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Flavor First Beats Big CPG

See how sticking to their values led NoBaked Cookie Dough founders to success.

Welcome back to the Conception to Consumption (C to C) podcast, where we explore how CPG companies and founders continue to innovate. On this episode, CEO Gary Nowacki and Co-founder Jimmy Feeman of NoBaked Cookie Dough. Learn more about how he and his wife (the other co-founder behind this delicious line) leaned into their love of snacking with one predominant value: favor first.

This entrepreneurial duo has forged their own path to success between their southern scoop shops, including this popular destination in the heart of Nashville, TN, and key co-mans partnerships. Join us as we discuss recent changes in consumer behaviors—goodbye traditional meal teams—and the power of a positive attitude, even in the face of supply chain issues.

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Gary Nowacki: So, everybody’s fighting for head space, everybody’s fighting for shelf space, what do you folks do to carve out a successful niche?

Jimmy Feeman: So I think that that just comes back to our number one value, which is flavor first. I think specialty foods is crowded right now inside of the functional space. And I think that there is a huge focus, typically, on one trend at a time. 

And so, you’ll see 100 specialty foods companies launch in a year. This is not a real number. You’ll see 100 specialty foods companies launch, and you will see 90 of them focus on the same thing.

Gary Nowacki: This is C to C where we cover innovation in the food and CPG business from conception to consumption.

Welcome to C to C, everyone. Today, great guest, Jimmy Feeman, who is co-founder of a really cool company. The name of the company is the NoBaked Cookie Dough Company. Jimmy, welcome to the podcast.

Jimmy Feeman: Thanks for having me on, Gary.

Gary Nowacki: So let’s start with your background. Tell our listeners about your personal background and how you got into this crazy business.

Jimmy Feeman: Yeah. That’s a really great question. So I graduated from college, actually, in 2015. So about two years later, NoBaked is what I was doing. In between that time, I worked at an insurance company; I worked for the State of Tennessee’s Treasury Department; a few other things in finance. And I just could not figure out what was missing, I guess, in me being satisfied with my job. 

It turns out because I was always hopping from job to job and always looking for the next thing, I was really geared towards being an entrepreneur.

Jimmy Feeman

Continue reading the transcript:

Jimmy Feeman: I just did not know that at the time. I didn’t have any influences in my life at that time that I think I could look at personally that were, “Hey, I’m an entrepreneur, and this is what you could be doing.” And it seems like you’re struggling because this is where you should be looking to go down this path. 

So right around the time I got into my third job after college, a year and a half after I got out of school, my now-wife, girlfriend-then, Megan, started selling cookie dough online.

And she started doing that part time, and quickly just decided to leave her job and do that all the time and then roped me into it really quickly because she did not want to have to carry the giant mixers full of cookie dough at the kitchen. 

So I got roped into making cookie dough really early on. This is spring of 2017. We spent that summer doing a lot of farmers’ markets and things like that and the business just kind of evolved from there. 

But I feel like it’s wild to now say that most of my post-school career has been spent on NoBaked. The last five years of my life have just been cookie dough. And that’s it.

Gary Nowacki: That’s it. And I assume you’re glad that you didn’t spend the next 40 years working in state government.

Jimmy Feeman: I am. Really glad. I am. Yeah.

Gary Nowacki: Yeah. So tell us about the company. What’s unique about the company? What’s the company’s mission? What’s your strategy?

Jimmy Feeman: Yeah. That’s a great question. So we kind of experimented a lot in the very beginning of the business. So after that first summer, we opened our first scoop shop and our initial goal was to actually own retail stores. 

You can think about our scoop shops just like an ice cream shop. Someone would come in, a customer would come in, and we scooped cookie dough for them. We also made milkshakes and sundaes. And we still have a few of those shops open today. 

Over the next two years, we opened up eight stores, and three of them were franchised, five of them were ours. And then the pandemic came around. And right before that actually happened, we realized that—well, at the time, we realized we don’t have a mission, and we also realized we don’t really know what we’re doing, we don’t know where we’re going. And it’s hard to know if you’re doing a good job at what you’re doing if you don’t know where you’re going. 

