Why Building Your Brand Is Crucial for Long Term Business Success with Kristina Schlegel from Make Bake
In this episode, the host speaks with Kristina Schlegel, CEO and Founder of Make Bake, about how she transitioned from a career in tech product development to starting a successful CPG baking business and food craft business. Kristina shares how she bootstrapped her way to building a strong brand foundation and how this helped her to grow her business.
Kristina's background in tech product development and how she used that experience to start a CPG baking business.
The importance of building a strong brand foundation, especially when bootstrapping a business.
How Kristina's focus on building relationships with smaller specialty shops to grow in her wholesale efforts
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Erin Alexander: Hello, welcome to another episode of the Product Powerhouse podcast. I am so thrilled you are here. This is the very first guest episode of 2023, and it is a good one. Today I am having the pleasure of chatting with Christina Schlegel, her business is called Make Bake, and she is incredible. So Christina has a long background, like 20 plus years.
In the tech industry where she was creating category, defining products and customer experiences for businesses like William Sonoma, pottery Barn Kids, thumb Tech, baby List, baby Center, Walgreens, Sephora. among many others. She left her corporate job in Silicone Valley to go to culinary school because she thought it sounded fun and awesome.
It's just so inspiring to see someone who had this great career and decided to change paths and in that process she had a family. She eventually created Make Bake, which is her patent pending edible sugar sticker system business, right? So she create, created this entirely new category of products, which was a game changer for busy parents baking at home.
You know, all of us want to make like those Pinterest perfect cupcakes with our family, and Christina's product really makes that possible. . I mean, if you're a mom, you know what it's like trying to cook with your 2, 3, 4 year old. It's difficult. It's really incredible what Christina has done, the product is fantastic, but also her story and going through the process of creating a brand new product category, getting this manufactured scaling and growing a business with no budget, what to focus on in the beginning when things are slow.
She's gone through all of that and she's sharing all of those details with us today. In this episode. It is really inspiring to see everything she's done. It's really cool to hear behind the scenes what she focused on, and I felt like there were a lot of takeaways for myself, and I'm excited to hear what your takeaways are as well.
So let's jump into the episode.
Erin Alexander: Hi Christina. Thank you so much for being here on the podcast. How are you today?
Kristina Schlegel: I'm good. Thank you so much for having me, Erin.
Erin Alexander: I am so thrilled to chat with you. Why don't we start by telling everyone who you are and what you do.
Kristina Schlegel: Sure. My name is Christina Schlegel. I'm the founder of a company called Make Bake, and we are known for this line of edible stickers that we created. They look and work just like real stickers, actually kind blows kids' minds when they get them, but they're made out of sugar, paper, food, colors, and they're food allergy friendly.
So we make them in a facility that is free of everything but.
Erin Alexander: Oh, that is really cool. My kids would love those
Kristina Schlegel: I get a lot of dms from parents who say, we were gonna bake with these, but my daughter just ate half the sheet. Is that okay? ? And we're always like, yes, it's just sugar. It's very similar to marshmallows and sprinkles, but it's really fun to see that excitement come through when kids see the product.
Erin Alexander: Yeah, that I'm sure. I'm sure my kid would just eat them. , how did you get started in this? This sounds really.
Kristina Schlegel: It is fun. I will say that it is a wild journey. Like a lot of people who find their way into entrepreneurship in. Parts of my story are fast and parts are slow, the short version is that I worked in Silicon Valley for, more than a decade doing product innovation and just grew up in this culture of thinking about customers and how they use products and, how do you meet people's needs, mostly in the context of technology.
But then after I had my daughter, I really wanted to go to culinary school. It was like one of those kind of lifelong fantasies that I had. And so I took a bit of a sabbatical and I actually went to Prof to a professional pastry school, and that was amazing. It was such a fun experience and it turned out differently than I thought.
Candidly, I thought I was going to be really good at it, and in the beginning I was actually terrible. But it was interesting cuz I got to see myself as a novice again. And so I really enjoyed it, but I knew afterwards that I wasn't gonna open a bakery. So I kind of went back to my life. And then my daughter started to get a little bit older and we were baking together and I just, I wanted to share this thing with her and just realized that.
The way I was baking wasn't accessible to her as a three or a four or five year old, and so I just started to think about the things she really enjoyed doing, trying to figure out how to bring them into baking, and then that just meshed with this product background that I had where I started looking for products and realizing that.
Just not, I couldn't really find exactly what I wanted, which as is how a lot of people end up starting things. And so that kind of started me on this journey that led me to make Bake to Edible stickers and to where we are now with cookie craft kits and everything else that's coming up.
Erin Alexander: I think it's amazing that you just decided to go to culinary school, go to pastry school. I, a couple years ago I decided that I was going to learn to decorate cakes and I bought all this stuff, which is the fun part actually, and I made four cakes.
Kristina Schlegel: Yeah.
Erin Alexander: a lot more at work than I thought.
