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Female Founders: Meghan Quinn of Bougie Bakes On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t forget to celebrate the small wins. A lot of things aren’t going to go your way and sometimes it will feel like you are literally trying to push a rock up a hill. Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about every little thing that goes wrong. Make sure you take some time, even if it’s just a minute, to acknowledge and celebrate the wins. As founders, we tend to become fixated on obtaining a certain level of success, and we can often lose sight of how freaking cool it is that you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. Take time to celebrate all of the wins — big and small.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meghan Quinn.

Meghan Quinn is Co-Founder and CEO of Bougie Bakes, a Los Angeles-based maker, and distributor of better-for-you baked goods. Everything the company bakes is gluten-free, dairy-free, & sugar-free, and they have an expanded assortment of vegan offerings as well. Before baked goods, Meghan worked in marketing and consumer products, leading brand licensing for several high-profile children’s entertainment properties and billion-dollar toy brands like Barbie & Hot Wheels.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Of course! Thanks for thinking of me for this opportunity. For as far back as I can remember, I have wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I never would have imagined it would be in the Food/CPG space.

I grew up in a family full of business owners, which should probably have dissuaded me from even considering it given I saw firsthand how hard it could be, but it was something I wanted from a very early age. I remember saving my birthday money and buying a VHS set about real estate investing and after watching it incessantly, a few of my cousins and I tried walking into a bank to secure a mortgage to buy a house we wanted to flip. Needless to say, we didn’t get the mortgage, and that was only one of a handful of failed business ventures that started before I even graduated college.

After graduation I secured a job at Viacom/Nickelodeon, working in Ad Sales, and it’s also where I met my now-husband, Ryan, who shared my same passion and fueled my entrepreneurial fire even more. He and I founded Bougie Bakes together. After a few years in Ad Sales at Nickelodeon, I yearned for something a bit more creative-focused and made a pivot that landed me at a company focused on creating children’s entertainment, where I worked directly under the CEO and managed outbound licensing of our owned IP. Years later, we acquired an iconic retro toy brand, and I assumed inbound licensing responsibilities as well. We had rights to the best of the best names in kids’ entertainment, including a Barbie license, which is how I first started working with the team at Mattel.

A few years after that, an opportunity to join Mattel is what brought my husband & me out to Los Angeles and changed our lives forever. We quickly became immersed in the healthy way of living in LA, but with a serious sweet tooth, we found ourselves struggling to find sweets that would satisfy our cravings without making us feel terrible. The gluten-free products we found in the market that tasted good were packed full of sugar and the sugar-free products tasted gross and fake, so we started baking what we wanted to see ourselves. We made those same baked goods into a business that began as a side hustle and grew to employ both of us and a team of people full-time. To this day, we remain committed to delivering healthier alternatives to life’s indulgences to people just like us around the country.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

My husband & I started this business as a side hustle. We were baking out of our home kitchen and spent our nights and weekends selling locally in Los Angeles — showing up at farmers markets, popping up at boutique fitness classes, and doing pretty much anything we could to get our bakes in front of as many people as possible. It took us six months until we had enough proof of concept and the confidence to invest some of our own money into building out a commercial kitchen, marketing our baked goods, and (fingers crossed) taking the business to the next level. It was another 18 months, of very long nights and no weekends off, before I could focus on this business and my passion full-time. The timing of this also happened to coincide with a global pandemic, and made the decision to quit a steady and stable job in the midst of just chaos and turmoil even more interesting (read: terrifying), to say the least.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We knew from the start that we wanted to focus our efforts on selling direct-to-consumer and so our website was going to be key. What we didn’t know though was how to build one, and we definitely didn’t have the money to hire someone to do so for us. So, I took to Google and taught myself how to build a website through Wix. It was a grueling process, but I was so proud of it and it served us well for the first two years we were in business.

I’ll never forget the night before our expected launch date on October 15, 2018, when we were trying to push the site live and kept getting a DNS domain verification error. We had no idea what the heck was wrong and we were up until 4 am trying to figure it out. We finally did figure it out, but it was then a waiting game to get verified, which can take anywhere from 24–48 hours. By some stroke of luck, we got approved and were live by 10 am the following morning, which wasn’t ideal but still allowed us to start accepting orders that first day, as planned.

That was just one of the countless times things haven’t gone according to plan since starting this business and taught me one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned — always having a contingency plan is key. Looking back, it was foolish to assume the website would go live without a hitch, and we now try to always think through any/all scenarios and have plans B, C, D & so on.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been lucky enough to work for powerhouse women in literally every chapter of my career to date. Each of them has played a big role in getting me to where I am, but there are two women in particular that without, I’m not sure I would have ended up in Los Angeles or subsequently had started this company. These two women were my bosses at Mattel, and the way I met them and the series of events that lead me to get a job at Mattel is still to this day one of the most serendipitous things that have ever happened to me.