So late 2019, my wife, I, and a couple other team members at NoBaked decided to sit down and come up with a strategy: who are we, what is our mission, and then what do we value? Out of that planning session, or a lot of planning sessions, came our number one value, which is flavor first. 

So the number one thing we base everything on at NoBaked Cookie Dough is whether or not something tastes good and that comes from our roots at farmers markets, experiencing our product with our customers, but also from our scoop shops.

So our product was developed and really piloted in a restaurant environment, and because of that, the thing that made the most sense to us was that’s focus on flavor. Let’s focus on the thing that people actually come by our product for, and why they’ll come back a second time, so we didn’t focus on any pandering with labels or let’s develop a vegan product right out of the gate. The number one thing that’s always been important to us is flavor.

Right after that, when the pandemic started, was when we really pivoted the company into a CPG brand. We had already been working on that pivot. At the time, we were doing maybe $20,000 in packaged good sales through our website. And during the pandemic, that number spiked to—at one point, we were doing almost $80,000 a week in direct-to-consumer sales. 

And we really started to feel that our packaged product made more sense because it felt easier. It felt like it was more geared towards our strengths and who we were as people. So out of that kind of was born our strategy, which is to always shamelessly be ourselves, promote the fact that we care about flavor over everything else, and to promote the fact that there is not a lot of good cookie dough, especially not a lot of good, safe to eat cookie dough in the cookie dough aisle in the grocery store.

And it’s not to say that that is a huge problem for the world, but we tend to think that is a problem because a lot of big CPG companies have forgotten flavor as a huge component as to why their customer buys their product. And they’ve been sitting in this place in certain categories for over 50 years with not a lot of competition for flavor or—you know a lot of brands focus these days on functional products, and I think that’s awesome. But they also haven’t had a lot of competition in that space. 

So, our secondary value and what we value second is just making sure we serve a quality product that not only has a great flavor, but is also as good for you as we could bake it. At the same time, I’m never going to claim that a dessert product is good for you, but what I will say is that we use all of the ingredients that we can that could be considered natural. 

We have a couple of flavors that are dairy free. We have a gluten-free recipe. We definitely make sure that we cater to all aspects and all groups, but our number one value and our number one strategy is to just focus on flavor and hope that the rest kind of falls in line.

Gary Nowacki: So having a couple of your own stores, first, so you could be right there watching the consumers dig in, was that a big advantage with flavor first?

Jimmy Feeman: It was a huge advantage, and to this day, it is still an advantage. We have a scoop shop on Broadway in Nashville that has walk-by traffic of about 16 million people a year, and that’s during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, that location would have seen about 20 million people a year, and just passing by, walk by traffic. 

It’s part of a food hall concept, so we get to sample a lot and we launch new flavors there all the time, just to see what it is that people are attracted to in the store and then also to get their thoughts on, do you like this?

I think that’s a huge advantage, because I think it’s something that a lot of larger CPG companies, but also smaller companies, just don’t really get into, unless they started selling their product in a farmers’ market.

Justin’s Almond Butter is a really good example of a brand that started out with farmers’ markets and a lot of sampling, and it allowed them to start to understand that consumers were looking for something different. I think that unless the brand starts out in a farmers’ market or with some kind of in front of the customer presence, it’s really, really hard to predict what people will actually like. 

For instance, it’s really hard to predict, with our brand, that people didn’t necessarily become attracted to brownie batter, when brownie batter seems like an obvious choice for a SKU. And on the other hand, we get a ton of interest in cookies and cream, and that didn’t necessarily seem like an obvious choice right out of the gate. So, I think when it comes to picking SKUs and comes to picking what your company focuses on, it’s really, really important to get customer feedback.

Gary Nowacki: Makes me wonder if some of the big CPG brands should just open a store instead of bringing a focus group into a conference room.

Jimmy Feeman: Yeah, you can make some money [laughter].

Gary Nowacki: So you’ve got your stores and you’ve got an online focus. What can you share with us about any plans for traditional retail outlets?

Jimmy Feeman: So with traditional, we’re taking a very interesting approach. We are selling with a couple of the natural products, independent distributors like UNFI and Pod Foods, and we are targeting the really cool, niche local grocery store with that effort. But our main focus right now is actually Gopuff. 

