Tiffany Chen started her biz / $20, now it’s valued at $500 million. Here’s her warm cookie story
Today on the show we’re chatting with Tiffany Chen, Founder of Tiff’s Treats.
We’ve had some real crackers on the show recently and this is another totally epic story. In 1999, Tiffany Taylor accidentally stood up Leon Chen for a date. As an apology, she baked and delivered a batch of warm cookies, and the concept of warm cookie delivery was born.
Tiff and Leon, just 19-year-old sophomores at The University of Texas, opened Tiff’s Treats with $20, a cell phone and a dream. Since then, the business has raised more than 00m dollars, grown to 68 stores, with close to 2000 employees, baking more than 200 million cookies since the company started.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Hi, thanks for having me. I'm so excited to have you on the journey today to hear your 20 something year entrepreneurial journey. I want to get straight into it.
00:03:21Edit Let's go back to 1999, three actually 3, To the cell phone. The $20 and the dream. Where do you like to start the story. Yeah, so I think it does start in 1999. The way we started our business was that I was, me and my now husband were in college and we were sophomores at the University of Texas in Austin and we were on winter break and I went out with a friend and I was supposed to meet him up later and I didn't have a cell phone and I did not call him to let him know I was running late. And so I accidentally stood him up and did not meet him when we were supposed to meet. So as an apology, I baked him a batch of cookies and drove him over to his house and I think the cookies just so happened to still be warm when I got over there and he takes the box of cookies. Well, I guess it wasn't a box, it was whatever you would have put it on a plate. Um and he takes a bite and he just had this moment, he was like, we should do this as a business when we, we're going to go back to school to start the new semester in two weeks, he said, when we go back, let's open a delivery business and we're gonna bake cookies and deliver them just like pizza delivery.
00:04:32Edit Um but only with warm cookies and so initially my gut reaction and audible reaction was no, I didn't want to do it. I told him no, thank you. Not even close. You know, I was just a regular college student and I didn't have aspirations to be in business. Um, not then and not later really, that wasn't my, that's not what I was looking to do. Um, but he's a really persistent guy and he spends the next, you know, few minutes on the phone kind of talking me into why this would be so great fun and the pitch. Yeah, he had an immediate pitch and I guess he got me jazzed enough to where later that day I ended up at the grocery store pricing out, how much does it cost to make cookies? What other flavors besides chocolate chip would be something easy we could do. Um and I called him back kind of filled him in and you know, he says, he was stunned that he thought that the dream had died when I initially said no to me. I feel like he never would have dropped it. And so it was just like we had to do it. Um, and then we spent the next two weeks just doing basic research. How are we gonna package them? How are we gonna get the word out?
00:05:35Edit Um, where are we going to do this from? And so we decided to just, he had an apartment, um that he shared with roommates and we decided to do the whole thing from that apartment. We bought a cell phone. So that's where that comes in because we didn't have one. So we bought a cell phone so that we would have a direct line for our customers to call place orders. So we got the cell phone printed up some fliers. That then it was called Kinko's. And we um just walked around campus, we put them under all the tours and that was how we got our name out. In the beginning, we were students so we could go into any of the dorms. Well actually you weren't supposed to if you didn't live there, but nobody could notice because we look like we lived there. So we went in, we put flyers under everywhere and then we just waited for the phone to ring. Oh my gosh! And like how long did it take for people to ring? Is it immediate? I feel like it's It's not. And that's a great question because we so we we have this all set up and we were just gonna do it at night because we went to school during the day. So our service was open from eight PM to midnight Sunday through Thursday at least.
00:06:36Edit That's what we put on the flyer. I mean it could have been anything. Um and we waited three days and nobody called and so we truly thought, well it's embarrassing only because some of our friends knew we were, we were doing it in the room mates, you know they were, they knew we had done this. Um But then the phone did ring on the third day and it wasn't a friend, it wasn't anybody who knew us, it was just a random person who saw the flyer and wanted the service. And so that was our very first order and we still remember her name was Amy and when she lived at one of the dorms. Yeah and from there it you know we started getting some business. Oh my gosh! So you guys are making these in your kitchen and then you're going and delivering them up until late at night for anyone who wants them. Are you thinking of this like as a full on business at this point or you're just like, oh you know it's like a side hustle, see what happens, like what's the vision at this point? That's a great question. It couldn't have been a full on business because we were full time students and when we started, I don't know that we thought through it a ton. I think um for my husband slash business partner he is, he probably always envisioned that it could be something but I don't think we were, we were invested too much in what it could be just with the hope that maybe this could turn out to be something but we're really just gonna get off the ground and see what happened with it.
00:07:58Edit Um, and then we spent, so we were only sophomores at the time, which meant we had two more years to go before we graduated college, 2.5 actually. So we still have, we had a long time to sort of try it out and then before we graduated, well, I guess I should say by the time we graduated, we had put so much of our other stuff aside in that the business was growing, it was growing and we were making changes and we were, you know, now we're bringing on delivery drivers and now we have a professional kitchen instead of the apartment and you know, making moves. So by the time we graduated, I mean we graduated just fine, but we didn't like our focus wasn't school and we hadn't honed any other skills that would have led us to get jobs. So by the time we graduated, like, well we better do this and we, so we opened full time then after that more of a lack of any other option and also just, we had put so much time into it at that point that we didn't want to see it, just drift away and you're obviously having fun, you're enjoying what you're doing.
