Posts in health
Can vs. Should - The Eternal Struggle Between What I Want to Say and What I Should Say

It's been about one month since my last post and I've spent the majority of that time on product development; our Classic Brownie is now optimized for shelf life and is baked without any nut products making it more accessible. While our chocolate bomb has been a labor of love, our next product in development, tentatively titled, "Oat to Joy" is an instant winner - but just because I built it doesn't mean they'll come. So I'm trying to figure out the best way to leverage this product's attributes as I portray in its best possible light. I have so many things that I should say, and only so many that I can - where's the balance?

That's why I'm writing this post - in part to think out loud, but also to ask for your help. So here goes: the first and foremost element that stands out about our Oatmeal Raisin Cookie is its taste and texture - both spot on. In other words, absent all other attributes, it's just a delicious cookie. But it does have other attributes, lots of them, and there's a point where there's information overload or in this case, a degree of 'unbelievability' that requires validation. I've already got five significant (and marketable) claims that span all of our products:

  • 4 grams of sugar (found naturally in my other ingredients) means that I can claim both "lower in sugar," and "no sugar added" - Read this for more info.
  • 8 grams of fiber means that I can make the claim, "very high source of fiber"
  • No dairy or eggs means that I can claim that my products are vegan
  • No gluten-containing ingredients and products baked in a dedicated gluten-free facility means that I can claim that my products are gluten free
  • Same goes with Kosher Parve 

Probably enough. Certainly when you're working with limited space on your packaging, you have to be very creative with your messaging and your representations. However, in developing this product, I wanted a more significant "1-2" punch than just high fiber, low sugar. Vegan, GF and Kosher are minimum requirements these days. What else could we do?

One day a few weeks ago, I absentmindedly put a MadeGood bar in my pocket before leaving to pick up my son from daycare. We buy them because he likes them and they're as healthy a snack as he's going to get without us cooking them ourselves. Our first introduction to the brand included a remark about it containing one full serving of fruits in each bar - a novelty for us because at the time, we couldn't get our son to eat anything healthy at all. Thankfully that's all changed now, but he still likes them and indeed, they're a good product. 

What if there was a better product though? What if instead of one serving, there were 5 or 6? What if we could create a truly delicious cookie that contained 50%, or even 100% of your daily recommended 6 essential vitamins and nutrients? You wouldn't have to force your kid to eat their broccoli, you could just give them a tasty cookie.

So that's what we did, using an amazing (read: natural) vitamin extract powder derived from fruits and vegetables. In fact, you can get those servings from just 225mg. That's less than 1/4 of 1 gram (less than a very small pinch). It's important because that volume makes it a very affordable ingredient to add as well as one that is undetectable from a taste or texture perspective. It's a ghost ingredient with incredible, and unfortunately, unbelievable attributes. 

Claiming that one cookie contains 5 servings of fruits and vegetables is just too incredible of a claim. It just doesn't sit right. Perhaps I'm simple minded, but reading that would make me think how impossible it would be to shrink 5 fruits/vegetables into one cookie. Than I'd dismiss that thought as a brain fart and immediately just assume that the cookie tasted like an artificially enhanced nutrient bar that usually just taste horrible. Remember that the whole point of Bald Baker is to provide a fantastic indulging experience.  

You're supposed to end blog posts with conclusions, not open questions. I haven't figured out the answer yet - it's a design question no doubt, an area that I have negative skills in. At a market this past weekend, I asked consumers that were interested in the Oat to Joy what they thought, and the unanimous response was that if I was going to make that claim, then I'd have to find a way to succinctly, and believably validate it. I already have five good health claims, there's almost no room for a sixth, much less one that I have to expound upon. It's too juicy of an attribute to ignore, both from the perspective of making an excellent product, and a profitable one.

I'll wrap this up with one or two final thoughts: It's important, in fact the most important value of Bald Baker to create delicious and satisfying products and this Oat to Joy is one of, if not the most shining reflection of that value. The vitamin claim is just an exercise in creativity; a challenge like any other to be overcome as the company continues to push the idea that healthy desserts can be amazing. For anyone out there that is working through their own development challenges - keep pushing. The answer is out there. 

The Effect of Entrepreneurship on Relationships

As an entrepreneur, I believe that my relationship-building skills have been the most utilized and the most significant catalyst to the company's growth. Yet, as I form strong bonds with the company's consumers, our retail partners, our suppliers and our vendors, I can see how easy it is to weaken the ones I have with those who are truly closest to me.

What I mean by that is every time I see a repeat customer, there's a warm, familial greeting; same goes with a retail contact that has agreed to carry our product. It's like meeting a new best friend and you can't express your joy or gratitude enough. But the people who are directly responsible for this company's growth, the ones who poured forth their blood sweat and tears in the form of late nigh packaging parties, listening ears, sympathetic advice or just standing with me for countless hours at the markets, events, expos and tradeshows, are the ones most easily taken for granted and under-appreciated. 

It's a shame and loathe as I am to take responsibility, I am to blame.

