Does your small business have a deeper purpose beyond generating profits? If not, you might be overlooking one of the most important aspects of your brand image. In this episode, Jon Aidukonis, along with Octavia Treadway and Ken Treadway from Love You Cookie, discuss the importance of building a brand with a purpose and how small business owners can make a difference in their communities.
Podcast Key Highlights
- Strategies for Building a Brand with a Purpose
- If you’re unsure of your small business’s underlying purpose, start by identifying the core values of your brand and think of the different ways you can use your business resources to make a difference in your community.
- Once you develop a specific goal or mission, consider organizing some community outreach events and pop-ups; these will not only raise awareness about your cause, but they will also help you gather more public support.
- You should consider collaborating with other likeminded organizations who want to accomplish the same goals.
- Strategies for Accessing Wider Product Distribution
- If you’re struggling to generate interest from a particular retail buyer, you can always reach out to their supervisor to see if they can arrange a meeting for you.
- When emails or cold calls fail, try approaching the retail buyer in person with samples of your products.
- Don’t forget to contact smaller local venues for distribution opportunities as well.
- The Advantages of Having Non-Profit Driven Goals
- Connecting with your audience on a personal issue helps humanize your brand. You’re not just another business owner who wants to promote his products or services, but a real person who genuinely cares about his community.
- Your personal story and mission can help inspire other marginalized groups who lack a voice or representation.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.
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Jon: Hello everybody. And welcome back to another episode of Small Biz Ahead, the small business podcast presented by The Hartford. This is Jon Aidukonis flying solo this week without my partner in crime Gene Marks. But I do have some special guests on to talk to us all about building a brand with a purpose, how to think about giving back to your community, and how to do that while keeping things sweet with cookies. So I can’t really think of anything better to kind of roll around in today. So I am joined with Octavia Treadway and Ken Treadway from Love You Cookie based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. How are you two doing today?
Ken: I’m doing well. We’re doing well. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having us.
Octavia: I’m doing well also.
Jon: Awesome. Well thank you for joining us. Now, Love You Cookie, it’s like an online retail bakery, right? You sell delicious looking cookies to people across the country, and you have a pretty interesting mission where it looks like the proceeds of the company go back to supporting causes around providing access and availability of mental health services to people who might be underserved, specifically in the BIPOC community. So I would love to hear a little bit more about the company, it’s starting, your roles, and kind of how you were able to combine such seemingly different things together into one business model.
Ken: Thank you. First off, we want to thank you for having Love You Cookie, having us on this podcast. We’re very excited to speak about our product and what we have here. Let’s just go back a little to 2020. And when we look at 2020, just everything that happened with the world shutting down and COVID rampant and having to stay in our houses. It was during this time that one of our founders and our cookie genius, Sarah Brima, she went in her kitchen in an attempt to lift the spirits of her family. And from there, that’s where we created the chocolate chip with sea salt cookie, which is our original cookie.
Ken: With that cookie being a hit her husband who’s also founder of the company, Sahr Brima, he was so impressed by the unique texture, I mean the beautiful part of the cookie is that it’s crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside. And he was so impressed by it that he felt that she should share it with everyone to see how it would do in a taste test. Once it was given to one of the other founders, Kamal Mohamed, Kamal inspired them to go out and to begin to sell the cookies and then it was at that time that Erin Bankson, who is also one of the founders, went and found the logo and you have the birth of what is Love You Cookie.
Ken: So it all began at a time where we were all isolated and our founders wanted to bring joy to those at a time where we seemed that we were a part. And I think that goes into specifically what our mission is, the mission of being defiant optimism, defiant optimism. And it sounds really like a very fancy word but in all actuality, defiant optimism is rooted in the ideal that there are still good things to enjoy and to work for. We want people to understand that it’s not all about the hustle and bustle. You can have fun and you can enjoy yourself and what you’re doing and making, and have fun at your job.