00:08:58Edit Yeah, you know, sure. Yes, definitely having fun. Um, but it's a grind. I mean it was, it was a grind. Um, even from the beginning to do it, doing a food, anybody who has a food based business knows it's not um you know, it's hard work and then we were doing delivery on top of that, which is tricky to, and we were doing the deliveries ourselves and I think people differ on their opinion of which is harder working in the kitchen or, or doing the driving, but they're both, you know, challenging. So yeah, it was fun for sure. Um but it was more like we had put so much energy into it that we weren't going to just let it go. And so in that two years before you graduated was the strategy, just like flyers to get around campus or was there more to the plan of marketing? Yeah, so yes, initially it was just flyers um and word of mouth, but what we found was word of mouth spreads a lot faster if you're in a consolidated group. So really what happened, we were very, very slow to start, but we got in with one of the female dorms and these girls were all sort of in similar sororities to each other, they were in the same social circle.
00:10:09Edit And so once we kind of got in with that one dorm, it really started moving much more quickly rather than spreading it across like an entire population. So let me be specific that when we started, we were targeting just university students because that's what we knew that's where we were, we were doing nighttime delivery. Um, and, but within those university students, we found that if you kind of got in with one group, then it spreads much, much more quickly and then it spreads from that group to other groups. So that was something we sort of stumbled on by accident. And then as we were going, we realized there was a whole professional crowd during the day that wanted our service. So now, um, college really isn't our target at all. We still are around some colleges and it's, it's, it's a great piece of the puzzle, but we really more target the professionals, people who are at work, um, whether they're sending something to, um, it could be a client gift. You know, it could be a business to business thing or a lot of times it's just a personal gift, but it's happening at work. So we sort of kind of grew up to a professional crowd. Um, and that was different, different marketing.
00:11:11Edit So what we did to do that was once we had graduated, then we opened full time and we knew that we've got this whole other segment, this whole daytime population and we literally just baked and baked and baked cookies and drove them out to the office buildings and handed them out one by one. And that was our initial, that was how we got the word out to the professionals that we had a business really sampling, which is still a really, really great way. There's no better way than to have people try it and try it in the way that it's meant to be experienced. So for us, you know, we bake cookies and deliver them to order. Um and it's not just like one cookie one off, it's not just a snack, it comes, it's presented, you know, as a gift. Um either whether you're treating yourself or treating someone else and so we, we just recreate that exact experience. But we were handing it off to people in buildings that didn't expect it and didn't know anything about us. Now one thing that changed big, so this is just such an old reference, But when we were doing that, it was pre-9-11, which meant um security was just a totally, totally different at that time.
00:12:14Edit So we could just walk into really any office with boxes of blank, nobody knew what was inside of them and just go door by door and hand them out and hand them out. And that changed overnight within because 9-11 happened um a couple of months into us being full time and it totally changed the landscape of how buildings operate. So that was one of those big marketing shifts that we had to pivot on. But then you just figure out another way to do it. So the newer way to do it was that you have to work with the building property management company and say, hey, I want to come in, I want to bring this and, and work with them. So it's a win win as opposed to what we did in the past, which was just storm in anonymously and started, you know, that the landscape of that kind of changed. But there's other ways of still getting to do it and I love how it's still sort of that same blueprint though of like finding one building and finding one pocket of, you know, students together and then just like one at a time, building one at a time, one at a time instead of this. Like, you know, mass audience display that a lot of people often think that's what you need to do.
00:13:17Edit You need, you know, spray everywhere and just see where you land. But you have taken that approach of methodically going one by one. I love that. Yeah. And some of that is also just due to, we had no budget. Um, you know, so you do what you're able to do, it's not like it's maybe almost a little harder when you've got a huge budget and you're trying to figure out how to spend it. We have no money. So we're just doing what we're able to do, which is taking one bite of the apple at a time. And the other thing about those days was there was absolutely no social media at all. So that's a whole different, you know, there are other opportunities now if we were to start up, I think we would've been heavy, heavy into a social presence and you're kind of doing the same thing, right? You're targeting a small group of like minded people, but just with a different vehicle, totally exactly the same concept, I wanted to ask you about the money piece of the puzzle because you started, you know, really, really lean, $20 bought some ingredients, that kind of thing, but in those first early years, did you need to invest more money to kind of scale up or was it really just like selling what you could investing it back in to grow and just growing that way?
