This Female Founder Looking To Modernize At-Home Baking Shares Why It’s Never Too Early To Start Sharing Your Business Idea
Mondays can be rough—sometimes we need a little motivation to get the week started. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from Project Entrepreneur Alumnae—female founders who applied to the Project Entrepreneur Venture Competition to attend our two-day PE Intensive and join a nationwide community of hundreds of women entrepreneurs. Get to know more about the PE Community and #beinspired by how these women motivate themselves each Monday to tackle the week ahead.
Melissa Stefaniak is Founder of Single Baked Sweets, a company that ships single-serve, take-and-bake desserts that come with everything someone needs to make, bake, and decorate a delicious treat for one. Melissa attended the PE Intensive in 2016, and we had a chance to catch up with her and talk about the biggest challenges she’s faced while working to modernize an almost ninety-year-old industry, her accomplishments since she attended the PE Intensive, and why she thinks it’s never too soon to start talking about your business.
What inspired you to start your business?
I love to bake—it’s part stress-relief, part craving-fulfillment and mostly just fun to create something with my hands. Plus I get to eat my creations, so there is some utility to it too! But since I moved to New York seven years ago, I’ve found that every apartment I’ve lived in doesn’t come with enough counter space or storage to really bake or at least enjoy it. I thought, what if I could scale down my recipes to make smaller portions? I could still get the satisfaction of making a homemade treat with real ingredients, but without the hassle, oversized equipment or wasted leftovers. I started tinkering with my favorite recipes [and turned] into single-serving desserts. So far I have four recipes to test in the market.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Shelf-stability and transportability of my product. Because Single Baked Sweets comes with all the pre-measured wet and dry ingredients (there is nothing missing!), product packaging is a critical component to delivering our value proposition as well as ensuring both quality and safety of the product. As a scrappy startup with limited resources, I have had to get creative with product packaging and [modifying recipes] to include more stable ingredients.
This [challenge] has been a great [opportunity] to really dig into the science behind the product as well as understand the balance between customer value and product fit. By starting small and not having the ability to just create my ‘ideal’ product from the start, I’ve learned what components really matter to my customers and where I need to spend my resources to get it right.
What’s been the greatest reward?
The greatest reward is the positive feedback and joy that Single Baked Sweets has brought to our early testers. When they tell me how easy it was to make and how good the dessert tasted, it makes me immensely happy and further motivates me to keep going.
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
The ‘at-home’ baking industry hasn’t really been revolutionized since cake mixes were introduced in the 1930s. For those of us who like to bake and want a more ‘homemade’ treat, we really only have two options today: either make a dessert entirely from scratch with multiple ingredients on-hand, or use a boxed cake, cookie or brownie mix to skip a few steps. However, both these options result in a dessert that feeds multiple people, testing one’s willpower or resulting in waste.
That’s where Single Baked Sweets comes in. We’re providing single-serve, bake-at-home desserts that come with all the pre-measured, natural ingredients—nothing is missing, not even the bakeware. This way, individuals can still enjoy the experience of baking something from scratch, with the convenience of a single portion. And with single-portion desserts, everyone in the household can have a homemade dessert that fits their cravings, whether it’s a classic chocolate chip cookie or a more indulgent peanut butter pie or lemon cheesecake.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
I always try to focus on one, single step at a time. Otherwise, it’s easy to get overwhelmed or discouraged. When I hit a roadblock, I turn to my husband and a network of trusted mentors, entrepreneurs and friends. They have my back and help me separate my emotional reaction from what I need to do next. And when things get really tough, I re-read my customer feedback and remind myself why I’m doing this and who I am serving. There is no greater motivation than working hard to address a need in the market and bringing someone else joy.
Can you provide a few updates on what’s new with your business or what you’ve accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2016?
Since the PE Intensive, I created a minimum viable product (MVP) to test in the market and formed an LLC. I also applied and was accepted to the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia (UVA) where I am a current Executive MBA student. Choosing to go back to school was an integral part of my journey as an entrepreneur to build both my confidence and skills that will benefit my business as well as access the incredible network and resources that Darden has to support startups. Since being at Darden, Single Baked Sweets has been selected as the winner of the UVA Entrepreneurial-Cup Concept Competition, a finalist for the Discovery Competition and chosen to participate in the iLab Incubator program starting June 2018 where we will focus on developing a market-ready product.
Can you describe a problem you solved in your business that other early-stage entrepreneurs face and tell us how went about solving this problem? How can other early-stage founders repeat your success?
One of the problems I faced in the beginning was not thinking my concept was ready to share—I didn’t have a market-ready product, I didn’t have a company name or an LLC, I didn’t have customers and I kept waiting to share [my concept] with the world until it was ‘fully-baked’ (pun intended).
Looking back now, that was a big mistake. First of all, no one is going to deem you credible as a business owner—that has to start with you. Second, waiting to share my concept with others limited my access to helpful connections, ideas and resources that [would have helped] me further develop my business. I made a pact with myself before starting business school that I would be silent no longer and declare to everyone I met that I was starting a business and share with them my idea. Now every person in my life knows exactly what I am doing and has rallied around to support me, help make connections or offer advice. It has been a transformative experience, both for me personally and for Single Baked Sweets.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
Do something in spite of conventional wisdom or good advice. Like with most things in life, there are always 100 good reasons NOT to do something, but all it takes is one reason or belief in an idea to pursue it. And heck, if you’re having fun, don’t put pressure on turning your idea into a business—the value is in discovery and seeing how far you can take it.
For more motivation from our PE Alumnae, check out our interview with Camilla Olson, Co-Founder and CEO of Savitude, a fashion tech company that uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning to automatically curate clothing options based on a shopper’s body shape and unique proportions. We had the pleasure of chatting with Camilla about how she’s building Savitude to disrupt the fashion industry, her role in educating VCs about fashion technology, and how she’s making shopping an easier (and more positive) experience for 80 percent of women.