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From Nurse to Chocolatier: The Secret Sauce That Made Me A Business Woman

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Social media is a lot like Karma. When you show your true self, put love into what you do and care for other people, you get rewarded in the most unexpected ways. At least, this is what happened to me when I decided to start my new chocolate business in San Francisco.


I knew I couldn't fake it, and there was no need to: brigadeiros, tiny chocolate balls that belong to the traditional Brazilian cuisine, have always been part of my life. As the eldest of three sisters, when my mother needed help making chocolate she chose me. We would spend hours in our kitchen in Itapeva, São Paulo with our hands dirty and the biggest smiles on our faces. But for some reasons chocolate didn't become a big part of my life until later on. I chose nursing first because I loved to take care of people and make them feel better. Then I found out that there was another way I could take care of the people I loved: making chocolates that would make them happy. So, with a jump back to my childhood and an endless support from my husband, my sweet journey began: TinyB Chocolate was born in 2014.

They say that every successful recipe should have at least one secret ingredient. Well, it wasn't a rare spice or an unknown type of cacao that brought me success as a female chocolatier. It was actually the simplest ingredient of all: authenticity.

Talking about our journey and showing the people behind the company became ingrained parts of our branding strategy.

At the beginning of our business, my husband and I set up the website and the Social Media accounts to showcase our brigadeiros at their best. Rich, mouthwatering and delicious, they looked like precious little gems. We took great pictures from interesting angles, with great lighting and sharp colors to make people want to buy our chocolates. However, we soon realized that something was missing: it was us, our stories and our souls. Our customers told us that they could feel the love and the energy that went into making our brigadeiros when they bit into them. But could they feel the same from our pictures or videos?

The products alone told only half of the story. We had to take the leap and put ourselves out there together with our brigadeiros. This is how more faces started appearing in our Social Media pictures and our captions became more personal and detailed. We also started a blog to share important information not only about our company but behind every flavor and ingredient we were using in our brigadeiros. Talking about our journey and showing the people behind the company became ingrained parts of our branding strategy. We were stunned by the results: customers both online and offline appreciated our honesty immensely and became even more attached to our business. We had found our secret sauce!

There is something about food that can't really be hidden. The feelings and the mood of the chef or chocolatier while cooking always seem to show in the plate. It's like consumers can taste it when you've had a bad day. The food doesn't seem to come together. It just doesn't feel right. So I know that whenever I make brigadeiros, I am not just preparing chocolate. I am creating a human connection. I know that people will be able to tell my intentions just by eating my chocolates. The same goes for our online presence and overall branding.

When we take a picture, or we put together the message we want to communicate, we prioritize authenticity, transparency, and honesty. Consumers are not as naïve as we think they are. They can tell when a business fakes passion for what it does and sells. Especially chocolate lovers, they are becoming increasingly demanding not only for the quality of their chocolates but also for the people who make them. Nowadays chocolate consumers want to see faces, hear the details and get to know what happens behind the scenes. If they don't find transparency and authenticity, they will rarely trust a brand or would want to buy from it.

As I keep growing my chocolate business, one of my most important goals is to stay true to myself and communicate the love that goes into my chocolates. Brigadeiros might call for few ingredients and an easy process, but here's the tricky part: without pouring your soul into what you are doing, not even the simplest recipe will come out right. I finally understood that authenticity is what keeps family businesses like us successful in the long run. Although they help, it's not spectacular images or fancy ingredients that will keep us in business. It's the love that we put into our products, and how effectively we manage to communicate that love to our customers online and offline.

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Fresh Voices

How I Went From Shy Immigrant to Co-Founder of OPI, the World's #1 Nail Brand

In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.


One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.

Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.

When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.

There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.

With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.

Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today

Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.

I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.

Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.

There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.

You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.