I had a profound realization this morning, more so because of it's simplicity.
I'm trying to weigh the pros and cons of each alternative strategy I could pursue as I scale the company. The only thing I know is that I don't know a lot. So, I've tried to surround myself with people that can help. One such person sat with me for an hour this morning and listened to my options and my evaluation of each. I'm hesitant because each has its own risks and exorbitant costs. Having been there before, he commiserated with me; both of us have wasted many hours pacing up and down our homes trying to get an "aha" moment to strike us; trying to figure what silver bullet exists that could propel us forward. We both consider ourselves reasonably smart...what idea or plan or solution had we not thought of?
As he clearly sympathized with my current position, he proceeded to utter words I hope I never forget: "there's no magic. There's only math."
What he meant was, what's my quantifiable definition of success? $100,000 in revenue? $1,000,000? $100,000,000? There's no clicking your heels three times and presto - you're successful. There's only plotting out how many cookies I need to sell, in how many boxes, to how many stores, with how many repeat orders and at what price that will net me my revenue goal at the end of the year.
The question then becomes how do I sell each cookie? With the end in clear high definition, it has become quite clear what steps I need to take to grow the company.
Knowing that there's more that I don't know than I do, it helps me to work through the myriad of thoughts with an experienced listener. It's even more helpful when that person can provide constructive advice. And when you realize its all about the numbers, you focus on what needs to be done to hit those numbers. Despite the seemingly insurmountable list of things to do that arise from this exercise, what you have is a tangible action plan, not a pie in the sky prayer for achieving success.
I'm appalled that it's been nearly two months since my last post, but it's been a whirlwind. So I'll start by wishing everyone reading this a safe, healthy and happy new year.
Most people begin their new year with one or two resolutions; things they'll be doing this coming year to improve themselves, their family, their community etc. Instead, I'm starting the new year by NOT doing something - specifically, eating added sugar. I'm practicing what I preach and I gotta tell you - it is tough. Actually, it just outright sucks. I'm not sure if it's because sugar has become such a ubiquitous part of my diet (aka my routine) or it is just found in so many foods that you wouldn't expect or because I'm chemically addicted and I'm going through withdrawal, but I'll tell you what - I'm sweating for sweetness.
Show me what your normal day is like and I'll show you ten different sources of sugar. My day almost always starts with a bowl of cereal; a bigger bowl than the one my two year old is enjoying right next to me. I thought that I was 'eating right' my choosing Multigrain Cheerios vs. Honey Nut. It has 6g per 28g bowl. Without even flinching, I can easily polish a 60 or 70g bowl of 'healthy cereal.' So before I've even left the house, I'm at least half way through my daily allotment (according to the World Health Organization).
Thank goodness I'm a coffee snob, so no sugar there, but how many people put 1 or more packets in their coffee, and how many coffees do you normally drink in a day? What about OJ with your breakfast, or yogurt? I'd check those for added sugars if I were you.
I've made it to lunch and I'm very excited for my healthy lunch - a chicken wrap. I'm foregoing the honey mustard or ketchup or other sauce that I'd normally add. Too obvious. I'm choosing the whole wheat instead of the white flour wrap. Strangely enough - no added sugar! I think I'll grab a bag of veggie stix as a side. Can't be any sugar in a salty vegetable snack, right? WRONG! looks like no chips for me. In fact, most of the bags of chips I grabbed had some added sugar.
3pm. Time for a coffee and a snack. Wait a second. I'm not actually hungry, but I do want a coffee. Why am I not hungry? This is high time for a bite... something's fishy here.
Dinner. Standard move is some protein (usually a lean meat) with a salad or veggies that my wife will prep and a carb like noodles or potatoes or something. On this lovely evening, I'm moving forward with spaghetti with a turkey bolognese sauce. Or more aptly, boiled noodles, tomato sauce mixed with veggies or ground and browned turkey. A bit of staple. Now that I'm looking for it, I check the nutritional panel on the sauce, and there it is. Sugar. IN TOMATO SAUCE!!! Looks like it's garlic and butter tonight on top of my noodles. Ok - not what I was looking for, but not a major disappointment.
