We’re back with a brand new episode of Founder Hustle! Today Melissa Bradley is with April Harris, the founder of the New Jersey-based company, Keeping You Sweet. April Harris launched Keeping You Sweet in 2017, offering a delicious array of health conscious desserts.
Though succeeding in the competitive food industry (where she is one of few African Americans) can be a challenge, April Harris says she learned a motto from her late mother: “My mom used to always say, ‘There’s God and then there’s everybody else. I think that puts it all in perspective. I try to treat everyone the same. I just love the Lord and I lead with love, always.'”
About April Harris:
April Harris launched Keeping You Sweet in 2017, offering a delicious array of health conscious desserts. Among her offerings are custom cakes, brownies, and cheesecakes in mouthwatering flavors like apple cinnamon, banana pudding, key lime, matcha latte, piña colada, sweet potato, strawberry shortcake, and vanilla. In addition to being gluten-free, the sweeteners for these treats can be customized with low-to-no added sugar options, like monk fruit making them Keto-friendly. By filling this unique niche, Keeping You Sweet’s desserts earned a place on the shelves of several Whole Foods grocery locations in the Northeast including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut as well as online.
0:00:00.5 Melissa Bradley: There is a brief reference to suicidal ideation in this episode. Listener discretion is advised.
0:00:12.0 MB: From sermons beyond Sunday and Kinetic Energy Entertainment, this is Founder Hustle.
0:00:17.2 April Harris: So I started with one person and me.
0:00:21.5 MB: Mm-hmm.
0:00:21.7 AH: Then I had two…
0:00:22.1 MB: Well, first of all, let’s just stop. You started with yourself. That is huge.
0:00:25.7 AH: And guess what I did. I never paid myself.
0:00:28.5 MB: Yeah. That’s a problem. It’s hard to run a business, if you’re not getting paid.
0:00:31.4 AH: I never wrote myself a check. I never wrote myself a check. If anything, I was taking money from elsewhere…
0:00:37.8 MB: Sure.
0:00:38.2 AH: To put into the business, bootstrapping like crazy.
0:00:40.1 MB: Yeah.
0:00:41.2 AH: So now…
0:00:41.9 AH: But that’s a huge signal for investors, right? ‘Cause they know you’re gonna… If you don’t get paid where you’re gonna be.
0:00:45.9 AH: Yeah, no matter what. Yeah.
0:00:47.4 MB: Welcome to Founder Hustle, a podcast series by, for and about the new majority entrepreneur. I’m your host, Melissa Bradley, founder of 1863 Ventures. In each episode, I interview a new majority entrepreneur to create a safe space for them to be honest with you about their journey. These founders will redefine and represent the true definition of what it means to hustle and their stories will demystify, uplift, and educate anyone who is interested in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. As the general partner of a venture fund, I want to highlight the tools, strategies, lessons, and support systems that are the blueprint for becoming a successful entrepreneur and shift your perspective on what it means to go from founder to CEO.
0:01:48.7 MB: Today’s founder is April Harris, CEO of Keeping You Sweet. Now all of us have had adversities in our lives. And oftentimes we find ourselves saying, “How will we make it through?” Well, April had that situation. Her business Keeping You Sweet was founded out of the adversity of the loss of her mother. While she wanted to stay close to her mom, she realized that she had to do something different, besides, just wallowing. April, provides us an opportunity to understand that she was able to face her past and her hurt and turn those adversities into a prosperous future. April is the epitome of looking at how a bad situation that many are unable to recover from can turn into a successful business. And understanding how our determination, our will and lots of prayer can help us move from adversity to success.
0:02:43.3 MB: So I’m really looking forward to this conversation… And because we’re here to talk about entrepreneurship and your journey. But this is not the first time you’ve been sitting in front of a mic or you’ve been interviewed. So talk about your life before you became an entrepreneur.
0:03:00.7 AH: So I would think that when you’re in the music business, that’s really… You are an entrepreneur, ’cause someone is coming to your label or a production company is investing in your art. So I think where that goes wrong, ’cause we hear all the stories about artists… And even for myself… Is you don’t get that you are a business. You just are so passionate and in love with your craft and so willing to be creative that you kind of miss the business part of it. And so the vultures come in ’cause they know that that’s where you are. And while you’re making money or while you’re at the height of your success and the dollars are coming in, you have a team of folk around you who pretty much rip you off.
0:03:46.3 MB: Right.
0:03:46.4 AH: It happens all the time. I think that the best part about it is if you understand that it is a business and you enjoy your craft at the same time, and you have people in place to govern your empire which you’re building. But the love of it, just the fact that you can think of words, put melody to them and it creates sound is amazing to me. And I still honor that and I will be… I’m still gonna be recording my next chapter.
0:04:14.0 MB: And so tell us about that. So let’s hear about the first chapter of recording. What did you do? What was your group?
0:04:20.6 AH: Okay, so I was in a girl group called Seduction.
0:04:25.6 MB: Right now.
