“There’s nothing prouder for me, to recognize that not only is it life-changing for me, but it can be life-changing for some little girl that’s watching, because representation matters.”
This is Watch Me Work, an editorial series celebrating the limitless potential of Black, women entrepreneurs shifting and shaping culture through their work. La Colombe Coffee Roasters and Kno. Media have partnered to amplify the voices of Black women in our community because we know there’s nothing like the mind of a Black woman and because we know that there’s nothing that beams as bright as Black Girls Shine.
It’s not often that someone can say a bad breakup led them to create and launch a profitable business that landed them on Shark Tank but milk + brookies owner Jovon English certainly can. Jovon was craving something sweet post-breakup but couldn’t decide between a cookie and a brownie — the one-of-a-kind brownie-cookie combination was born.
By day, Jovon works with a non-profit organization that supports the homeless and mentally ill. By night she is the owner of Los Angeles-based milk + brookies which launched in 2014 with partners Marques Brooks, Naimah Harris, and Tisa Smart-Washington. Below we chat with Jovon about balancing a full-time job with an entrepreneurial business on the side, how milk + brookies has adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of representation for young Black girls.
Just to dive straight on into it, can you tell me why brookies? At what point did you realize you had an interest in this mash-up? How did you go about bringing milk + brookies to life?
I was going through a breakup, and I needed something sweet but whenever I have cravings, they’re ridiculously specific. I couldn’t really decide between a brownie or a cookie. I knew that I wanted both, but I didn’t need both. I also knew that I couldn’t eat just one brownie and that I didn’t know how to make enough cookie dough for one cookie. It was honestly about portion control. I put [the brownie and cookie] in the shape of a cupcake and I was able to satisfy my craving.[At the time] my sister and I were living together. She had just had my niece. We were trying to figure out a way to help out on one of these bills. We were like, “If we could just eliminate one bill via brookies, then we could make this work.” Fast forward to today and now it’s four of us. There’s my cousin Tisa, my sister Naimah, our friend Marcus, and myself.
Can you walk me through the Shark Tank journey and share any notable lessons that you learned from that experience?
Tisa interviewed and did the audition in front of the casting director. She says that she was terrified but I have no idea why, she’s amazing and we got the callback. It was a great experience and even to this day, we still get asked to do interviews based on that episode.
I think one of the biggest things [I learned] is that you can’t do it on your own. You have to look at the talents and the skill set of the people that are around you who support you and tap into that. We did just that.
Another lesson is to be brutally honest with who you are and where you are in your process. Acknowledge that the people that are in front of you may have a vast amount of knowledge and experience, but what they’re offering you are opinions. It’s your baby at the end of the day. It’s about taking heed to what people say because it oftentimes does make sense. Even if what they say is in opposition to what it is that you desire to do or to have, don’t be so hurt or offended by their comment or their suggestion or their opinion, that it leads you to not do something. You may have to pivot, you may have to tailor your things to your audience, and your audience can’t just be your friends and your family. That is the biggest lesson.
How do you identify?
I am an African-American woman. I make no apologies for it. I am who I am. I’m my mother’s daughter and my father’s daughter. That’s how I identify.
Pivoting a little bit and looking at where we are now in 2021, a year into the pandemic. People aren’t really out but are obviously still eating. How has milk + brookies adapted to the time?
For us, it wasn’t that big of a change because we were always online-based. We just thought people weren’t going to order as much. It’s been the complete opposite. Not only are people ordering more, but we’ve also seen an increase in gifts because now you can’t go over and see somebody. We are a hug when you can’t give a hug. We’re the pat on the back. We’re the “I’m sorry for your loss.” We’re the “Congratulations. You did it.” That’s what a brookie says. It’s been good for us. Then you add the awareness of our Blackness that has taken place during this time and the push to support Black businesses. The surge that we received in sales was very similar to the second airing of our Shark Tank episode. It was so high, that it was insane.
What advice would you have for young women of color, who are balancing a full-time job with an entrepreneurial business on the side and intend on keeping both? Are there any tips that have really worked for you?
I would say set your boundaries in everything and with everyone. There were times where I would leave my office late and then go straight to the kitchen. Then I’d work in the kitchen until three o’clock in the morning, which was exhausting. Granted, that was before I had a kid, but even having her makes me realize that I have to set aside dedicated time because if I don’t give her the mommy that she needs, then what have I done? Who am I doing it for? You have to have sufficient time to rest. It’s important to recognize that you can’t do everything. This is also the reason why I’ve started outsourcing payroll indonesia.
“You have to have sufficient time to rest. it’s important to recognize that you can’t do everything.”
Tell us about a moment that being a Black female entrepreneur has made you extremely proud.
It’s not often that I’m able to look back on something and say it was a life-changing experience. There’s nothing prouder for me, to recognize that not only is it life-changing for me, but it can be life-changing for some little girl that’s watching, because representation matters. That in itself makes me proud.
I’m a business owner. milk + brookies have been on all of these different platforms, and it matters. It mattered when I was a little girl and I was playing with a Barbie Doll that didn’t look like me. Now I’m a tangible person that these young girls can touch, and call, and ask questions. That impact does more than satisfy a sweet tooth. That is huge.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Words: Clarice Metzger
Photography: Provided by Jovon English
Read more interviews with Black women entrepreneurs from our Watch Me Work Series below:
Watch Me Work: Meet Holistic Wellness Entrepreneurs Bonkosi Horn + Morrisa Jenkins
Watch Me Work: Meet Creative Entrepreneur and Designer Dionna Dorsey