00:14:21Edit Yeah, so in the early days, yes, we would just reinvest, we never paid ourselves for a long time. So we um we moved in together to save on rent. Um We, we kept our personal expenses super low and we were lucky to be able to do that because we were very, very young and we didn't have Children to support or anything like that. So we were in a position where we didn't need to take home a lot of money because our lifestyle was pretty slim. Um and so we would reinvest and grow from there, but then you do get to a point where you've got to have money for something. So what we started to do early on at the time was take out lines of credit from the bank or loans from the bank. Now that's a little bit easier said than done because again this was a different time. And so back in the early 2000s, they were loaning money to people and really for nothing, like we would just have a signature because our credit ranking was fine and that that was good enough for them. um you can't get that anymore. And we learned that about 10 years in after we signed a lease for another location and we thought we would just get another loan.
00:15:28Edit But there was no like that, that was post-2008 and like everything had changed, nobody was learning anything for anything. And that's when we moved into getting investors. So I think it depends on your kind of business, but for ours, in order for us to grow, we need, we have, we have what we consider retail distribution outlets. So they are bakeries um and you can walk in and you can and you can buy a cookie or two, but that's where all of our deliveries are coming from. And so we spot them all around town because the cookies have to be warm when we get there. So we don't have just like one center for an entire city, you've got a whole bunch of them and they're also retail outlet. Um in order to build those, you need money to do it. So unfortunately we weren't in the kind of business where you could grow without having some kind of money. So at first it was all loans and then we ended up starting to raise money from investors when really just because there were no more opportunity for loans. I read you've raised a casual 100 mill now, a lot of fundraising there. Holy moly, if you have to kind of distill some of the key things that you've learned in that process, what are your key insights and learnings that you can share with other entrepreneurs who might be thinking about going down the pathway of fundraising or in it at the moment.
00:16:45Edit Yeah. So we didn't know anything about fundraising. When we first started doing it, we got connected with a attorney. So you're going to need legal help to do, to set up the structure of your business and to, and to actually sell pieces of it off. Um, you have to have that. And we were fortunate to have somebody who was a very kind person who really walked us through a lot of the steps and, and was able to give us advice on, do do this, but don't do that and don't say yes to this concession. Um, and then we shocked, you know, the deal. Um, when we very first started, we were just looking at what they consider an angel investor, which is an individual investing their own individual money. Um, and we met the best one. So we were very, very lucky with who we met. It was an easy process. He was great. He's still on our board. He's still an amazing guy. So, um, part of that was just like we got connected through. Well, I guess let me start with this. Number one connections are really, really key. Um, so we, you know, we can trace back every connection we have. It's like, oh, because we leased this space that didn't work out, but then that landlord introduced us to this guy who introduced us to our accountant and are the person who was doing our books that introduced us to, um, this person who ended up being our angel investor.
00:17:56Edit So like every step along the way, you're sort of meeting people that may connect you later to other things. So that's key because you can't just do it in isolation and if you don't have any connections at all, it's going to be difficult to go out there and just suddenly have a huge amount of interest. Um, two, we had not everybody can or should do it this way, but we had already been in business for at least 10 years by the time that we even started fundraising, which was great because we had a proven business and we had already built our own technology. So we had a proven platform on top of that. So instead of it, just being, in theory, we had something that was proven out, which makes it less of a risk for the investor. So they like that. Um It also means that you don't have to sell off as much of your business as you would if it was at the beginning, because it's less risky for them. So you're, the valuation of your company is higher. Um So for us that worked out well, and we were able to do that, and not every situation is going to be that way, but it's just because We grew very, very slowly over the 1st 10 years before we started looking into investment.
00:19:02Edit So part of it was timing. Part of it was networking is not the right word, but it's just like having making connections as you go as you're as you're doing um new things in business and knowing that this relationship could lead to this relationship could lead to that relationship. And so those things end up being important, even though we weren't trying to do that, that's just sort of how it happened. But when you look back on it, you're like, oh yeah, it's so key to have all of these great relationships with people that you're, that you're in contact with. Um and then, so we were able to show him, you know, what we had where we and a vision for where we were going, um and sell on that. And so that's all really important. The other thing I would say is it's super important to pick the person that is going to invest as much as they're picking you because the right person can be amazing, which is what happened to us and the wrong person can be really, really detrimental. And I think we've raised a ton more money after that initial investment, and so we have lots of investors and they're all different and if we had had different ones of those that we had down the road, had, we brought them on in the very, very early stages, they could have totally derailed us and not, not, not their fault because, you know, all these people are going to be very smart.
00:20:18Edit Um and all these people are going to be very capable, but sometimes, um they could give you advice that, like, if they're nervous about the investment, they end up kind of squeezing and almost like kind of squeezing the magic out of it and so you want somebody who's going to let I I think my biggest advice would be, if you're going on for your first investment, make sure that the person who's investing you believes in you and understands that the magic that you're creating and doesn't want to step on it. Um, if they don't trust you, then they shouldn't be investing in in your business and on their end to like, if they feel like they need to have control over it, it's because they don't trust that you're going to do it right. Um and that's not, it's not great for your happiness and it's not great for the relationship? But most importantly, it's not great for building a brand because if you've got a financial person kind of interfering with, when you're trying to build a brand, it can be challenging. There were so many things I wish I knew when I started my business, smaller things like blocking off my calendar for focused work and bigger things like investing in tools that help automate the busywork from building out your website to building up your sales pipeline, hubspot suite of operations, sales and marketing tools, help automate and connect different parts of your business so you and your team can ditch the busy work and focus on creating the best customer experience possible.
