4 Important Career Tips From Milk Bar COO Sujean Lee That Every Budding Entrepreneur Should Follow
For women in the business world, it can be incredibly helpful to hear advice and tips from other females who have already been extremely successful in their field. It can be so inspiring to see another woman do something like start her own business that takes off in a huge way, climb the corporate ladder and become an executive, or just come up with something new and creative. This is why it's so important to give these women a platform where they can speak and share their experiences. Bustle Digital Group recently debuted L.E.A.D.S. (Learning Empowerment Advancement Dinner Series) events to highlight the company's mission of giving women a platform to tell their story, while helping others learn from their experiences. The first L.E.A.D.S. event took place on April 26 at The Standard Highline and was co-hosted by Where Are The Boss Ladies, and featured an evening of discussion with top female executive leaders in media and advertising. On Monday, June 25, Bustle Digital Group hosted its second L.E.A.D.S. event in conversation with Sujean Lee, the COO of Milk Bar. Lee spoke with Bustle Digital Group Editor-in-Chief Kate Ward about the cult bakery's longtime success and how a brand can stay relevant without becoming a fad.
Milk Bar, as you probably know, is a wildly popular innovative bakery in New York City that offers up much-loved products like Crack Pie, Birthday Cake Truffles, Cereal Milk Soft Serve, and Compost Cookies. Milk Bar's founder, chef Christina Tosi, can basically do no wrong when it comes to creating really amazing desserts. Lee is the current COO of Milk Bar, and previously worked as the Assistant Staff Secretary at the White House for the president, and at Chobani. She has gone through so much in her career, and it's hard to find someone better to give you advice on how to kickstart your own!
1. Don't Rush Anything
According to Lee, creativity can't be rushed — nor should anyone try to rush it. "I just started reading this book called The Creative Curve," she explains. "It talks about how creativity is a cumulative process, it doesn't happen in flashes of genius, and I think that that is actually something that is a defining trait of Milk Bar and part of why it has been able to grow over the past 10 years the way that it has. I think basically, the way I'm going to define it, is that it's not huge leaps and bounds that lead to creative solutions, but it's almost baby steps that accumulate into a result where you're like, 'Oh my gosh, we've created something incredible.'"
She adds, "It's all incremental, and I think that that has led for very organic growth [of Milk Bar] that strikes people because it is just an authentic expansion; seeds of ideas that have built upon each other and have turned into a big thing."
2. Remember How Important Quality Is
Lee stresses the importance of putting out great quality, no matter what it is you're creating, saying, "I think one of the things that, for me as a consumer, when I think about brands that I consume, whether it's food or fashion or technology, it's sort of an obvious thing: but it all does come down to a certain standard of quality. I think that that is something that is extremely important to stay relevant, especially in this digital age, all of these people have access to all of the information, all of the Google, all of the comparisons. What will cause someone to come back over and over again to a product or a company is just knowing in your heart that you're getting your bang for your buck from a quality standpoint."
3. Always Stay Authentic On Social Media
Milk Bar made aesthetically pleasing food popular before Instagram did, and they, as a company, have a great relationship with social media. Lee explained that while success on social is important for your brand, so is staying authentic. Lee explains, "The way that we think about Instagram is how we think about anything that we do, which is that ultimately it's all about being your authentic self. And so for us, social media is jut a communication tool to express the way that Milk Bar is; whether it's on digital or analog or whether it's an email or a photo. So for us, it's just a platform where we can try to capture the spirit of Milk Bar and share it with as many people as possible.
"We pride ourselves, for better or for worse, with never inventing anything for the sake of Instagram. That is probably, truly, the last thing that Christina considers in the kitchen. And I think that a lot of the beauty of our products, their colors, their photograph-ability, come from just her appreciation for being playful with them; like really fun, colorful ingredients that happen to photograph well. And so we occasionally do field trips all together as a team, we go out and try a ton of desserts. To me, it is a huge disappointment to go to some place that is known for beautiful food photography and to have the product and for it to just not taste that great. And I hope that no one has that experience with us.
"And so I think that for us, [social media] highlights the products and it is secondarily just an amazing way to communicate with our customers, get feedback, to see what people are really excited about, to tell them what's happening in our world, whether it's with a new team member or a new store opening, just about feeding that dialogue."
4. Have A Strong Point Of View
When asked for advice for any other young female entrepreneurs just starting out, Lee says, "I think it is really important to have a strong point of view that you feel, for whatever reason, very, very compelled by and to not be apologetic about that. I think that whatever industry that you're in, product, service, technology, it only grows and it only means something if you feel very strongly about it.
"And having had a chance to work with very impressive, inspiring entrepreneurs in my own career, I gravitate towards that and I'm sure that that's why millions of consumers gravitate to the companies these entrepreneurs build — they have a point of view and they dedicate day and night to making that point of view a reality, whether it's naked layer cakes, or strained yogurt or whatever it is. So I would say just don't apologize and keep doing what you're doing."
With additional reporting by Tanya Ghahremani