The plot twist…that moment in a story when an event or experience dramatically shifts the future direction of the storyline and all the characters involved. I’ve always found these moments fascinating in real life, and so I started this new, recurring series—called “The Twist”—where I talk to entrepreneurs and explore the plot twist that led them to start their businesses.
In 2003, identical twins Mandy Selke and Carly Swift ditched their corporate gigs to open JustPopIn!—their gourmet popcorn shop in Broad Ripple Village on the north side of Indianapolis. And ever since, they’ve been popping their personalities and packaging their zest for life inside every bag.
I got a chance in July to sit down, eat some popcorn (obviously), and talk life with this energetic duo. Read Part I here and below’s Part II, but be sure to first check out Part I where we covered Mandy’s and Carly’s thoughts on family, how it is to work together, their love for Indianapolis, and, of course, the plot twist that pushed them toward popcorn.
Joe: You talked about your grandfather. How did he help shape you as people, as business owners, sisters, etc.?
Carly: Oh my gosh, I love this! We love talking about him. We did his eulogy at his funeral a week and a half ago and it was just … he helped shape us in so many ways. Our grandfather was a World War II veteran. He was a Purple Heart recipient. He was so beautifully decorated, and we didn’t know all that. He was just our grandpa, and he was just the brightest encourager ever without trying. We just never even thought about how it was just natural. He was so important on so many levels. When Mandy and I were giving his eulogy, I think the biggest thing we came back to was consistency. It so shaped who we are, our loyalty. We’re very loyal people, and I think it was just his demonstration to everything that we did. He was so much fun. He was just so funny and just so much fun. He was just so magnetic.
Mandy: So many people at his funeral talked about his smile. He smiled all the time. He just had a natural smile on his face all the time, and he did. He just didn’t miss anything. He didn’t miss a recital. He didn’t miss any sporting activity that we did. He was there for everything. We were joking how when we went to IU we lived on the sixth floor of our dorm, and he and my mom moved us in. The elevator was broken so no one could use it, and he went up and down the stairs I don’t know how many times. He made sure that we were completely moved in before he left. His dedication is fierce. Just funny, we were both athletes growing up, and I remember at our softball games he would park in center field. And whether we had a hit or we caught a ball or we struck out or whatever, he would honk his horn. I’m here, I’m watching. Just ever supporting.
Joe: That’s so important. And based on the little I know of you, you’ve certainly inherited his spirit. It’s great that you can carry that on to the next generation.
Mandy: Thank you.
Joe: For something that was very nostalgic and part of your childhood, how do you make sure that it stays in a great place? That it doesn’t become just a job? How do you stay passionate about it?
Mandy: Yeah, well there’s a few pieces. I think the human connection with our staff, and then also that we just get to create all the time. Whether it’s new packaging or a new flavor, we’re just constantly creating. Whether it works or it doesn’t, it’s just always fresh. Being able to have a space for other people to live happily is such a joy to watch. We have a great staff and they’re loyal. The reciprocation is just really amazing so that never gets old for us. It’s just mostly fantastic.
Carly: We also get to partner with really energetic people that share the same love and life philosophy. Our friends at Sun King Brewing sent this beautiful bouquet because they knew how much we love our grandfather. It’s the human connection. Just being able to have a business. And yes, it’s popcorn. But we’ve always said that popcorn is the catalyst to everything else that we love, and that’s people. It’s creation. It’s just joyful. I love it! We love it so much.
Mandy: We do. We eat it every day. We still do!
Joe: I was going to ask you why we’re not eating some right now.
Mandy: I know, how rude. I’ll get some right now.
[…Popcorn retrieved from the kitchen. All’s well in the world again…]
Joe: Tell me about moments where you thought, “I don’t know if we should keep doing this? Are we doing the right things? Is popcorn the right business?”
Carly: That’s such a good question. I feel like—and I’m not bullshitting when I say this—we’ve always loved JustPopIn. We’ve never thought negatively about it. No matter what, JustPopIn is going to live. It will succeed. We love it, we’re just so committed…1000%. I think what’s hard for us is that we’ve had people that have wanted to invest in JustPopIn or have said all sorts of really awesome ideas. But ultimately, I think that what’s hard for us is that we want to grow. There are so many things that we know that we could do and that we want to do, but finances play a huge role in a small business. We don’t want to lose control over what we’ve created because our business, again it is popcorn, but it is also a human connector. That’s important to us. So that challenge for us has been the growing pains for sure.
