This is Kristen Tomlan, the owner of DO, Cookie Dough Confections. Food was always an important part of Kristen’s life growing up in Missouri. Her mom is a chef so she had firsthand experience of the intricacies of cooking and baking and the creativity that it requires, which spurred her love for both. However, as a teenager she didn’t see a way that her love of baking could translate into a career, so she channeled her creativity into design and continued baking as a hobby. Kristen was working in branding and design in New York when she came up with the idea for DO. An admitted weakness for cookie dough, she would always eat it raw while baking despite the warnings that it could make you sick. After doing this for years, one day (while indulging in cookie dough with friends) she thought, why can’t we make this safe to eat and still bake-able? This moment compelled Kristen to start doing some research and began her journey to reinvent how we see cookie dough.
Other than being a lifelong baker, Kristen had no experience in the food industry before she launched the DO website in December 2014. She decided to start it online first to test the market and see if there was interest in her edible cookie dough. In the beginning, Kristen was doing everything on her own: trying out different recipes, making the cookie dough, packaging it, shipping it out, doing the invoicing, everything from A to Z. And although she says that when she started the business she had “no idea what she was doing”, orders started coming in. The idea started gaining traction through word of mouth of friends and family and then even more so on social media. Since Kristen didn’t have money to invest in any marketing or advertising, she relied on the quality of the product and the uniqueness of the concept to stand out from her competition. And it did. Soon the product got popular enough that Kristen was no longer able to sustain her lifestyle; she was still working full-time at her brand consultant firm, which she loved, and working on DO as a side hustle. She had come to a crossroads and knew that something had to change. So she decided to pursue her passion project and see where it went. She felt that there would always be a job for her somewhere but if she didn’t take a chance now and commit herself to the business that she felt compelled to run, she would never do it. So she quit her job, moved to a commercial space and started building her team.
After finding success through online ordering and catering and bringing on a solid team, Kristen opened a store front in January 2017 and used her design background to create a brand that extended from her packaging to her store. She wanted DO to look different from the typical bakery or pastry shop and to be more graphic and fun. And keeping in mind the very visual way that her generation and younger generations consume experiences and food, she wanted it to be very picture and Instagram-friendly as well. So she incorporated six bright colors to be used in different ways throughout the store (a polka dot wall when you walk in, neon pink signs) but also made sure to include items like the stand up mixers and subway tiles to make it feel more like your kitchen at home and make customers feel more comfortable. The different colors were key to making both the packaging and the store bright and cheery but also to represent the fun and happiness Kristen wants her customers to feel when they eat her cookie dough. A lot of people who try the product connect it with nostalgia because it reminds them of baking cookies with their mom or grandma, which she loves, but she also wants people to associate it with joy and happiness. The joy and happiness that comes from that memory of your childhood or the joy that comes from simply treating yourself to a sweet. Kristen hopes that her cookie dough can give customers a moment of calm during a stressful day or comfort if they’re dealing with an issue in their personal life. Even if it’s a good day, Kristen says, “we’re trying to make it better and make you a tiny bit happier”.
For Kristen the toughest part of the business is being responsible for so many different areas of the business at once. Like many small business owners, there are a lot of parts of the business that are out of your control and there’s no rule book that tells you how to deal with these issues as they arise. You just have to figure it out as you go, which gets challenging. She’s also felt that there have been challenges she’s faced as a female business owner that her male counterparts don’t always face. When she first started the business, she felt a lot of people wouldn’t take her seriously or tell her that her idea was “cute”. As a young, female business owner she felt that a lot of people doubted her but she stayed committed to her idea and as the business became more established, people started taking her more seriously. However, the silver lining of her struggle and the struggle of other female business owners is the change that Kristen sees happening in the food industry. There’s becoming less of a stigma about who you have to be or what you have to look like to run a successful business and more of a focus on your product, your ambition and your passion.
Another amazing change that’s been happening is the willingness of other business owners, especially woman, to give advice to others and share their experience. Most of Kristen’s friends and mentors in the food industry are also in the dessert space but they all feel strongly that the “pie” (no pun intended) is big enough that everyone can take their own piece and still support each other. There is a growing realization that running a good business means doing good by others as well and continuing the cycle; even if you have similar goals, you can still work together to help each other out. The food industry today is much different than when Kristen started out and she’s hopeful that it will continue to improve. As a female business owner, she believes that the awareness and attention that she and other female business owners can bring to the industry as a whole is good for everyone.
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