Friday, March 1, 2024

Would You Start A Business With Your Best Friend?

There’s been salted caramel car accidents, lines round the block, lockdowns and risks a-plenty, say the team behind Doe Donuts. And now, the two friends are making their television debut on tonight’s episode of TVNZ Snack Masters. Here, Shenine Dube and Grace Tauber talk Capsule through what it’s like to start a business with your BFF.

Because of the three-month lockdown and the now-eternal pandemic limbo in Auckland, it’s been 10 months since I’ve done an in-person interview. But when it came to interviewing Doe Donuts creators Shenine Dube and Grace Tauber, there was simply no way that Zoom was going to cut it.

Why? Because you cannot eat a donut over Zoom and Doe Donuts must frankly be seen – and SWIFTLY eaten – to be believed.

The neon pink donut shop does a great job at breaking up the industrial look of Great North Road, just out of the hip Auckland suburb Grey Lynn, and there’s a steady stream of customers popping in to buy a coffee from the matching neon pink coffee machine and take a donut to go. Here is a sample of the flavours on display: S’mores, key lime pie, Russian fudge, tiramisu (I try some of each, of course! #journalism), not to mention the sticky cinnamon rolls and the freshly baked biscuits.

The origin story of Doe Donuts nails all the classic hits of a small-business made good and now Shenine and Grace make their television debut tonight on new TVNZ show Snackmasters, where they’re competing alongside another local cooking team to recreate the iconic Toffee Pop. It was a challenge, sure – but this is a duo who have managed to start their own business, quit their day jobs, open a brick and mortar store during a pandemic and stay afloat. Basically, it’s a business that’s been built on tackling challenges, one day at a time.

“I think owning any business is quite intense, especially when you don’t really know what you’re doing,” laughs Grace. “There’s no book that you can read that’s like, from start to finish, ‘this is how you start a business’,” adds Shenine. “There are so many fails along the way, as well as so many highs. But you’re not as prepared for the lows!”

The pair have been friends since they were at high school and it was while they were on their OE together in Sydney that donuts were really having a moment. As keen cooks AND keen foodies, the women were keen to give it a try themselves, so were making their own donuts out of their small Sydney flat.

Upon moving back to Aotearoa in 2016, they wanted to test out their entrepreneurial skills and decided to create Doe Donuts. “We started selling them at a market, one day every couple of months, over on the North Shore and we got a bit of traction,” Grace says. “We started an instagram page and bit by bit, we started selling them – first to friends and family.”

By 2018, they were selling donuts consistently enough that flat kitchens weren’t going to cut it and so they moved into a shared cooking space, before moving into their own kitchen. It was important to both of them that they kept their financial risk low, as well as keeping their full-time jobs going as well – Shenine was working at a media agency, Grace as a legal executive. But as their profile grew – plus word of mouth about Doe Donuts – they had a lot of donut fans turning up to their kitchen, so they quickly realised they needed a space that would work as a cooking space and a store.

If you’re thinking that working full-time and then running a business that requires both cooking and e-commerce sounds full on, you would be right. “We did everything from scratch – we would wake up in the morning, make the donuts, do everything and then go out for delivery in the afternoon,” Grace says. “I’m surprised we didn’t have a car crash.”

“I did, remember?” Shenine says. “I fell asleep so briefly at the wheel and luckily – thank god – it wasn’t bad and everyone was okay, but I had so much salted caramel in my car and it went everywhere. After that, we were like ‘Okay, we need to let go of some of the aspects of this business.’”

It was as the first 2020 lockdown happened that both of them were prompted to move from their full-time jobs and commit to Doe Donuts as their #1. “We used that lockdown period to focus on what else needed to be done,” Grace says. “It was kind of nice, because we had been working our nine-to-five jobs, doing Doe part-time and then lockdown came, which forced us to stop and concentrate on what we wanted to do.”

One neon pink shop later, they opened their store in May 2021… and then three months later, were forced to close along with the rest of the city when the giant lockdown began – with one saving grace, in that deliveries were still allowed. Suddenly, the business was going gang-busters – and the opportunity to star on Snack Masters appeared in the midst of this.

Shenine Dube and Grace Tauber in the middle of their Snack Masters challenge
The pair in the middle of their Snack Masters challenge (images from TVNZ and Doe Donuts instagram)

They both watched some snippets of the UK show and – both of them make the exact nervous grimace – they knew it would be pushing them out of their comfort zone, but it was too good an opportunity to miss.

“It was such a good experience and you’ll see in the episode, we were actually so chill,” says Shenine. “Until we got to that one part…” adds Grace. “Oh, yeah, true,” laughs Shenine.

The two are a very good example of how working with your friends can actually be a dream – “Once you’ve flatted with someone, you really know them and if you can put up with that, it’s fine!” They joke that the hardest part of working with a close friend is that they can’t take holidays together at the same time, which is a pretty positive sign.

Both women are aware that it was a risk giving up their 9-to-5s in order to start their own business but it was a risk they took on slowly. “You don’t have to do it all at once – we started Doe while we were still working full-time on other jobs and it was a really good way to test the waters,” says Grace. “It’s not easy – there might be a few months where you’re tired and stressed; in fact, there absolutely WILL be those times.” They both laugh. “You will be tired for weeks on end. But it will all come to fruition.”

“A big tip is to reach out and ask for help – nobody knows everything, so reach out to businesses you think are doing a great job and ask for advice,” Shenine says. “A few people have done that to us and we love to tell people what we’ve done and how it could make things easier for them. Not everyone can afford to go to a business person and ask for their advice. If you can reach out to people and ask some questions, do it.”

Grace remembers on the first day they opened their neon pink store and there was a line of customers waiting around the block. “That was definitely amazing,” she says. “And then of course, ruthlessly anxiety making.” Both girls start cracking up. “It’s definitely both.”

See the Doe Donuts team in action on Snack Masters tonight, Wednesday, 18th May 7.30pm on TVNZ 2 and catch up on TVNZ on Demand

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