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Baker’s Edge was founded by President and CEO, Matt Griffin. He graduated Ball State University with honors, has degrees in economics and urban planning and was a member of the school’s cross country team. Matt’s also an alumnus of “Indy’s Best and Brightest” and the Indianapolis Business Journal’s “Forty Under Forty” list, which honors the achievements and contributions of young Indianapolis professionals. He owns two patents and a third is pending. Matt developed the idea for the Edge Brownie Pan in 1998 and in 2002 cleaned out his savings account to create the prototype. Finally, in 2005, the first pan was produced.
Baker’s Edge, founded in 2006, has been the #1 selling and top rated bakeware brand on Amazon.com for the past 3 years. The company has attracted more press than the rest of the bakeware industry combined. Just two years after the company launch, they surpassed the $1 million mark in sales and kept growing. The company launched on the idea of a revolutionary brownie pan (their patented Edge Brownie Pan) that makes every brownie an “edge piece”. The companies newest product, the Simple Lasagna Pan, is a expansion on the idea to create a better lasagna with perfect servings.
I had just graduated from Ball State University with 3 degrees – ready to take on the world. My first job as a county planner in Monroe County, IN, was sobering at best. I have always had been drawn to industrial design and entrepreneurship – but only as a curious outsider, looking in with scientific curiosity. After a few months working the trenches in the public sector, I simply could not see myself following a traditional career path in what would be typical for a person with my education. I figured I would utilize my skills and know-how in a fresh way by applying it a whole new direction. While in this frame of mind, and munching on a brownie (the corner one…my favorite) I sort of had this eureka moment. A simple redesign of the standard baking pan to introduce more edge baking surface area . I honestly thought I would just use this “Edge Brownie Pan” concept as a first attempt to break into the consumer marketplace (more as a learning experience for bigger and better things). Little did I know that this concept would become the cornerstone of a disrupting bakeware brand. Hopefully if and when I start another company I can build upon all of what I have learned this time around – and skip all the dumb mistakes.
You came up with a great idea with the Edge Brownie Pan. We all know how difficult it can be to act on an idea, no matter how good it is. Where did you find the strength and courage to take the idea from concept to production? What were you risking to do so?
In Chuck Palahniuk’s book Choke there is this side character that seems driven to collect rocks, stones, and bricks that he finds along the road. He just keeps getting more and more, and they slowing begin to fill up his entire apartment. Then, at the end of the book he uses them to build a house – while he also puts his life back together. This is very much like starting a business around a concept or product. If you keep at it, and keep progressing…you will inevitably have something with some sort of value (not to mention, you will wreck any normalcy in your life, and surroundings). Like everyone that tries to do something out of their character or just plain unseen – I heard a lot of “no” and “give up”. I really think it just takes focused, flexible progression. Taking the idea from concept to production was a long and bumpy road. Initially the goal was to sell the intellectual property rights. After the entire bakeware industry told me that the idea had no merit, I decided to bring it to market myself. This took nearly all my personal cash and assets as “start up” funds, and then some. In 2005, I won an invention contest sponsored by Microsoft and Visa. This contest gave me $25 grand in funds to start the business. I could have used that cash to pay off debts and ditch this adventure, but instead I poured it into making our first inventory. I was risking very little, in my opinion. I was risking a modest amount of cash that would be a bump in my financial security, but not devastating (I was young..and had plenty of time to earn it back with traditional employment). I think the bigger risk would have been to turn my back on the opportunity. You can’t buy back opportunity or timing at a later date. That being said, both fools and geniuses proceed with seemingly endless determination…it is success that determines which side you end up on – and I am holding my breath that this venture ends up on the good side.
We have a few other pans (top secret) that are either in the design or testing phase. We no longer give advanced looks – as it seems some larger bakeware companies (the ones that formerly called our ideas silly) are now doing everything they can to steal our thunder before we strike (thank goodness for patents…). We have some accessories that will be introduced later this year – the first of which will be arriving in a matter of weeks. Our Chef and VP is also working on a brownie centric cookbook with a few high profile collaborators. We will be sharing some tried and true recipes, along with some that will make you double take at the ingredients list.
Knowing that you spent your savings to get the prototypes created, how did you launch the business? Did you have investors? Take out a loan?
As I mentioned before – I had won an invention contest which helped defray some start up needs. The rest of which was handled with a traditional business line of credit via a local bank. Not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. Prior to the above, I had devised a plan to sell 49 percent of the company to get it off the ground. After trolling my relatives, friends, and friends of friends I still had about 48 percent to sell. Having a slew of shareholders would have been a disaster…thank goodness it worked out the way it did…
Did you try to sell your idea at any point as opposed to starting and running the business yourself?
I never imagined I would, at any point, for any reason, be running a bakeware company. Funny how things work out. I tried tirelessly to sell the concept at multiple stages prior to starting the business. After the patent fully issued and we had prototypes I made the rounds one final time to gauge interest in the concept. After once again getting total rejection, I had only one alternative left. In retrospect I understand that the more success you get, the lower your risk tolerance becomes – so I understand where the big companies were coming from with all those denials. We get approached by folks with new ideas quite frequently – but are simply not in a position to buy new ideas. We have enough stuff to keep us busy for years. Wasn’t it Nietzsche that said people tend to become with they hate the most. Ugh…
You have a top selling product line available at many retailers. How were you able to get in those locations and what has your marketing strategy looked like?
If you can show sales success online, traditional bricks and mortar retailers will more apt to carry and support your product. Online retailers have smaller margin needs, and are more open to selling something new and different. Our path to big retailers went something like this:
- -direct sales via dedicated site (bakersedge.com)
- -small boutique/special interest websites and catalogs (The Baker’s Catalog, chefsresource.com)
- -small general interest websites (fredflare.com, spoonsisters.com, wishingfish.com)
- -large special interest websites and catalogs (cooking.com)
- -large general interest websites and catalogs (amazon.com, Solutions Catalog, ThinkGeek.com, SkyMall)
- -small special interest stores/boutiques (Kitchen Kapers, local mom and pop shops)
- -national special interest chains (Sur La Table, Williams Sonoma)
We have opted not to pursue larger general interest merchandisers at this stage of our business strategy…but that is the last stop on this progressive path. Also, it should be noted that we really didn’t get “bricks and mortar” retailers attention until we were the #1 selling bakeware on Amazon.com for 18 months in a row.
Our marketing has been a very unusual path. We have never paid for marking (so far at least). At first, we simply didn’t have the funds to do such. We relied on lots of one on one with small blog writers and local paper reviewers. This was before blogging was really seen as a marketing venue…and was more about folks talking about things from a very honest perspective. This word of mouth continued to push our sales and exposure into new and surprising places. We hit a major turning point when we were featured on boingboing.net. Our web hits went from a few thousand a month to 40 thousand a day for a few days in a row. That moment introduced our product to bigger media audience. Our pans have been featured in array of national and international publications and media. Most recently we were featured on CBS Sunday Morning and just this week we were also in the LA Times. The strangest press we have ever enjoyed was a product feature in WWE Magazine (best things for Westlemania Night – we broke the top ten list! OOOHHHH YEAHHH).