Hard Choices (Vol 1)


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!

Is Kickstarter Begging?

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. 

If you're curious about our campaign, check it out using this link or the one from our website. As I wrote in the email I just sent out to my network: 

"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."

Daniel Sennet
Our Most Exciting Month Ever: VegFest & Kickstarter

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 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. 

Are Digital User Experience Lessons Applicable In The Real World?

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.

Sweat the Small Wins

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:

  1. First farmers market with fairly good reception.
  2. Second farmers market with 25% returning customers from first week and full sell out of all inventory.
  3. First serious investment offer
  4. First client in the form of a popular cafe in the neighborhood
  5. First repeat online order

It finally feels like we are doing something right.

Then we complete the picture with a bit more context:

  1. The first farmers market produced $125 total revenue with a cost closer to $400
  2. The Second produced revenues of $175. Breakeven.
  3. The investment is to take the business in a direction that I'm uncomfortable with.
  4. The client's total order is $40 for 20 units
  5. 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. 

We're No Longer "Pre-Revenue"... We're Now "Pre-Profit"

Things have finally settled down enough to write a post - it's been a while and in that while, so much has happened to this company that it's difficult to sum up the events, how I feel about them or what takeaways there are.

All told, this was a month characterized by challenge and triumph. In fact, we started generating revenue! We started the month with the equivalent of an acme anvil falling out of a window and landing on our head. We found out from a benevolent individual that our primary sweetener was not on the list of sweeteners approved for commercial usage in Canada (despite it being readily available as a table-top sweetener). For a sugar conscious company, that's a major blow. The next day, we discovered that our chosen brand name for one of our products was already registered by our primary competitor. That means that our nutritional panel and our branding had to be paused, tweaked, and resubmitted. With a lot of hustle, even more ingenuity and a little luck, we came out of the situation stronger as a team and most importantly, with better tasting, better sounding and better looking products.  

Then we epitomized the definition of the word 'scramble' to get prepared for the Niagara Food and Wine Expo. Classic 2am-night-before-the-big-show-hustle to box up our products, our gear, our clown-car and our psyche only to get there and have a very significant portion of our product break apart into samples or unusable fragments. Yes.. our cookie literally crumbled.  #innovation lead to barter bags for trade with the other vendors, and "odds and ends"  bags for people to pair their wines and beer with. We persevered and successfully debuted the company to approximately 13,000 people! We're no longer "pre-revenue!" And... we now have the beginnings of our sugar conscious pie line.

So why am I not satisfied? Why can't I stop if only for a second, and smell the roses? In fact, that special bottle that I was saving for the moment I generated my first dollar remains unopened! I fear that I'm focusing more on the challenges than the triumphs; the frustrations that lay ahead as opposed to the success that's enjoyed from overcoming them. Put another way, I'm focusing too heavily on the forest and not enough on the trees. 

It comes down to me wanting this company to scale and not be a 'lifestyle' company. This isn't coming from a greed or pride point of view, but because I genuinely believe that there is a massively underserved demographic that would benefit from our products. I also believe our products represent a quantum leap forward in how people indulge and engage with their foods. Whoa is me, but if we can't ship 1,000 units by ourselves without significant breakage, how can somebody else ship 100,000?

So, future me's advice to current me is to focus on what I can control now, take it step by step and work up to it, but don't ever lose sight of the big picture or what's motivating me.

For example, to isolate the cause of the breakage: was I under-baking when it could use 30 more seconds? Should I leave the products to cool and harden for longer before packaging? Perhaps bake on a higher temperature? Add more or less baking powder or more or less binding agent? All fun experiments to try, so that's exactly what we're going to do. 

We also need to optimize our packaging, because as much fun as staying up until 2 am is, there wasn't much booze or loud music involved and I don't care to do that again. And I burned all the friend favors on that one. So we will experiment with individual unit packaging while I continue to source a flow-wrapper. Work on finding a co-packer that specializes in small batch production. Form cookies or brownies more amenable to individual packing. 

It all takes time and patience and I have some of the former and none of the latter. I was asked on the ride home from the Expo what my breaking point was if we couldn't get this venture profitable. Instinctively, I replied that I had to get slapped pretty hard in the face to give up. Meaning, I choose to believe that there is no end point, only exciting new beginnings. I will do everything in my power to make this a growing, profitable company and we'll just address each challenge one by one. After-all, we only stayed pre-revenue for four months from the day we started... let's see how long (or short) it takes to shake off the "pre-profit" moniker.  

What Drives You?

Last week, Bald Baker had its very first public tasting event. 

It was exhilarating. 

It was terrifying.

It was rewarding, but not for the reasons you'd expect.

Truth be told, I was way more nervous for the day before; the first day in my life that I stepped foot into an industrial kitchen. Thank goodness I was with a fearless dynamo (proving my point about partnering with somebody who knows what they're doing when you don't) who was able to take the proverbial bull by the horns and together, we learned how to bake cookies in a rotating rack oven. 

For the most part, it was a success, and we learned a lot about recipe scaling. We were happy enough with the results to take them the following night to a large group of extended friends and family for their feedback. As I stepped into the bar (where else?), somebody asked me if I was going to say something to the crowd and it hadn't occurred to me that I should. 

That's when I realized what my true motivations were. 