Kristina Schlegel: it's not as easy as it looks. And like anything else, it's a muscle. It's something you flex. So people who bake frequently feel more confident and in some of the product research and consumer research that I was doing before I started to make bake is in doing kind of qualitative research, speaking with people, focus groups, surveys, I really wanted to get a sense of like how people felt about baking and baking with their kids.
And I found this really interesting correlation that. People who felt most comfortable baking were the people who grew up around. So that sounds intuitive, just like anything else, but if you think about it, so many people don't grow up around it anymore. And then you get to a point in your life where it becomes an interest and it is a lot harder to tackle.
And on the flip side, what I hear from a lot of parents is a sense of Whimsy and nostalgia. Oh, I would love to be able to make my kids cakes, or I would love to be able to do this with my kids. And so there is a bit of this longing there, but there's this sort of fear of, or hump that people try to get over of but I'm gonna mess it up.
It's gonna be a fail. I think there's space for that narrative to become untrue, where like the way we make products and the way we talk and share about baking really has to open the door because it isn't about perfection. It really is about the experience of doing it together, and that's what I see in our customers.
I, I see this move away from feeling like it has to be this like, perfect Pinterest moment to just being such, you know, the, the fun is in the doing, not in the outcome. and we say the best cake you make is the one you make together. Like that is the sentiment of, what our customers walk away with and why they keep coming back.
So you're not alone in that feeling like it is. It is real. And I went to culinary school and I still can't decorate a cake without my stickers
Erin Alexander: I'm just thinking of like, when I, the idea of baking with my kids sounds so fun, but I get like really anxious. They're gonna stick their hands in it, they're gonna drop the egg in it, they're gonna sneeze in it. I get so anxious about the experience that it's not fun for us.
Anything we can do to make it easier. Sounds incredible.
Kristina Schlegel: That's the hope is that it'll be easy, but truly that it'll be fun and engaging and I. If you look around us now, especially, we're talking about products that are out there. There's so many products out there that are designed to help parents be more successful. Whether that is like meal planning, whether that's like an arts and craft kit, and of everywhere you look companies and people who have a expertise in a background are trying to really package that up and make it more accessible because ultimately, it's hard to learn a new skill and I.
Parents everywhere have this, ideal of wanting to share as much as they can with their kids. But, if you didn't spend a lot of time walking around hiking, like you don't know all the trees and the names of, all the bushes and the types of vegetation and you've gotta learn that for yourself.
And In baking, I felt like there was just an opportunity to be that brand and to start to bring more of that into this category that I knew people already felt intimidated by. And I saw it in my friends. So after I went to culinary school, I would just, my daughter was young.
We would go to, we would have birthdays, we would go to parties. I'd offer to make things for my friends. And like the second comment out of everybody's mouth was, God, I wish I could do this with my kid. God, I wish I could do that. And it just really struck me as a design researcher with this background in design innovation.
So much of what we do is talk to customers and uncover, what we call that job to be done. What is that thing that they want to accomplish? And it was just something that I heard enough of that I realized that there was, an opportunity here.
Erin Alexander: A hundred percent. Like I'm in awe. I don't have that background like where I could just think up a new thing. So I just am like, wow, that's incredible. What is the process of creating a whole new product that has never existed? What how do you get started with that?
Kristina Schlegel: It's an interesting question and again, I lean back on the majority of my professional training in Silicon Valley where, from the outside people see that industry as, constantly innovating. And that is true, but it really is training. I believe it's training like anything else, I, I of say to people.
I grew up professionally to be built for this. I spent years in rooms, in conversations, in research, talking to people, going through this process of how do people do this today? Is that the best way to do it? What would be a better way to do it? Why aren't people doing it? And it's this sort of this rhetorical process that go through that kind of leads you to outcomes.
And I just took that same process and really applied it to the baking category and just started saying, what are the products in this category? Why are they made the way they are? Could they be made differently? Would being made differently, make them easier? If so, why? And you just start unpacking the problem.
Edible images have actually existed for decades. It's actually an old food technology. You probably remember it as like a childhood cake with strawberry shortcake images or Mickey Mouse images. That a parent got from a grocery store and brought to a birthday party, like those big edible images, and that is the technology that my product is based on.
But I went into it just looking at it and saying it doesn't taste very good. It's really hard to use. The images are like subpar. But rather than assuming that was just the way it was, I just started calling. Manufacturers going to trade shows, asking people, could it be different, could it be better?
Does it have to be a circle? Could I get it? Kiss cut? And a lot of the answers that I got were like, yeah, I guess it could, and so what I realized is what I was seeing in the marketplace wasn't really a limitation of the technology was really a limitation of how somebody thought applying it.
And so it took some reformulation, some imagination to really be able. Open up this new category of use so that now this product in a slightly different format with a slightly different formulation and a much different aesthetic became enticing, usable, and, really solved the problem that parent, that parents baking at home wanted to solve, which is making something like fun and easy to decorate.
Erin Alexander: Something you said a little while ago was like, Doing things with your kids that you are good at is like also part of it. Like my kids like to do crafts and stuff and I am not crafty, and I get frustrated cuz it doesn't turn out perfect. But then my daughter's like, mom I wanna learn to code, which is something I do know how to do.
