliver to Industrious. We deliver to a few of the locations, and I was just noticing who else was in the building. And so I just kind of cold called or cold emailed people and they start responding saying, “This looks amazing,” and then they become our clients. Then, when you walk in the door, you have a trail of employees following you because they’re so excited! To me this is like, ok, this is doing something. This is working, we’re creating a fan base pretty organically just by going out there.
In terms of overcoming practical concerns as you were building, was there anything that you did outside of just streamlining your life from a financial standpoint that helped you along?
These are very labor intensive scones. I’m not the primary baker, and it’s not my background, so I needed to hire some really good people. We found that we weren’t baking to capacity and I realized that I wanted something to expand our products. In realizing our limitations in terms of space and maximizing our time, we started thinking about these crisps, which are double-baked scones that have a shelf-life, and so that’s what we’re launching in October. And I feel like that’s going to put us in a better position. Right now, it’s delivery-only, but this is going to be something we can sell in a different market.
Is your business something you’ve had coaching on, specific mentors, or are these ideas just coming to you? What kind of support have you received as you’re growing and figuring this out?
Every family event I’ve had for the last 10 years, I bring scones, and we discuss things. My nephews come up with some good ideas, or my niece…the “Rubi Q” scone was her creation. So it’s very collaborative in terms of the recipe development, coming up with ideas, and the marketing side. And then on the business side I have a business mentor, and advisors, and partners…and that helps. I mean I’m a solo entrepreneur and this is my own company and I really need that. Friends, and family, and my boyfriend is very supportive and he’s constantly taking photos of me and the scones. He came up with the crisps idea because I’ve been talking for a while about how difficult it is to be in the kitchen because I only have only x amount of orders. So then he was like, “well...bagel chips…” That’s how that started.
Was there a point in time from the beginning till now where you thought I can sustain this, or are you still in the process of figuring that out.
Well we’ll be celebrating 2 years, and we’re still in the process. We’re still a very, very small company. For me, as long as people love the product, you need like 100 people to love what you’re doing to grow, and we’re getting close to that. I feel like it’s all possible, but we are nowhere near where I want to be.
With the crisps, because it’s the next phase, are you approaching it differently on the business side?
Because it’s a different product, it can live on the shelf of a market or grocery store…that’s very different. It’s now a food “product” instead of “baked goods” that have to be eaten within 48 hours. But what we’re still focused on is making entertaining or gifting easier for people; That’s what’s really been a kind of a mission. And that stems really from my mom - my parents - just loving to entertain people and being generous with food. I think it works with scones or crips or whatever else we might have in the future. It’s a beautiful and easy and delicious experience for someone.
Given that you are a solo entrepreneur, how do you ground yourself on a daily basis? What are the tools you use to for yourself to keep yourself well?
Food. It all goes back to food. I do a lot of things everyday that are just focused on health, and delicious. I’m always constantly cooking or in the kitchen for Sconely. I’m focused on preparing something very specific and healthy and yummy, so that helps me a lot. I’m excited to go into the kitchen! It’s hectic and busy, but I find it very grounding. So the process is great for me - for my mental state. I also walk a lot. I’m probably the only person in LA without a car. I like to take long walks to think about stuff.
You mentioned each product has its own personality and was inspired by people who have meaning for you. In your success, how have you used story as a tool to brand yourself or your product, and how do intend to use story as you continue as an entrepreneur?
I think that stems back to my work in visual arts. It has to have a meaning and reason for existing. The scones are not just flavored, they’re inspired by people and their stories. Here’s an example: My Aunt was a candy maker, Aunt Fanette. She had a little candy business, and actually it was really inspiring to me when I was a little kid. Since she made turtle candies, I named a scone after her called “The Fanette.” It is a vegan chocolate pecan turtle scone. It has her essence in a way. So when I do a pop-up, and when they ask, and I tell them about Aunt Fanette and they’re like, “Oh wow!” Or when they order, people actually really like to engage that way. They’re not just like “I want the cheese one,” but, “I want The Fanette.” Or “Zilla.” It’s branding-in-action. It becomes something for them to be excited about. And when they mention it to others, the story continues. It makes the scones feel personal. It’s not just food, it’s food with some sort of history, caring. have some ideas to further the story, something called “Sconely Starter” that we’re launching soon…kind of like a question-of-the day. Something that revolves around food and memory and family. That also will help continue the story after or while you’re eating.
When you’re faced with a great challenge, where do you turn to find the faith within yourself or outside of yourself that helps you pull out of the dark places and helps you go on?
I had an order of 600 scones and my baker cancelled on me last minute. I’m like, “How am I going to do this?” And I did it. Your adrenaline rushes, you look for help…I mean I was in the kitchen. There were some other food entrepreneurs there and they were like, “Do you need help?” And I was like, “Yes!“ And they said, “I’ll wash your dishes and I’ll take out your trash.” That made a huge difference it made me feel like I can go on. So I’d say community can help pull you through - and I mean I thought I was going to have a heart attack and I didn’t know how I was going to do it - and somehow you just get through it. But in general, if you’re passionate about something, you find ways to make it happen. And if it doesn’t happen, you do something else. It’s not the end of the world . Since I’ve had other kinds of businesses that I’ve shifted from, it’s kind of my perspective. It’s not the only thing I’m going to do. This is like something I love and I want to happen forever, but I have no idea … this is a startup.
It’s kind of like keeping flexible?
Yeah, and listening to yourself and to others and kind of moving with really what the market is asking for - for what makes sense. Things will shift. We decided we didn’t want a brick and mortar. I think that would be much more difficult / more stressful. You kind of see what the context is for being successful for yourself. Someone else would think a brick and mortar is success: you have a place to walk into. But for us, we bring the experience to the others. So you just see what makes sense for you and for the people you’re trying to work with and sell to.
Any final thoughts?
I think what you said about flexibility is really key. It is important to be flexible with yourself and with a business. You shouldn’t be too strict because things will change and shift you can’t be too tied to any one thing. So that’s just being lean and nimble as a startup.
To learn more about Sconely (and order their DELECTABLE scones), visit https://www.sconely.com/