Tiff’s Treats founders encourage students to be unafraid of failure

Story by Harry Rowe | Staff Writer, Video by Savannah Cooper | Broadcast Reporter

Tiff’s Treats founders Tiffany and Leon Chen shared the story of their company’s origins and the rollercoaster that is being a business owner with Baylor students on Monday evening in the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation.

Students were greeted with a tables full of boxes of chocolate chip cookies, snickerdoodle cookies and milk.

As part of the Texas Optimism Project, Texas Monthly is hosting various speakers around the state, hoping to provide something valuable to students who attend the events.

“We’re going around to different colleges, kind of seeing what the initiatives are for each of the school semesters, and going off that,” said Haley Elander of Texas Monthly. “When we connected with Baylor, they were really wanting to do leadership.”

As the two founders sat down to talk to Melissa Reese, a design director for Texas Monthly, they explained how far they had come. Once a meager start-up in Leon Chen’s college apartment, the cookie delivery service has been a wild success for the couple.

Originating in Austin, the company currently has 41 stores with around 800 employees. However, the Chens said it was not always an easy road to get there. The two didn’t see profit for several years. When they graduated college, they decided to go full-time with their endeavor.

“We weren’t making anywhere near enough money to sustain ourselves and pay for our own bills,” Leon Chen said. “Honestly, it was just being young and naive that we said, ‘You know, we have nothing better to do, so we might as well give it a try.”

The two ended up moving in with one another due to the lower costs, Tiffany Chen said. However, they knew they had to keep their eyes set on their goals and ensure that they persevered.

“We were just really focused on the business, and I don’t think we ever let [not profiting] get us down. It was always growing, so we were always getting better,” Tiffany Chen said. “Even if it wasn’t great at the moment, it was always getting better and better, and we were always getting really good response from the community.”

Tiffany and Leon Chen also shared the core values of the company. They call them “Tiff’s Top Five,” and they help provide a guideline for making tough business decisions. They are:

  • Creating happy moments
  • Always doing right by the customer
  • Protecting the brand
  • Hiring passionate people
  • Being able to adapt and grow are crucial to the success of the company

Toward the end, Leon Chen issued one more valuable lesson he had learned over the years of growth. He challenged students to reach outside their comfort zone. Just like Tiff’s Treats expansion, he said people can’t be afraid to try new things.

“If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough,” Leon Chen said.

The project was put on by the Texas Optimism Project, which aims to inspire optimism through stories of extraordinary Texans, according to its website. This specific talk, titled “Conversations on Optimism,” was put on by Texas Monthly magazine in cooperation with Frost Bank.