And I'm like, yes, let's do that. And I have these books that I've already purchased when she was like two to teach kids how to code. It's just it's a whole thing.
Kristina Schlegel: Yeah, and I think we have that bias. We lean towards the things that we're good at. But one of the things that I really took away from my experience in culinary school was here, I had been working in this industry for over a decade. Had gotten to a point in my career where there, it was still interesting, but like I, I knew the steps, right?
I knew what we were projects would look like. My batting average was high. There weren't a lot of surprises and I could walk into a lot of my, engagements with confidence. And then here I was now in culinary school candidly with people oftentimes that were like 10 years plus younger than me and like I was failing miserably at what felt like a very basic thing.
And again, like the design researcher in me was. , this is what it feels like to be a novice. This is what it feels like to want to be good at something, but to not yet be good at it. And I think that feeling is a huge part of parenthood , and it's actually a really big part of entrepreneurship.
That sentiment has really something that I've kept in the, sort of the foreground of my mind as I have gone through the last few years in developing my product and starting to build my business Is. Knowing that, like while I've been out in the world working for, almost 20 years, or I guess 20 years plus, maybe I'm not counting anymore, this is a very new journey for me.
And so I think no matter how long you've done something, becoming a first time entrepreneur has so many different characteristics to it. And then for me, doing it in a category of products that I had never touched before, everything I had done before, this was in the context of technology or working with fortune 100 companies who had, way more resources than I'm ever gonna have.
And so going into a category of making food, putting it on a shelf, things that I had no experience in. And so I had to really rely on that training and that sense of understanding that this was gonna be hard in ways that I didn't expect to get me through this process.
Erin Alexander: I think that's something a lot of entrepreneurs don't even realize when they go into it, beyond just like creating the product. There's also. Layer of running a business that we don't know how to do and we never expected to do. And I think even in business school, they don't necessarily teach you how to run a business.
From what I understand. I didn't go to business school, people who talk about it, they're like, I never learned this in business school. So there is a big learning curve whether you are just creating a product that's new or just running a business for the first time.
Kristina Schlegel: Definitely I think that the thing to me that I try and share with other people who are earlier in their entrepreneur's journey is the one takeaway, not the one take. One of the many takeaways I've had for the last several years is every little thing you add, Is going to take up so much more time and energy and focus than you think it's going to.
And when you are early in your business and you're wearing all the hat, That can lead to you feeling very fragmented very quickly. So for example, when I first started at Make Bake that first, those first few months, which by the way, I launched my product and then like Covid hit three months later.
We can talk about that later. But those first three months I was trying to do everything. I was trying to promote social organic. I was doing paid social, I was trying to do wholesale outreach. I was trying to do, Whatever the next thing was. Yeah. I was trying to be on Amazon and I just thought if I'm everywhere, like the revenue will come.
And what ended up happening, and I learned this lesson very quickly, was like I was just doing terribly at all of it. Like I, even though we had a good launch I just realized this is not sustainable. I'm not gonna get. to the levels that I wanna get or the focus. And so I quickly had to narrow it down, like to just one thing.
And that was really hard. And my thought was that we were gonna do wholesale, I was gonna focus on small shops and we were gonna build the business that way. And that was hard because our minimum order quantities were very high. So I had a lot of inventory to move. But that focus. You know was a decision I made.
Now covid hit and we can talk about how that changed things, but in the aftermath I went back to that focus and I think when you're starting a business it can be very easy to look around you and see like everyone is doing so many things and to feel like you have to do all those things as well. But I think what you edit out, what you say no to or not right now to is as important as what you're saying yes to in being able.
To survive that journey and be successful at.
Erin Alexander: Absolutely. I think that's something I've been thinking about a lot as I've been kind. Unhappy in my own business, like doing the work that I'm doing. There's a part of it I love and there's a part that I'm just like doing because it's there and I really wanna focus on the part I love. And I was just thinking about what are the things you say yes to and the things you say no to that can.
Help you transition to that side for, in my own business, that side of what I wanna do. But that can also be like, where is your focus? What platforms are you using? What are you doing to continue to grow the business? And that is crucial elements for actually making growth and not just spinning your wheels.
Kristina Schlegel: Yeah I think that's what ends up happening a lot of times is we spin our wheels because, something new comes into the mix. We feel compelled to participate or we're looking at, other people in our category that we're comparing ourselves to, and. And thinking they're doing all these things.
How could I possibly compete if I'm not doing those things? And the things that I tell fellow colleague entrepreneurs when we're talking about, you know, business choices is. Both as an entrepreneur, but as a marketer, as a brand. When I think about Make Bake, it's a very young brand.
We're just really getting out there. We're not, we're not huge yet. Being really focused works to your advantage. It's something that's actually harder to do as your business gets bigger, right? If you are a huge business, you need a lot of products, a lot of categories that's how you grow.
But when you're small, you have the benefit of being able to be like, really focused. We are just all about these edible stickers right now. Now we've already had people ask us, can we do more things? Can we do different things? And the truth is, as a brand, we hope to get there.