Dessert? Unless it's an apple or a straight fruit - forget about it. Even 85% dark chocolate. What's in the other 15%? How about innocent Ice Cream... nope. Maybe a cracker? Like the Arrowroot I regularly feed my kid... nope. Something? Anything? So I start buying and freezing grapes and eating those. They're actually delicious. Like mini popsicles.
A few more hours until I go to Snoozetown, population me, and I start digging into emails, catching up on Designated Survivor, doing whatever needs to be done to end the day. After walking my pooch, I hit the hey.
But wait... no snack? I'd normally have to have something, but you know what? I'm not craving anything. That's weird. I'm not craving anything. And come to think of it - I wasn't craving anything at 3 either. Where are my cravings? I miss that little devil in my belly enticing me to satisfy it with empty calories every day. Where'd you go little guy?
Then... I notice that my pants are a bit looser. A long forgotten notch in my belt, one that has seen better days. One that hasn't seen the buckle in years but has miraculously and suddenly resurfaced. What's going on here?
It's been 19 days and I've lost weight, lost my unhealthy cravings and lost my need for sugar. I've come to realize that while 80% of all consumer foods have added sugar, that other 20% can actually be very high quality. Classico tomato sauces for example have a broad range of no sugar added sauces that are fabulous. PC Blue makes a few varieties of healthy bread that don't contain sugar - but you have to dig deep in your grocery to find them. Seems like the word is out about sugar and more and more people are hearing it every day.
Experiment with yourself for just one week by eliminating added sugar and let me know how it goes. Try making your own jam (it's easy, literally just boil down strawberries and blueberries and add a bit of flax) or your own salad dressings (again - just balsamic vinegar, olive oil, S&P and a bit of natural mustard) to make delicious foods available for you to enjoy. Post your stories or your history with these types of 'cleanses.' Good luck. You'll need it for the first week, but after that... relatively smooth sailing.
This weekend, we were humbled by our participation at the Toronto Gourmet Food and Wine Expo. We had a great time overall, put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces, and I'd definitely do it again. Only differently. It was a bit of a full circle experience, since our first ever large scale show was the Niagara Gourmet Food and Wine Expo and this was the last major event of the year. It was supposed to be the culmination of everything that I'd learned, but instead it was in itself, a learning experience. A hard, but valuable one.
You see, I came into the show very proud of the work I'd done on our packaging, specifically our individual front and back labels. I figured people would love our treats; would continue to respond favorably to our sugar conscious branding and would simply gobble them up. I rested on my laurels and I was wrong. I Blackburried myself in not anticipating, not even trying to anticipate, the consumer experience.
The show itself was great. There were plenty of potential satisfied customers - almost all of whom were indulging in alcohol (some of whom perhaps a bit too much). It made for a fun and entertaining scene with at least 25,000 people over four days. We were the only traditional baked goods company there; the only ones selling cookies and brownies. So why didn't we sell out? Why didn't we even come close? After much recollection, mostly after 1am, I came up with the following takeaways that I thought I'd share in case anyone who's reading might be able to benefit.
- Blackberry's product was sexy until it wasn't and they found out too late. Like the tech company, we didn't present anything sexy and we should have. While I think our packaging is great, every other vendor at the show presented their goods with a certain flair designed for the demographic. Our location within the Hall was good, in the direct path of the main area, and so we benefited from natural wanderers to our booth. But there was nothing to draw them in; no "oooh" or "aaah" element to create buzz for our company. Just the standard display we've always erected at every show we've been at. What I failed to understand until it was too late is that this show created certain expectations with the attendees - people were looking for a gourmet, indulgent experience, one that was alcohol fueled. What we gave them was the standard presentation of our products. In this context, the display was boring and the disconnect between what people were expecting and what they saw cost us.
- The messaging was redundant if not counter-productive. We had smiling, happy, boozed-up patrons coming to our booth and asking us about our cookies, and I'd launch into the story about how we're sugar conscious, and vegan and grain-free.... and what I saw were bored, glossy eyes. People weren't looking for the story - just the treat. If I'd kept it simple by saying, we have some frequin awesome cookies - a peanut butter chocolate chip and a chocolate chip walnut - we would have doubled our sales. Our products themselves are rich and delicious; directly aligned with what people were pining for, but our messaging was stale; the proverbial buzz-kill.
