What if you could enjoy a cookie that gave you the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee? Thanks to Akiva Resnikoff of The Cookie Department, that dream has become a reality. Lucky for us, the Awaken Baked cookie was only the first of a whole line of functional cookies that do more than just satisfy your sweet tooth. Akiva has not only created a completely new genre of baked goods, but also has done so while staying true to family roots and not forgetting where he came from.
Read more about Akiva’s story below.
The spark that inspired the birth of your concept: In 2009, I was sitting at a coffee shop and observed as patron after patron purchased a cookie or baked good along with a cup of coffee. I wondered about the possibility of combining the two, to create a caffeinated cookie. My mom’s an amazing baker, so her kitchen with her help was a great place to test out the concept. After over 60 trial and error batches, we finally perfected what would become our signature cookie.
The Awaken Baked was born, and I started selling to five or so local Berkeley coffee shops. As my little passion project grew, my mom’s kitchen was no longer sufficient for baking, so I made an arrangement with my cousin who owns an artisan bread bakery in Berkeley. During the day I was a Sales Manager for his company, and at night I baked around 20 dozen Awaken Baked cookies. Then in the early mornings, I delivered the cookies to my handful of local customers.
The problem it solves: Satisfying a sweet tooth can often result in a twinge of guilt. We support cookie lovers in fulfilling those cravings with a decadent treat, while also offering them benefits in every bite!
How you came up with the name: My late grandmother had a department for everything! When I asked her where I might find a banana, for instance, she would point to the kitchen and say “It’s in the banana department, of course”. When starting my brand, The Cookie Department, the name just came to me. Because, of course, cookies can be found in the cookie department!
How you are different than your competition: My competition in the functional cookie space primarily produces cookies that contain added protein and are for the most part dense, dry or cakey, while tasting like protein bars. Our product line offers numerous functional benefits ranging from protein and caffeine to superfoods and antioxidants while tasting like a bakery style treat.
We are also the only company in the world using sustainable plant-based “algae butter”. This is not only better for the body, but is also more environmentally conscious than using rainforest-destroying palm oil, as our competitors do.
How you make money: We sell our cookies to food service and retail distributors as well as direct-to-independent natural grocery retailers, delis, college campuses, sporting goods stores, movie theaters, gift stores, coffee shops and juice and smoothie bars throughout the country. We also sell direct-to-consumers through our own site as well as many third party online retailers.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur: I relish the idea of the endless possibilities inherent in running my own company. Nobody limits my value, earning potential, creativity, or how many vacations I’m limited to. Granted I haven’t taken a vacation in over three years and I work 90 plus hours per week, but that’s my choice as I’m building something that I, my family and investors can be proud of.
The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: Food doesn’t magically show up at the grocery store! I’m joking, sort of. What once was a passion project is now an actual company with numerous moving parts ranging from navigating unpredictable sales cycles to managing staff, logistics and budgets, to working with food scientists, shareholders and lawyers. As a non–academic that struggled with learning disabilities and dyslexia, my ultimate surprise is that I have built something like this.
Your biggest success: Having our cookies as a staple on the campuses of some of the world’s largest tech companies like Google, Uber, LinkedIn and Tesla, has been an area of ongoing and growing success for us. We are currently collaborating with a leader in the self-serve frozen yogurt space to create a cookie related menu board item, and being approached by the US military to have our products sold on all domestic bases is extremely validating, and hopefully will lead to extensive profitability.
A failure story and what you learned: Because I hadn’t had any formal business training and had never run a company before, for the first several years, I put too much trust into potential partners, investors and advisors. The result of this was several individuals trying to steer my company in a direction I wasn’t comfortable with, expecting more equity then they deserved, and taking the advice that served their interest rather than that of my companies. This deepened my conviction to protect my brand from outside noise. It taught me to hold people more accountable to their promises and not be afraid to cut ties if need be.
What keeps you up at night: Funding is a constant struggle for my company. Cliché as it sounds, it takes money to make money in my industry. I started the company with $100 investment as a passion project and have been underfunded throughout. With an influx of investment capital, we could grow exponentially and very quickly. We are currently doing a capital raise with the equity crowdfunding site WeFunder.com, which I hope will allow us to speed up our growth in 2019. I was attracted to this way of raising funding vs institutional because it allows our brand evangelists to become investors in a product line that they believe in. For more information, please visit https://wefunder.com/thecookiedepartment
The best entrepreneurial advice you have received: My CFO who is also an investor in my company, regularly reminds me not to stress or waste energy on the things I have no control over. There are days that I spend so many hours putting out fires that I forget what the bigger picture looks like. She reminds me that at the end of the day, it’s just cookies.
Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: I would tell a budding entrepreneur to make sure they really want it and are truly willing to make whatever necessary sacrifices the new venture required. When I made the decision to turn my hobby into an actual company, I sold my car, moved in with my parents and I didn’t pay myself a single dime from the company’s profits from the first four years. On our first date, I picked my now wife up in a delivery van, told her that I had no income and that I lived with my mom. I have been blessed to have people around me that believe in me and my goals, though there have been many times that I have been advised to shut the company down to get a job with a stable paycheck.
The #1 book you would recommend for a budding entrepreneur: I’ve perused a handful of books by people like Napoleon Hill, Stephen Covey and Tim Ferris, though as I struggled with dyslexia, learning disabilities and reading comprehension as a child, I learned early on that I absorb information best by doing, asking questions, and surrounding myself with people that are smarter than I am.
The song that best describes your entrepreneurial journey: Let It Go, Let It Flow by Dave Mason.
What wild success looks like: We are working hard on developing national distribution in the natural grocery, convenience and foodservice segments, and I have a vision of becoming a leader in the functional cookie space. The ultimate goal, for
myself and my shareholders, is to be acquired within 10 years. If I’m fortunate enough to reach this goal, I’ll probably take a short vacation and then start my next company.
Your favorite local business: Visiting some of the family-owned farms on Sauvie Island has been really inspiring. The “You Pick” options make it possible for lower-income families to purchase quality vegetables and fruit at a lower price than their local grocery stores while sharing a lovely family experience and I think that’s really special and unique.
What you wanted to be when you grew up: I wanted to be a firefighter and I actually almost got there. That’s a story for another time!
Is Oregon is a good place to start a business: Oregon is a very welcoming state for food brands. Not only are consumers excited to try new products but they are also inspired to support local brands. Also, I’ve been finding that food brand entrepreneurs in Oregon really want to support each other. Organizations like OEN and the Culinary Alliance create great opportunities to expand our entrepreneur networks and I didn’t experience that level of comradery living in CA or NY.
Any other tidbits or fun facts to share? For more information or to get in touch please feel free to reach out at Akiva@thecookiedepartment.com.
CD Website Video from Akiva Resnikoff on Vimeo.