And so, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Gopuff, they are sort of an Amazon competitor that focuses on food. You could also call them a big grocery competitor because that’s kind of what they do. They have fulfillment centers, micro-fulfillment centers in 500 metro areas across the country. And today they guarantee delivery in 30 minutes or less. 

Really small delivery fees, usually around $3. Sometimes it’s free with a certain basket size, and it’s different than Instacart, because you’re not working with traditional grocers, you’re working with Gopuff, and those are the buyers buying your product. Because we had such success online at first, and because Gopuff has had such a success in the snacking space, we decided to launch with them first as our first, call it, big traditional grocer.

So, we launched with them about two months ago in the Southeast, in Florida and Georgia. Hopefully soon we’ll be bringing on Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and some other places that we traditionally had stores. And that has been really, really important for us, because it’s allowed us to do what we do well, which is market in essentially an ecommerce space. Because you market inside of Gopuff’s app, similar to the way you would market inside of Facebook or Instagram. So, we’re very familiar with that platform, familiar with working in that space. 

And Gopuff has been a really great partner, because they didn’t require us to have a distributor up front and they let us go direct to them. So that allowed us to then open up distribution with UNFI and also with Pod Foods. So they’ve been a really, really great partner. And I think they’re going to be really important to our future. And our second partner that we’ve—hopefully will be bringing on very soon is DoorDash. So DoorDash is piloting a same—or similar concept right now. They have 92 fulfillment centers across the country.

We’re going to be going into five of those and then hopefully growing with them as they open up. I think it’s 20 new fulfillment centers a month for the next year. And so you can think of all of these as a traditional grocery store, except it’s accessed through an app and then your groceries are delivered to you within 30 minutes. 

For Gopuff, their number one categories are alcohol, baby supplies, snack foods, and a ton of ice cream. So they’re a huge Unilever partner, obviously, because Unilever owns all of the ice cream. And they’ve been just—they’ve been a really great partner for us. So that is really our near-term strategy for grocery. And our hope is that because it will help us open up distribution, it will make accessing other grocery stores a lot easier.

Gary Nowacki: Interesting. And I would assume Gopuff—they’re not trying to fulfill everything. They’re not trying to fulfill every SKU you’d find in a typical grocery store. It almost sounds like their most popular items are indulgences.

Jimmy Feeman: That is true. And it aligns really really well with our strategy and who we are as a company.

Gary Nowacki: Interesting. So, I’m going to call the niche specialty foods. Maybe you have a different name for it, Jimmy. But regardless, it’s growing but a crowded sector. So, everybody’s fighting for headspace. Everybody’s fighting for shelf space. What do you folks do to carve out a successful niche?

Jimmy Feeman: So I think that just comes back to our number one value, which is flavor first. I think specialty foods is crowded right now inside of the functional space. And I think that there is a huge focus typically on one trend at a time. 

And so you’ll see 100 specialty foods companies launch in a year. This is not a real number. You’ll see 100 specialty foods companies launch. And you will see 90 of them focus on the same thing. 

A really good example right now–and  I don’t know if you would call this specialty food, but—would be meat substitutes. So there was Impossible Foods and now there are—if you walk the floor, I’m sure at this upcoming—even just fancy foods, I’m sure you’ll see 100 booths for companies that are doing some kind of vegan meat substitute. It becomes a crowded space because people see that one player who has gone where nobody else wanted to go, because either it didn’t make sense from a manufacturing standpoint– they didn’t think consumers’ heads were there or whatever the reason might have been.

And because they focused on the space that no one else really cared about or people thought was matured, they were able to innovate in a way that allowed them to succeed.

You’re right when you say that it is really hard to differentiate with food. I could tell you all day long that our food tastes better. And I can’t really put that on my packaging. And it’s very hard to market. 

So our number one goal as a company when it comes to that is just making sure that we can sample as much as we possibly can whether it’s through our scoop shops, whether it’s really cool partnerships that we do but also just continuing the—to focus on not catering to some sort of food trend, so not getting trapped inside of we’re going to try—because our products just so happen to essentially be vegan. And we’re looking into getting a plant logo on our product. 