00:21:38Edit Plus with helpful educational content, a supportive community and access to hundreds of app integrations, hubspot, all in one platform is built to grow with, you learn how to grow better by connecting your people, your customers and your business at hubspot dot com. If you were to be, say you were starting a business tomorrow, what are the kinds of questions you would specifically ask to try and navigate whether an investor is a good fit for you, not having, like gone through the experience that you have kind of things as a new founder? Yeah, I think a lot of that is kind of gut as you're getting to know them? No one do you like them? Like do you sort of enjoy being with them? Are you feeling on edge when you're with them? Are you feeling picked apart? Um, when you're with them, I think, um, you need to get on the same page about their involvement. So that would be a huge question. What is their data? What, what are they expecting their day to day involvement to be? And it's different for everybody. Some people really want somebody to say, hey, I need somebody to guide me and to really be hands on and what they call that is value add.
00:22:47Edit So to add value to me by being there every day, bringing in, um, outside knowledge, helping me and guiding me. Other people want somebody who's just a little bit more hands off so that, hey, I'm already on my direction, I really know what I'm doing here, I need the funds and I need support, um, but I don't need you here every day. We're making every decision and as long as you're aligned on what that's going to be, but if you're misaligned on it, then I think that that would be one of the biggest problems. So I would definitely want to understand what they want out of their day to day investment. I imagine it's like, it's easy to say all this stuff, but I imagine if there's like a bit of this, um, you know, this, this gut feeling that it isn't right that someone is willing to offer you the money, having the courage to turn down money could also be just like a tough point. Have you had to do that? I so agree with you and it is so much easier said than done. And we, I even, so we have a book coming out in april actually, it's april now almost.
00:23:49Edit Um and in the book, we talk about the fact that we, when we did our very first fundraising round, one of the things we said right off the bat is we don't want a board of directors. Um, and then comes in this investor and his stipulation was I want a former board of directors and I want to be on it. And now we were faced with actual money with a real person and, but with the stipulation that we had said no to, and we went down to the, our lawyer's office and we said he's good too, like he wants to invest this, he wants a board, so go ahead and like set that all up. And the lawyer said, but you said, you know, two weeks ago that you weren't going to do a board of directors and that was a non negotiable and boy, that changed fast for us as soon as the money was real, we were like, no, no, it sounds fine now. So you certainly do, um, when you're faced with actual real money, it's very easy. And in our case, it wasn't even a negative, it was and it's very normal, in fact, it would be abnormal for somebody to invest money and not want some kind of position on the board in a small company like that.
00:24:52Edit But yeah, we switched on a dime about what we thought we would or wouldn't say yes to, and so it can be extremely, extremely tempting. Um and anytime you sort of get wrapped up and we had another one where we, this was a much bigger fundraise way more down the line and we didn't even, we weren't even really looking to fundraise per se. We were introduced to this firm and they came and they met with us and then they put out this offer on the table and we're like, oh, well, gosh, that really would be great. And then the longer we got into it, we're like, we got kind of emo, you get emotionally tied up in the idea that this fundraiser is happening and so it can become harder and harder to step away and just say no. And so I actually don't know if there's certainly, I'm sure there's been some small ones where we've been like, no, it's not worth it. Um nothing notable, but there have definitely been times where in retrospect you say, gosh, I wonder if that was worth it. You know, I wonder if we should have been a little stronger and just said because it's, it's so much easier if you've got a deal on the table.
00:25:57Edit It's easy to take it and it's hard to walk away. But I would say it will be harder if you know, it's not right. It will be harder to untangle it later than to walk away at the beginning. So yeah, it is easier said than done. I think you raised a good point though of like having your clear non negotiables and like really digging deep into what they are and then just keeping those as your north star so that when you are navigating if you are navigating those situations of whether you should take capital, like, you know, how far off is it from those non negotiables and you're very clear lines that you've drawn in the sand? Yeah, I think you're so right. And I think you should put thought into what really is non negotiable. And then what is an reference that you prefer that way? You've got your like we are not going to do X no matter what, we're not going to do this because we are so so so certain that we we won't do it. Um And then you've got your others, like, I'd prefer not to do this or this or this. Um And those can be negotiated through based on your comfort level.
00:27:01Edit Um But you're right have there are certain things that you and you shouldn't and we do that. We certainly do that now because we'll come into a deal and say, well we're not doing that. Um and then the deal will go on and on and I'll still come back and say, well, we're still not doing because we're not doing that. And it's it's easier, I mean, it's easier to walk away from it later when you have funding. Yeah, of course, of course Going back to the marketing piece because I feel like I veered off into the money piece, but I'm coming back to the marketing piece now. I love to understand the blueprint and obviously we've got 20 something years to cover here. But if you would have kind of distill over the years, the key milestones that have left you forward and kept you in business when times have been tough. Um what would you say are those key moments throughout The last 20 years? Yeah. So let's see, I mean, you start what we started with word of mouth, so, and that really I still think is probably the most important. Um, so getting your name out there, but getting your, your product or your service out there to people who want to talk about it to each other. Um, so you sort of start there.
