Founder’s Blueprint for
Overcoming Challenges & Achieving Success
Soroya Pognon, Founder & CEO of Oh Lait! Oh Lait! , a specialty ice cream brand inspired by fruits and flavors from the Caribbean. Soroya shares lessons she has learned from building the Oh Lait! Company.
My name is Soroya Pognon, and I am the founder of Oh Lait! Ice cream brand, which takes inspiration from fruits and flavors found in Caribbean cuisine.
In 2019, when my brother suggested I create a food-based business, I thought, “how hard can it be…” while I have a degree in healthcare administration and Social work, I was an overachieving first-generation child of Haitian immigrants. For me, this meant I spent my weekends assisting my parents with their catering business or spending my summer vacations helping my aunts with their home-based businesses- be it baking cakes, making beef patties or making ice cream.
Let me tell you a story about a boss babe who was in over her head.
I had a dream. I was going to create an ice cream brand and have it sold in every store across the country. I told you—I’m an overachiever!
What I didn’t realize was how much time, effort and money it would take to make this dream a reality. My first two years in business went from excitement to panic. The money I had saved/raised quickly disappeared on pricey consultants and production. Soon, I was left with no product (ice cream expires) and no money to start production. I felt that I had failed my business, and I failed my family. It was an incredibly dark time—ironic because ice cream is supposed to make you happy! Where was my boss babe moment?
But then… something happened: I have learned some of my most valuable lessons about business and life.
Check out my list below:
1: *Shameless self-care plug* Emotions can be tricky. They’re often fleeting, and that makes it hard to process what you’re feeling and why. And it’s especially tricky when you’re an entrepreneur—you have so much going on that you need to be able to prioritize your emotions.
When I was first starting out as an entrepreneur, I had a lot of anxiety. But instead of letting that emotion take over my life, or letting it make me feel worse, I just kept reminding myself: “Hey, you’re feeling ______ right now! You might want to talk about that with someone.”
It sounds simple enough, but the truth is that when we acknowledge our emotions—and allow ourselves the freedom of expressing them—we can actually reduce anxiety. As a social worker, I’ve always reminded my clients to name their emotions whenever they feel anxious, sad, frustrated or angry; naming them helps us process them and move on from them more quickly than if we try to ignore them entirely. As an entrepreneur, I knew I needed a therapist and safe space to talk about my fears and pressures (family pressure, pressure I put on myself, guilt, etc).
2. I grew up in a household where failure was not tolerated. My parents emigrated to this country and worked hard to ensure my brother and me could live the American dream. Somewhere along the way, I believed I needed to be perfect; there was no room for mistakes. If by chance, I did fail…I didn’t fail publicly; I failed quietly- preferably in a warm location surrounded by starchy comfort foods.
I grew up believing that failure was a bad thing and I equated it with disappointing the people I loved. It was counterintuitive for me to believe that it was associated with success, but how could I grow and learn if it wasn’t for the mistakes I made along the way?
I started following other founders, I listened to their stories and I learned I had to treat failure as an event and not a character flaw. So now when things don’t go as planned (which is often), instead of getting upset at myself or disappointed in others, I pause; I reflect and I alter the course
3. Take inventory. I was in a difficult space. I had hit a wall and needed to figure out how to get over it.
So, I pulled out my notebook and took inventory of what resources I had to work with.
I knew I had the skills and experience necessary to get through this tough spot—I just needed some help accessing those tools. So I started looking at the people around me who could offer insights on next steps and how they could assist, if needed. My family and close friends were accountants, marketing gurus, videographers, ice cream lovers and they offered insights on next steps and how they could assist, if needed.
Then there were the accelerators, mentors and programs offering guidance on how to build the infrastructure necessary for running a successful business. Through those programs, my ecosystem grew. I learned new skills, connected with other entrepreneurs and shared resources. Each conversation left me feeling empowered about building the necessary infrastructure to run a successful business.
4. Share your story and share it often. I’m a believer in sharing your story.
I’m not talking about just the good parts—I mean, the bad ones too. I’ve had my fair share of struggles, and it’s important to me that you know what they were.
I contemplated writing about my struggles in business, but it also feels liberating to reflect and write about the things that pushed me to evolve. I had to address alot of the stuff I carried internally to gain the courage and perseverance to tackle the challenges and distractions happening externally.
My call to action to you is this: embrace challenges. There’s something powerful and empowering about overcoming them. And the process of overcoming a challenge will teach you far more than anything else could ever teach you.
Also, buy some ice cream (from me).