But we’re not going to lean into that market. We’re not going to start saying, “Oh, we are a vegan cookie dough company. This is what we do.” We’re just going to stick to flavor first. And the fact that we believe making really tasty products is what matters. I think that allows us to differentiate because you’re doing something that simply nobody else is trying to do.

Not a lot of brands—I’ll even talk to people in big CPG, and they don’t care to hear about another indulgent snack food because that’s not where the trend is going in their mind. But there’s also data that comes out almost every three months that you’ll see a new article somewhere that says, “Now over 50% of food is consumed outside of meal time.” 

So most people are snacking more and more and more. And so I think that says a lot about where the consumer is going. They’re looking for more package specialty snacks. And they’re going to want dessert at some point. And if you make a really cool dessert and you’re not claiming to be healthy and you’re not claiming to be anything different than what you are, it allows you to be authentic. And I think consumers really connect with that.

Gary Nowacki: So let’s dive a little bit deeper into the psyche of your typical happy consumer who’s eating no bake cookie dough. What’s in their brain? You mentioned authenticity. Is it other drivers? Is it people looking for new experiences? Is it nostalgia? What’s going on inside their heads?

Jimmy Feeman: There’s a lot of nostalgia. And that’s a really great word to describe what’s going on. A lot of people have that really cool memory of making cookies with their father, grandmother, grandpa, mother at the holidays. And that memory typically involves eating some of the cookie dough, [laughter] not just baking all of it. 

And so the number one comment that we heard especially early on at our stores was, “Wow, this really reminds me of baking cookies with,” whoever that person was. That I think is really important because it’s allowing us to access something that means a lot to that customer that they weren’t necessarily able to access before. They can just go buy cookie dough that’s meant to eat raw. 

The second thing is being authentic and also really, really leaning in to creating a snacking experience. So something that we’ve tried to do recently is showcase how our product can be used as far as take it home, mix it with ice cream. Take it home, make whatever baked good you want to make out of it. And we’ve done a lot of really cool videos on that concept.

I guess the third thing that’s going on in the consumer’s mind is, “Hey, I want to buy dessert. I want to snack.” And typically what you’ll see in dessert and a lot of people in dessert retail know this is people come seek you out after dinner in a very limited period of time. And they also seek you out in the late afternoon, sometimes after they get done with their lunch break from work, just because they’re seeking out something that they can enjoy that they don’t necessarily have to overthink. 

And they’re like, “Hey, I’m looking for a snack. And right now seems to be snack time, and that makes me feel good.” So they’re looking for something that makes them feel good and that they enjoy eating that’s a little different. 

But it’s those three things combined that are going on inside of the consumer’s head. And we have a couple of really cool products coming down the line that we hope will help us kind of lean into that. But I really, really hope that we can continue to be an authentic brand that is driven by recipes and informing the consumer on what kind of recipes they can use our product with but also on leaning into that nostalgia and leaning into being able to create a pipeline in their brain to those memories.

Gary Nowacki: We have so many guests with so many cool products and unique ideas. But very few, maybe none of them, have talked about nostalgia. So that’s an interesting angle for entrepreneurship and finding a niche. 

By the way, have you seen the Mad Men episode where Don Draper gives a master class in nostalgia?

Jimmy Feeman: Yes. [laughter]

Gary Nowacki: The Wheel?

Jimmy Feeman: It’s good.

Gary Nowacki: Yeah, it’s so good, The Wheel. Hey, listeners, just go to YouTube. Mad Men: The Wheel. Yeah. No, I think that’s really cool. 

And of course, I got to ask the mandatory question, right. Our mothers were in the kitchen. And we reached into the cookie dough bowl and grabbed some. And they smacked us with a wooden spoon and said, “You’re going to get sick.” So, tell our listeners just how you’ve overcome that concern.

Jimmy Feeman: So there are two ways that you overcome that concern. One of them is not necessarily necessary. But the number one reason that cookie dough is not safe to eat raw is flour. And so a lot of people that maybe listening to this podcast might already know this, but flour contains a whole lot of risk factors and is not supposed to be eaten ever. 

And you mostly wouldn’t catch people eating uncooked flour except in our products. So, we source a heat-treated flour that’s made for RT products. 