0:04:25.7 AH: It was a multi-ethnic girl group. They went for that. So it was manufactured. I didn’t know the girls… They put us together. It was a prefab group. And during that time in the early 90s, prefab girl groups were the thing. So we were signed to A&M Records which was a big deal for me because that’s what I wanted. I graduated Howard, two months later I was signing a record deal, which is unheard of. And then nine months later, the album was certified gold, which was still like a huge deal. And I didn’t even get it when I was in it. All I was thinking is, this is not what I wanna do.
0:05:00.0 AH: I wanna be Anita Baker. I don’t wanna be in no girl group. I wanna be a real artist that sings real music. But the funny thing is it’s now almost 30 years later and I have shows booked… Still with Seduction.
0:05:16.5 MB: So did y’all become friends?
0:05:18.5 AH: I own the name.
0:05:19.4 MB: Okay.
0:05:20.0 AH: So the other girls… Michelle is now on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
0:05:23.3 MB: Oh wow.
0:05:23.7 MB: She’s one of the judges on that show. She and… We used to do a lot of shows with RuPaul and they became fast friends. So now she’s with him working on his show. And we’re still cool. I’m still cool with all the other girls, but they don’t wanna perform. So…
0:05:36.6 MB: Gotcha.
0:05:37.7 AH: Music is like really my first love. So I trademarked the name Seduction and whenever I want to, I can perform all over the world with this group.
0:05:48.3 MB: I love it.
0:05:49.8 AH: So I put two girls together that dance and sing and we go out as Seduction.
0:05:52.4 MB: It goes back to the ’90s. And what was your big song then?
0:05:54.8 AH: Back to the 90s. So the big song… So there was… Which was strange for this group. We had four top 25 billboard songs [on the] pop charts. And our biggest song was, ‘It Takes Two’ which went to number two with a bullet. And if it hadn’t been for Paula Abdul’s ‘Opposites Attract’… That incredible video she did, we probably would’ve been number one.
0:06:16.9 MB: Wow.
0:06:17.6 AH: Yeah… ‘Cause it… We were number two with a bullet for about five weeks.
0:06:19.9 MB: Wow.
0:06:20.4 AH: Yeah, we couldn’t beat… We couldn’t knock her off the charts.
0:06:22.5 MB: Okay. That’s alright. Well now you…
0:06:23.6 AH: So that was my first… We toured all over. We even… And it never was released, but we recorded a song with Barry White.
0:06:30.5 MB: Oh wow.
0:06:31.0 AH: ‘Cause we were on the same label and all… So it was a little bit…
0:06:33.6 MB: So that’d be a classic right now, since he’s not here.
0:06:36.6 AH: I don’t even know where it is.
0:06:38.0 MB: Wow. Wow.
0:06:38.6 AH: Yeah. But yeah.
0:06:39.0 MB: Look at you famous all the way.
0:06:42.1 AH: Yeah.
0:06:42.3 MB: Alright. So what made you…
0:06:43.5 AH: Back in the day.
0:06:44.0 MB: Why’d you stop singing? Other than you alluded to it like it wasn’t really your passion.
0:06:47.0 AH: You know… So because I had always performed… Like even when I was at Howard, I was in a band called Stratus and we would perform at the Carter Barron, we opened for the Whispers and Star Point, all these groups. So I was always in a band. So being in a dance pop group kind of took the wind out of me, ’cause I always… I love live music and that’s what I wanted to do. So that’s what I’m gonna do next.
0:07:15.9 MB: Got you.
0:07:15.9 AH: I’m gonna do a live album. But it took a long time to get out of the deal so I couldn’t do anything for years.
0:07:21.3 MB: Oh. Wow.
0:07:21.5 AH: ‘Cause when the group broke up, we were still on the contract. So it took a long time to be able to… I couldn’t be featured anywhere… I couldn’t sing. I couldn’t really do anything ’cause they own…
0:07:33.6 MB: Wow.
0:07:33.7 AH: You sign a deal, they own your name, your likeness, everything. So I had to get permission and they would be like, “No, you can’t do that. No, you can’t do this.” So by the time I was out of the deal, I was done. I was like, “Oh well nobody’s interested in that.” And so I was trying to get signed again with my Anita Baker style.
0:07:52.3 MB: I like it.
0:07:52.4 AH: And they were like, “Well you are a pop artist,” which at the time was what you wanted to be.
0:08:00.0 MB: Got you.
0:08:00.2 AH: But for me I just loved R’n’B. So I wanted to be an R’n’B singer. So it took a long time. And then I just started doing theater to make up for it. So I toured a lot doing different plays… Did that for a long time. And then I worked for a speakers bureau. I still don’t know how I got that job.
0:08:18.3 AH: But I was like [laughter] I was VP of development for a Speakers Bureau, which was brilliant because I learned that world, which is an amazing world.
0:08:28.4 MB: Sure.
0:08:28.6 AH: And I did really well with it. And then my mom passed.
0:08:33.6 MB: Yep.
0:08:34.4 AH: And that just turned my world upside down and I didn’t wanna do anything. I didn’t wanna sing, I didn’t wanna go out… I didn’t even wanna go outside. I just wanted to honestly die. I wanted to be with her. And I had never felt that before, that kind of despair. So it was rough. It took a lot. I have to tell you Jesus Christ himself had to come.
