Some of us probably didn’t plan the path our lives have taken (at least that’s the case for me) but it’s always so interesting to see how our lives unravel and take course, especially when we’re called to do something good for our community—like you’re all doing!
So when Emily Dubner was at Harvard majoring in Chinese culture and society, she had no idea that a few years down the road, she’d be an owner of a small baking business in New York called Baking for Good (@BakingforGood).
Baking for Good is an online bakery where customers can order all sorts of cookies, and 15% of the proceeds go to their choice of one of the 200 charities signed up.
After college, Emily joined a small business-consulting firm that had a big focus on China with the hope she would one day move there. The firm encouraged their employees to pursue their own business ideas, so Emily started thinking about what she’d do as a small business owner. And when the firm started showing signs of economic instability, she began to flesh out her idea more seriously.
Meanwhile, at Christmastime three years ago, Emily was helping her parents when her grandmother got sick. Most of her mother’s friends sent them flowers, but Emily noticed when one family friend sent cookies instead. It was different.
“It felt like it was a gift for the whole family,” she said.
She thought that baked goods were a nice gift and started thinking of the bake sales she did as a kid. Then she thought of what a bake sale would look like if it were online instead and would leave you feeling good after purchasing.
Making it Happen
For the first three months, Emily was still at the consulting firm while she was thinking through the online bakery idea. Her firm was in the process of being sold, and it was risky for her to stay or leave, so the decision to pursue her small business idea wasn’t too difficult to make.
She had a clear idea of the concept she wanted to work with—an online bakery that helped nonprofits—but to kick it off, she had to start from the basics.
“I love to bake and love to create recipes,” she said. “And I knew from the beginning I needed a commercial kitchen space and a license to do it because I couldn’t do it at home.”
Emily found a bakery that would let her use their kitchen within her budget, found a full-time baker, hired a small marketing and web design team, PR pro, and just started baking, packaging, and shipping the cookies.
“It’s a model that works very well, trying to keep everything very lean.”
Living and Learning
Keeping expenses lean was critical in the beginning. With only $40,000 to start off her business—all of which came from years of savings—each financial decision was a big one, so Emily was careful in making the best decisions she could and quickly learning from the mistakes.
To create her website—an integral part of her business—she first went to a freelance-for-hire website to offer her business for bids.
“I took lowest bid and got a bad website but it served as prototype for the website I have now,” she said. ‘’I later chose a firm to improve it. It was a core part of my business so I needed to work with a firm face to face.”
There were other things she had to think about and work through, such as applying for the right licensing and picking insurance.
“There’s so much that goes into starting a business, but you make it happen,” she said. “You just talk to the people you need to, register for the things you need to, and everything falls into place.”
Since she started, her vision’s had to adapt to the environment a bit.
“I wanted it to be an online bake sale, a fundraising tool for smaller groups like kids little league baseball,” she said. “But it became more of a gift-giving website than a fundraising website, and the nonprofit side grew more.”
“I want my customers to feel connected to the organizations they choose, she said. “Everyone has their cause, and I want them to feel they were represented.”
In speaking with friends and researching online, she hashed out a starting list of 50 nonprofits, reached out to them, and invited them to partner.
“Almost everyday since we’ve launched, we hear from organizations wanting to be involved,” she said. They have over 200 nonprofit partnerships now.
Three years in, Baking for Good isn’t exactly what Emily envisioned in the beginning but she’s learned to adapt to help her business grow. And she’s got a better idea of where it should be headed, especially to help more nonprofits do the good work they do.
“I want to incorporate the stories of the NPOs and their great works,” she said.