The other way that you make it safe to eat and ensure safety is by getting rid of any eggs or raw egg in the product. That’s not necessarily necessary. You can get pasteurized eggs. But we just chose to make a product that was essentially vegan, dairy free. We haven’t certified it vegan yet, so I’m not supposed to say that. But it is dairy free. And we don’t use any eggs and we don’t use any animal products. 

We did that consciously just because it was something that was important to us but also because the recipe that Megan ended up making for our stores, it serendipitously happened to be that way. We did not necessarily plan for it to be dairy free. It just kind of happened.

And to this day, I don’t know if you choose to market it or choose to not market it or lean into it, but it is one of those things that just simply happened with our recipe. But the short answer is, don’t use any eggs and make sure your flour is cooked or heat treated.

Gary Nowacki: Yeah. I’m curious. I had no idea. I looked at some of your products online. I had no idea it was dairy-free. You obviously have decided, as you said, not to lean into it. Why? I mean, there’s such an explosion of dairy-free alternatives out there right now.

Jimmy Feeman: It’s something we’re definitely going to lean into in the future. There are inclusions in a lot of our products, like our chocolate chip, where the chocolate chips have dairy in them. For us to really lean into it, we would have to change up every SKU, and we can definitely do that, and we’re working on it, but it’s something that we want to do in a cohesive way.

Gary Nowacki: Makes sense. Jimmy, you’ve done a lot of really cool things since launching the company. Looking back, what are some things you might have done differently?

Jimmy Feeman: There are a lot of things. [laughter] I think any entrepreneur should actively reflect on all the things that you have messed up. It’s really good to learn from those experiences. A couple of them. 

For me personally, I would not have attempted to franchise our stores or grow the footprint, our stores, just to grow the amount that we had if I had known what I knew several years later. The first thing being, in order to franchise the concept, you have to make something so bulletproof that anybody can run that business. And sometimes that’s not possible. 

In the case of NoBaked, we would have had to either find different franchisees who wanted to be real entrepreneurs because when you’re piloting a new shop or a new brand, it’s very difficult to get customers in the door. I don’t care who you are. You’re not McDonald’s. You’re not Dairy Queen. You’re not buying that franchise. You’re buying something else. So that’s one mistake that we made.

The second mistake that we made in terms of just overexpansion was leaning into something without realizing that what you really should do is microtest and pivot until you figure out what your company’s mission or what really your core value prop is. So it’s really, really hard to pivot from a retail lease [laughter] and that has been a thorn in my side for the last three years. 

And I will say that a lot of it comes from the overconfidence of being 23, opening up that first store, making a ton of money, and then saying, “I could do this over and over again. What’s going to stop me?” And not necessarily thinking about the things that will stop you, which is where your head should be at if you’re attempting to anticipate those problems and then solve them before they even happen. 

So rather than solving problems before they even happened, we just ignored the fact that they might happen. That, I think, is something that no matter how old you are—I always say, like, I was 23 when I started the company. I do think that anybody that gets into entrepreneurship for the first time, whether they be 50 years old or 20 years old, will go through that.

They will go through a period if they have serious success right off the bat where they do not think anything can go wrong, is one of the biggest trip-ups for any entrepreneur is to think this is a rocket ship, and this rocket ship is not going to blow up, because there’s always problems. No matter who you are, the really, really great entrepreneurs recognize that there are serious issues that are going to come up, and they’re already thinking about how to fix them. 

And that’s something that took me a lot of experience messing up to get to the point of being like, “Okay, well, we need to anticipate these problems before they happen and learn how to pivot and be agile.” Until you’re a $100 million dollar company, you don’t need to be doubling down over and over again on the same thing.

Gary Nowacki: Yeah. If you had to do it over again in, would you say fail faster? Would that have mattered?

Jimmy Feeman: Yes. Fail faster. That’s what I’m describing. Just fail fast, and then learn how to not completely fail if you know you have something. So, I think that the ticket for entry into CPG is to have a product that people actually want and enjoy. But I think that’s only the entry ticket.

Everything else, all the operations, all the way, the way you sell your product, how you distribute it, that’s what gets you. That’s what causes companies to fail.

Gary Nowacki: I’m here with Jimmy Feeman, who is co-founder of NoBaked Cookie Dough. You talked about the failure of franchising. You wouldn’t do that if you had to do it over again. 

