Yasmeen Tadia is on the move. She and her 9-year-old son, Zain, are about to catch a flight to New York City to meet with clients of Tadia’s gourmet sweets and snacks empire, Make Your Life Sweeter, under which she runs Sugaire, ModSweets, FluffPop and Hotpoppin. After 24 hours in the Big Apple, the mother-son duo will continue on to India to visit schools and orphanages for Tadia’s nonprofit, appropriately named Random Acts of Sweetness. Then, as the single mom rattles off, “it’s Calcutta for the week, then back in Dallas for a day to do the backstage experience at Justin Timberlake’s concert, and then we fly out again to visit a handful of very rural villages in Bangladesh.”
Considering this itinerary comes just one day after her company’s sixth anniversary, it’s safe to say this formidable mompreneur has no plans to slow down anytime soon. The Dallas-raised Tadia, who graduated from Southern Methodist University and now resides in Plano, is thrilled with the entrepreneurial spirit on the rise in her hometown. “I have five companies now, and a nonprofit and an education leg we’re looking to open here,” she explains. “This is the only city where I think we could do this, to try things in a way that people haven’t seen before.”
I’ll keep this short, because I know you have a flight to catch. Is Zain prepared for the jet lag ahead?
You know, kids are so much better [at jet lag] than adults! He can get off a flight from Hong Kong and go directly to school.
He always travels with you on business, right?
Yeah. It’s so important right now to travel with him. School is important, but I really feel that life experiences are more educational—as long as he keeps up with his work.
What do you hope stays with him from these travels?
When I was a child, my parents would take me to South Africa, where we’re five generations there. They never had to tell me to finish my food because I’d see what hunger looks like firsthand. A typical American doesn’t have that experience. I would encourage people to bring their kids to third world countries. … If we just leave our comfort zone, we can change the world.
You don’t seem to even have a comfort zone! In addition to your companies and nonprofit, you provide coaching and consulting services, you do speaking engagements and you’re writing a book. So, seriously, how do you do it all?
Necessity is the mother of invention, right? You do the most with what you have. I am the sole provider, so I don’t really have much of a choice.
What’s your book about?
It’s about the entrepreneurial journey being a single mom and how anybody can do it. We still don’t see many female entrepreneurs, especially single mom entrepreneurs, given a platform. Anyone can start a business if they have money, but if you don’t have money then how do you bootstrap?
What’s the biggest challenge or misconception of being a single mom and entrepreneur?
What’s really hard is when married women, even my friends sometimes, say, “My husband is traveling so I’m a ‘single mom’ this week.” I’m at the point in my life where I am comfortable saying, “No, you don’t get to say that. Call yourself whatever you want, but you don’t get that title … until you’re it.” Being a single mom is not, not having someone in the house for a week—it’s paying all of your bills, being the caretaker for everything.
And they might not know that’s inconsiderate to say because they’ve never lived that experience.
Exactly! Yesterday, I was at an event for my client and someone came up and asked me what my background was. I told her I’m from Dallas, I went to SMU, that I worked in HR for years before starting my businesses. And she said, “No, what is your background? You’re so exotic. I just need to know what are you.” I don’t think she meant it in a bad way. But I want to be known for the work that I do, not where I am “from-from.” There’s a lot of work we have to do.
Has this kind of ignorance—about your gender, race, single mom status—been the most difficult part of building your businesses?
I’m a little guy, and big businesses have gotten away with bad behavior for so long. We got sued last week by a very large company, which is frustrating. As a small company, it’s somewhat flattering to have big companies watching you and what media attention you get, but …
How do you bounce back from setbacks in life and business?
I allow myself to be sad for one day. Cry for one day, and then pick up and move on. There are downs; there are challenges. But when you change your attitude, it changes your perspective. You realize that with every challenge there is a win. Yes, I could be so defeated by [a lawsuit], just as I could be so defeated by a divorce or a death in the family. But being a single mom helped me realize that I don’t have time to be defeated.
That’s an amazing life lesson to teach your son.
That’s why he’s part of the business. He sees the ebbs and flows.
Do you consider Zain to be your business partner?
Absolutely. I started Fluffpop when he was 3 years old, and that was to create a healthier candy option for him. He’s been an inspiration for growing the business, seeing his viewpoint and what he likes and does not like. He sits in on my meetings; at events he’ll pass out popcorn and talk to people. He knows what it means to work. And he sees the world differently because of it.
It sounds like you’re a real team.
We have a deal—it’s him and me. I’m not his mom; he’s not my son. We’re a partnership. There are no chores in the house; there are responsibilities we both have to make the house work well. I don’t do nannies. I want to be the one who walks him to school in the morning, to pick him up, to cook dinner at night. We try to do a lot of things together because he’s going to grow up one day.