- I didn't do the leg-work to ensure a proper consumer experience. With respect to points 1 and 2 above, I could have thought about those in advance and properly prepared. While it's important to acknowledge this failure, it's more important to prevent it from recurring. I keep kicking myself though because one of the founding and guiding principles of the company is to always consider the consumers' experience and to make sure it's a heightened one and I lost sight of that.
Our next public presence is at the Toronto Life FoodiePages Holiday Market on December 16th and December 17th. The mistakes I allude to above will not be repeated, so get excited. We've got some zany ideas about how to make your experience just plain awesome. We're going to bring new meaning to the term "fresh-baked." I'm serious about creating oooh's and aaah's and about enriching the consumer experience when it comes to indulging in our treats. After all, you deserve nothing less.
Sometimes I feel like I'm running two companies: the one I intended to run, and the one I'm actually running. I was told very early on to appreciate the pivot and if I've learned anything from my prior life in finance, it's to focus on your strengths. That is, if I've garnered a certain audience with a certain product using a certain message - double down on that.
So after seven months of being in the market, it's time to make some hard choices. Originally, my intention was to focus on the diabetic population by baking sugar free cookies. I could go into the potential market opportunity, but that's a whole other post. Bald Baker's Chief Cookie Officer took my rather bland tasting and ugly prototype and turned the Frankenstein into a Frankerfine cookie by making it grain-free and vegan in addition to sugar-free. With great products, the question turned to who to sell them to. Our summer was spent trying to answer that question along with the corollary, how.
At the outset, I realized that despite my original intentions, I was no longer solely in the diabetic desserts market; I was in the grain/gluten-free market and I was in the vegan market. Depending on where I was actually selling that day, one of those messages was prioritized. For example, at Ryerson University market, the vegan-ness of the company was what sold the cookies. At our uptown market, it was a split between sugar-free and grain-free. I found myself at two very high-profile vegan food festivals this summer where the exposure (and sales) was great. Oddly, I did not find myself at one single diabetic event this summer, or indeed, since starting the company.
In the spirit of transparency, a value this company holds dear, I want to highlight some of the choices that I'm currently faced with - it'd be great to get some feedback. I try to make well-reasoned and well-informed decisions whenever I can. So, here goes:
Canola vs. Coconut Oil. I've been going and back and forth on this one for a while now. Coconut Oil has recently been the recipient of some bad press. As Huffington Post notes, it's complicated. The American Health Association (which in my opinion sways which ever way the wind blows) released a pretty scathing report that blasted coconut oil, primarily due its relatively high saturated fat content. Once the direct correlation with cardio-vascular disease was established, coconut oil suddenly became vilified. Canola Oil's rich supply of Vitamin E and Vitamin K cast it in a much more favorable light than Coconut oil. On the business side of things, coconut oil is roughly 4x - 6x more expensive than vegetable or canola oil, both much lower in saturated fat. SFGATE did a comparison of the two and noted that, "The unsaturated fats in canola oil lower cholesterol and its omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation throughout the body." So far, it looks like Canola Oil for the win. BUT, unrefined coconut oil is high in anti-oxidants and imparts a great aroma and flavor. Our understanding of the pros and cons of saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, etc., are elementary, if not evolving constantly. Every dietitian, nutritionist, healthy and/or culinary-savvy individual I've come across has applauded my use of coconut oil. Who am I to listen to? The people who have supported my business directly; the same people I set out to understand at the beginning of the summer? Or the scientists publishing reports? Or the economics of the day-to-day ingredient purchasing?