Any other failures without giving away anything top secret or any other successes without giving away anything top secret that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Jimmy Feeman: Yeah. I think big success was making our company more agile as far as getting rid of fixed costs, and then allowing ourselves to really lean into things that grew revenue. So, if you don’t have a lot of fixed costs, you have a lot of capital coming in or you’ve raised capital, you can dump all that money on advertising a new product or a new idea and you can find out if it works. 

That has been really, really helpful for us to be able to grow revenue, but also figure out where our niche is. The other successes that we’ve had have really fallen along the lines of the stores that we opened that did really well, and then allowed us to learn about our customer and create the best possible product. 

I don’t think that we’ve necessarily figured out, and I won’t ever think that we figured out sales and distribution and how to get our product to the customer the best way possible until our sales reflect that in my mind. And that’s just the bar that I’ve set for myself. 

Until I am a significant piece of the cookie dough category, I can’t say that I have figured that out, but I can say that the one huge success we’ve had is creating an incredible product that a lot of people want and actively tell us is better than other products on the shelf.

I think that’s key and I think being able to market that and then sell that attribute is what I think. We have a really good thing going with Gopuff right now and I think that we’re getting a ton of traction. But I’m not going to sit here and tell you we figured it out until I can look at it and say we’ve definitely figured it out. 

We’re growing 100% year over year again, which is something ecommerce allowed us to do to a certain extent. But I think that it’s all about figuring out how to get your product to the customer and finding your customers in the easiest way possible. I hope that’s what we’re doing.

Gary Nowacki: So let’s get inside the head of an innovator. What are the traits? What are the attributes that you believe separates top innovators from folks who just don’t have the level of success?

Jimmy Feeman: So, personally, I think the number one attribute is the ability to be irrationally positive and confident. Sounds ridiculous, but I think that is key to being able to sit through watching people say it’s not going to work. 

If you’re truly innovating, so you’re bringing something to market that people don’t understand. So there’s going to be customer education. It’s going to be a learning curve. There’s going to be early adopters you’re going to have to cross that chasm and get to the point where people actually want to buy your product.

And you may be too early. So you may have to sit around for years waiting for the market to kind of come around and see what you see. So being able to be irrationally positive, I think, helps innovators in that regard. We’ve been at this for five years. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be doing it. Probably another five years or more. [laughter]

So that’s something that you got to kind of wrap your head around. And we’re not even innovating in that big of a way. We are innovating, but we’re not doing something that’s so outlandish it’s confusing for people. 

I always like to look at people who have piloted products like electric cars, solar panels on top of your house, anything that is so confusing to the consumer when it was first launched that it doesn’t make any sense to them. Convincing someone to charge their car instead of going to a gas station is very hard. So I think that being irrationally positive allows you to run that marathon, and it’s a huge key factor in being an innovator. 

The second just tags along with that, being able to see what other people simply do not see, being able to go where other people just don’t want to go right now or they think it’s ridiculous to go. That allows you to innovate on something that—a lot of us, I think, in our lives, walk around, you see things that are inconvenient or confusing, and then you just don’t do anything about them. So, it’s this little thing in your head that goes off and says, “I should do something about that.”

For Megan, our CEO, my wife, the person that made the cookie dough, for her, it was simply the fact that, hey, this should be a product on the shelf. Like this store should exist. Why doesn’t it exist? And then just bringing that to life. 

So, it’s this ability to see what other people do not see and then actually act on it. Because I think a lot of people do. You probably do see things in their life that they think are silly or strange and should be innovated upon, but they won’t act on it.

Gary Nowacki: Good advice. And a lot of folks we talk to use co-mans starting day one. Sounds like you didn’t have to do that because you were making the product in store or offsite. Have you ever used co-mans?

Jimmy Feeman: We currently do. We did not for a very long time. We scaled up in-house manufacturing at first because it was very hard to find the right co-mans. And I will say that my experience with it has been both positive and negative. 

And I think that for anybody looking for a co-mans, the number one key factor that I overlooked, and now I will never overlook again, are the little tiny details. Because, for instance, we’ve had a couple co-mans make our product, like the actual dough itself, perfect every single time. And then they mess up something silly like they got cookie dough inside of the case and on the outside of the jar on a few of the jars, and that doesn’t look good. Or the jars’ lids come off because they weren’t sealed on properly, or a label is crooked. 