0:08:54.4 MB: Wow.
0:08:54.7 AH: Because I was so low.
0:08:56.3 MB: Yep.
0:08:56.8 AH: And I had never been low. I have always been high.
0:09:00.3 MB: Did you have brothers and sisters?
0:09:00.4 AH: I have a brother.
0:09:01.2 MB: Okay.
0:09:01.7 AH: And he was no help.
0:09:02.6 MB: Okay.
0:09:02.7 AH: ‘Cause he was low too. [laughter] We were both low together. Anytime he would come around I’d say, “Don’t come over here. Don’t come over here ’cause it’s too much.”
0:09:08.8 MB: I hear you. Yep.
0:09:09.1 AH: So we couldn’t help each other ’cause we both were coddled kids. And then my dad died 10 years before that.
0:09:14.9 MB: Wow.
0:09:14.9 AH: And we just… We had great parents.
0:09:17.2 MB: Right.
0:09:17.8 AH: When you’re coddled and your mom is always there.
0:09:21.4 MB: Yeah.
0:09:21.5 AH: It’s…
0:09:21.6 MB: It’s a hole.
0:09:22.7 AH: It was… I felt like an orphan.
0:09:24.4 MB: Yeah.
0:09:24.7 AH: Like I was… It really felt like I was two years old and someone left me on the playground and no one’s coming to get me.
0:09:29.4 MB: Wow.
0:09:30.5 AH: That’s how it felt like.
0:09:31.7 MB: That’s scary.
0:09:32.5 AH: Yeah. I was scared. I was… Just a loneliness, a inner… And it wasn’t just… ‘Cause I had my own family.
0:09:40.5 MB: Sure.
0:09:40.6 AH: And I have a ton of friends and…
0:09:42.9 MB: And you all your fans.
0:09:44.6 AH: Whatever. [laughter] And my mom was the oldest of 18.
0:09:49.0 MB: Wow. Whoa.
0:09:49.5 AH: So I have a ton of aunts and uncles.
0:09:50.6 MB: You said 18?
0:09:50.8 AH: Eighteen.
0:09:52.1 MB: Wow. Okay.
0:09:53.2 AH: My grandmother had 18 kids.
0:09:55.8 MB: God bless her.
0:09:56.7 AH: Natural childbirth.
0:09:57.8 MB: Wow. Whoo.
0:09:58.5 AH: Three sets of twins.
0:10:00.8 MB: Oh, okay. There you go. Wow. I was like 18. That’s a lot.
0:10:03.7 MB: Okay. That helps. There’s an accelerant right there.
0:10:05.7 AH: Yeah.
0:10:06.1 MB: Okay, okay.
0:10:06.8 AH: So and the crazy thing is that she… While my mom had me, my grandmother had like three kids after that.
0:10:13.4 MB: Wow.
0:10:13.7 AH: So they… We’re all in the same age range.
0:10:16.4 MB: Got you.
0:10:16.8 AH: Yeah.
0:10:17.0 MB: Wow.
0:10:17.1 AH: So it was really fun. It was fun growing up…
0:10:20.1 MB: Wow.
0:10:20.6 AH: With all of them. And so my mom was their matriarch too, so they couldn’t help ’cause they were all broken up. Everybody is just broke up, tore up… From her loss. And not her loss, but just her going to be with the Lord.
0:10:35.1 MB: Yeah.
0:10:35.2 AH: You know, transitioning.
0:10:36.1 MB: Yeah. What year was this?
0:10:38.4 AH: This was 2011.
0:10:40.7 MB: Okay.
0:10:41.6 AH: Yeah. So it just took me a minute to just regroup.
0:10:45.4 MB: Sure. Yep.
0:10:45.4 AH: And this story that I tell is the only thing that gave me peace about her passing and seeing her stuff. I couldn’t look at pictures, I couldn’t look at a video… I couldn’t even really talk about her for more than a minute without losing it. But when I saw her recipe books and I saw her handwriting, I could just look… I was carrying them around like they were my baby.
0:11:05.0 MB: Wow.
0:11:05.8 AH: So that made me bake.
0:11:08.0 MB: Yep.
0:11:08.3 AH: And cook.
0:11:09.0 MB: And had you baked with her growing up?
0:11:11.3 AH: I did.
0:11:11.9 MB: Okay.
0:11:12.2 AH: But she was one that… So when I was a little girl, we spent a lot of time in the kitchen together. But when I became older and especially after I came back from Howard, I was like, “Ma, you have to clean these ingredients up. We can’t… No artificial flavors, no artificial colors, no preservatives, we have to… All the sugar and all.” And she’s like, “Listen, as long as there’s love in it.”
0:11:35.6 MB: Right.
0:11:36.5 AH: “It don’t matter what’s in it.” So we totally differed on that ’cause I was like, “I believe this needs to be organic. At least make this organic.” And she thought I was crazy.
0:11:46.0 MB: Wel