Maltitol or Sugar or .....We have an issue with our co-packer that is creating larger ripple effects than it would imply. It stems from our chocolate chips but it's leading me to question how 'sugar conscious' the company truly is. The chocolate chips we have been using are delicious and are sweetened with erythritol and stevia, just like all of our treats. They are produced in a facility that is certified kosher, but specifically, kosher dairy. Our production facility is considered kosher pareve, which allows anything that is produced there to be eaten before, during or after any meal - it's not subject to the kosher dietary restrictions of milk and meat. Our chips cannot be brought into our facility. After a thorough and exhaustive search, I have been unable to find a kosher pareve, sugar-free chocolate chip that isn't sweetened with maltitol. Quite a few studies, noted in an article by Livestrong, substantiate the claim that moderate dosages of maltitol can lead to flatulence, diarrhea, bloating and other gastro-intestinal side effects that as you might imagine, are not the kinds of effects I'd like to associate with our brand. I can probably keep searching for the unicorn product, and indeed I am hopeful that it exists, but at some point, I have to move forward and that self-imposed deadline has got me thinking about my definition of sugar conscious. I believe that single term is what differentiates our company from all the others and it has played very well in the marketplace. I am proud to say that it means that we don't use any sugar in our products. So that I can keep moving forward, can I use sugar-sweetened chocolate chips? It bars me from making the above claim, but still allows me to say that each cookie is substantially lower in carbs and sugars than our competitors. Or, should I lower our standards and start using maltitol chips? Or should I hold out and redouble my efforts to find the unicorn? I'm trying to get creative to find a company that will fee-for-service produce my chips, but that could take months. For today, the hunt continues, but there is a hard choice that's going to have to be made unless there is another alternative that I'm not seeing.
Finally, and this is the big one, how important is my vegan audience compared to my grain-free/gluten-free audience, compared to my diabetic audience? As an entrepreneur, I should focus on where the most positive reception (read: sales) has come from. Vegan is hot right now. It's a clear trend that is clearly growing in popularity. The sheer number of 'certified-vegan' or 'vegan-friendly' products in stores and the number of restaurants and cafes opening reflects that growth. Gluten-free was, and to a degree still is, a mainstay in the marketplace, as evidenced by the number of mainstream products (cereals, sauces, etc.) declaring GF status. But my original assertion is that NOBODY is targeting the largest population of them all: diabetics. There simply just aren't any high-quality, low- or no-sugar products on the market. So, question for me is if I should stay true to my original intentions and attempt to be a market leader, or follow the money? Not that entering either the GF or vegan markets is an easy task; rather, those markets are established whereas the diabetic market isn't (for reasons unknown to me).
As a barely-funded entrepreneur, it's very easy to justify making every attempt possible to cut corners and maximize my margins through cost-cutting measures. Then again, why did I become an entrepreneur? It wasn't to make cheap products, but to make great ones. While the answers to the questions above seem rather self-evident, at least from a values point of view, striking the balance between product and corporate development and economics is challenging. I love this challenge, but I don't want to stay a non-profit for ever!
What an amazing month September has been and it's about to end with a down-to-the-wire campaign on kickstarter that we are crossing our fingers and holding our breath will get funded.
It started with a mad dash preparation for the Veg Food Fest where we had an amazing weekend. Sales were good, but the exposure was great and the introductions to happy customers and future clients were simply amazing. The Toronto Sun even wrote about us!
Thinking that we could capitalize on the momentum and the exposure, we launched our Kickstarter campaign to run for the month of September. There hasn't been one day that's gone by during which I haven't wondered: "is asking people to contribute to the campaign the same as begging?" If I take away the veil of the Kickstarter platform, my email and social outreach to my network, my friends, family and supporters, basically asks, "Can I please have some of your money so that I can grow my company?"
Flip the coin, and adding back the Kickstarter platform adds a degree of legitimacy to my request for funds because many really cool products and companies have been launched using it and I'm honored to have that opportunity. Similarly, and perhaps more notably, begging implies not offering an exchange, whereas I'm offering various degrees of reciprocity. In keeping with the saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch, I made sure to offer greater value in return for the dollar sized contribution. For example a $25 show of support would receive back a $36 box of cookies; a $100 contribution would get all three products plus some awesome swag, a value of $150+ etc., and it goes all the way up to $10,000.
However, I still can't help but think that I'm approaching people that I would otherwise never in a million years ask for money with my hat in hand. And what I realize is that it's coming down to a battle between my pride and my drive [ambition?]. My pride on my left shoulder says in a glaring voice, "you need other peoples' money like you need a hole in your foot." This pride emanates from being raised to be independent and stubborn. However, I wrote in an earlier post that advice I'd give my child is that you can do anything you set your mind to. My pride focuses on the early part of that statement, "I can do anything..." and my ambition that sits on my right shoulder reflects the latter part of that statement, "set your mind to." Pride be damned, if there's something that has to happen (like raise funds to buy a flow-wrapping machine), get creative and get it done.