So, those little things, that’s what the customer is seeing, and that’s what the grocery buyer is seeing when I send them a sample. So that is, honestly, your first impression. And so, for me, those were really frustrating aspects of working with someone where I paid all this money for this product to be run. The product got run. 

I’ve taken advice from a few other CPG founders. “Hey, go watch the run.” I watched the first product run. I was there the whole time, and I didn’t even notice those things. So, I will say that attention to detail, because you need to be looking for things to go wrong, is probably key. And that’s something I’m not very good at doing—I always look at the bright side. That might not make me an operations person.

Gary Nowacki: So going forward, as you continue to innovate, what are some of your biggest speed bumps?

Jimmy Feeman: Really, really big speed bump is finding, again, scaled manufacturing partners. So, those partners that know how to make sure the entire process will work perfectly, be able to give us a realistic expectation of what may go wrong, and then be able to scale that up so that we can meet demand if we actually succeed. 

Finding the right manufacturing partner is so hard. It’s incredibly hard. And even on the supply chain side, finding the right ingredients and then being able to get them in a timely manner is insanely hard these days.

And packaging, there is a specific kind of packaging I’ve been looking for for nine months, and I haven’t found it. I came close to it. The minimum order was like 400,000 units. So just being able to figure those things out, those little pieces, as a small company, is very, very hard. And when I look to the future, I don’t see it getting any easier.

I think scale will bring somethings to be easier. A 400,000-unit minimum may not look like a lot if we were selling 400,000 units a month. At the same time, it’s a really big commitment on a new type of packaging. 

So, we don’t even know what it looks like yet. We don’t know if the consumer will like it. We don’t know if it’ll resonate well. We don’t know if they’ll think that our cookie dough is cream cheese. So you have to make sure that those things are put in place. They’re actually working, and you have to somehow balance that with the realities of the world. And that, I feel like, is our biggest hurdle. 

The second biggest hurdle is just getting buyers to believe in the product. But I think that’s only a matter of time. I think that that’s just persistence. And when we get a chance, they’ll mess it up, which is what we’ve tried to do.

Gary Nowacki: And so what can you share with our listeners on what’s next for you and for NoBaked Cookie Dough?

Jimmy Feeman: So big things coming this year. We’re going to keep expanding our partnerships with digital retailers, and we’re going to hopefully expand our partnerships with the physical retailers as well and scale up cookie dough production. 

We also have a really, really cool new product coming, which is going to be a baking mix that you don’t bake. So, leaning into what we do best, which is make products that are meant to be eaten and also continue to expand upon the fact that we want to create snacking experiences for customers.

So, I want you to go home with our baking mix and create some edible cookie dough and then put it inside of a crepe and make a crepe. I want you to do things like that, and I want to create that kind of experience for our customers. So we have that coming, hopefully, in Q4, if we can knock out the supply chain stuff. 

And then the thing that I’m usually not that excited about because I don’t like doing it because it’s a nightmare, but hopefully we’ll be raising funding at some point in the middle of this year to make sure all that growth can happen. We raised a crowdfunding round this last year in 2021. Hopefully this year will be our first real funding round and it will allow us to grow into the company that we’re trying to become.

Gary Nowacki: Well, I know there’s a lot of private equity companies lined up with money for really good, solid, unique product companies, so I’m sure you’re not going to have a challenge raising money.

Jimmy Feeman: Yeah, there’s $900 billion sitting, waiting. So, I’m hoping that this year it will at least make it easier to find the check size, but you got to still convince them that it’s a good idea, and hopefully we can do that.

Gary Nowacki: And so, people getting hungry listening to this podcast, nobakedcookiedough.com. Looks like you can direct order there if there’s Gopuff in your community. 

And a lot of fellow entrepreneurs like to reach out and inquire about common problems and share with each other. If folks want to do that, what’s the best way to get a hold of you?