But if I tried to do all those things now, , I would be drowning. We would be, financially cash strapped. Same with social media. We have a, small but active following on Instagram. We don't actively participate in TikTok. And our whole social media strategies actually just focused around how that supports our wholesale business, right?
We're not trying to grow that audience right now. That might change in the future, but it relieves this pressure of I don't have to do all these things because right now they don't align with this goal that I have, which is building my wholesale business and even my wholesale business, we focus first just on small shops.
We didn't even worry about could we get into a big retailer like we just said, what are the stores we need to get into to really show that this product could work? Especially because we have a product that's basically a new category that we created.
Erin Alexander: Yeah. I'm just like nodding along this whole time because it's so important. And I think a lot of times we are thinking like, where can I show up? Where can I, be visible, but we're not thinking about how does this align with our goals? Like how does this do whatever, for example, My top priority is this podcast, but then sometimes I'm like, oh, I haven't posted on Instagram in 55 days,
But I put out a new podcast episode every single week, and so do I wish I had time for it all? Absolutely. Do I wish I had like maybe money to pay someone to do it? Probably, yes, that's probably a better fit, but at the end of the day, my priority is the podcast. So that's where I can spend my time.
Kristina Schlegel: I think sometimes it's good for each of us to take a step back and. , when you find yourself getting caught in doom scrolling and whatever it is that you're being drawn into, e even email marketing, right? Everyone needs to have an active email list, is what you hear.
I think that's where that north star is really important. So if your goal is this year I wanna get into, 200 specialty retailers. That's how you have to filter your decisions. Every decision becomes okay is what I'm spending time on right now in service to that goal.
If it's not, then it has to wait. It just goes, I've started to adopt this language of it's not, no, it's just not right now. It goes into the not right now bucket. And so you give yourself permission to just. Put it aside because yes, other people may be doing cool things and that's creatively enticing, but if it's not moving the needle of getting us into that next store, then it's not a good use of time.
Erin Alexander: That's so true. So I'm really curious because you've talked about, your growth and how you've done this and the budget. How you've grown this company over the last couple of years, and how did you go about doing that when it was a brand new company? Did you. , how did you make that work? Like financially, because I think that's a big worry about a lot of people have when they're starting their business.
Kristina Schlegel: And it's a very valid concern. It's one of those questions that's a little bit difficult to answer because it really does vary for everyone. And that means, it varies. Like, What are you making? We created a new product that required a lot of product development that has very high MOQs because of the customized nature of the product that we create for our line.
So my. For capital are different than somebody perhaps who's like an artist and starting a greeting card line, for example. The second thing is, what are your own personal resources? I was I've been very fortunate that, my husband is able to support our family so that we as a family can make an investment in growing this business and.
Me not working my day job, wasn't a requirement for a period of time until we got to a certain place. And everyone comes to it with a different set of resources and constraints and requirements. So I always try and be sensitive to that. But I think for me it goes.
Always goes back to this idea of focus. What am I spending my money on and my time on, and is that what I need to be doing right now? And especially when it was my money, right? Like I was no longer working at startups that were backed by venture capitalists, that had bigger resources than I do.
Every dollar we spent was a dollar that was coming out of, money we had saved for this purpose. And so I started to really look at it. What is the investment now and what am I getting out of it? And sometimes I think it can be very tempting to do you know, the things that you want that fulfill your vision?
For example, for us, packaging packaging's very expensive and I knew that I wanted something, very particular for when we hit the retail shelves. I couldn't afford that when we began. Candidly, I couldn't afford the packaging we wanted, so instead, . I made a decision to focus my outreach on retailers who had primarily small e-commerce businesses, because then I could do a different kind of packaging.
I could do something that was still really nice, but it didn't have to be customized to all our themes so I could get the benefit of a bigger buy. Because once the product arrive, when you see something online, you're looking at the pictures of the photography, you're not looking at the packaging so much.
And so that was a decision that I made to say, okay, step one is let's get this in people's hands. Let's see, are they buying them? Let's see, what our retailers are saying. And that choice was e-commerce first. then later the goal was to go to shelf, but as I've mentioned, the pandemic hit, so everything just slowed down.
But when we did, by the time we were ready to go and really start hitting retail shelves, we had been selling these for a while. I knew what people wanted. I knew the questions that they were asking. All of that went into the packaging development and probably saved us a lot of money than if we had to just like constantly be redoing it cuz we were learning things. So I think patience and focus is so hard when you're starting something new and you're so excited about it and when you get a good response the way we did when we first launched, we launched with no marketing budget.
500 followers on Instagram, one skew for Valentine's Day in 2022. And in less than two weeks, I sold $6,000 worth of product. And I was like, oh my. And people were, DMing me and email me and being like, oh my God. Like where can I get more of these? Are you making more of these? And and you were onto something and it would've been so easy to just put my foot on the gas.