Ken: But not only that, it’s not just about having fun at the job, but it’s for us to encourage other people to defy the odds and to spread hope in their lives, and their families, and in their communities. We were at a time where there wasn’t a lot of hope. People didn’t have much to smile about. People couldn’t go out, people’s lives were impacted, and one of the things we wanted to do was to make a cookie.
Ken: And what it also did during this period of time, it impacted a lot of people’s mental health. And the one thing that our amazing gourmet cookies are, we wanted to be a vehicle to achieving our core mission of bringing awareness to mental health issues and eliminating the barriers of mental health and wellness resources, especially of our black, indigenous and people of color, and that community.
Jon: That’s an incredible story. And I really like the line defiant optimism. I don’t know where I got it. So I can’t take credit for the origin of this quote, but I say it often, “but all I need is a dare and a one in a million chance.” Right? And typically we get the spirit of that a lot on this podcast, you have someone who had a great idea, they put it into the world and that’s kind of all they needed to make something grow. But what I really think is incredible about the story that you’re telling and how it’s kind of started, is that was much bigger than a sense of self or a business notion. This kind of birth moment is really around the idea of community and not just giving something delicious, but truly giving joy to your point, which is really incredible and I think something we could all use more of in the world, right? So thank you for bringing that to us and I’m sure the community appreciates it as well.
Ken: Yeah. We like to look at it as a form of some type of healing. I mean, at that point in time, there was a lot of hurt that was going on. People couldn’t reach out, family members couldn’t see each other. So why not send them some form of love in the form of a cookie? Just to show that healing, that we can be a community, we can be a family.
Jon: It’s awesome. It’s true comfort food, in the most pure definition, it’s true comfort food. So let’s talk a little bit around the operations just as you’re kind of mentioning. So distribution, so you had someone who was a great baker, you had someone, it sounds like her husband who had kind of the vision to say, “this can be bigger and we should pursue it.” And you talked about two other partners, one that seems to be a little bit more into the brand identity and graphics side and kind of your sales partner as well. So how do you go from having an idea and getting cookies in the hands of friends to kind of getting it into a channel or venue that people are paying for and kind of sharing with others?
Ken: I can use two words, Sahr Brima. Sahr Brima, our owner is an accomplished attorney, but not only that, he was so sold on the fact of what this cookie, the impact that this cookie could have, that he literally drove that cookie to get to places. If I could give one story, there was a grocery store chain in the Minneapolis area that nobody could get into, no one. I mean, it was so hard in order to get into this chain. Sahr Brima called the gentleman at the bakery constantly, daily, trying to get in and wasn’t getting anywhere.
Ken: So Sahr being defiantly optimistic, goes above this person’s head and goes to his boss and speaks to his boss. His boss ends up talking to the guy below, he ends up getting a meeting, gets samples of the cookies to the guy at the bakery, it’s in all of the stores and the story from their is they loved the cookie, of course. And once he got the introduction, once we get the introduction of who we are and what we’re doing, the cookie is going to sell itself because of how good it is. Sahr Brima was the catalyst of helping us to get these cookies into stores, to realtors, and to into people as well.
Jon: That’s incredible. And I think there is something for, you have to give good phone in these days. I feel like so many of us are still behind a keyboard, it’s so easy for an email to go into spam. There is something to be said about showing up in person, asking for what you want, and really being persistent. It’s something that I don’t think you can remind people enough of. So that’s, it’s incredible, cause it’s an innovative business model you have, but it really goes back to basics on how you’re distributing. And around what time was it that it became more than just this spreading the joy of food, but also thinking about mental health and wellness? How did that part merge into the company? Or was it there kind of from the beginning?
Ken: Yeah, I think that was the thing I’ll let Octavia to kind of go through this question in regards to the timing wise of when this occurred.
Octavia: Yeah. I actually think it speaks to the conversation you guys were just having about the business scaling from selling the cookie at popups, the cookie started selling on a food truck. We would consistently sell out, we would make a number of cookies for every time the Nashville Coop food truck was out, and the cookies would sell out and people would be like, “wait, we came just for the cookie. Like what?” I mean, no, they came for the chicken too, Nashville going out there for the chicken. But yeah, they were like, “where’s the cookie?” And we were consistently selling out.