I think what it comes down to is the degree to which you believe in what you're doing. More so than anything else I have ever done, I believe that Bald Baker's products are truly delicious and that the world at large, not just diabetics, can benefit from them. If getting them to the market means using a strategic and very forward-looking platform... even if it means begging, I'll do it because it has to happen.
"Your support goes farther than you know. It boosts confidence, generates motivation and inspires us to keep breaking new ground. Bald Baker may seem like a simple dessert company, but it is so much more than that. After a summer of events, festivals, markets and introductions, we have become a company that has actually redefined how people indulge. We have enabled those that have abstained from life's simple joys to do so comfortably and happily. The sheer number of people who have thanked us - vegans, vegetarians, dieters, diabetics, old, young, mothers, fathers and just about everybody in between - has been an extreme, if not unexpected pleasure and it's why we do what we do. With your help, we can keep moving onward and upward."
As we began the year and started researching relevant festivals, events, markets, etc - we came across the Vegan Food and Drink Festival which was just a few weeks before the Veg Food Fest. The former boasted of at least 7,500 people while the latter 35,000+. I figured we could throw all caution to the wind, put all of our cards on the table, use every metaphor I know to have a presence at the Vegan Fest. Nothing's impossible right? (although that's exactly what I thought at the time)
As I mentioned in the last post, a lot can happen and a lot can change. Since signing up for it back in April, we got our act together and learned how to prep 1,000+ portions for a single day. And we crushed it! (even though attendance was closer to 11,000). So now we're in the cross hairs of preparing for the Veg Fest this Friday. At first, I was scared $hitle$$, but I realized, we can do this. We know what we're doing now. Our thousands of satisfied cookie monsters have given us momentum and more importantly, confidence.
So when a close friend recently asked me, "what do I need to pull this off?" I answered (without thinking), "more capital." He was asking me about this upcoming weekend, but I was obviously referring to what I needed to grow the business. The thing is, I want to scale the business and scale it quickly. I really enjoy working the farmers' markets and the festivals; meeting the people, perfecting the pitch and getting feedback (good and bad). However, the capitalist in me says that the real money is in volume; wholesaling to retailers. (Ew... Did I just write that?) It's true though. More importantly, I do actually think that delicious sugar conscious desserts are the future of the industry. Just yesterday, I saw not one, but two commercials in the same intermission for no sugar added products. The collective conscience is moving towards the reduction or even elimination of sugar from our diets. I do truly believe, deep down, that our products are fantastic and they should be widely available for everyone to enjoy.
With that in mind, I'm doing something that for me, is outrageous. In retrospect, it's the scariest thing I've done to date for this company, or for any other that I've been involved with. I'm raising capital via a Kickstarter Campaign. Kickstarter has been responsible for the launch of countless really cool inventions and innovations. It's an online platform where entrepreneurs can "do the thing you need to do for the world." It's not for venture capitalists or wealthy private equity investors (namely because no equity is transferred). It's for the world at large to fuel, to kickstart, the companies that will leave a last impression on it. It's the best way for Bald Baker to scale the company. With the funds raised, we can purchase a professional grade flow wrapping machine, we can invest in retail boxes, ingredients for a large scale production run, funds for promotions and capital to continue improving our core products and creating new ones. It lets me respond to all of the retail opportunities with a product that will blow them away.
The wisest person I've ever come across once said to me, "if you don't ask, you don't get." Kickstarter's facade is all about asking for money in exchange for something of equal or greater value. Roll back the facade, and it's actually about people wanting to be involved in something that's big and getting bigger. Being a part of something. For an entrepreneur, it's hard to ask for help (that applies exponentially to me) but that's really the key - you have to know when to ask for help and when to take it vs. just shooting from the hip. By writing this blog post, I'm not asking you to donate (although obviously, I would be grateful), I'm asking you to be a part of something big by sharing this post on facebook, or linkedin or wherever your social presence is best expressed. Just for even getting this far into the post, I'm very appreciative. Thank you for being a part of this company's story... we're only on page three though and it's a long thriller!
