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October 24, 2008


Wow, what an evening it was!

We had the best time with Erin McKenna of
BabyCakes NYC on Thursday night at our second event in the IGC Conversations Series.

Erin was simultaneously hilarious, sassy, inspirational, and SMART in sharing the BabyCakes story. I thought people might start rolling on the floor they were laughing so hard. And did I mention the desserts? Who knew that good-for-you could be SO GOOD!!! Honestly, with the list of things that isn’t in the desserts it is hard to imagine what is, but it should suffice to say that there wasn’t even a crumb left over by the end of the night.

In all seriousness, we really learned a lot and are so grateful to Erin for generously sharing her time and wisdom. Erin story reflected many of themes that we so often hear from those entrepreneurs that we admire.

Though I will never be able to accurately recapture the evening, I do want to share some of the key points!

In addition to her funning and enlightening stories, Erin talked with us about:

Staying True to What You Know.

More specifically, Erin discussed the importance of believing in yourself and the integrity of your concept. We all know that everyone we talk to has opinions (for better or for worse) and it is sometimes hard to know what advice to take and what to leave. This is easier when you are very clear about what your goals and mission are! Erin knew what she wanted to accomplish and what elements would be critical to her success and so she refused to compromise on those. She aspired to create more than just a bakery but also a missing and needed experience for those with food allergies. By keeping that in sight, she was able to deflect unhelpful advice, suggestions, and nay-sayers.

Acknowledging What You Don’t Know.

Erin also talked with us about the importance of identifying the areas where, as an entrepreneur, you need help and assistance. She leveraged many resources to help fill functional gaps in her knowledge – such as the SBA, SCORE, friends, family, professional services, etc. She also talked about how she was able to adopt some key ideas from others and integrate them into her business: such as the idea to partner with like-minded/branded designers to create different uniforms for each season at BabyCakes. It is important to be flexible and open to ideas from the outside in order to make your business as successful as it can be! We are all just one person!

What’s Next?

Erin’s genius has sparked a MOVEMENT and there is lots of opportunity and interest for expansion. She discussed how to be smart about growth and all the things that need to change in order to make room for growth – namely her own role! Like many entrepreneurs, Erin was involved in many of the operating details when BabyCakes first opened (read: frosting), however this type and level of involvement turned out to not only be unsustainable for her as a person but also for BabyCakes as a business. In order to focus on the entity, Erin had to change her role and put systems in place to make BabyCakes more autonomous. She did this successfully and thereby freed up time and energy to focus on the exciting next steps of the business. (Preview: The West Hollywood bakery is opening soon and her CookBook is due out in April and is available for pre-order on Amazon).

Model Businesses.

Erin shared with us some of the businesses that have had the biggest impact on her and how their influence has shown up in Erin’s business.

In particular she mentioned:

1. how Julia Childs validates for her the importance of originality and ingenuity. Julia Childs was always comfortable being herself, even if it was not exactly what you might expect.

2. Also Erin pointed to a restaurant, Chez Panisse, that she worked for in Berkeley, created by Alice Waters. The experience there influenced Erin’s thinking on the cultivation of work atmosphere/culture. Erin discussed how proud each employee was to work at this particular restaurant and what Alice Waters did to encourage and foster that feeling. Erin has worked hard to cultivate a similarly strong and warm culture at BabyCakes. Erin also noted that Alice Water’s personality was so infused with the brand and feeling of the restaurant that even after Alice didn’t spend as much time there, you could tell it was hers.

3. This trait, using the brand as a strong extension of self, is also what inspires Erin about Built by Wendy, Brooklyn based designer extraordinaire, who was the first external designer to collaborate with BabyCakes on their uniforms. Built by Wendy is another business that reflects many of the same qualities that we love about Erin and BabyCakes: innovation, integrity, vision, and authenticity…it should be no wonder that they are so compatible and collaborative!

Another big THANK YOU to Erin! And, all, seriously, you have got to try her goods! They are great.

posted by Adelaide

October 18, 2008


A couple interesting articles on the HBR Blog got me thinking this morning…

The first highlighted (still more) insightful comments by Warren Buffet on the financial crises. The second questioned the stability of the social media world in what is certainly a “down economy”.

The first article, “Wisdom of Warren Buffett: On Innovators, Imitators, and Idiots” recaps an interview given by Mr. Buffet, in which the following exchange occurred: “At one point, his interviewer asked the question that is on all our minds: "Should wise people have known better?" Of course, they should have, Buffett replied, but there's a "natural progression" to how good new ideas go wrong. He called this progression the "three Is." First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don't. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. And then come the idiots, whose avarice undoes the very innovations they are trying to use to get rich.

This seems to be a reasonable statement about the financial mess the world is in. Someone creates or adapts a new product to meet a previously unmet need. Others observe the innovation jump on the bandwagon looking to produce more and more of the same. This new product gains popularity and buzz becomes the new “it” thing. All the while still more people are joining up, investing more time and resources into the new product, pushing the boundaries, and expanding the applications. It is very easy in this situation to understand how the original intention for the product may be lost and the how the product could be misused and ultimately be yielding very little value.

