April 24, 2018
Melissa Ben-Ishay, founder of Baked by Melissa, shared the inspirational story of her brand’s journey at Imagine 2018. After finding herself fired from her job as a media planner in Manhattan, her entrepreneurial-minded brother encouraged her to bake her now famous tie-dye cupcakes, and the two siblings began a truly homegrown business.
She wanted to call the business “Baked” but her brother insisted on a more personal touch, hence, “Baked by Melissa.”
Melissa’s reflection on her challenge-turned opportunity is perhaps even sweeter than her famous cupcakes, and a reminder that every cloud has a silver lining: “I did what made me happy,” she told the audience, with a smile of delight.
Next, a friend put Melissa in touch with a popular and busy New York City caterer, who encouraged her to optimize her delicious product. “Everyone loves just a bite,” he told her. “If you can figure out how to do it that way…oh my God!”
Through that caterer, she scored her first big gig: “Bring 250 cupcakes to this event and wear a black dress,” She was told.
The baking business went bootstrap, as she and her two business partners launched an eCommerce site, bakedbymelissa.com, before they even had physical stores. She draped white cloth over her coffee table and shot photos of her cupcakes at home to help spread the good word about her sweet treats online.
The brand's logo was created in just five minutes, she admitted, and it's the same one they use today. The website offered customers the opportunity to order up to 100 cupcakes, which Melissa would personally bake and deliver on the New York City subway. The site used PayPal to facilitate purchases back in 2008.
“I hustled, and I did whatever it took,” Melissa said. “I took something people already know and love – cupcakes – and made it cuter!”
Melissa and her small team printed business cards and circulated them at various tastings and focused on getting the product into the hands (and mouths) of anyone and everyone.
In March 2009 – less than a year after being fired from her job in media panning – she opened her first retail location in New York's SoHo. Today the business boasts 14 retail locations and ships cupcakes nationwide. Melissa attributes the brand’s success to her small, entrepreneurial-spirited team.
“I surrounded myself with people who had skills I didn’t,” she said of the founders who helped her in the early days: her brother, and his friend, a creative strategist; the caterer who helped surface the product at events; and the restaurant owner who offered an opportunity to delve into retail.
Ten years later, the brand recently celebrated its “Side with Love” campaign, which offered consumers the opportunity to send 25 cupcakes to anyone, anywhere, completely free of charge. During a period of political unrest in the United States, Baked by Melissa gifted orders for 60,000 shoppers in the queue and successfully sent 150,000 cupcakes to inspire people to do nice things for others.
“That’s who we are,” Melissa said. “That’s the brand we built.”