28 May, 2024

La Popsi duo
La Popsi: A sweet success story of friendship, motherhood, and entrepreneurship
Read this story about Neža Mlakar and Karmen Meze, the dynamic duo behind La Popsi. Their journey intertwines friendship, motherhood, entrepreneurship, and a passion for healthy and delicious treats.

Neža Mlakar and Karmen Meze have been friends since childhood. Their bond reignited in 2015 with the shared experience of motherhood and the challenges it brought. Their inspiration for La Popsi came from Neža’s quest to find a healthy teething solution for her son in Las Vegas. Combining real fruit frozen on a stick, they created a healthier alternative to sugary ice creams. Their ambition was to build a brand that marries their love for ice cream and fruit with healthy eating. However, the realities of entrepreneurship taught them the challenges of owning a business. Despite initial setbacks, their goal remains to make La Popsi an internationally recognised brand.

  • So, tell us about your background and personal history. 

Karmen and I have been the best of friends our whole lives. We grew up on the same street in Mengeš, Slovenia. But then, in 2012 I got a job in Las Vegas and moved there, so we kind of lost contact for a time. But then, in 2015 we both became mums for the first time . She gave birth to her son, Lian, in Slovenia and my son Alexander was born in Las Vegas. All of a sudden, we had so much in common again that we started calling each other every day on Skype (even though there was a nine-hour time difference between Las Vegas and Slovenia). Then, one day I took Alexander to his doctor (he was 7 months old) for a checkup. He was teething and had inflamed gums. The doctor said I could buy him a fruit-flavoured ice cream to help him cool down the inflammation, and the fruit also contained healthy vitamins. But I could not find a product that would be suitable for a baby that is just being introduced food. The products I was finding on the market were all very sugary, or contained corn syrup, additives, and so on. So, I told Karmen that, though the doctor had given me this great idea, I still couldn’t find a product that would be suitable for my son. Her response was: ‘oh c’mon Neža, just buy some fresh fruit, mix it, put it on a stick and give it to him’. And this is what La Popsi is now. It is real fruit that melts. We took fruit, mixed it, put it on a stick, froze it, and created ice lollies 😊.

  • What inspired you to create your companies, and how did the concept for your businesses originate?

Since I lived in the USA, I had this wish to one day return to Slovenia to raise my son. And Karmen wanted to own her own pastry shop. But then, the idea of producing ice cream was so amazing that we both decided we’d start selling a product that was not yet on the market – a product that is healthy but does not compromise on taste. Something that everyone loves – ice cream and fruit combined. And it was not just about the product. We were dreaming of owning a business to be our own boss (this way you have the freedom of planning your day as you want). How wrong we were! To begin with, we worked much more than we would have if we had been employed by someone else. We forgot for a minute that, once you own a company, you are responsible for everything and everyone – that everything is up to you. That there is no one that will do your job if you get sick, or if you happen to be tired on any particular day. That nothing happens if you don’t do it yourself. And you can sometimes forget that your business is like having a child. While it’s still small, there are small problems. But once it starts growing, so do your problems. But if you have a dream, you chase it, because the dream won’t go chasing after you. And our dream is that La Popsi will one day become a well-known international brand for ice lollies.

  • In what ways does intellectual property (IP) align with your business objectives and goals?

We live in a strange world. We have heard so many stories where small business owners had these great ideas and presented them to the big players and, all of a sudden, their ideas were stolen. So, in some ways you need to protect your ideas, your brand, and yourself, and having our brand registered gives us some peace of mind. Even if someone were to steal our ideas, we can at least react and do something about it.

  • Which IP rights do you have? Ηow did you find out what IP was, and how did you learn about what you needed to do to go about protecting your business(es)/brand?

In the beginning, La Popsi was such a small company that we didn’t even think of protecting our brand. But soon after, we got the opportunity to sell in the retail chain Spar, in Slovenia. So, La Popsi became very accessible and more and more recognisable by consumers all over Slovenia. We had a mentor at that time, and he suggested we protect the brand. So, we decided to register the brand for the Slovenian market first to make sure that our idea remained ours and ours alone. Up to that point, we hadn’t even dreamt of entering foreign markets since we were so taken up with winning over our own domestic market first. That’s why we thought it would be enough to have protection just in Slovenia. But then, one year later, we introduced La Popsi to the Austrian market and, from that point forward, we of course went about registering our brand for the entire EU.

  • As female entrepreneurs, have you encountered any particular challenges, and how do you deal with them?

We started our business when we were in our 20’s. Being young in the food business industry is not an advantage. But being a young woman is even more challenging. I think at the beginning no one took us seriously. I think they thought we were just a pair of young girls trying to sell some cute ice cream, and everyone thought we would give up as soon as we realised how hard it was to succeed. But we are fighters, and we did not give up. We proved that everything is possible and that we would not be giving up. Maybe now it is a little bit easier that we are able to show some results to our potential partners, but it is still a challenge. Being a woman in business is never easy, no matter the industry, and you need to put more effort into every deal you make. But this should definitely not stop anyone from owning a business. It just makes you stronger 😊.

  • What measures do you believe can be taken to empower and inspire female entrepreneurs?

It is 2024 and the environment is already supporting women much more than ever before. I would say that there is nothing to be afraid of. If you are prepared to work for what you want, nothing can stop you. And women do have this certain intuition, which can be used to our advantage 😉.

  • What advice would you give to other aspiring female innovators thinking of setting up their own businesses?

I would say to be brave. To ask as many questions as possible. To be aware that there is always someone who can help. Never stop learning. You are never alone. Know your priorities. Keep dreaming and remember that losing your patience means losing the battle (Sun Zu).

  • What are the skills necessary for any entrepreneur, especially women, to be successful in their entrepreneurial journey?

I would say that the most important skill is curiosity. In business there is so much you to learn that, if you are not curious, you are probably going to be under a lot of stress all the time. The second thing I would say is ‘adaptability’. I think that ever since I’ve been a business owner, there hasn’t been a single thing that went according to plan. So, the ability to adapt relatively quickly to changing circumstances is key. And of course, you need to be brave. It takes courage to try, to fail, and to stand on your own two feet again.

  • What are your future aspirations? Where do you envision your business ten years from now?

We want La Popsi to become a well-known international brand for ice lollies. We are working hard to enter new markets, finding strategic partners, creating new products, and we want to have fun while doing it. We want to make a small but significant change in the world by offering these healthy alternatives and encouraging our customers to buy better food for their children.