The company I was at before Mattel had acquired an iconic retro toy brand, and we had been working on a rebrand and new line of products. We were reintroducing the new toy line for the first time at Hong Kong Toy Fair in January 2016, and licensing was a big part of the toy strategy. We had meetings planned with buyers and retail partners, of course, as well as with executives from a lot of the studios that represented the brands we had licensed. Very unfortunately, my boss at the time and the President of our company came down with an illness the day before the show started and wasn’t going to be able to make it to any of the meetings we had set up. It was just him & me at the show, so by default, all of the meetings fell to me to lead. To be honest, I was terrified — I knew my stuff, but I was not expecting to have to run the show, especially with heads of networks and executives from some of the biggest retailers in the world.

The executive team of Mattel was coming through, because we held the license for Barbie, and I remember being so intimidated. Mattel was notorious within the industry, of course, given its size, scale, and brands in the portfolio, but they were also known for hiring the best and brightest in the field. Trying not to let my nerves get the best of me, I began by taking them on a tour of the showroom and slowly but surely got into my groove. As the meeting progressed, the questions were getting harder, but I was gaining more and more confidence. The meeting had gone as well as it could have, and I was genuinely proud of how I handled it, but mostly just happy it was over. On the way out the door, these two women, who ran the group, came up to me and told me how much I impressed them.

That was the beginning of what ultimately led me to be recruited by Mattel to join the team, what moved my husband & me to Los Angeles, and eventually led us to start this business. Still to this day, I often reflect back on that experience and how that one meeting changed the trajectory of my life, and more specifically how those two women — who went on to be two of the best bosses I’ve ever had and even greater mentors — changed my life. That experience also taught me 1) to always be over-prepared in case you have to step up and cover for someone or something and 2) that confidence is key.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

There are obviously a lot of layers to this one and a lot of systemic gender inequalities that have led to the underrepresentation of women in entrepreneurship. I think what’s holding women back from founding companies is multifaceted. The disadvantage in terms of funding is real and added to the more universal setbacks like wage gaps, lack of universal childcare, and gender stereotypes about women’s strengths and interests have made navigating this world even more challenging for women. While we’ve made an encouraging amount of progress in recent years, we still have a long way to go, and I think with even more female representation, we’ll hopefully inspire the next generations and keep closing in on the gender gap.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

We need to first and foremost acknowledge that men and women are different, and that’s okay! Those differences don’t make women any less superior or ill-equipped to lead. We need to continue to prioritize women’s representation in positions of political and economic power. COVID-19 even further heightened the reality that women still bear more of the responsibility for caring for their children and families, making all of these obstacles even harder to overcome. Federal paid leave and child care could help tremendously.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I think women are innately better entrepreneurs. We are great communicators and multitaskers, which are both keys to success. Women are also naturally good at building relationships, and since your network is literally your net worth when it comes to starting a business, it’s a great skill to have. More than a high IQ, I think EQ is what sets great leaders apart from the rest, and as women, I think we tend to have an advantage here and often lead with empathy. We need to keep leading by example and positioning future generations of females for success by showing them how it’s done.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