A few days ago, I received one of the best emails I've ever read, and it was from the hyper-talented woman who eventually became the company's Chief Cookie Officer. The subject line read, "One Year Ago.." and here's what it said:
"We had our first call to discuss Bald Baker (unnamed at that time!)... and now we're prepping for our BIGGEST event yet! Happy one year!!! See you later :) "
I wish that I had more time to reflect on the meaning of the email, but it was Friday, we were in the bakery, and indeed, prepping for our BIGGEST event yet. In the year since that fateful phone call, we've named the company, commercialized three delicious, vegan and sugar conscious products, created a steady (albeit low, but growing) stream of revenue, a happy and consistent set of loyal followers (that aren't our biased family), and most importantly, set ourselves up for continued growth and expansion.
In the same year, we've spent way more money that originally contemplated, suffered (but persevered) through countless setbacks, engaged and paid a cadre of worthless consultants, listened to the unqualified and unsolicited (and well-meaning?) opinions of just about everyone on how we should change our company's direction and best/worst of all, not quit even though I have worked more than a few times an empty booth at an empty farmers' market on a cold rainy day, just losing money by the minute.
But then you have a day like we did on Saturday, at Toronto's 3rd Annual Vegan Food and Drink Festival, and you realize that quitting just isn't an option. In fact, the only option is to double-down. I enjoy blackjack and I find the game itself mirrors life: either you play "by-the-book" and in so doing, follow the rules and the etiquette dictated by others at the table, or you play based on how you feel. The latter can draw the ire of your fellow gamblers, but can also net you some disproportionate gains. For example, would you split kings against a 6? Either way, if you don't bet big, you certainly won't win big.
What I've realized as an entrepreneur is that each day is a big bet and despite some occasional losses, we're beating the house on a consistent basis. There's just too many people reaching out, too many complements, too many "thank-you's" for making something that's not overly infused with sugar or other harmful substances, too many repeat customers and too many opportunities for me to indulge the idea that I should quit and move on.
And if external indicators aren't enough, the other day, I was bringing a few leftovers back to the bakery to freeze for a rainy-day. As I entered, there's very noticeable smoke - haziness in the air and stench. There was another team that warned me of the smell and I replied, "I won't be more than a minute - just running this into the freezer." A normal person, upon realizing that they were likely walking straight into a very hazardous situation, would turn around. An entrepreneur, not wanting to waste any product, would put his goods in the freezer and not even think about the peripheral dangers of doing so. As I left, three fire trucks pulled up and I was escorted to my car. Ironically, there was a situation with the freezer's engine that was causing the smoke (of all places!).
The point is that there wasn't much that was getting in the way of accomplishing my task. In the last year, I've learned two things that I've come to rely on for my survival and for my sanity:
1) don't let anything get in the way of your progress; most significantly, yourself. It's very easy to doubt yourself, second-guess a decision, rely on the advice/guidance of others or place too much meaning on what is perceived to be a roadblock. They're all just tests of your own ability to persevere.
2) Trust your gut. Sometimes, the only way to do so is to fail a few times so that you can learn lessons the hard way, but every experience you have is one that hones your instincts and eventually, if not quickly, they become fine tuned and highly responsive to the copious amount of BS floating around. Every consultant promising you crazy benefits, every festival or event that you could sign up for, every element in your environment that makes you think - is this worth it? - is an opportunity to listen to your gut and to follow it. Even when it's way off and laughably wrong, it's ok because it means that next time, you're more likely to be right.
That's all for now. We have a crazy few weeks coming up, including the Veg Food Fest that will eclipse the aforementioned Vegan Food and Drink Festival from an attendance perspective as well as the launch of our kickstarter campaign to really propel this company into the public spotlight. Stay tuned and remember to treat yourself with respect...not sugar.
In an Inc.com article entitled 3 Marketing Lessons I Learned From Writing an Entire Book in 72 Hours John Nemo, the author, writes that "content is how you prove your credibility, authority and expertise before someone ever speaks to you in person. It's also how you get discovered, recommended and referred for business by complete strangers online."
Before I even created Bald Baker, I knew that I had to have content. And not garbage, but good, credible, relevant reflections of myself, my company and the world in which we live in. I wanted to be transparent and more importantly, for people to understand the mission of the company and then of course, to buy in and to help me grow it.