Octavia: And so I think next steps from there was Sahr really starting to build a team that could scale the operations side of the organization so that he could double back and focus. What was always the purpose of this org was to bring smiles to people’s faces, to help people with mental health and to bring people joy. It’s always been embedded in the focus, but if you know anything about e-commerce, which now we both know more than we ever thought we would ever, ever know. If you know anything about e-commerce, it is tedious. It’s a lot of work. From product development, finding somebody to consistently make products.
Octavia: These cookies are bougie. They need all the attention, they need all the love. They are, when we say gourmet handmade, we mean that. So we want to find bakers who are going to hand make our cookies. We’ve been successful in doing that because we don’t want to take gourmet or handmade out of the conversation about our cookies. And so he built a team, one of the things he’s really great about is putting people together, putting the right people together. It’s always about the team, without a team, the cookie really can’t go where it needs to go. Built really great team, we had our operations stuff in place, and then he was able to focus on the mental health and wellness. So I would say maybe at about nine months. My husband and I came on at about six months. With the operations team in place, he was able to focus on what was really important to us about this company.
Jon: Gotcha. And that’s your world. So you are a chief operating officer for the cookie, right?
Octavia: Yes. Yes.
Jon: Great. And so tell me a little bit about that. How did you and Ken come on? So you had these four founders, they start to scale. And from what I understand, it’s kind of like an employee owned company too, so there’s some skin in the game. So you guys are also owners aside from being executive roles.
Octavia: We met Sahr at church. We all went to the same church together. Sahr and I were doing a lot of the back office work for church. I was chief of staff at the time at our church and Sahr was on our board. So we ended up in a lot of business meetings as it related to the church. And he pulled me to the side one day and was like, “Tav, I see the work you’re doing around here and I think we could use that at Love You Cookie.” And at the time, my role at the church was ending. So it was just perfect timing for me to take my energies and put them towards Love You Cookie.
Octavia: But that’s how we met. We actually, I mean, and our families had gotten together, you know, church community and all those things. But we really met on a business level in church business meetings. And then we took that energy over to Love You Cookie. Operations is my jam. I have 20 years of experience in operations. And so the possibility to sell a cookie was fun and amazing. So yeah, we talked to Sahr and the rest is history.
Jon: It’s true because you know, a great idea is just an idea unless you have the right execution. And it can’t be said enough. I think there’s so many big ideas or even companies that are first to market, but if you can’t execute consistently and flawlessly, then that is where you’re going to run into hang-ups. And it sounds like you’ve been able to bring that to bear here. And because of that, you’ve been able to give back a little bit.
Jon: So tell me a little bit about the what. So you sell the cookies, you have a little bit of profit and then, how does that manifest as kind of this community give back? So are you staffing and executing mental health services in communities as an organization? Are you kind of partnering in funding and delivering those with others? How does the company kind of tie back to that mission?
Ken: We have what’s called a VIC program. VIC stands for Very Important Cookie. And what that is that we partnered up with community health and wellness organizations like Creative Kuponya, who is a mental health therapist in the Minneapolis area, as well as Regions Hospital to offer free or low cost mental health and wellness services. And how that looks is every month we have a giveaway called the VIC package in which we give a VIC package to our followers on social media. And so it’s a random drawing and what the person gets in the VIC package is our gourmet cookies, they also get some of our merchandise. We have merch, we have sweaters, we have shirts, we have bottles that we have, we have pants, everything in regards to our merchandise.
Ken: And then they also receive therapy services provided by Creative Kuponya, as well as discounts on local health and wellness products and a lot more. So that’s what we’ve looked to do in giving back to the community. There are a lot of people that are in need of mental health treatment, but they don’t have insurance, or they don’t have the resources in order to do it. The job market. I mean, a lot of the job market has gone down with COVID. This just gives people an opportunity to get that treatment.
