• Motto

The Boss: How Melissa Ben-Ishay Turned Mini Cupcakes Into a Million-Dollar Business

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In The Boss, successful women share how they reached the top and the lessons they learned along the way.

The biggest thing I’ve learned in the past nine years since starting Baked by Melissa is that you can do anything. This is something my father drilled into my head from a very young age. He’d drive me to school every morning and give me the same speech: “you’re smart and you are capable, the world is your oyster, and you can do anything you set your mind to.” Every morning, literally, the same speech. And it wasn’t until I was fired from my job as an assistant media planner in June 2008 that I would find out he was actually right.

On the day I got fired, instead of going home and sulking, I baked 200 cookie dough, s’mores, peanut butter cup and tie-dye (my signature flavor) cupcakes. I knew I needed to channel everything I was feeling into something other than feeling sorry for myself, so I did what made me happy: I baked. The very next day I handed those cupcakes to my best friend’s little sister, who was staying with me at the time, so she could bring them to her internship at a public relations agency. The owner of the agency loved them and put me in touch with her caterer, who brought me in for a tasting. In that moment I knew in my gut that this opportunity was going to be the beginning of everything. After getting the news, I ran to my brother Brian’s office practically screaming, “Holy crap I got a tasting with Alison Brod’s caterer. We have to go in there like we have a business already and convince him to be a part of it.”

I already had the product, but needed a name and logo ASAP. I wanted the company to be called “Baked” but my brother insisted that it have a personal tie. He said, “Why do you know Alison Brod? Because her name is in the name of her business.” So we settled on Baked by Melissa, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. My brother’s business partner at the time Matt (who was also our childhood friend and now a co-founder), quickly came up with the logo — which we still have today. I was fortunate to meet the right people at the right time when we were starting the company, and I took advantage of every opportunity that came my way. After all, I had the chance of a lifetime to do what I loved as a job: bake cupcakes.

The tasting went fantastic. The caterer loved the cupcakes and asked me to bake 250 for an event he was having the following week. I couldn’t believe it, we had secured our very first order. Not only that, but we were about to have a ton of people exposed to our product within a few days of starting our company.

Everything came together very quickly after that realization. We created a website from photos we shot on my IKEA coffee table using a bed sheet as a white background. I baked every order that came my way after that first catering event in my apartment and delivered them personally using the subway. I also started cold calling catering companies, saying: “Hi! This is Melissa, from Baked by Melissa, I’d like to bring you a free tasting of my cupcakes.” I was 24 years old when we started and didn’t have any experience in retail and never worked in a bakery. To this day, I still remember crying to my brother (and co-founder) saying, “Who the hell do I think I am?“ But my brother always gave me the confidence I needed when I didn’t have it for myself to continue cold calling and growing our business. I also surrounded myself with people who loved and supported me unconditionally, and each of my co-founders had skills that I didn’t. Without those people, Baked by Melissa would not exist today.

I’ve been working my butt off since I started this magical journey nine years ago. And now as a mother — my daughter Scottie was born in January 2016 — my success means even more as I know I’ll be able to guide my child as she embarks on her own challenges throughout life.

Now I’m the one giving Scottie the same speech my dad gave me every morning in those car rides, even though she’s barely two. All those clichés are the truest words I know: with hard work, passion, great persistence and self-confidence you can do anything.

Melissa Ben-Ishay is the co-founder of Baked by Melissa and the author of Cakes by Melissa.

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