I'm not alone.  In fact, I've come into contact with too many people in similar positions - growing companies requiring every last waking breath of the entrepreneur(s) behind them, but at great personal expense. It's ironic in that like me, many entrepreneurs are building their companies inspired by- and in the name of, their loved ones. It's a difficult balancing act - professional success requires focus and great effort, but so too does maintaining healthy relationships. The people who love you and who have been there for you every step of the way deserve your mutual love, admiration and respect. Undoubtedly, they have it, but it's important to express it from time to time. That admittedly, is a daily struggle for me, but I'm trying.

So what's one to do? I think that no matter what, the support of your family and friends is committed out of love for you (and perhaps, if you're lucky, a shared vision for your company) and so it's your obligation to do everything possible to make the company successful. Your success is their success. Otherwise, a little token of appreciation can go a long way. I once presented my wife with four different brownies to sample to which she replied, "I've waited a long time to finally get my rewards from this company." I mention that moment because of my belief that when it makes sense, include who you can in the process - let them know that their opinions and advice are appreciated. And when and wherever possible, do something profound and yet so simple: say "thank you."

As we enter the anniversary of our first packaging party before the Niagara Food and Drink Festival, the very first time we went to market with a product, I want to say thank you. Thank you to those of you who have been there for me and for this company. Thank you to the people that have stayed up past any reasonable hour to help stuff cookies into wrappers and then into boxes. And thank you to whose who have donated their time and money and advice and guidance and support to help us keep pushing forward. Great companies are created good people surround themselves with great people. I am forever indebted to the great people in my life. 

A Lot Can Happen in a Year

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.

Why I Hate Writing Blog Posts

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'm whining.

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. 

Government Appetite for Sugar

This week, an article posted by Glenn Reynolds in USA Today entitled "Government can't get us off sugar" sparked a lengthy debate in my household about the role of government in our lives. The article focuses on whether or not government food stamps should be used to buy sugary drinks and snacks or just 'essentials.' It's an obvious slippery slope argument, but can the now indisputable and almost unending support linking the dramatic increase in per capita sugar consumption with a myriad of diseases including diabetesinsulin-resistance, high-blood pressure, nerve- and kidney-damage, even Alzheimer's and stroke, be ignored?

In his book The Case Against SugarGary Taubes paints a very convincing picture of the devastating effects of our over-indulgence and reliance on sugar. (The bibliography alone is 36 pages!)  One particularly convincing piece of support comes from the findings of this medical study conducted in 2007 by Lenoir, Serre, Cantin and Ahmed which "clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and -addicted individuals." In other words, sugar produces a faster, easier, MUCH cheaper and much more readily accessible satisfaction than COCAINE!

Recent attempts to curb sugar on a federal scale by limiting tax stamps, or by implementing "sin-taxes" like they did in Philadelphia and Berkeley (these effectively charge consumers an excise tax per ounce of sugar-sweetened beverages) are an interesting way to both limit consumption and an attempt to benefit society in the process. Tobacco and alcohol are taxed heavily as sin-products, making sugar fall into the same category. Philly is going to fund public programs, including schools, with the revenue. These cities are joined by Boulder, Oakland and San Francisco. More than 30 cities and states, including New York most infamously, have rejected such taxes. 

I was presented with opposing arguments, also hard to discount, that reject the idea of government intervention into our daily lives. It begins with telling us how and what we should consume... Where does it end? Who is anyone to tell me that I shouldn't eat a cookie or enjoy a coke? If I'm willing to endure the pains of diabetes long-term, or a sugar-crash short-term, well, that's my business. The USA Today editorial points out prior attempts by the government to intervene that have backfired. In the second half of the twentieth century, there were widespread, perhaps lobbyist-influenced, campaigns to limit fats; the food producers responded by increasing sugar to compensate. In other words, the government should stay out of the kitchen and let us decide for ourselves what to eat.

Bald Baker takes a reasoned philosophy to this matter. We are not a political organization; all we want to do is promote healthy living decisions. We believe that while sugar-consumption and its related consequences are on the rise, there should be at least an equal, if not disproportionate reaction in the form of education, programs, support and delicious, sugar-conscious foods to combat this massive and pervasive epidemic. 

Prevention Magazine started a campaign called #spreadthehealth and posted an article recently about one woman's challenge to completely remove sugar from her diet for one week and the results. I won't comment on the validity of the experiment, but I 100% agree with her conclusion after taking the challenge: "it can be the catalyst for more profound, long-term improvement....I also now feel inspired to create other healthy habits..."

We want the consuming public to see that sugar-reduction isn't as daunting as it seems; that lifestyle changes aren't as impossible as they seem. They're scary, no doubt, but people often over-value their current position (and hence, stay in a comfort zone) and under-value a changed position. Our indulgent, sugar-free desserts have proven that you can have a delicious, decadent dessert and not have a bomb explode in your system; that you can have a cookie and eat it too. Hopefully that is a first-step, an injection of confidence for you to make the next step forward, and the one after that, towards living a satisfied, healthy lifestyle.

Very curious what you think about the matter. Tweet or respond here or on our facebook page. Thanks,

Dan