Sarah Lee started her bakery business in Hong Kong out of love for all things sweet. The bakery offers a diverse line of alternative desserts, free from the ingredients used in conventional baking that can potentially cause health risks.
What’s your story?
Originally from Singapore, I studied in Canada and I have lived and made Hong Kong home for over 24 years. A single mother and entrepreneur, I founded Sweet Secrets almost 20 years ago as one of the first artisanal western-style bakeries in Hong Kong, known to bring our customers’ dream cakes to life. With a heart to influence change in the community for healthier, happier living, I pioneered in the launch of free-from desserts catering to a niche market with food intolerances in 2012. We now offer the largest range of healthier gluten-free, paleo, plant-based desserts in Hong Kong.
What excites you most about your industry?
In Hong Kong, we have the big local chain bakeries that cater to the local palate and we have the more entrepreneurial, independent ventures started by expats, like me, where we tend to cater to more niche markets. Though there aren’t many collaborative efforts in the industry that impact changes, I am very excited to see the shift in the market demand for artisanal, healthier, alternative free-from desserts. The demand for clean, plant-based / vegan desserts have also been on the rise and we pride ourselves in our outreach effort that help to influence the community.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I am originally from Singapore. I studied in Canada at age 16 and returned to Singapore after 6 years. After a 3 years stint in the IT and sales marketing career, I moved to be with my now ex-husband and made Hong Kong my home till today.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong is an amazing city for business! It is super easy to set up a company and everything is so straight forward here. There are so many networking opportunities and amazing support from business groups to chambers of commerce to women entrepreneurs groups. It is such an economic hub that sourcing is mostly simple. The tax structure is also a good incentive for businesses.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Plan your business exit.” — If I had heard this advice when I started my business 19 years ago, I would definitely have managed it very differently. It is only healthy to have a business in a saleable position as we do not always know when opportunities arise.
Who inspires you?
The person who inspires me isn’t any hero but a heroine in my eyes. Growing up, I had always looked up to my aunt. I saw her as this smart, independent businesswoman, who single-handedly raised her 4 children as a single mom when she lost her husband to a car accident. She didn’t come from a well-off or well-connected background and ventured to start an insurance company which was male-dominated in the 70s. My entrepreneurial seed was planted then.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I am a big advocate of gratitude, it has gotten me through and beyond so many phases and challenges in my life, including my divorce and near-bankruptcy in my business. In the most unexpected moments, we can take something and call it trivial, thus taking things or people for granted.
In just the past one week, 3 incidents happened and if I hadn’t taken a moment to step out of my ‘overwhelmed’ or ‘me’ mindset, I could have jeopardized the amazing relationships I have with 3 amazing women I call my family. So in the nick of time, when I realized what I had done, I owned up to it and salvaged one of the most precious things in my life – friendships. So, my learning is ‘Take no one and nothing for granted. Be grateful, always.’
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I started my business out of my love for all things sweet. Armed with a business degree, I didn’t put numbers first. Instead, my creative juices together with my desire to provide the best and highest quality desserts we can offer took precedence. No regrets but what I would do differently is to start my business plan with an exit strategy. I would also engage a highly reliable financial expert to analyze the company’s financial health and plan strategic growth and expansions. The best products together with strong marketing and financial management will make an even bigger success.
How do you unwind?
Being in nature, walks with my dog, baking, yoga and meditation are my favourite ways to unwind.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love Chiangmai, Thailand, which offer the best package – nature, food, people and weather. There are many types of classes one can enjoy from yoga to meditation, to reiki, qigong etc to nourish the soul. You get amazing food and fresh juices and turmeric shots at such great value, one can totally over-indulge!
Everyone in business should read this book:
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
Shameless plug for your business:
Sweet Secrets is the pioneer bakery in Hong Kong with a diverse line of alternative desserts, free from the ingredients used in conventional baking that can potentially cause health risks. By simply creating the mind-shifting experiences, we transcend the misconception that healthy desserts are unappealing. We inspire our customers to make conscious choices about sugar and health. And we inspire the industry to create and provide conscious choices for their customers. We take on being the educators of dessert and health! Every client interaction is ‘educational’ where we show clients how reducing refined ingredients could refine their health. We aim for this to open a world of possibilities for everyone to make simple lifestyle changes. We aspire to create desserts with a conscience that keeps us going, to serve our community and no one is left without a great dessert.
How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Instagram @funlivingsarah or @sweetsecretscakes
Facebook @sarahlee or @sweetsecretscakes
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.