I've spoken in front of a crowd quite a few times, and my first inclination is always to thank people first then dive into whatever I'm going to say. At first I wanted to thank the aforementioned fearless dynamo, then my family, then my wife. The order segued nicely into how my first cookies were frankensteins and now they're frankenfines. (I was actually going to say that). But then I realized that while I am deeply indebted to them, Bald Baker exists because of them, but not for them.

Well then, what about all the sugar-conscious people that we're trying to help? Yes, Bald Baker exists to offer everyone a chance to enjoy delicious desserts; to have their cookie and eat it too.

Then my one and half year old son walked in and I knew right then and there why I started Bald Baker and stopped working anywhere else, for anybody else. 

I've quoted the stats ad nauseam about the prevalence of diabetes, childhood obesity, poor nutrition etc., and they're real and they're devastating. The very fact that it was deemed an epidemic IN 1917, that's one hundred years ago, means that the sugar problem has reached tragic, epic proportions. And as important as it is for me, and for everyone who is so inclined to create programs, products and support to combat this challenge, that's still not what's driving me. It's not the deep-down, gut-instinct force that propels me and every other entrepreneur I've met.

You see the innocence on your kid's face and you see the entirely open world and every available opportunity imaginable and you realize that it's on you to set the stage.  It's on you to show that it's ok to be scared, but not ok to let that stop you from walking into that kitchen, from moving forward with what you want to do. How can you possibly tell your child to have courage and to follow his or her dreams when you don't do it yourself?

So we bake, and quite well I might add. We create delicious, worry-free products for people who crave them. We do it with the help of our families, our friends and you. And we do it to set a positive example; me because I want to, but ultimately, because I think we have to.



The Sugar-Free Elephant In the Room

As Bald Baker is getting closer and closer to commercializing its products, I become more and more anxious about it. I'm currently working with a group of students from my Alma-mater, Wilfrid Laurier University, and they asked me: "what is my leap of faith?" to which I replied "The assumption I'm making is that consumers will be receptive, from a financial and from a psychological perspective, to a product that is "sugar-conscious" when there are plenty of healthy alternatives, or low-cost alternatives to compete with. Is sugar-conscious enough of a differentiator to make a profitable business out of?"

My Chief Cookie Officer and I are about to run a guantlet: forget the investment cash outlays, but to be vulnerable to a harsh market with harsh feedback (these days, everyone's a critic thanks to Food Network), to face logistical issues scaling recipes and working with very large industrial-grade equipment and to go to battle to try win your dollar using a branding strategy that is well... unique, but perhaps more aptly, unproven.

All because we removed sugar.

We believe sugar is the great evil in our society; not because of what it is, but because of its drug-like addictive properties and our predisposition to indulge irresponsibly. Sugar is like the iceberg that sunk the Titanic: only 25% can be seen. The rest is hidden in places you wouldn't think, like spaghetti sauces, cole slaw, yogurt, dried fruit, most breads, etc. The United States Department of Agriculture has stated that the average American consumes between 150 to 170 pounds of refined sugars in one year!  Bamboocorefitness.com wrote an interesting article putting that into perspective: in the early 1800's, the average was 4-6 lbs per person per year! Not surprising that 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year. In his book The Case Against Sugar, Gary Taubes notes that Diabetes was considered an epidemic... IN 1917!!! 100 years later and it can only be considered an international disaster.

So, our Elephant isn't actually sugar, it's what we've used to replace it, namely two different blends of sugar-substitutes: the first branded under the name Sola and second known as Lakanto. I promise that I'm not being paid or am in any way obligated to them, but honestly, they both look like sugar, taste like sugar, bake like sugar... but they're not sugar. In fact, they contain 75% fewer calories than sugar and most importantly, unlike sugar, neither create the blood sugar response that sugar does. The ingredients contain natural sweeteners, like monkfruit and stevia extracts, and sweeteners derived from fermenting lactose, glucose or sucrose known as sugar alcohols or polyols (including erythritol (prounounced 'er-reeth-re-tol') and maltitol.

At first glance, using these ingredients contradict our value of not baking with anything you can't spell or pronounce, but the spirit remains: use natural ingredients to produce a naturally delicious product. Foodinsight.org created a beautifully produced fact sheet based heavily on a journal article written by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics called "Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners." Kitchen Stewardship sums up the sugar alcohols quite nicely in their article Xylitol, Erythritol, Sortibol...What's That "Ol" About? What it comes down to is that western society is finally taking notice and taking action to substitute sugars with acceptable alternatives. Like any other ingredient on this planet, mass consumption may have side effects. Specific to Polyols are bloating or other gastric effects, but these pale in comparison to what sugar does to your system in similar, if not much fewer quantities. 

If you've ever put a packet of Stevia in your coffee, or used it to bake with, you'll notice that up to 99% of it is actually erythritol. Every sugar-free gum uses xylitol. Most sugar-free chocolates are sweetened with maltitol. It's more common than you think. Why is that? 

These alternatives to sugar generally have far fewer calories, do not spike your blood glucose levels, have little to no effect on your tooth enamel, bake well, taste great and are relatively easy to purchase. Are these the be all and end all? Definitely not. However, we feel very comfortable using products with these benefits, are derived from natural sources and can be incorporated delightfully into our products and we hope that you will too. I am elated that the world is waking up the true nature of sugar and is actively exploring alternatives to help people avoid sugar, live more confidently and most importantly, continue enjoying delicious goods that they deserve.  

If you have had any experience baking with these ingredients or enjoying these ingredients, I'd love to hear from you.