Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with David Downing, co-founder, and CEO of ChipMonk Baking, located in Houston, TX, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Founded in early 2019 by Jose Hernandez and me, ChipMonk Baking produces healthy, low-glycemic cookies and other dessert products sweetened with monk fruit and allulose (two naturally occurring sweeteners that don't impact blood sugar). Jose created these recipes after being diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and subsequently controlling the disease through diet and exercise. Perfect for keto diets and people following gluten-free lifestyles, our desserts are low-carb, delicious treats with all of the taste and none of the sugar.
Tell us about yourself
ChipMonk started from the personal need of my roommate Jose Hernandez. He and I were both working in the startup space. We became fast friends over fitness and wellness (we would workout super early in the morning together - gym buds!). Surprisingly, Jose had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when he was in college, but he had managed to keep his blood sugar levels well within normal ranges by eating a low-carb diet filled with healthy fats. He was basically a living squirrel, eating bags of nuts each day. Being around startups, he and I would regularly talk about doing something of our own, but we could never land on the right idea. One weekend, out of depression from not being able to find that "golden" startup idea, Jose decided to bake some desserts. He did some online research and learned about low-carb baking using nut flours and alternative sweeteners like monk fruit. He ended up making some sugar-free chocolate chip cookies that were incredibly delicious. When I tasted them, I immediately told him that this was the idea we had been waiting for. Three years later and we've gone from baking cookies in our apartment to have our own commercial bakery in Houston with a team of 10 employees. Each day, I'm mostly motivated by creating and selling a product that actively helps people with their health goals and also getting to build a team and culture that protects and encourages core values like accountability, teamwork, and continuous learning.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I think just starting from a cookie baked at our apartment to building a business that did over $1 million in revenue and employed over ten people is our biggest overall accomplishment. Personally, I feel accomplished from having survived all the tough times. All the mistakes, unforeseen problems, difficult conversations have helped me build up my patience, empathy, and critical thinking. I know even if our business went away, those experiences would stick with me and make me a stronger person for the next endeavor.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Being a business owner ultimately means that the buck stops with me. This can be incredibly daunting and lonely because, A LOT of the time, I really don't know what the right decision is. I've never built a cookie company before, so when I'm faced with a fork in the road a lot, I often just have to go with my gut, and that means making plenty of mistakes. As the company grows and more people become dependent on its success (employees, investors, customers, etc.), being the final decision maker can start to feel like a real burden because you get worried about the impact of making the wrong choices. It's lonely too, because not many people in my social network are business owners, so they may not be able to relate. Though it is difficult, it also makes me feel empowered to build a company and team the way I want. When I worked in corporate America as an employee, I often felt like my opinions would never matter or I would never be able to change the direction of the company I was at. At least now I know that what I do every day does matter, even if that means I make mistakes along the way.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Try to start your business as a "side gig" at first. Keep your day job and build your initial business during the evenings and weekends. This will take a lot of the financial pressure off of you. Once you get enough traction, then you can consider jumping in full-time.
- To build on tip #1, do not fall into "analysis paralysis" when thinking about starting your business. Try to break it down into ACTIONABLE baby steps. Ask yourself, "what is one thing I can DO today to get this business moving forward." Then do that thing. Action will lead to momentum, and momentum will lead to progress. Even if your direction isn't correct at first, you'll learn along the way and come way further than if you had just sat and daydreamed about it all on your couch.
- Strongly consider finding a co-founder or business partner. Starting your own business by yourself is a Herculean task that will simply overwhelm most of us. Ideally, you should find someone whose strengths balance out your own weaknesses. For example, I'm much stronger with numbers, processes, and organization, but I'm not a huge people person. My co-founder Jose is a major extrovert and loves to talk to people and share our company vision and mission. The tasks he excels at are the ones I don't enjoy and visa versa, so we balance each other out and prevent each other from getting burnt out doing things that don't align with our core values and skills.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
From day one, when thinking about starting your business, you need to think through how your business will ultimately "evolve" beyond yourself. If you think entrepreneurship is a way to break free from the "slavery" of the standard corporate job, you'll be in for a rude awakening because your business will consume all of your energy and time for a while. The only long-term path is to eventually build up a team and processes so that the company becomes a living entity all on its own. It needs to be able to operate and succeed without your constant involvement in all things. To learn more about this concept, I highly recommend the book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.