Which is my personality, to be honest, . But I really had to be disciplined. I. Limiting factor of budget. And so I think being really patient this isn't, I don't know if this is specific enough of the answer that you're looking for, but I think being patient and being focused and figuring out what is the least amount of money I have to spend to get the thing that I need that gets me to whatever that next step is. So that next step might be, what we call product market fit. Are people buying this? What is the minimum I have to spend on the product and the photography and everything to get me to that next step?
And just laddering up. And as you get those small win. Those wins just aren't financial. They're not just okay we've made so many sales. But I always look at it as what did we learn from these sales? What is selling? What stores are they selling in? What is the feedback we're getting so that we're not just running blindly into doing more?
That we're trying to be really constantly in this feedback loop of. Okay, now we're in this many stores. How frequently are they reordering? Which ones are they reordering? Are some packages? Are some design selling better than others? Is it the design? Is it the packaging and being patient, I think honestly is just of something I was forced to do because of the pandemic and because, we were bootstrapped and I couldn't do, especially having worked on big brands with much bigger resources, it was very hard for.
To live within my means. I'll be very honest. There were so many times where I just wanted to be like, I'm just gonna go all out. And then I'd be like, no, I can't. I have to be patient because if it doesn't work, that's a big chunk of my budget that just went out the door.
Erin Alexander: It's so important too, and I think that this is something that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with and have to like circle back to all the time, is looking at every decision you make and everything you have done as information, as data to see what worked and what didn't. I just published an episode on like analytics and I said, listen, analytics are important because they give you data and I don't want you to get too hung up on them feeling like you failed.
But I also want you to see like there is so much success in this information that you're gonna be gathering and try to see both sides of that.
Kristina Schlegel: I think that's amazing advice. again, very much the sort of like the ethos. , the modern entrepreneur, when we look at like C p g Food brands and Silicon Valley it's, it is about data and analytics and a lot of what you're doing there. Yes. You're looking at trajectory are, is there growth is there, are we, as they say, up and to the right, but a lot of what you're also looking is like pattern matching, right?
What did I see in this dataset? Oh, that reminded me of the time that I saw this work for this other brand. Okay. That's a signal. So yes you're looking for growing revenue and growing conversions, but you are also looking for signals information.
And that is a strategy that I actually used really early on with Makeba and with the edible stickers because even though we had a lot of excitement about them it, it was just like a totally new product. And I will actually tell you that when I created the first version of it, Even though what drew me into this business was this idea of baking with my daughter.
When I started showing it to moms, what I heard back verbally was, oh my God, this is, these are so amazing. Like I can now finally decorate a cupcake. I can now finally do this. And it really framed my thinking about the product as the product used by moms who are like, want design cute stuff and wanna make it the.
and I could have very well gone down that path, and that's the path we were on. Then the pandemic hit, and then I had to slow down and I had no choice but to just take a step back and figure out, okay, what am I gonna do with this brand? Retailers are shutting down. We don't have a built-in audience.
know, A lot of people were like, oh, people are at home baking. This is great for you. And if I had a following of 20,000 people, that would've been great. I couldn't compete at that time on social media where everyone was of screaming from the rooftops to buy their products. So I just shifted to giving a ton of product away.
Tons of micro influencers sharing things, giving tons of offers. And my goal was simply to get it is in as many people's hands as possible. And what I learned from that is that kids were using the product way more than I had originally anticipated, which. , in retrospect makes sense, right?
Like you have edible stickers and your house kids are gonna be like, what are those? And they're gonna start playing with them. But that was an insight I might have lost if I was moving more quickly or had it not been for the pandemic. And it really took us three degrees to the left in a way that has opened up the brand and the platform for what we are to be so much more useful and compelling.
And it's changed the way we designed the product. We reformulated to make them more durable for kids to handle. We, thought more about what the illustrations would be like. The product packaging it shifted everything. And if I could have missed that if I wasn't looking, I guess is what I'm trying to say.
Erin Alexander: How did you get this information? Were you getting feedback from people who had purchased it? Were you getting feedback from the wholesale stores that were carrying you? How did you find this information?
Kristina Schlegel: All of the above. So I was, in just a handful of stores initially, very small stores, just like independent specialty shops with people who I really had cultivated a relationship with. And know, were willing to tell me candidly oh, here's what we're hearing from our customers.
Here's what's selling, here's what's not. And then also the D two C sales that we did have and the giveaways that we were doing. I treated all of that as like, So I would literally individually email people back and say, thank you so much for your purchase. I'm the founder. I would love it if you could take a minute to tell me about your experience.
You can write me, you can send me a video I'll give you a free pack with your next purchase. I really just saw the early days as what can I learn the most? Because it wasn't a product that people were familiar with. And part of what I learned about it was People saw the product, were excited by it cuz it's something new and different.
But there was a gap there. It was an education like how do I use these? When do I use this? Can my kids eat it off the sheet? And when you are creating a new product category, even when you make something that people intuitively see is really useful. What I didn't appreciate because I didn't have a merchandising or physical product marketing background, was how much work as a brand we were gonna have to do to still build that category.