Ken: And there might be some people that just need a tune-up. I mean, we all can service from having some type of therapy or speaking to someone about some of the things that we’re going through to relieve some of the stresses of life. And so we believe that it’s our responsibility to support those most impacted by the health challenges of this country, and that’s especially our black, indigenous and people of color. So raising mental health awareness and helping others with their symptoms, and finding professional treatment, and perhaps most importantly, breaking the mental health stigma will help alleviate the silent sufferings of so many people.
Jon: It’s interesting because it’s so your point about destigmatization, part of how you give back is a way that I don’t know that many people would typically think about raising their hand for cookies and counseling. Do you feel like it there’s a barrier there? Do you feel like people are pretty open to it? So when you’re talking about the monthly giveaway, is it something where people go on social? Do they kind of send you a letter? How does someone kind of express that they have a need to you? And have you found over time that they’re more open, honest, less nervous maybe about sharing? Like, “Hey, I need a little bit of help.”
Octavia: Yeah. So first of all, shout out to Creative Kuponya, they are blazing trails in the therapy awareness space. Their business model is specifically that they do not take insurance because to your point about barriers that exist, insurance can create a barrier as it relates to folks receiving therapy services because a person has to be diagnosed. They have to be diagnosed in their first session in order for insurance to continue to pay for mental health and wellness services.
Jon: Right, because you’re talking more than just mental illness. You’re real saying mental illness and mental wellness.
Jon: Got it.
Octavia: Yes. But what happens with therapy is those two things, they get merged because of insurance requirements.
Octavia: There’s a difference, right? Someone can go to therapy because there’s an actual medical, mental awareness requirement. And then others can go because it’s healthy and they use it for day to day management of life and stressors. But because of insurance requiring a diagnosis, those two things get merged and then people can lose sight of the purpose of why the patient came. Right?
Octavia: So what Creative Kuponya is doing is just removing insurance. It’s brave, it’s crazy, depending on how you look at it, but they are amazing people. They are amazing group of folks and they are making it happen. So because of the courage that they exist with and the services that they provide, they were a natural fit to partner with Love You Cookie. The service that they provide, we connect with them, the individuals go on social media, we are building a following and we receive, so we do them once a month, we receive hundreds of submissions for this package and yeah, we choose one person a month and we send them the information and then they follow up with Creative Kuponya for services.
Jon: Yeah, just as a consumer in today’s world, I find it really interesting how people seem to be much more comfortable one, talking about their experience in therapy and then two, it can be something you need for time. So I think about like the way we probably thought about physical wellness or health, or I’m going to try a new gym routine or I need to get in condition for this marathon. I think that the way society thinks about it today is much more open, accessible, there’s a lot less of a stigma there. And I think it’s great that you’re doing something to kind of elevate that conversation. And it sounds like this is a really interesting group too, cause I can imagine that it must be scary for them to think about, “how are we going to provide our services and pay our bills if we don’t have a built in funding stream, like an insurance provider to kind of underwrite that?” Right?
Jon: It definitely, it’s a brave move to make.
Octavia: Yes, exactly.
Jon: Awesome. Now what’s next for Love You Cookie? So are you looking to do more in terms of product or operations? It sounds like you’re primarily e-commerce now, do we see a bakery on the horizon? You know, where in your head is the brain going?
Octavia: Yes, what’s next for Love You Cookie? There are possibilities for all of the above. So what’s also interesting about our group’s dynamic is that none of us are full-time Love You Cookie. So we all have jobs and families and all the things. And then we’re supporting Love You Cookie around the clock because we believe in it. We do have lots of goals and dreams for where we’d like to see the company go. A main one would be maybe a storefront bakery, mostly because we make our way around the city of Minneapolis right now, outside of being in 40 retail locations, through pop-ups, farmers markets, things like that.