At first, I had ideas. I even wrote them down. I even blogged about them! But then business happened: the day-to-day of running it combined with keeping my eyes open for the big picture to reveal itself, the weighing of a myriad of opportunities, all combined with my family, my friends... you get it.
And every so often, I get a google calendar reminder to write a blog post and my blood boils, just a little. In short... I hate writing blog posts. I'm not saying that I'm too busy to write; rather I struggle to find that gem of an idea to write about when I'm forced to think about it.
I have a very strong relationship with my mother. So strong, that we probably speak to each other once a day. I'm blessed. Truly. She always starts our conversations with, "what's new?" and I reply in kind: "not much" and she then responds, "no news is good news." I'd say for 6 out of 7 days of the week, nothing is notable enough to bring up. It's like that day after day.
So the question I try to always ask myself when I want to get to the bottom of something is, "so what?" You see, my conversations with my mother are a bit of a lie; or rather, not a full volunteering of the truth. In fact, a lot happens during the day of an entrepreneur. Every little conversation, every email, every interaction, every moment spent thinking about the company is actually an opportunity. Something worth pursuing. Something worth blogging about or calling home for.
The moral of the story is that instead of searching long and hard to find something to write about (really, to feel strongly about), it's probably right in front of you. Tomorrow, I'm going to bake in 6 hours what would have taken me 24 just three months ago. Yesterday, I would have considered it just another Manic Monday, but upon further reflection, that's an accomplishment that I can be proud of. This past weekend, I personally delivered the company's second sugar-free birthday cake. In the moment, it was a task. From another perspective, we have precedent for a new line of business!
The company is growing, cookie by cookie; cake by cake. Our experience is seguing into expertise in a burgeoning industry and I for one am very excited to keep writing about it.
I was enjoying a surprisingly delicious cappuccino yesterday with the owners of an online healthy grocery (hopefully a future partner for Bald Baker) when an interesting notion came up. While it has always been my intention, it had never really been vocalized that I was applying many online User Experience (aka UX) best practices to the real world. We laughed about that; most people apply real world experiences to enhance the online journey, particularly as it relates to shopping, and not the other way around.
Not us... per usual, Bald Baker is doing things differently.
So.. what is UX? There isn't really an internationally standardized or recognized definition. UXdesign.com created an agonizingly long definition, while AllaboutUX created a white paper on it best practices. I had the distinct honor and pleasure to work for Mona Patel, the Founder and CEO of Motivate Design, a UX Design Agency in NY, where I learned everything I know about the philosophy, which is just the tip of the iceberg. In short, it's the application of design thinking to optimize the user's experience through an intended journey. Sounds like BS, but it isn't. Like the Force, it's real. All of it.
At Motivate, we applied really high-level design thinking to quite a few online destinations and digital sites. Our clients relied on us to create simple, engaging and valuable experiences for their own users (consumers, clients, whatever you want to call them). This was usually in the context of an online shop or the online introduction of a new product, or the launch of a website that was meant to drive traffic and ultimately, purchases, etc. We could discern why a user left their shopping cart after going through the entire process, or how to get a user to click on an intended page once they're on the site. We'd breakdown every touch point that the user had with the company's brand and map out a strategy to enhance it and keep the consumer moving forward along an intended journey. The bulk of the work took place in the digital world creating or optimizing digital experiences.
Even with Amazon that has really shortened the buying process down to as few steps as possible, a consumer still gets the impetus to buy a product, researches it, clicks on the website, scrolls to learn more, clicks on "buy now," confirms shipping and payment information, reclicks "confirm purchase" and then receives an email. That's if everything goes according to Amazon's intended user experience. Similar to the online journey a user goes through, at Bald Baker, we realize there is a dessert experience that actually has many parts to it. Just like committing by pushing the "buy now" button, a person about to indulge in a slice of cake or a cookie or something else that is the physical manifestation of a craving goes through a quite a few steps just to get to that blissful first bite.