Just because people saw it and loved it didn't mean that it was just gonna fly off the shelves. And so that's what we're spending a lot of time doing now is figuring out how to build this category of. Edible stickers. How do you use them? When do you use them? What do they stick on? Look, they're not just for birthday parties.
You can use them for, good report card pancakes the next morning. Here's how you do holiday, here's how you have a cupcake. I could just start going on forever. And those were all things that I learned by just like always, always be talking to customers, you kind of mentality.
Erin Alexander: Yeah. That's how you learn what you're doing. Like I said, everything in business is an experiment. You're always trying new things. Seeing how this worked, looking at the data, trying not to take it personally, cuz I think that's a big thing we struggle with.
Kristina Schlegel: Yes. That is very hard.
Erin Alexander: I think it's it's awesome to hear like how you've cultivated this company, how you've started building your brand, from the ground up. I am curious, cuz you mentioned before that you focused on these smaller retailers.
You didn't go with the big companies, which I think a lot of people think I need to get on these big platforms. So how did that, like how did you make that decision? How does that tie into everything that you're doing?
Kristina Schlegel: That's a good question. So part of it was just me having a sense of wanting to take things one step at a time, and I think you're right. Everyone starts their business and things. I wanna end up on the shelves of target and, Grocery stores and wherever.
And those are really amazing goals. But once you get into this business, you realize it's actually very complicated to do business with those retailers. It's not the first step you wanna be in. You wanna go into those relationships with a lot of information, like you were talking about data.
Because getting on the shelves is only half the problem. The next problem is you gotta get on off the shelves and into someone's basket. And so I knew. with specialty retailers that's a different shopping experience. So you go to a major retailer, nobody's really helping you, right? Like you might ask what aisle something is in, but you're in there shorting out for yourself.
You go into a small specialty retailer, that staff is engaged, they're informed, you're like, oh, I'm looking for something to do with my kids. And they're like, oh, look at this new line we have. And so they're able to do some of that education and interaction that I knew would benefit us both from, in terms of getting feedback and in terms of, Doing that category education we were talking about that I was never gonna be able to do just on the packaging.
So my strategy was let's get into small retailers, let's see what we can learn, let's see how those stories unfold. But also that was the proof I wanted to build going into what was ended up being our first season of wholesale trade shows. So this past summer was really the first year that we showed up at the big wholesale shows.
And I think had I gone sooner, , it would've been a mistake for me. I don't think I would've been ready. I think that our product would've been there, but like our brand wouldn't have been there. And the things that I learned along the way through feedback, the specialty channel and interacting with our customers really shaped my brand.
And it was leading into these shows in that year that I finally made the investment to upgrade the packaging, upgrade our photography, so that when we showed up, that we really showed up and it really paid off. We added. over a hundred and almost a hun actually a little over 150 independent retailers over the summer specialty retailers that just blew us up.
And then at the same time, category buyers were stopping by our booth and were just wait a minute, why don't we know of you? Like, where have you been? This brand looks so big. and then you'd be like actually just like me and a couple of people. And they'd be like, what, are you kidding me?
This looks like something that could be on our store shelves. And that was really by design. I wanted to go out there. Really being at that level of professionalism. And I couldn't have gotten there if I wasn't willing to be small first. If I had rushed too quickly to get to the big opportunities, they may have taken the meeting because the product is new and interesting, but they could have just been like, oh, like cute idea, but whatever.
Now I went to those conversations and I can say, we've been selling for this many years. This is what our customer average order value is. And this is the rate, this is how many case packs we sell per door in specialty. And those buyers now connect with you in a way where you're speaking their language, you understand their world, and you have some data that leads them to believe that you might be an interesting bet for them to take.
and if I had gone the first year, I know people would've stopped by, but I'm pretty confident that I wouldn't have gotten the follow ups that we're getting now. And the conversations that we're in now are, so confidential, but like really exciting.
Erin Alexander: It's all, it all hinges on that foundation of a solid brand where you absolutely know exactly who's using your product, why they're using it, what they're doing with it, how it's changing their time in the kitchen with the kids. Like it's, it all hinges on that solid brand foundation.
And you know what, I have a client right now who she is wanting to start like a. And she's having a hard time getting wholesalers to participate, like to let her purchase because she does not have a solid foundation as far as like a web presence and branding. And so she's I just need a website. And I'm like, honey, you need
You need a, we need more than just a website. Like we had to go through that foundation because if I just throw up a website for someone it's not gonna do you any good. You don. You have to build on that foundation.
Kristina Schlegel: I think that's really good advice that you're giving because. The world has become a crowded marketplace. Whether you have a physical shop or whether you're e-commerce or social selling, the barriers to entry for business have become, in some ways very low. And this is where I think brand plays a role.
One of the things I frequently talk about is how when you're small, sometimes we focus really on the product more and not enough on the brand.
And it's been my focus on the brand that's actually led to, like what I can share publicly is like we're now in conversations with several major retailers. And a lot of that is coming from like the investment that I made in really building out our brand and brand story almost ahead of sales in the sense of being really clear on what that was. That was a place that I did make an investment that really paid off.