00:28:05Edit Um, one thing that's always sort of seemed to leap us forward a little bit is organic. Um, like press. So if you do something that's press worthy, um, and you get in the media, not a, not a paid nothing, just like, truly just a story. Um, I, we noticed a big change for us after we did remember that the Austin business Journal put us on the front page and it was just a, it was like a profile right up. Um, and we really started getting busier after that. I sort of credit that time period with a switch from us being sort of kind of clawing and growing slowly too, man, we'll know who we are and we're taking off. Um, so those pieces are always fantastic. It's a little harder because you can't control what the press is going to print. And as much as you try organic, like true press, honestly, it's, it's going to happen when it happens. Sometimes you don't even realize that something that's going to take off and it's not another times you're like, oh man, we're doing something that's really pressed worthy and it's crickets.
00:29:08Edit So, you know, it's, it's not something you can rely on, but it is something that really does move the needle. And I think it's because people want to read, they don't want to be sold to, they just want to read interesting stuff. Um, and if it has, if it has your brand awareness attached to it, that is really, really helpful. Um, let me, let me think on other stuff. I mean, certainly social media has changed the game in terms of being able to enter a market and talk to people about what you're, what you're doing next. We never had that when we were first growing. Um, and we struggled when we were going to new areas and people didn't know who we were and you've got to sign up and like sampling, you know, we were still just hitting the pavement. Um, although that still is a big part of the play, you know, sampling and hitting the pavement is big. Um, I'm trying to think if there's other marketing milestones, you know, you'll do some stuff that hits really great and then other stuff, you're like, oh, I know this is going to be great, but then the cost just doesn't outweigh what it brings back to you. So, some of the traditional media stuff, occasionally, it works great.
00:30:11Edit And then other times it's like, it worked great, but it didn't work for the cost. You know, the cost was too much. So anytime, I think finding something that's, you know, lower cost, but higher return is great. I was wondering when you jumped onto Tiktok, because you have quite a large following on tiktok. I mean, you have one on instagram to, you've also got a great following on twitter and you've got a great tone of voice on twitter. I actually love your account. I was lulling out loud before being like, these are funny. Um, what was your kind of approach to Tiktok and how have you found that you've obviously grown too? I think half a million followers at this point and you're doing really well. Was it early, Have you started recently? I don't think it was early and we knew we wanted to get on Tiktok when it started blowing up, but it's the every new platform is the whole new learning curve. Um and I feel like not everybody has the same skill set, so it's, it's always a learning for us trying to understand, what does this platform, what do people respond to in this platform versus this one?
00:31:13Edit Like for example, you're talking about twitter and it's like, let's just be funny on their, you know, let's just, let's just have fun. Um and, and so each platform is kind of has either a different audience or even if it's the same audience, they're expecting something different out of it. And honestly we, we tweak and we learn with it, we put we post and we see what hits, um and what doesn't, sometimes things resonate. Sometimes we, we do something, it's just like gorgeous, you know, just like the most yummy and then it was like nothing, it's like, it doesn't hit. Yeah, flops, and then you do something that you're like, oh, this is just silly or you know what, or just kind of every day and it blows up and so that's one thing that we've learned is that like, I think the more natural you can be, um the better, and that's, that's a big shift and it wasn't always like that. And so I think we had to make a big shift over getting from being super professional all the time, being really polished photos and moving over to, let's just be a part of people's lives in the way that they would um, you know, how would they interact with our brand and posted and we want to be posting that same way and the other big thing is, you know, we're a cookie company so we should be having fun and that's part of it too.
00:32:24Edit It's like we don't want to be scared to have fun and, and, and we're trying to have fun with all of it and I think like as well you touched on something, the landscape has shifted so much, it's shifted away from polished content and you know, very prim and proper and it is fun now and In today's landscape content, marketing and storytelling is 100% what we need to be leading into talking about the founder story, like I see you and your husband and your business partner doing that a lot and sharing those photos from back in the day and back to today and it's, it's that kind of stuff that people really want to connect with versus the polish thing. Actually love the way that social media is going in that respect. Yeah, that's what's so neat about it is that you can have a personal connection and like really understand our story and who we are and you know, we're real and we're here and this is us and our our family and our office and you know, people who work in the store and this is what what we're like and um it's really fun to be able to do that and I think much more authentic absolutely for you now, what is your kind of end goal?
00:33:29Edit Like when do you want to exit? Is that something that you're thinking about now or are you just thinking like long term? You just love what you do, you can keep on going. Yeah, it's a great question because so back to raising money, I was taking it back when we first started raising money and every time you do it, that's their first question is like what's the exit? And we used to be kind of taken aback by that and almost I'm not offended but just like stunned because we're like exit, there's no exit, you know, this is our life, this is our life. Um and it really is, you know, it's kind, it's kind of our life's work, we don't talk about a personal exit for me and leon who's my husband slash business partner, um we don't ever really talk about an exit, we're, we're really here for the long haul and we're trying to build a brand and we're trying to um take it bigger than it is now. We've got 75 locations now, but you know, we've got goals towards hitting 1000 locations and so we have a long, long way to go, even though we've been in business a long time, but we've got way more growth to come and we want to be a part of that ride and shape the brand in that way.