Octavia: And so a really great part of what we’ve been able to do is create a community. We were at a event on Saturday with The Lab. The Lab took our cookie and it made a beer from our cookie. And so we were there as they launched the beer and we had several people come in that meet us everywhere we go. Oh yeah, we saw you on social media and so we came over to get cookies and we wanted to say hi and meet you guys.
Octavia: So it seems like a natural progression would be having a home base where we could really connect with our fans, our customers, and also be able to create more of a space for the mental health and wellness conversation. Right? So we have a home base, we can have Friday chats or Wednesday night round tables or something. Creative Kuponya has a service that they offer call transformative circles, that create a space for people to just come together and talk about how they’ve been impacted by everything going on in society. And they provide mental health and wellness coping mechanisms and things like that to help people get through. So it seems like maybe a home base will be a natural progression, but we’re still in some planning phases and we want to make sure that the next move, we can handle it well.
Jon: I want to go back a little bit to The Lab because it does sound like community partnerships are important to you and I want to understand a little bit about maybe what came before Love You Cookie started to go out on its own. So for folks who aren’t listening The Lab, that’s a local brewery?
Octavia: Correct, yes.
Jon: Got it. And then you had mentioned Nashville Coop food truck. So what’s the relationship with kind of restaurants and other food, bev, hospitality folks in your market? Were there existing connections there or was that just more kind of like, “Hey, we have a great item you can use for dessert.”
Octavia: Both and I mean, we are thankful that we are making a name for ourselves in the Twin Cities. We’re making our rounds, and so we have had some of those partnerships come in the way of us going and knocking on doors. And we’ve also had some of those partnerships come in the way of, “we heard about your cookie and we just want to partner with you.” We get emails all the time from both of those perspectives. And so The Lab actually, we were there for a separate event. They were hosting an event that Sahr and myself had attended, they heard about the cookies, and they were like, “oh, we need these cookies in our space.” And then not only did they want the cookies, but they created a beer called the chocolate chip cashew brown ale.
Octavia: So it has been an amazing process. And we try to create that experience in as many small spaces as we can and we really want to be a household name in the Twin Cities, because that’s where we’re trying to make the impact. We obviously ship our cookies around the country. So loveyoucookie.com, go get your cookies, but we really want to make an impact in the Twin Cities, so we make an effort. And we don’t have a large group like I said, we all have full-time jobs, but we make an effort to go to events and attend pop-ups and things like that so we can really start to create a presence because we want people to get the services that we’re making available.
Ken: The key thing about the pop-ups, the community base of us meeting with people, and now they have a face. The fact that they’ll look on our website and they’ll see an owner, or they might see one of our photos and they’re like, “oh, a owner’s here at a pop-up.” And it’s that special touch of us being able to reach them. Not only reach them, let’s have fun. If we’re at a brewery, I’m going to have fun with you. If we’re at a market or someplace, we’re going to have fun. So we have chants so if one person gets one cookie, one of each flavor of our cookies, which we have the chocolate chip cashew with sea salt, we also have the confetti cookie, and we have some seasonal cookies. Our double chocolate chip with peanut butter, which is the Juicy Lucy of the cookie kingdom is in limited quantities. And then we also have our seasonal raspberry white chocolate chip.
Ken: If they happen to get one of each, we call them one of eachers. So we would yell out, “one of eacher,” and everybody will come to our table because like, “what are you guys yelling? Oh, if you get that, oh, you’ll yell?” And people will get our cookies. So it’s the fun aspect of it as well of us relating with the community.
Jon: I love that. I mean, I think it really permeates everything you do is this kind of notion of bringing joy, which is important because a lot of people talk about being a purpose driven brand or what’s your mission, your promise. And so often I think people will start and end that at marketing, but it’s really informed everything you do, which is great to see. And on a side note, because I was starting to get depressed with all the nut, I’m a nut and tree nut allergy person, but I think I’m going to have to order some of these raspberry white chocolate, because that’s like my favorite flavor combination in the world. So if we’re in season for that, I’m going to go online immediately after wrapping this podcast.