Mandy: At the beginning when we did a website. I always think about this. Our goal was, when we started JustPopIn, we wanted to have a website that went along with it. We made an impulsive decision to go with somebody that probably didn’t have our best interest, and the website never launched. We lost so much money doing that. Then we hired another company. I think we’ve learned so many lessons about just taking a step back and going, “okay, let’s really think this out,” especially when it comes to our finances.
Carly: We’re perfectionists. I think it’s so super important that everything is perfect because our customers are paying for, what we consider it to be, a luxury item. They don’t have to buy popcorn, they can go to Walgreens or whatever and pick up a bag of …
Mandy: Shit. The experience is so important. It’s a huge part of our culture. When you come into JustPopIn, we want you to feel like what you’re viewing. We want you to feel the good. We want you to feel the energy of positivity. And it’s how it should be.
Joe: You said something so interesting about perfectionism. I’d say that I would also fall into that category of being a perfectionist. For me, though, it runs into a place where it can paralyze me in some respects. How do you find that sweet spot, I guess, with perfectionism—providing the customer a good product but not letting it overwhelm you?
Carly: I think it’s because we have each other. I know for a fact that I could not run this company on my own. There is not a chance in hell. We don’t feel like we’re alone. Like if something is happening and we get stressed, we know the other one can help us manage. It’s great to have commitment.
Mandy: Yeah, it’s like like “Don’t worry about this one.” And “Thank you for giving me the freedom to feel like it’s going to be okay.”
Carly: And we’ve learned to have to give somebody the responsibility because I think with perfectionism comes control, controlling every activity. And so it’s just trusting and empowering another person to take that piece off and go, “Okay that’s yours, you own that.”
Joe: How do your kids view the business? How do you hope they view the business? Maybe bigger than that, what do you hope that they see in you?
Carly: I’ve never really been asked that before. I love it because they ask questions, and they’re engaged. And what I’m most proud of is that, they don’t know this now but I hope when they get older that they see strength like we did in our mom. Having to work and raise children. It’s so important to me that they see my work ethic and they see me in this work ethic. It’s such an important part of our lives. I hope one day that my son will go, “Wow mom, you did it all.” It’s not easy every day to do it but you do it.
Mandy: Our mom started her life over really at the age of 50. We’ve never seen any person in their entire life work as hard as her. Even when we opened up the airport location, everyone had to get fingerprinted. But she doesn’t have fingerprints because she works so hard, so she couldn’t work with us. She couldn’t come out with us. Just seeing her will and determination and not bitching about it. She just did it. It’s an attitude of “that’s what we have to do.” It’s just innate. That’s what we had to do. We wanted to make her proud. She worked so hard for us, and I think it’s the whole great gratitude piece that comes in. I hope our kiddos can see that in us later, whenever. They might already.
Joe: I know that I don’t think I processed how much my parents worked until later in life.
Carly: Yeah, you don’t realize what they’re giving up to do for you because it is what it is. You see it and that’s just … you don’t see the sacrifices until you see them. Our mom made every sacrifice in the world for us, she still does. She’s just willing to give up anything. We want to grow and she’s, “I’ll put my house up too.” She just has no doubt in us. Like our grandfather, it’s just so comforting and it’s like we know that we can because …
Mandy: They told us so.
Carly: Yeah, they told us so and that’s just what it is.
Joe: Sometimes, until you get that affirmation, it’s hard to really get over your self doubt.
Mandy: I can’t imagine people that don’t have it because life would have been very different if we didn’t have that. It would have been. I remember rollerskating in my parent’s lumber yard. We were major roller queens. We spent so much time at their lumberyard, and we would play across the street where all these big cranes and machines. They just let us play all day. It’s so fun when we bring our kids to work because it’s, “yeah, this is a family thing, let’s keep this going.”
Carly: Yeah, and they love our test kitchen. They make their own little concoctions and it’s just so fun.
Joe: What would you hope your stamp would be, I guess, both as business owners but also just as people?
Mandy: When I think about my grandfather, I think about how he was just such a dignified human. He was so kind to people. It was such a pleasure to observe him treat people. I hope that our stamp is something very similar. That we’re lovers of all things and that we made people feel comforted and significant. Loved.
Carly: Yeah, I’m with you on that.