I have a product right now that is, unique and we've actually applied for a patent on it. We may or may not get it if we get it, that will afford us some protection, but, I know what's gonna happen. People are gonna figure out a way to mimic our product. That's happens in every market.
So what is the protection that you have there? It's not enough to be, first. You have to have really built your brand up and a kind of an expert or trusted source or really coveted experience for whatever it is you're selling. And if you're selling something that is more widely available, let's take, it's Christmas time, so I'm always buying like family jammies at Christmas time.
I'm that mom who like wants everyone in their matching jammies. I remember a time when there's one or two brands that offer that product and now they're everywhere. And so the early investments you make in your brand I think are really important. in establishing that narrative and establishing that loyalty with your customers.
Good brands are built on the foundation of great product, good customer service, and a, and an earnest, dialogue with your customer In this era of two-way communication, and I think sometimes, We are so focused on the product that we don't spend enough time on the brand.
And if you're like an artist selling greeting cards or other things that you're putting your art on you, your art is your brand and knowing who you're for, knowing who your customer is, you, you're exactly right, like that. You have to be something. You can't be everything to everyone. You have to be something to someone.
And especially when you're small, it's really, or starting new or whatever, phraseology you wanna use it is really important to be really pointed about who you're talking to. So for example, in our case, we get a lot of people saying, . Oh, when are you gonna sell like the cookie so I don't have to bake them too, or can I just put this on a store bought cake? And the truth is, that's not our best customer. Our best customer right now is someone who wants to be baking in the kitchen with their kids. She might be using a cake mix she got from the grocery store. She might have the help of some pre-made cookie dough, but the person who just wants to grab a pre-made cookie and slap something on.
I can see how our product is useful for them, but right now I'm focused on lifetime value. Who's our best customer? Who's the customer that is gonna incorporate us into the cadence of their life throughout the year. And see our product and our brand as the place to go to make things they love to eat and share with their family.
And so I could. Marketing these other messages. I could be creating products for these other people, but again, it's a choice that I've made. Eventually they will find a way to use our products. Our market will grow. But I, I say to people all the time, like right now our market is, and I say Mom, because, our demographic is largely mothers, but parents, grandparents.
who wanna be in the kitchen doing that thing with their kids. That's our target demographic. And if we serve them really well, if we design products and content that serves them really well, we'll become known for that. And then later on, the rest of, the rest of everyone else will start trickling in once they see how they can incorporate us.
And it's hard to say that because it feels like it's limiting your sales, but it really is building your brand. And it's a trade.
Erin Alexander: Yeah, I can certainly understand and know. Have the same kind of thoughts in my head. There's so many things I could teach people and there's so many different markets, but I have decided like the people who I want to help are the moms who have started their handmade business. They're selling, things that they make and they're ready to just, take it to the next step.
And I think I'm just sharing that because there is so many directions you could go. So it's just, focus on one, give that your all and decide what you wanna do from there. like we've mentioned many times, take that data, learn from it, experiment, try different things. So that's really great advice and really great insight to your brand and brand building in general, which I think people will struggle with a lot because outside of the entrepreneur world, people don't talk about branding like we do
Kristina Schlegel: Yeah,
Erin Alexander: Christina, I'm so excited for Make Bake. I think it's such a fun product. I need to order some, my daughter loves to bake. She'll freak out about stickers.
Kristina Schlegel: Thank you for saying that. I'm really excited to, we launched our cookie craft kits for the first time this year for holiday, and they've just been like flying out the door. We make this little like gingerbread cookie, standup house, and a couple of other things. And we're gonna be doing a lot more of those next year.
And then I'm. Really excited to announce that we're also finally launching Cupcake Kits starting next year. So if you're baking for a birthday party or an event, like everything will come in one adorable package. It'll be the edible stickers, the matching cupcake liners, the matching sprinkles.
All you have to do is bake together and you'll, you won't have to go source other things. And as the business grows, I'm excited to be able to offer our customers those more complete solutions so that they can just focus on that time together.
Erin Alexander: Recently my daughter was having some friends come over for a few hours and we, they wanted to do, she wanted to plan a craft they could do, and she's very creative and she loves it to just go to the dollar store and buy all the craft supplies. But I'm thinking, okay, there's three girls this time and I need a kit, honey.
I'm like a kit. And she's no, mom. Cuz I made the mistake of taking her into Joanne's for the first time in her life. And her mind was just blown. She's we could get these boxes and these flowers and then we're gonna need glue. And I'm like, no honey, we need a kit. Cuz mom can't handle that
Kristina Schlegel: You're on the right track and it's really sweet to hear you want to hear you wanting to support her in that. I think that's like the need we're all filling here, is just having successful outcomes and enjoy doing it.
Erin Alexander: Absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing your story, sharing such solid advice for people who are bootstrapping, who are trying to build their company and their brand. Before we go, I do like to ask everyone the same question. Anyone who's on the show, I always ask them, what's something you're currently learning in your own business? Something that you're currently learning, working through, because I love to show everyone, it doesn't matter like what you do, who you are, how long you've been doing this. We're always learning something new.