Octavia: Go get the raspberry white chocolate. They were seasonal. We have a few left, post Valentine’s day. So you will probably be one of the last few to grab that cookie. And we have our confetti cake cookie. So that’s also no nuts. Also, I think I want to add one more thing too, about being out in the community. We’ve talked about creating those relationships and bringing joy. And I also think people appreciate that our business is black owned and woman owned. People appreciate seeing those marginalized communities trying to do their own thing. Trying to have a business, trying to spread defiant optimism. And we receive a lot of feedback in that way when we’re out, a lot of nods from community like “yes, guys, keep going. We’re behind what you’re doing.” So yeah. That’s another way that we, I’m positive we impact the community because we have a lot of folks coming up to us like, “oh wait, you guys are owners?” We go to a lot of events where there aren’t a lot of BIPOC owners. So people really appreciate that.
Jon: Awesome. Yeah. And it’s more than trying, I mean, you’re doing it right? You’re the role model. So I think that’s awesome.
Octavia: Yeah. So I’ll talk about two things very specifically for programming as it relates to Love You Cookie. So we have two programs right now, we have our cookie QR connection code. So the company that we make our cookie sleeves with has provided us the ability to add a QR code to our cookie sleeve. And what we’ve done with that cookie sleeve is whenever someone clicks on the QR code, they are sent to a website that provides mental health and wellness information and tips, and information on our partner Creative Kuponya. So that we’re creating all these different avenues for folks to get to like, it’s really important for us, right? For people to get to the support that we’re trying to create in the community. And then to that end also, when you click on that QR code, you’ll also see our current sponsors for our VIC program.
Octavia: These folks have also been brave. We are a small business, right? And so we get a lot of, “come back and talk to us when you are a less small business,” we’re getting a lot of those conversations, right. But our current VIC partners are partnering with us on this scale and I think they deserve applause for that, because they have been the trail blazers for VIC to even exist, number one.
Octavia: And then also for us to be able to pay for those services, we’re using the word free a lot, right. But nothing’s free. Everything has a cost to it. Somebody may receive it free, but somebody paid for it on the other end. And so our VIC sponsors right now are coming in at various different levels, donating 5,000, $10,000 in order for us to be able to provide those free therapy services to the folks that we connect with. So we really want to give a shout out to Lockridge Grindal Nauen for being one of our largest sponsors as it relates to VIC. And we want to give a shout out to Regions Hospital, and Spyhouse Coffees for also just championing everything that we’re trying to do in the way of mental health and wellness at Love You Cookie.
Jon: Awesome. Well, no, it’s great. And I think there’s a story about community here. I think that’s the lesson for our listeners to take away, because I think so often people either keep their ideas guarded because they don’t want to give away too much or they need a little bit more confidence to kind of take a chance. And I think what you’ve really shown is that sometimes people invest in you, sometimes they’ll just partner with you, and sometimes you get a great cookie flavored beer out of it. But all for good causes and all to support the same mission. So I very much appreciate you both joining us today. I think it’s been a great conversation and really looking forward to see what’s next for Love You Cookie, and very much looking forward to ordering my raspberry white chocolate cookies.
Octavia: Fantastic. We hope you enjoy. Email us with your feedback, we want to know.
Ken: And if you could check us out, our website is loveyoucookie.com on social media, on Instagram we are loveyoucookie_ and then if you have questions in regards to our products or anything to that nature, you could email us at email@example.com. We also have our merch on our website as well. If you want to get some merch, some shirts, sweaters, be a defiant optimist, then please let us know and order the clothing and our mech and things to that nature.
Jon: Awesome. We’ll make sure to link those in the show notes too. So for those who want to, you can click right through and check out Love You Cookie everywhere you can find them. Ken, Octavia, thank you so much for spending some time with me. Again, really appreciate the conversation and thank you very much to everyone out there listening. We wouldn’t be here without you. Have a great day.
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