00:34:33Edit So um I think there are different kinds of people out there, there are a lot of really great entrepreneurs, they'll start something up, they'll build it up for five or six years and then they'll sell it off um and somebody else will kind of grow and then they start again with a new um which were always super in awe because it's like, man, that's so cool to keep doing that and it would always be fun and fresh and you have to be really, really talented to do that and he, and I, we just grew so slowly at the beginning that, you know, we kind of just leaned in and said, you know what, this is going to be our baby and um certainly obviously at some point we will do something different, I'm sure, um but we really don't think about it or talk about it too much, that's amazing, wow, gosh, 20 years in business, 20 something years in business, that's so crazy, I'm in awe of you, what would you say? Obviously you're, you guys are both great operators, you've been able to, you know, have that long term hustle, what would you say is your superpower in business.
00:35:37Edit Oh, good question, I know what as a team, but this is really more him than me. Um, but persistence. So we, you know, I think when we talk about this in the book as well, we were knocked down so many times, it's hard to really understand that from the outside and even people who, you know, work here now really have no idea how much of a struggle it was. And honestly, Even now you get, you know, even now, 20 plus years in, um, you know, you'll wake up one day and go to the office and something Crappy has happened. You're like a setback but especially in the beginning when you're a little more fragile, it's like setback setback setback. And the big thing for us was, um, we never stopped and we weren't gonna be deterred and we weren't gonna feel sorry for ourselves about things. Um, and we were just going to charge forward with it. And it's one is like, that's really more about perseverance and just keep on going and then persistence in that if you want something, just do it until you make it happen.
00:36:41Edit And that really, I can't attribute that to me, that's him. He is, if he wants something, he's like a dog with a bone about it, like hell ultimately get it. It may not end up the way he wanted it to be or the way that we were thinking it was going to go. Um, but one way or the other, if it's something that he wants, he'll figure out a way to get it. So that's that for him and then for me, I really am more just of a balance of figuring out um the details of how to get, you know what we want, like he's pushing it forward, pushing, pushing, pushing and I'm almost like pulling, pulling, pulling a little bit, but just to kind of steady the ship, when you say you've had these, you know, struggles as every entrepreneur experiences on a daily basis, what are some of the bigger ones that come to mind? Because I think we can always, you know, we can talk a lot about the amazing journey and the amazing success and we get caught up in that highlight kind of part of the story, but obviously there are so many low lows and I also love to highlight those what what comes to mind for you.
00:37:43Edit I think the one that comes to mind for me the most is We have been in business about four years. Um and we had, so we started out of Leon's college apartment and then we shared kitchen space with a restaurant near campus of the university. Um and then that restaurant overnight went out of business, like they they moved out in the middle of the night. Um they told us the day before that they were going to do that. Um so we were stunned, but um we knew it was coming that night um and so we ended up being able to go to the landlord of the space and least directly from the landlord, which again, like that's about persistence because that didn't just like suddenly happened, that's just one of those things were like we did anything we could to stay um but we only had a month to month with them, they wouldn't give us a long lease because the landlord was going to take over the entire building and they didn't know when Um so we had a month to month lease and then finally um they gave us 45 days notice to move out.
00:38:46Edit And so this was huge for us. So first of all we're doing a food based business, so you have to have a commercial kitchen um And secondly it was a delivery based business which meant wherever that commercial kitchen is, it needs to be near your clientele and which for us was downtown and campus in austin texas and um so you're limited and you can't just go anywhere, it's like you can just go to some random warehouse and on the other side of town um And plus we had a retail facing business too, you need a retail, so to lose a location effectively meant Losing your whole business unless you were able to find a new one. And so we had 45 days to find to find a new space, get a landlord to agree to lease to us, which was crazy because we had no money. Not, not only did we have no money, but like our company wasn't making money, so on top of having no funds, we also weren't making money as a company. Um and then if we were able to do that, then renovate that space into a commercial kitchen, get the permits and open. And the thing is So that process now takes about a year and so we have 45 days to do it.
00:39:50Edit And if we were to close so that if you were lucky enough to find all that, but then go through that year long process, that would be, that would mean closing for almost a whole year, which at that time would mean evaporating the business, It would be gone, customer base is gone, We wouldn't have had any money to sustain in the meantime, so that was gone. Um So that was, that's what comes to mind for me because you think of, oh losing a location and you found another one? It seems like like kind of a bump in the road, it wasn't a bump in the road, it was like devastating. Oh my God, how did you find the place we looked and looked and looked, we just hit the pavement, looking at every possible space within any radius, talking to any landlord we could find. Um And but we found this house, so here's the other thing we were thinking outside the box, so we couldn't find a restaurant, but we did find a house and a house that had a sub lease sign out front, it was a real estate office and they had a sign out front saying they wanted to sublease, so the real estate company wanted to get out of their lease early and lease it to somebody else.
