From Candy Aisle To Corner Office: Sugarwish Founders On Un-Commoditizing A Category


Corporate gifting can be pretty uninspiring at times, as gift cards and flower arrangements can feel a bit generic. Knowing this experience all too well, Denver entrepreneurs (and moms) Elisabeth Vezzani and Leslie Lyon decided to shake up the pretty bland gifting game by creating Sugarwish, a new sweet startup which allows customers to send birthday, holiday, and corporate treats.

And unlike most gifting models, Sugarwish allows consumers to choose exactly what kind of candy (think gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, and Jolly Ranchers!) they want, giving them complete control and personalization over the gifting process. "What makes Sugarwish unique is that it basically flips the gifting model, allowing the recipient to choose what they want," says Sugarwish co-founder Leslie Lyon.

A Sugarwish gift box

Sugarwish started off as a conversation between Lyon and Vezzani about the lack of clever gifts that existed on the market. Elisabeth Vezzani was tired of sending generic gift cards to her clients, and was searching for gifts that were more fun and customizable. She then teamed up Lyon, who would often reminisce about the fun she would have on her work breaks visiting candy shops. Both women were convinced there had to be a way to create a gift that was easy to give and fun to receive. The duo immediately settled on candy, as they both agreed it was celebratory and a fun item anyone can enjoy.

“Personalization is the cornerstone of our business and is what we do best. By letting the recipient choose what they want, we are absolutely certain they will love what they get."

After the basic idea of Sugarwish was conceived, both Vezzani and Lyon had a lot of decisions to make regarding its early stages. Deciding on the company logo, product packaging, and designing the website were some of the challenges the duo faced, especially since existing ecommerce platforms would not allow for the “receiver picks" aspect of the business.

However, both women felt Sugarwish had huge potential, even if that meant making meaningful mistakes along the way. Mistakes are part of the growth process of any business and can be the quickest way to identify problems and make progress in the right direction," adds Vezzani. “The real concern should not be about making mistakes, but rather, the loss of momentum, due to the fear of making mistakes. Fear of making mistakes and the resulting indecision can do much more harm than a few bad choices made in the spirit of progress and moving forward. So we try hard to keep choosing — and keep moving."

Thankfully, Sugarwish didn't face too many bumps in the road as the business grew faster than both women expected. Although they were anticipating bit of a ramp period along the way, Sugarwish didn't exactly experience one, making it a whoa-to-go from day one.

Lyon and Vezzani note that Sugarwish was self-funded for the first few years, which they believed had enormous value. Doing so forced the duo to prioritize constantly, as they didn't have the money to do everything they wanted to do. Shortly after going through a startup accelerator in Boulder, they met individuals interested in investing, which allowed the duo to move their business to the next level.

Over the past year, Vezzani and Lyon state that the company's tremendous growth was caused by the significant increase in corporate business. And by carefully and cleverly scoping out the gifting competition, they were successfully able to perfect the gifting platform in just 18 months.

Although Sugarwish has been an exciting journey in entrepreneurship, balancing motherhood with the business is an obstacle both Vezzani and Lyon face. “Balancing motherhood—and, quite frankly, everything else that is not Sugarwish—is definitely one of our biggest challenges," says Lyon. “Over the years we've established a few ground rules for ourselves to help decide what can be done versus what needs to be done, but we can't say we have mastered this skill. It is still a work in progress for us."

Founders of Sugarwish, Elisabeth Vezzani and Leslie Lyon

Earlier this year the company introduced a new Sweet Shoppe gift, which is sure to become the new luxurious candybar every company has dreamt of experiencing. In addition, expect to see more product lines from Sugarwish later this year, as both Lyon and Vezzani are constantly brainstorming new ideas.

“As far is what is next for us—we are planning to add more product lines to Sugarwish," says Vezzani. “Our customers love the receiver picks aspect of our gifts, and we are confident that this concept can be successfully applied to many other products as well. We are currently in the process of deciding what our next product line will be, so stay tuned."

“You'll probably hear this comparison a lot, but starting your own business is very much like having a child, as it is awesome, wonderful, stressful and scary. It will take all you've got to give (and then some). So just be sure you know what you are getting into—and then go for it." - Lyon

"Sugarwish allows consumers to choose exactly what kind of candy they want (think gummy bears, Sour Patch Kids, and Jolly Ranchers)"

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
5min read

Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."