  1. “You need to quit your day job to start a successful business.” Obviously, every business is different, but we were able to build this business as a side hustle for a solid two years before we quit our day jobs to focus on it full-time. Though insanely challenging at times, in hindsight, I’m so grateful we chose to build it that way. We had our hands in literally everything because we were the only ones doing it in the beginning, and it made it a lot easier to hire when the time was right. It also forced us to get scrappy and act very results-driven, especially when it came to finances.
  2. “You need to raise money before launch.” Speaking of finances, we bootstrapped the business ourselves until we hit our first $1M in sales. Our day jobs and savings are what funded the business in the early days, so we were hyper-focused on getting returns for every dollar we were putting in. This forced us to make more educated decisions and to prove things out thoroughly before investing money into different aspects of the business. Of course, not everyone is in a position to do so and each business is different, but I’m very thankful we chose to build the business this way, and to this day it keeps us laser-focused on profitability first and foremost.
  3. “You need to be an expert in the industry you’re starting your business in.” We knew literally nothing about the food space before starting Bougie Bakes. Neither of us even really knew our way around a home kitchen, yet we were able to navigate the licensing and permitting to start the business out of our home kitchen and then eventually figured out how to scale it to a commercial facility. You’d be surprised what you can learn on Google, and we’re constantly amazed at how willing to help successful people in our specific category were to us. You don’t need to go into it as an expert — you just need to want it badly enough and not be afraid to ask for help.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Definitely not. I always knew being a founder would be challenging, but I never in a million years would have expected it to be this hard. It takes an insane amount of perseverance, grit, and passion for what you’re doing. In some cases, you have to be okay with making less money than you’ve ever made and working harder than you’ve ever worked for many years until you start to see some of the fruits of your labor. You have to keep going, even when the going gets so impossibly tough. I think you also have to genuinely love the chaos that comes with entrepreneurship too — every day is different and very few go according to plan, but you have to be okay with that. Those who like structure and clear lanes and want to master one certain thing probably aren’t the right fit for entrepreneurship. I have a newfound respect for people who feel fulfilled and happy working a “regular job” as an employee — there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. For me, I just always felt like I was meant to do something different.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. There are going to be people who don’t like what you’re doing. Whether it’s customers who aren’t a fan of your product, or potential investors you pitch that just don’t get the vision, you’re going to get a lot of no’s and for every 10 people who love everything about the brand you’re building and the product, there’s going to be 1 or 2 people who don’t. That’s okay. I like to focus on the positive, but we keep our customers (lovers and haters) at the forefront of every decision we make. Negative feedback regarding the amount of waste in our initial packaging ultimately led us to rethink the entire thing and we launched a huge sustainability initiative featuring reusable cookie tins. It’s important to consider all feedback because you never know what idea it might prompt and it could even end up helping you to make your product and business even better.
  2. You can’t do everything yourself. It’s important to acknowledge what you don’t know and your weaknesses, and hire or outsource accordingly. We prioritized bakers and fulfillment people when we were finally in a position to hire, which didn’t leave us with any help on the sales, marketing, accounting, design, or operations front. We leveraged various agencies and consultants to help support until we were able to bring people on full-time. Better yet, we have been able to transition some part-time help/consultants to full-time employees, which is a win-win because you know you’re bringing people on that already get it.
  3. You’re going to have to pivot from time to time. Whether it’s product-market fit, ever-changing retail landscapes, supply chain issues, platform changes that impact marketing, or something else entirely, there are going to be times when you need to pivot your strategy quickly and the quicker you can do so, the better off you’ll be. Just this year, our digital marketing efforts were impacted pretty significantly by the iOS and privacy changes. We needed to act swiftly and shift our budgets away from underperforming platforms where costs were skyrocketing and the results weren’t favorable. As a company, we continue to navigate some of those challenges as we speak, but we’ve been able to test and learn across several new platforms, and have been seeing some promising results. In doing something new and untested, you run the risk of it failing, sure, but there’s also the possibility it will become even more successful than what you were doing previously.
  4. Accessing credit when you need it will be challenging. The worst time to look to borrow money is when you legitimately need it. Stay hyper-focused on cash flow. When we were raising money we had a group of investors that wanted to give us a lot more money than we were raising, which obviously meant they would get more equity too. For that reason, we said no. In hindsight, it was for sure the right call, but there were definitely times when that additional cash would have been helpful.
  5. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t forget to celebrate the small wins. A lot of things aren’t going to go your way and sometimes it will feel like you are literally trying to push a rock up a hill. Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about every little thing that goes wrong. Make sure you take some time, even if it’s just a minute, to acknowledge and celebrate the wins. As founders, we tend to become fixated on obtaining a certain level of success, and we can often lose sight of how freaking cool it is that you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. Take time to celebrate all of the wins — big and small.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We have been focused on doing good through business since launch, and it’s something we want to continue to scale as the business scales. In the early days, we focused our efforts on feeding the homeless and donating our baked goods to women’s centers. While this continues to be something we are passionate about, we have also been working hard to reduce our carbon footprint and offset carbon emissions. We ship all orders in a reusable cookie tin and reorders are shipped minimally packaged. Alongside our partner, EcoCart, we also fund carbon offset projects like planting trees or building wind farms with every order, ensuring all of our shipping is 100% carbon neutral.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

What a great question. I’d love to help people, especially our youth, build a connection between their personal health, food, and community. Things have been trending in a better direction and the demand for healthier options has been growing steadily. We see populations of people that have been making healthier decisions with their food, but there are still many communities around the globe that are starving, malnourished, and do not have access to healthier options. These healthier options should also not come at the expense of our planet. We need to work harder to make healthier eating more feasible for communities around the globe and we need to work harder to protect our planet from the negative effects that change can sometimes bring.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Sarah Blakely, Founder of Spanx, is top of mind given the recent headlines and majority investment. Her founding story is inspiring in it itself, but even more inspiring is how she bootstrapped the business for the last 21 years to a $1.2B valuation without raising any outside capital. As a fellow female founder, I am so incredibly inspired by her.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.