Less than a year ago, I interviewed young entrepreneurs making it big in San Diego with their fabulous cookies. 410 Degrees is the name of their company (named for the temperature at which they bake). Successful is the status of their company (one of few that are doing so well in the current economy). I asked Adam Koven, business manager and one of the owners, to share his secrets for sweet success in soured times.
Lorraine: Hello, Adam. Thank you for taking time out from raking it in from your new business for this interview. If you haven’t noticed, we’re in a deeply recessed, if not depressed, economy. What made you think you could make a ‘go’ of a brand new business in this environment?
Adam: The economy wasn’t great when we graduated college in 2008. Jobs were hard to get. Friends and peers opted to stay in school while waiting for the economy to recover. We knew, however, that our plan for a gourmet cookie business was a great idea. If we could start a new business in this economy and grow it during the hardest of times, we would be poised for even greater growth when the economy turns around. Besides, when people are down or upset about things like the economy, they always seek comfort. What’s more comforting than a delicious cookie?
Lorraine: Cookies are certainly my comfort food. But I thought that was just me. Because your new business is still in business, it means you’ve kept your risk capital low. Can you explain how you did this?
Adam: We just celebrated our one-year anniversary in the food business, historically the time period in which new ventures fail. We attribute our success to careful planning, seizing opportunity, making sacrifices-both personal and financial-for the business, and putting the business first.
Specifically, we rounded up enough capital for start-up costs and operations for the first few months. We practice just-in-time ordering and production to keep inventory capital low. We partner with other businesses to keep our capital invested in assets low. For example, we rented a commercial kitchen by the hour for the first few months.
We amazed ourselves with the ideas we thought of and tried to keep costs as low as possible while producing our products and growing our sales. Some of the most fun we had was in trying creative new ways of doing business.
Lorraine: Say how and where you distribute your cookies and why those distribution channels contribute to your business success.
Adam: We tried more than 18 different marketing avenues, including farmers markets, online, weddings, events, catering, birthday parties, corporate gifts, and more. From these selling experiences, not only did we find out which ones worked best, but also which ones would help us grow. And we learned two important things: 1. Opportunity for growth exists if your product is truly good and people really like it; 2. No one sells your product like you can.
At our farmers markets, you can always find one of us-the owners-selling cookies. This gives us the chance to meet our customers, and it keeps overhead low. When we’re face to face with our customers, they see our passion and drive for our business. They seem to like meeting us too, and, perhaps, enjoy our cookies even more because they know the guys behind the recipes and the hard work. We take great pride in this. After all, without customers we have no business. Direct-to-customer distribution channels are therefore very important for us.
An area of new focus this year is our online division. We’re developing a brand new website that should be fun and interactive for our customers. We’re very excited about launching it soon.
Lorraine: I’m very excited about ordering cookies and writing your next success story without moving from my computer. Which prompts me to ask: How is it that your cookies sell so prominently in a market environment that’s so calorie-counting, sugar-avoiding, and health-conscious?
Adam: It’s pretty simple. We sample our cookies to anyone willing to try them. Healthy ingredients are featured in all of our cookie creations. While a cookie is still a cookie, we try to create cookies that anyone can enjoy, whether they are on a diet or not. While we continue to work on recipes with lower sugar for our diabetic and dieting customers, for now they can still enjoy our cookies, just in smaller bites.
Lorraine: All good things in moderation, right? With that said, who is your target market?
Adam: We target people seeking an indulgent snack, a way to reward themselves. Our cookies are treats, especially for people delightfully anticipating our next cookie creation. We pride ourselves as an innovative cookie company, pushing the envelope of cookie flavors and new combinations.
Our innovative cookies attract “foodies”-adventurous eaters knowledgeable in the world of cuisine. Because they know so much about food, foodies are very hard to impress. Yet, they’re some of our favorite customers since they recognize the creativity we put into our cookies and attention to the smallest details (for example, the sprinkle of sea salt on our Ultimate Chocolate Chip cookies, not to mention the precise baking temperature of 410 degrees). The foodies just love these little touches.
Lorraine: If I haven’t yet touched the secrets to the success of your business with my previous questions, please say now what you can about why your business is successful while so many others are shutting down.
Adam: Here it is in a nutshell:
Passion, enthusiasm, and drive for the business. We want to succeed. We put a lot of hard work and effort in to every detail of our business. And for all of us–the owners, the business comes first.
Customers. We excel at listening to our customers. It is from their requests, ideas, and suggestions that we formulate many of our ideas. Without them, we don’t do this.
Business decisions. We do our due diligence. We ensure that every decision is in the best interest of the business.
Growth. We look constantly looking for ways to improve. We are always looking for new ways to grow.
Lorraine: The word ‘ growth’ occurs prominently as you talk about your business. May you have the growth your company deserves, not the kind that comes from eating too many cookies. Thank you, Adam, for sharing your keen business insights. And let me know when your business goes public so we can share in your success!
Thank you, readers, for reading but I’m not sharing my 410 Degrees cookies. You can get your own directly from Adam at (858) 444-5059 (but please say that I sent you) or order online at www.410degrees.com. And, no, this is not a commercial. Just thought you’d want to know how and where to get the best cookies in the world!