00:40:53Edit And so we just, and part of this is just because we didn't know how difficult that would be. Um We're like I bet you we could turn this into a kitchen in a storefront. Um And we went directly past the sub lease and went straight to the landlord and said we don't want to just sub lease it, we want to take the whole lease um and renovate. And so part of that is just you know, good luck. Part of it is we got a real estate guy who we had met through some connections for some other things that we had done. So we had opened a little walk up shop, I don't know if you know what sixth street is, but six street is like the row of bars in Austin where everybody kind of walks up and down in the night, we had had 1/6 street walk up location and which had gone which had gone under, it was terrible, but the landlord there had introduced us to a real estate guy. and so we have now and we've got this real estate guy on our side and he helped us negotiate with the landlord and I don't even know why the landlord agreed to do this other than he's just a really really nice, that's a really nice couple. So some of it's good luck, some of its connection and some of it's just like persistence just like going after it and after and after it and we just um we made it happen and it was crazy and so um we got at least we got the permit and we got a contractor to do it on the cheap and we made up and we still have that store, It's crazy to think like those kind of moments in a story because had you have not persevered business would have stopped it.
00:42:20Edit It wouldn't be where it is today and 20 years on you have 100 stalls, you have 2000 stuff, you'll valued at $500 million. It's just crazy that that like if you didn't persevere at that time, it wouldn't be what it is today. It's wild, right? And the odds were way more in favor of us not being able to pull that off way more and if it happened today, you know if knowing all that, I know now if I was in that position I'd be like, well it's over. I mean it's it's so crazy. It was, it's so unbelievable that we were able to pull it off that it is crazy that it happened, but you're right and there are things like that happen all the time. You know, maybe not to that extreme degree, but there are plenty of things. You just get lots and lots and lots of setbacks, but you just have to push, push and push. And that's the thing that's not always as fun about business is like taking that because I'm a person that likes to just take the straight path, I'm like oh sign says go here, I want to go here. Um But if there's a blockade in the road you have to go around and it's not always comfortable.
00:43:22Edit Oh my gosh, I love that. Amazing, wow, thank you for sharing that story with me. Let's talk about the book, You've just released a book. You know, you've released it on preorders, it's coming out soon. What is it who needs to read it? Tell me all about it. Yeah, so it's a it's kind of our story of how we started tip streets and some of the things we've gone through um definitely lessons that we've learned. Um and then we have a little bit about us and sort of working together, people are always curious how you work with a spouse. So we talk a little bit about, you know our personal journey on how we make that work. Um and then the other big fun part about it is that it includes recipes. So we have um somewhere between 25 and 30 cookie recipes that are in the book of our specialty flavors of the month. So while we have our regular menu all the time, we have a special flavor each month and a bunch of those made it into the book. So more fun ones like blueberry muffin cookies or um you know like oh like for Halloween type double chocolate with Reese's candies in there and um lots of and and they're easy to do, you know, so anybody who's interested in baking but you don't have to be a baker at all.
00:44:28Edit That's just something fun and easy. So it's a fun and easy read. But also if you do have a business or you're starting a business or looking to start one. I think we've got a lot of either just inspiring stuff in there or a little bit of nuggets. Like hopefully you can learn from some of our mistakes. We talk a ton about the mistakes that we made along the way. Oh my gosh, everyone needs to run immediately order it. Where can they buy it? So it's called, it's not just cookies, it's not just cookies and you can pre order it now on amazon or really anywhere that books are sold. Um if you, you can also get it through us. So our website is cookie delivery dot com um We deliver warm cookies in um several locations by hand. We can also ship cookie dough and cookie truffles and other things like that. So you can either get it from cookie delivery dot com or from booksellers. And if you have to take kind of your one key piece of advice or your one key thing that you love to tell entrepreneurs from the book, what is that? Um I think probably if you just one piece of advice I'm gonna go with hard work beats everything else.
00:45:33Edit You can't control everything. There's gonna be a lot outside of your control, there's gonna be a lot that other people have. That is better than what you have. Um But you can always work hard and so if you're able to put in the work and put in the focus on the business um you can do anything that you want to do with that. So. True. So true. Thank you so much. Thanks for listening to this amazing episode. We are testing out something new here for the next while and we're splitting up each episode into two parts, the main interview part and then the six quick questions part to make them easier to listen to. So That's part one done tune into part 2 to hear the six quick questions.
So, question number one is, what's your wife? Why are you doing what you're doing? So the y for me, in terms of why I keep doing the business would be because we're building something that hasn't been done before. So when we started um warm cookie delivery did not exist at all, and largely to this day it doesn't exist in a major format where we're baking cookies to order, so we don't even bake the cookies until your order comes in and then we deliver them hot out of the oven.