Kristina Schlegel: I think that's a great question. And to be esoteric for one second, I feel like that's this whole journey. I learned something, I figure it out, and then that opens up new opportunities. And just when I feel like I've mastered something, I now have to go back to tackling something that I don't know.
And this cycle of getting good and then being bad at things over and over again has been like this, the hallmark of my mental health and being an entrepreneur and realizing this is what entrepreneurship is, it's having the resilience. To be bad at things all the time because you're new at them or to not be as efficient at them.
So one of the things that I am learning right now is how to basically look at my business from the perspective of scaling it, because we are going into a new phase of how we're going to be structuring the business and potentially even changing our manufacturing approach. And so figuring out how do I make these really much bigger, much higher investment decisions on topics that I don't have any expertise in. And that idea of like, how do you make good decisions when it's not your area of expertise, I think is a flex that you have to develop as an entrepreneur.
And so it's something. , I really feel like I'm trying to figure out how am I gonna do this? How am I gonna feel confident in hiring the right person or making the right decision about process or making the right investment amount? That's nerve-wracking for me. And so I'm trying to figure out how am I gonna do that?
How am I gonna make a decision in a world where I'm not gonna be the expert and I'm gonna either have to trust other people? How do I decide how to, who to trust? And so this is like this exercise about decision making. That has always been a part of my business, but the risks have been really small, but now we're talking about getting to something that feels a lot bigger.
Erin Alexander: Yeah. That is such great insight and something that you just. You to learn and grow and if you get confident, you get more confidence in your decision making as you make those decisions. I was on a community call last night with a wonderful group of people and they were saying like, managers in the corporate world, they don't know the answer either.
They just tell you with more confidence, . And I thought that was really funny.
Kristina Schlegel: Have you ever heard of the term executive. That's what it's, go look it up. It's it's it's like what we talk about when we talk about people who say things with confidence. It's called executive presence. We are gonna be totally successful in doing this for X, Y, and Z. And it's like that presentation is a little bit of fake it till you make it sometimes.
Erin Alexander: Absolutely. Yes. I think I do that a lot because I'll be like talking to clients and I'm like, in my head, I don't know the answer, but I know I'll figure it out.
Kristina Schlegel: And that's a really good skill to have. It's a great life skill, and it's a great skill for entrepreneurship because it really is in my mind, if I look back on this journey, it's a series of unpacking problems over and over again. and the problems get different and bigger and they're layering on top of each other.
Every step that you go, okay, I figured out how to do. , that was I figured that out. Okay, now that led me to needing to do this next thing. Now I have to figure out how to do this next thing. And in the beginning, for me, it was daunting. I was overwhelmed like we talked about.
Cause I had been an expert at something for so while I was just constantly being new at it. And it can be overwhelming and especially for people who have small businesses like we do right now, where you're not, you don't have a big team and you're in it by. Pretty much a lot.
So that's why I think like conversations like this are helpful and being a part of entrepreneurs groups are helpful, where you can see that like you're not the only one having this experience. This is a very shared experience that everybody is going through and trying to figure out how to do this thing that they really wanna do.
Erin Alexander: Yes, I completely agree. And I think I wanted to just add like being willing to figure it out and being willing to try different things and being willing to. mistakes is, I think one of the things that really makes people special as entrepreneurs is if you're unable or unwilling to do those things, you're going to find it a lot harder to stay in business and to stay, especially like we witnessed this with the pandemic the businesses that were willing to adapt and try something new and willing to, maybe get it wrong, are the ones that are still on and the ones who were stuck in their ways didn't make it, which is sad. Being willing to adapt makes you a really strong entrepreneur, but also just a really good human, I think
Kristina Schlegel: It definitely builds resiliency, and that translates to other aspects of your life. I recently saw or read a quote, something like entrepreneurship is like the most intimate thing you can do with yourself. And I've actually really found that to be true, and I do believe that it's actually becoming a transferrable skill.
I. See how it is changing in good ways, how I'm relating to my children and to my partner and to friends and, growth that I'm having personally is coming out of this experience of not giving up of wanting this thing so much and seeing the opportunities and being willing to just keep waking up every day and going, working through the next problem.
Without trying to focus on what's down the road and staying in the now in that way has been a real benefit to me. Like no matter what happens with Make Bake I feel like this time has been so worth it in my life.
Erin Alexander: . I agree. And I'm excited to see where Make Big goes next excited to follow along, to try out your product and to see all the wonderful things you're doing.
Before we wrap up, one more thing. Can you tell everyone where we can find you? Where's the best place to hang out with you online?
Kristina Schlegel: Yes. You can find our products at let's make bake.com and you can find my business on Instagram at Let's Make Bake. You can find me personally on Instagram at Make Baker.
Erin Alexander: we'll have the links for that in the show notes. Thank you so much for being here on the podcast, Christina. It was really awesome to get this peek into your business that's growing and just so unique.
So thank you so much for sharing openly.
Kristina Schlegel: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.