Close your eyes and imagine the last time you ate a delicious cookie. What did you do right before? Recently, I read very positive reviews about the chocolate chunk cookie at Maman, a Toronto bakery. Start counting the number of interactions I have with the company. Review is #1. Then I get it into my head that I need to go and try it. Impetus to act is interaction #2. After conducing some online research, I purposefully book a meeting downtown nearby so I can pop in afterwards. Interaction #3. I walk over on that fateful day and get presented with the facade of the bakery and have to walk up a flight of stairs. Climbing steps and walking through the entrance - interaction #4. First impression of bakery - interaction #5. Walk up to order counter and get greeted - interaction #6. Set my sights on the cookie and order - interaction #7. At this point, I'm really anticipating this cookie. I haven't even tried it and my expectations are through the roof. The smells of the bakery, the ambiance, the visuals of the cookie - all part of my user experience. It's now the cookie's job to follow through and delight. Look at the cookie, smell the cookie, break off a piece of the cookie, eat the cookie - interactions #8, 9, 10 & 11. Take a picture of the cookie - interaction #12. Instagram it - interaction #13. Write a blog post about the entire experience - interaction #14. FOURTEEN!!!! That's a crazy amount of touch points that Maman has had with me just for a cookie.
We were thinking about every one of those interactions when we created our products and indeed, our company. For too many, the dessert experience is fraught with peril. I've seen so many troubling, if not sad, "Bald Baker Moments" in which three out of the four people at the table are happily indulging, and the fourth is just miserable. His choices are: indulge and bear disastrous consequences; abstain and be envious, miserable or frustrated; or finally, settle for something else (see the consequences of abstention). We've reconstructed that to focus on the positive - what you can eat vs. what you can't.
We created a unique brand that positively reinforces who you are and the decision you've made to indulge. Bald Baker has really leaned on its understanding of the anticipation that goes hand in hand with buying and eating a dessert. It's akin to a seduction in which all of your senses are stimulated.
Interaction #1 with Bald Baker is a smile when you see or hear of our brand. We purposefully don't call ourselves sugar-free because that evokes a strong mental reaction about the assumed taste or quality. Sugar Conscious: seeing that term begs the question and you want to know more - interaction #2. Emailing or finding us at a farmers' market, or in store - interaction #3. Smiling when seeing our caricature or the grittiness of our packaging font and all the other branding elements - interaction #4. (We're a cookie company after all, so we can't take ourselves too seriously.) Asking for a sample, or more information - #5. Being handed the cookie/brownie from the actual smiling Bald Baker wearing the signature apron - #6. The seemingly prolonged first touch/bite sequence (one of the most important) - #s 7, 8, 9 & 10. That smile - all the endorphins being released from that first blissful bite - we want that journey from first brand introduction to instagramming your find to be one of joy, of satisfaction, of fulfillment, of the release of tension and finally, of excitement.
You deserve to be able to indulge. We believe that and we believe that you should have healthy, delicious and exciting alternatives available to you that enable you and empower you to do so. We want every step along the way to reflect that philosophy and we hope you're enjoying the journey as much as we are enjoying creating it.
After this week, I finally feel justified in cracking open that special bottle.
Now, please don't mistake the following as self aggrandizement or frivolous patting of my own back. But...we have enjoyed a string of successes lately. Lets call them small wins.
To sum up:
- First farmers market with fairly good reception.
- Second farmers market with 25% returning customers from first week and full sell out of all inventory.
- First serious investment offer
- First client in the form of a popular cafe in the neighborhood
- First repeat online order
It finally feels like we are doing something right.
Then we complete the picture with a bit more context:
- The first farmers market produced $125 total revenue with a cost closer to $400
- The Second produced revenues of $175. Breakeven.
- The investment is to take the business in a direction that I'm uncomfortable with.
- The client's total order is $40 for 20 units
- The repeat online order will total $40 for 4 boxes
Not as compelling anymore, right?
So as a former finance guy making a consistent, and decently sized paycheck, I ask myself what the hell am I doing scrambling so much for a measly few hundred dollars?
And the answer is living the dream while testing my faith in myself. In fact, every day is a test of that faith and like Indy, every day I take that leap onto the invisible bridge because the grail is just on the other side.
Future Dan is back again telling me not to sweat the small stuff, but to revel in it. Embrace these wins. It's a small order, but it's a big first client. Each and every dollar earned is validation and brings with it continued confidence. Somebody else, unbiased, has decided to spend their money on our products when it could have been spent elsewhere. That is an awesome feeling.
So, its not just $200 bucks, its the only stall to sell their full inventory. Its the best, most satisfying 200 bucks I have ever earned.