00:01:17Edit So, um we're building an industry and that's what is so exciting for us, building an industry and building a brand from scratch. Um and that's the why for why we stick with the business. Um the y for tiffs treats is that we're creating warm moments. So one of the coolest things about our job is that it can we found over the years that it connects people together. So if I'm sending you cookies because I'm thinking about you were having this collectible moment um or maybe ordering together just side by side and sharing these nostalgic, warm, comforting treats. Um and we get to see that from people and how much that means to people to be able to show love appreciation, joy condolence. Um and so that's really what gets us and everybody here going all the time is to be able to be a part of those warm cookie moment, warm cookie moments. I love that. Even saying it, it makes you feel so good question. Number two is what's been your favorite marketing moment so far? Favorite or favorite marketing moment?
00:02:18Edit Oh my gosh! Um Well we did a fun marketing thing last year, that was fun. Um as part of our anniversary, I mentioned earlier that our very first customer was named Amy and we thought you know what, I wonder where Amy is because Amy was sort of anonymous to us. We knew her first name. Leon was the one who delivered to her. So he had some recollection of what she looked like. Um But we had never talked to her, we had never said thank you, we had never said you were the first one. You we never said you know without you and maybe would have started and we went on a search for her last january and um it took about a month, but we found her and we were able to connect with her and say thank you. And it was really, you know, based we put it out on social media, you know how it works, you know, you put out, here's what we know about this person, help help us find her. Um and people were very engaged and and we found her and she was um, she was in europe actually, so um we never would have connected with her otherwise. And so it was me, what did she say? What did she remember?
00:03:19Edit She did and she was so nice and that was one of the clues that we remembered about her was that she was overly nice. And so when we connected with her, she was just as nice as ever. And in fact, we were even offering free cookies for a year to the first customer. Like if we can find Amy, we're gonna give her free cookies for a year. She couldn't use it because she was in europe and we're in America and we don't have locations there. Um, but she donated it to charity. She said, what, what charity should I give this to? And so that was really, really just like a neat um top or to it. And so that was fun. I love it when, when you just want to do something fun and then, and then it hits, wow, I love that. So heartwarming, that's a warm cooking moment. Yeah. Gosh, question number three is what's your go to business resource, if you had to think of a book or a podcast or a newsletter? Oh, good question. Gosh, we read a lot of articles um but probably not from one particular um as they come through as they surface through, well, well read anything that's of interest. Um we pour your heart into it was a Starbucks book.
00:04:23Edit Um we've always read that and then our other big one um was good to Great, which is an older one by jim Collins. But yeah, we, we, that was sort of a stepping stone to to our business and now we'll just ingest anything that that comes through. I don't think it has to be from one particular um medium. I love that. We will add it to our recommended reading list for every founder listening question number four, how do you win the day? What are your am or PM rituals and habits that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated every day. Um I feel like I've won the day. If I get one thing off the list of things I wanted to do that day done because it's so easy to let those escape and I don't always, but it feels great if you have like a list of kind of backburner things that you want to check off and you get something on that list done because the day is gonna throw so much at you. Um and then we spend our evenings with the kids and I um love doing that and that's, that's fun and um I wouldn't want to have that any other way. Amazing Question # five, What's been your biggest money mistakes in business?
00:05:30Edit I think, hmm, I don't know if this is dreadful enough, but we have spent on marketing without understanding what we would get back for it. Um so for example, knowing that we had a great tv ad that we have put together and we placed it on tv and we just said let's go for it. Um and then overspend and then just didn't get the return on it. That always hurts. And we've done the same thing with digital ads sometimes to where we're like, let's let's blanket. Um so I think that would be in terms of spending without um like a really tight plan. Are you able to share how much the tv commercial? Honestly, I don't remember, but it was like, it was a campaign. Um and you know, sometimes you gotta take a chance. You know, it's not even necessarily that it was a mistake, it's just that it didn't work. Um and so it's just, it's always painful when you're like, you go for it and it didn't work, but sometimes you gotta learn it that way. It's kind of hard to learn lessons other than just making mistakes.
00:06:35Edit 100%, absolutely, that's what you learn, last question question number six, what is just a crazy story in the business that you can share? Good or bad? Well we used to have some funny ones for deliveries, so um we've well actually let me tell you this one, this was actually in the book because this is one of the craziest um It was during this period of time where just like everything was set like setback after setback um and one day there was a um well it was like a really heavy thunderstorm slash mild tornado outside and we were inside what used to be the shared kitchen space and now was all ours and water started shooting up from inside the floor drains and also sewage, so like something that happened with the water pipes from the storm and the sewage pipes weren't working right and the whole place just started flooding like crazy and so much so that like I sat on, you know those big, well we have these big Home Depot buckets, these big big giant buckets, I've turned it over sat on it and the water was just like carrying me off because it was just spewing up like a fountain from all of the floor drains and you know in hindsight we were lucky it didn't totally destroy the space um but it's one of those things where you're like, geez, I really feel like I'm getting kicked and they got on this one.
00:07:54Edit So yeah, not everybody has like a, a sewage fountain story in their history, but we've got one. Oh my gosh, I'm gonna have to lead with that. The sewerage fountain. Oh my gosh, this is so much fun. Thank you so much for coming on the show to tell us about your journey and your new book. I'm excited to read it. I'm excited to get all the learnings. See those mistakes and see what's next. Thank you so much. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for having me.