After classes are over, USC junior Zachary Coughlin heads to a rented kitchen space to create an assortment of desserts such as peanut butter Oreos cookies, salted caramel pretzels, chocolate covered strawberries and more.
Coughlin, who is majoring in communication, launched his online bakery called Zac’s Sweet Shop on Friday, Oct. 4. The business will begin shipping nationwide Oct. 21.
“I just want people to know that it’s okay to indulge, all my sweets are bite-sized confections so they won’t kill you calorie wise,” he said. “I just want to make people’s day a little bit sweeter.”
Coughlin found his love for making sweets when he was just 13 years old after he was asked to make a holiday party dessert. He began dipping cookies and fruits into chocolate, and realized he could start a business when everyone started asking him where he bought the desserts.
From applying to and being rejected from Shark Tank, a television series that gives budding entrepreneurs the chance to showcase their ideas to investors, to catering for large events like TEDxYouth@Pittsburgh, Coughlin learned to build his business from the ground up. However, he explained that he took a two-year-long hiatus after heading to Los Angeles for college.
During this break, Coughlin’s friends and family kept asking about his desserts, and he eventually began to miss his shop. A year ago, he decided to make a business model and start a Kickstarter campaign to fund his e-commerce store.
“The shop used to be just a friends and family thing for so long and now it’s a nationwide business,” Coughlin said. “I love making people happy with my sweets and that’s why I started at 13, I never had any goals to make a huge business.”
Coughlin said that maintaining his business requires a lot of hard work and commitment. Customers place their orders on the interactive site by the end of Friday and he works to get their desserts shipped out within two days, no matter where they are in the U.S. With this business schedule, Coughlin is learning to balance it with school and extracurricular activities.
“I have to wake up around 7 a.m. everyday, do an hour or two of Sweet Shop work and then either go to class or work,” he said. “I’ve always been someone that’s really busy. I thrive when I’m busy because it keeps me in check and I make sure to spend time figuring out where to put my energy.”
Coughlin also added that the communication courses he’s taken at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has helped him launch his bakery. Through his classes, he was given the tools and abilities he needed to convey his ideas to the public. Coughlin explained that the courses pushed him to “write effectively and authentically to get [his] brand across to people” and are helping him achieve his goal of “building the next big dessert brand.”
Nevertheless, fulfilling this goal presents Coughlin with obstacles, such as being able to afford a one year lease for a kitchen space. To make the monthly rent, he has a minimum amount of orders that he needs to stay afloat. On top of his internship in the music industry and being a full-time student, Coughlin also has to get the word out about his bakery to promote it to the public himself.
“I have determination," he said. “I’m someone that doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If I set goals for myself, I work really hard to achieve them.”
For the future, Coughlin hopes to create new innovative recipes and to find create ways to effectively market his brand.