Emily Dubner is a 2006 college graduate and founder of Baking for Good, an online bakery that gives 15 percent of every purchase to charity. I love this concept and use Baking for Good for most of my business’s holiday and thank you gifts. (Read about one instance of the excellent responses I’ve received to these gifts here).
Besides having a great concept and satisfying my sweet tooth, Emily is an inspiring example of a young professional succeeding with a social enterprise in a tough economy. She was kind enough to take time out of her busy baking and business schedule to answer some of my questions.
Q: Can you please describe Baking for Good?
A: Baking for Good is an online bakery inspired by the idea of a bake sale. We bake delicious, all-natural brownies, cookies and other sweet treats, and we give 15 percent of every purchase to a charity the customer chooses. We're currently working with over 200 nonprofit and community organizations. We ship nationwide, so our products make great gifts and can be customized for any occasion.
Q: You were in the same class at Harvard and even the same dorm, Kirkland House, as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. I’ll refrain from asking lots of questions about Zuck and instead ask: Do you think your entrepreneurial ambitions started in college?
A: When I was in college, I saw various classmates starting businesses, but at that time I expected that I would stay on a more traditional path. Becoming a lawyer or a doctor was a lot easier to wrap my head around than starting my own business. But when I look back now, I realize that I was entrepreneurial from a really young age. I loved to do craft projects (think rubber stamps, polymer clay and decoupage), and I started mini, short-lived businesses with many of my hobbies when I was little.
Q: What is your advice to current college students with dreams of starting a business someday?
A: I think business experience of any kind is immensely helpful for college students with dreams of starting a business. It would be awesome to intern at a start-up or in a big company, but even aside from such "obvious" opportunities, working in a retail store or waiting tables can be really eye-opening and formative. I worked for several summers at an ice cream store, and I learned a ton about customer service, management and small business operations.
Q: You started your professional career as a management consultant after college. What was most helpful about that experience?
A: Management consulting was a great way for me to learn about business in broad terms and see how big companies fit together and approach strategic decisions. I learned a lot about organizational design and retail best practices. One of my main clients was a telecom company, and we helped them redesign their retail stores and customer service model. I learned a lot about client management and also how to be very organized and structured in my thinking.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of launching and running a business in your 20s? Have you faced any weird comments or negative feedback because you’re so young?
A: There are a million challenges that come with launching a business, especially for the first time, but I've always tackled one at a time (or several at a time). One of the most challenging parts of running my own business has been realizing that I'm often at the mercy of others, even if I'm technically in charge of the company. More than once, I've had to scramble to complete time-sensitive orders when the packaging or ingredient I need has gotten stuck on a FedEx truck.
Similarly, it's been a challenge to run a web business when web development is not my forte. When there's a glitch in the website, there's only so much I can do to fix it, so occasionally there are stressful times when I have to wait for my web developers to be able to come to the rescue.
I take pride in being young and running my own business, and I think this confidence has helped me avoid negative feedback. When I first tell people what I do, I think some are probably skeptical, but the more I explain, the more they get it and are impressed with the idea and execution.
Q: What have been the biggest rewards?
A: I get to work with so many interesting organizations and people. It's wonderful to see how our charity partners use the money we raise for them, and it's also really exciting when we delight a customer with treats that exceed their expectations. It's fun to get to spend every day focused on a product that creates such happiness.
Q: You're very active on Facebookand Twitter. How has social media contributed to the success of Baking for Good?
A: Social media has been a really fun way of growing our business. With Facebook, I find that we can keep in touch with customers and easily showcase new treats and special projects.
Twitter has allowed for some unexpected surprises; I've connected with new customers, made new friends and even gotten some really exciting publicity opportunities as a result. In many ways I find Twitter to be more personal than Facebook, but they both have their benefits.
Thank you again to Emily for answering my questions!