Jimmy Feeman: Best way to get a hold of me? I’m on Instagram. It’s public, @jamesfeeman, just like my name. And also NoBaked is on Instagram, please go follow us, it’s @nobaked. We’re on all other socials @nobaked

I do have a Twitter, but I barely get on, and I am very active on LinkedIn, and that may be how this podcast happened, I’m not sure. But I try to stay really active on LinkedIn, so if you connect with me, I’ll connect with you back. I’ll comment on your posts and interact with you. I love seeing what other entrepreneurs are doing on there, that’s always a lot of fun.

Gary Nowacki: Terrific. Yeah, and I know the community really appreciates everybody helping each other out with tips and suggestions, and maybe just emotional support, right?

Jimmy Feeman: Emotional support is big, it’s really, really big. I have a friend of mine that has been an entrepreneur for a very long time, and he calls me almost on a weekly basis. He’s like, “Hey, how are you doing? Just trying to make sure that you’re okay. Good mental place, because it can be a wild ride.”

Gary Nowacki: Yeah. So Jimmy, I ask everybody who’s a guest on the podcast the same question, two part question. What advice would you give to two different sets of folks? First, innovators already in the CPG space, maybe working even for a large company. And second, new people just starting their career in this space.

Jimmy Feeman: So I’ll address the first one first. I would say to anyone working in innovation at a food company, stop following trends. Stop attempting to make products that fit a certain criteria on a label. 

Start making products that you think are truly innovative and pitch them and see what happens. I do think that there is a ton of room for really interesting innovation outside of catering to a certain audience. And so I’m excited about that, and I hope that more people will get excited about it.

And that does not have to mean you have to make snack food that’s bad for people. You can take really cool quality ingredients just like a chef does in a restaurant, create a really cool new dish, item, whatever it might be, and then go see what people think about it. And you can even make things that previously weren’t attractive to the consumer, like a Brussels sprout, suddenly the coolest dish at every restaurant on the appetizer menu.

The second group, people just getting started in this industry, whether you’re entering a new job or you’re an entrepreneur and you’re trying to start a new product, I would say that, again—and I said this earlier—the ticket for admission if you’re starting a company, is to have a product people actually want. And that’s just the ticket for admission. 

You can have the coolest, best product in the entire world. Don’t care what industry you’re in, if you can’t sell it, you can’t market it, and you can’t operationally make it come to life, then it doesn’t matter. And so I would say that from the beginning, make sure that you’re agile on those areas. Don’t go doubling down on something before you know it’s going to work. 

And stay very, very lean and agile when it comes to experimenting with whether or not people want the product, experimenting with a new copacker. Don’t go signing some sort of five-year deal where you give them equity or some other nonsense. Do test periods, do trial periods, see if things work before you jump all the way in. That’s how you avoid really big mistakes, that’s how you keep your mistakes small, and you don’t sink your company or sink your livelihood.

Gary Nowacki: Yeah, we talked about fail fast, so it’s also fail small. That’s a good one. So Jimmy, before we go into wrap up, any other comments or words of advice you’d like to share with our listeners?

Jimmy Feeman: I would say just go out there and try to be creative. I love seeing all the new really cool food companies that get started. I would like to think that most of them start that company thinking like, “I created this cool new product, I think it tastes great. I think it serves a cool market that’s not getting served right now,” and they go out there and try to do it.

I want to see more of that, I think that we—I know that people say the CPG boom or the direct-to-consumer boom is over, but I disagree. I think that social media kind of kicked it off in the early 2010s and I think it’s going to get crazier, because I think there’s a lot of people out there with really cool ideas and I hope that they act on them, because that’s the only way innovation actually gets done.

Gary Nowacki: Well, good advice. Thank you for that. So I want to thank our special guest today, Jimmy Feeman, who is co-founder NoBaked Cookie Dough. Go check it out, go check their products out at nobakedcookiedough.com and get in touch with Jimmy to chew the entrepreneurial fat on LinkedIn or other venues. And Jimmy, thanks so much for being a guest with us today.

Jimmy Feeman: Thanks for having me on, Gary. I really appreciate it.

Gary Nowacki: Thanks for listening to C to C where we cover innovation in the food and CPG business from conception to consumption. Just type the letters C-T-O-C, no spaces, to find us on iTunes, Stitcher, Podbean and Google Play.


This episode of the C to C podcast originally aired on February 16, 2022.