By Liz Warren-Pederson
Back in 2008, McGuire Entrepreneurship Program venture team Cookie Fusion showed off its impressive prototype to the year-end competition judges: a selection of fresh-baked, gourmet cookies.
Cookie Fusion was one of three finalists that year, and team members Derek Jaeger, Adam Koven, and Nate Ransom went on to launch the venture, now called The Cravory, in San Diego.
“After we graduated from UA, we met with investors, but we only had a business plan for a brick and mortar location without a proven brand, product, or even concept,” said Koven. “Many investors thought it was not the right time to be opening a storefront without an established model.”
Since then – through an inhospitable economic climate – they have gone on to refine their business plan, and establish a robust mail-order business through their website, thecravory.com.
“One of the reasons we launched the company in San Diego is demographics,” Koven said. In addition to a large population base, the city boasts over 35 farmer’s markets. “They are located all over town and happen on different days. By tapping into the farmer’s markets, we have been able to test our product in different areas with unique demographics. Not only have we been able to establish our brand, but we have also been able to see where we would most likely succeed if we were to open a storefront.”
In fact, they’ve built up demand for a storefront: San Diego Magazine recently named the team as one to watch in 2011. “They’ve been huge fans of ours, and surely are not the only ones hoping we open a store soon!” Koven said. “That’s exactly what we were hoping would happen: build up the brand, create amazing recipes, and get people to demand a storefront.”
Drumming up demand hasn’t been too much of a challenge, thanks to the work Jaeger, Koven, and Ransom have put into their recipes. The self-proclaimed foodies offer over 950 flavors of cookie, ranging from the sweet to the savory, including Pancakes and Bacon, Rosemary Balsamic, and Birthday Cake. Customers can also invent their own custom flavors online.
“The most rewarding part of our business is being out in the community and sharing our cookies with our customers,” Koven said. “We love getting up early on the weekends for the farmer’s markets or going to events and showcasing our cookies. The best is when you find someone who has never tried the cookies before, and when she takes that first bite and you wait for her reaction…. We have heard some pretty amazing things come out of people’s mouths, some that cannot be repeated, but at that moment, you know that all your team’s hard work during the week was worth it.”
In fact, he said, the customers are responsible for much of the company’s success to date. “We do very little marketing, and yet we have been able to reach people all over the world,” Koven said. “More often than not, when we ask, ‘How did you hear about us?’ the answer is a friend or co-worker or family said I had to try your cookies.”
The effort that they’ve put into brand development has also paid off. In addition to coming up with a memorable name that pays tribute to the savory options on the menu, The Cravory name evokes a place, that storefront they hope to open one day. In the meantime, its signature pinstripe box was designed to protect the cookies while in transit and evoke an instant response. “And it’s working. We have walked into random offices in San Diego or even L.A. holding a gift box, and people have yelled out ‘Oh, cookies!’” Koven said.
Koven credits the dedicated Cravory team – not just the three founders, but the employees who share their passion for cookies – with keeping the company going strong. He said they have also worked hard to build their professional network. “The other benefit to launching in San Diego is the proximity to Los Angeles,” Koven said. “We have been able to gradually establish a presence in L.A. by doing events, selling to hotels, and even getting celebrity clients, which helps public relations and marketing efforts.”
Luck and being in the right place at the right time has also helped. “For instance, we met a client who suggested we sponsor her industry event for catering executives, and so we did,” Koven said. “At that event, we met the catering company that we now share kitchen space with. The kitchen that has given us the ability to scale our business to levels we could have never reached in our first kitchen space.”
“Networking has really paid off for us,” he added, “and of course, it’s easy to make friends when you always bring cookies.”