The second article, “Is Web 2.0 Living on Thin Air?” questions the value that social networking and social provides and if that might be sacrificed if all of us are concerned about our livelihood and bottom lines.

The author, Tom Davenport, writes: “Have you ever sat at Starbucks with your Mac laptop open, sipping your mochaccino or your chai latte, and looked around at the others just like you? Did you wonder whether our economy had grown a little overly precious? How can we really be producing value if we're all sitting around blogging and Facebook-friending each other? …Now all this fervent typing feels like we drank too much grain alcohol punch at a party last night. In the cold light of a morning-after economic crisis, one questions whether social media can really be the basis of a solid economy. Will people really have time to do all this friending if they fear for their livelihoods? Will we have time for Second Life when we have to take a second job?”

While Davenport’s focus is clearly more about the sustainability of the INDUSTRY in THIS ECONOMY…it got me thinking about how the Innovator, Imitator, and Idiot paradigm can be applied to small business owners and their use of social networking and web 2.0 tools.

Most of the social networking tools out there are smart innovations designed with a purpose in mind. They can be quite useful and interesting. For example, Facebook allows us to maintain strong(er) relationships with acquaintances that we might otherwise have lost touch with. Among other things, blogs allow for additional and affordable publishing venue and give power back to consumers in who openly and honestly express their opinions and critiques. These revolutions in technology are important and often revolutionary, impacting and influencing both social and business landscapes.

While one could easily argue that the creators of ALL these tools, and more tools, and widgets, and gadgets may clearly fall into the innovator, imitator, and idiot paradigm, I would also argue that the users do too. Specifically us, the small businesses owners. Us. Those that try to leverage 2.0 for business development and enhancement.

Given the change in the economic climate, I think it may be important to ask yourself where your usage of Web2.0 has fallen vis-a-vis Mr. Buffet’s 3 categories.

Bluntly, in terms of using social technology as a business development tool, are you an Innovator, an Imitator, or an Idiot?

Think about it…

* Were you the some of the first to use these tools to better reach new customers or maintain relationships with existing ones?

* Are the hours you spend online updating your profile and blasting your daily activities really helping your business?

* Is the time have you spent focusing on how to adapt or introduce new bells and whistles into your business worth it?

* More so than spending the same energy focusing on the overall direction or value that you provide?

* Even if you are a Facebook follower (like me) rather than a leader or initiator, have you really learned much of value while trolling the site?

* Are you using the tools that you spent time creating well? Do they serve a business purpose?

For some of you, the answers to these questions might be YES, and if so, kudos. But I imagine for many more of us, the answer is NO.

Many of us are trying to integrate these technologies into our business regardless of their use and beyond their utility. And my guess, is that is a waste of precious time, especially now.

Certainly this is not a call to throw the baby out with the bath water…I will not be dismantling our blog or our facebook group. Instead it is a call to audit your use of social media. Make sure it makes sense. Make sure it meet a business goal or a client need. Make sure you are NOT being an imitator or an idiot.

posted by Adelaide

October 13, 2008


Books and reports and news sources have been talking for years about the strategic value of targeting and marketing to women consumers. And businesses have listened. Many have even been created with this insight in mind (a la In Good Company Workplaces). Even more existing businesses have launched new products and services that are designed to specific appeal to women.

Interestingly, however, two perhaps unexpected and traditional businesses have recently take steps to repackage their existing services and offerings in order to heighten their stock in women's minds: Best Buy & The Wall Street Journal.

Springwise reports that Best Buy (one of the worst places on earth, I think) opened a new store in Aurora, CO, that was not only designed with women in mind but was also based on specific feedback solicited from local women consumers. Among the findings "were that female customers wanted more help seeing how products could work together and fit into their lives".

The re-design project took 9 months, and now..."Gone are the chain's typical warehouse-style blue interiors and metal shelving, replaced instead by wood paneling, carpets featuring earth tones and skylights for natural lighting." The company is hoping that the costs invested will be off-set by consumer loyalty...Let's hope so. I haven't gotten to experience the new approach, obviously, but I would be interested to see what it is like. And I would be thrilled, if this new format were to be applied to our local 23rd street store.

Wall Street Journal has just rolled out "Journal Women", which serves as a web-gateway to consolidated relevant news articles for 'Career Women'. So far, I love it, and have temporarily made it one of my home pages...

So, in addition to the more typical, "how do you appeal to women" question, I am thinking more about the notion of repackaging your existing goods for various market segments...

How do you account for regional variations?
Different demographic groups and buyers?

It reminds me of one of my favorite Inc articles from several years ago...
Life Lessons about the company Life Is Good and its approach to franchising. The Life Is Good founders allow franchisers much more autonomy than is typically given so that they can specifically customize their store for various audiences and regions.

All food for thought...

posted by Adelaide