It’s the sort of thing that can be very embarrassing: you show up to a get-together with a dessert, only to find someone else has brought the exact same treat.
But for Cookie Doughboy founder Brooke Alexander, this awkward encounter ended up being the moment that sealed the deal, giving her the confidence to launch her business in July 2020.
Alexander and her husband Danny had fallen in love with New York-style cookies on their travels to the US, and decided to go into business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their goal was to recreate those famously thick, gooey and delicious cookies they’d first tasted in a hole-in-the-wall cafe in the Big Apple.
A dinner party trick
“When we were trialling the cookies, we had a get-together … and we volunteered to bring dessert along,” Alexander told Yahoo Finance.
"We decided that we were going to test these cookies out, but we hadn’t breathed a word that we were thinking of starting it, or even testing out cookie recipes."
Another couple at the get-together also brought cookies to the dinner.
“They were similar style cookies, and I thought, ‘Oh, great, now we’re doing a side-by-side comparison. They’re now competitive cookies.”
The guests at the party tried both cookies and they all agreed Alexander’s were the best, without knowing she had in fact baked them.
Her husband came up with an elaborate story involving a gift from his aunt from an obscure cookie store.
“But the next day, people started asking, ‘What’s the name of this cookie store?’ They couldn’t find them on social media," Alexander said.
One of the friends guessed they were lying, and when Alexander spilled the beans, their friends were keen to stay on as taste-testers.
Today, Cookie Doughboy cookies are stocked across nine Sydney cafes and are delivered nationally.
Launching a business in lockdown
Alexander, a mother of two, had only just returned from maternity leave when Australia was thrust into the first major lockdown in March 2020.
She took that as an opportunity to go hard on the cookie business.
“The cookies just surged,” she said.
The cafes they were supplying to had the cookies where customers could see them, and as Alexander said, who doesn’t want a sweet treat while battling out a grueling winter lockdown?
“The cookies were just selling so fast, and a lot of the cafes just doubled or tripled their orders, and we had people calling in asking for more boxes," she said.
"There were also new cafes that approached us in the lockdown period, because they were realising that people were turning to comfort food.”
Alexander considers herself lucky that her business boomed while others struggled.
However, she also admits the sheer workload took a toll on her mental health.
As warmer weather draws nearer, people aren’t reaching as quickly for cookies, but Alexander is glad to have a more sustainable demand.
“I was feeling a bit burnt-out after the three months of lockdown," she said.
"It had been a very overwhelming period of time, so I’m grateful that sales have levelled off and now I can take stock of what’s happened, reflect on what worked, what didn’t and refine processes.”
She’d predicted the huge mental load, and it was in fact one of the reasons she waited until lockdown to fully invest her time and energy into the business.
How Brooke looks after herself
New research from QuickBooks found the majority of business leaders (58 per cent) now believed prioritising their own health and wellbeing, and that of their staff, would be key to future success.
Alexander’s not alone.
“I’ve always been the sort of person that thought, ‘I could do it all myself', but it’s the sort of approach that’s bound to fail,” she said.
Cookie Doughboy is currently run only by her and her partner, but she uses QuickBooks software as her bookkeeper.
“It finally sunk in to me that for a business to succeed, or for you to be personally happy, you need to be able to delegate, ask for help and give yourself some time to recover and do whatever gives you pleasure.”
For her, that’s simply taking the time out every day to enjoy a cup of coffee.
She uses that ritual as a chance to just take a breather and be present.
The same QuickBooks research also found that female-led businesses were more likely to have implemented, or were set to implement, new technology to improve their business.
They’re also more likely to have used the pandemic as a chance to train up in a business-related skill.
“Aussie small businesses have done it tough over the course of the pandemic, especially those in Melbourne who endured the longest lockdown in the world,” Lars Leber, vice-president and country manager at Intuit QuickBooks Australia said.
“We’ve seen a notable shift in small businesses prioritising the health and wellbeing of their employees, showing how the pandemic has made everyone reconsider what’s most important.”
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