Mar. 5 2020
She’s got a date with destiny. Dr. Sylvie Charles may be an entrepreneur with a thriving Amazon business now, but her first job was at a prestigious hospital—even though she knew her heart was outside cardiology. After giving in to her creative impulses and making date syrups in her kitchen, Dr. Sylvie took the leap and founded Just Date Syrup, a line of all-natural food sweeteners with way less sugar, without way less taste. “Our bodies are designed to want sweetness,” says Dr. Sylvie. “We shouldn’t fight that—just figure out how to make it work.” Here’s how she makes it work, inside the office and on her Amazon storefront.
Very important first question: Can we use Just Date Syrup in our lattes instead of sugar?
Obviously. It goes in my coffee! Yes, you can absolutely do that. Another thing to try is, I drizzle Just Date Syrup on roasted vegetables. It’s amazing in cooking and coffee.
When did you change career directions?
I was a practicing doctor at UCSF (University of California San Francisco) when I got a spine injury myself. I had to take a leave of absence and go into physical therapy, and that’s when I thought, “Okay, what else drives me? What else can I do while I’m not practicing medicine?” I kept coming back to this idea of food and healing and sweeteners. I couldn’t get it out of my head… I knew I had to do it when I realized I thought about it more than I thought about my regular job.
I’d been working with patients for a long time. I know diet is so difficult, and so important for being healthy. I know my own diabetic dad, and I know healthy food doesn’t matter if it doesn’t taste good. Until Just Date Syrup, there were sugar substitutes, but they were bad for you and they tasted bad! I wanted to change that, and dates are a goldmine when it comes to nutrition, and they taste really good.
How has Amazon helped Just Date grow?
It’s gotten us to an international marketplace we never would have cracked before… It dramatically improved e-commerce for us. The thing with a direct-to-consumer website is, there’s no reason for people to trust it if they don’t know the product. Amazon gives us that validity, and it lets people buy it just by clicking. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be so helpful—I thought as a small business, it wouldn’t work for us. It’s kind of been the opposite.
Where did your funding come from? What made it possible to quit your full-time job?
Luckily, I had a good reserve of savings for myself. I’m self-funded through my own savings, and because I had to really budget and make those savings last as long as possible, Just Date Syrup launched relatively methodically and slowly.
How did you figure out how to actually make this stuff?
Living in San Francisco, there are tremendous resources for small companies, and within that space, I hustled a lot. I got to know everyone I could—I told them about my idea. Someone always knew someone who worked in the food industry—and I asked everyone who they knew… Ultimately, I joined an incubator for food startups in San Mateo.
A food incubator?
It’s a place where people who have great food ideas but not a lot of food industry experience can test their products and learn about the business. It gives you kitchen space, it lets you start making your product, and it gives you feedback and guidance on basically everything… That’s how I really learned… But I’m lucky because I’m excited about learning. I’m nerdy! For me, it was like being in school again, and it was fun!
What do you do when you fall out of love with your work? How do you stay inspired?
I remind myself it’s normal, and I try to reconnect with life, which is not only work. If I’m feeling low while I’m actually working, I take a minute to ask, “What example am I trying to set for other people?” That motivates me too; it really keeps me going. I think, “What do I want my daughter to know about her mom, who started a business herself?” She’s 15 months old now, so she doesn’t get it—but she will.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for your dream?
Besides filling my car up with 100 cases of date syrup because I didn’t have a warehouse yet? Because that happened. Also, in the beginning, we didn’t have any machinery to squeeze the juice out of the dates, I did not have the money for that, so I was like, “Okay, how hard can this be? Let me do it myself.” I was squeezing hundreds of pounds of dates every day, which was rough. My mom came to help me once, and she was like, “I’m sorry, you quit being a very successful doctor to stand around and squeeze fruit?” My forearms had all sorts of weird muscles. But now it’s cool. It’s made me so grateful for our machinery, and strengthening those muscles was really useful for carrying my baby.
Buy Just Date Syrup here.