Being prepared is always a good idea, but in business you can’t wait forever when a golden opportunity is before you. Sometimes you need to seize the chance before you feel fully prepared to do so.
Kristen Tomlan, founder and CEO of DŌ, Coookie Dough Confections, did just that. Rather than wait forever on the “perfect” moment to open her brick-and-mortar shop, Tomlan decided to take a leap into the unknown. The result, she admits, was something she didn't prepare for.
Of her experience opening up shop, Tomlan says, “It was a mess. A disaster. An embarrassment, on occasion–and exciting, scary, wonderful and terrible at the same time.”
How can you, like Tomlan, get back on your feet and turn a disastrous situation into a manageable success?
Starting her Startup
Tomlan didn’t foresee the rapid success her gourmet cookie dough shop would have. It began over a discussion she and her friends had about why more cookie dough wasn't made to eat on its own.
Little by little, Tomlan began her enterprise. At first, she was still working at a corporate job, baking on the weekends and experimenting with new cookie dough recipes. From there she sold her cookie dough online for years until she felt the moment had come to open a tangible shop in New York.
Although having little experience in retail, Tomlan loved to “learn on the job.” She learned a lot quicker than expected.
A video from Insider Food highlighted Tomlan’s new shop. It quickly gained much attention on Facebook and ended up going viral. Within the first weekend, huge crowds massed to Tomlan’s cookie dough confectionery. The new demand caused some problems for Tomlan and her team.
They started with just 10 employees, five of those only working part-time. Soon that wasn’t enough. Tomlan called her family in to help, however the workload overwhelmed them, too.
The team started working overtime to make enough cookie dough for lines that went down the block and beyond. But then they ran out of ingredients as well. And the problems didn’t stop there. Tomlan says, “Customers were stuck waiting up to five hours for their cookie dough. We didn’t have the equipment we needed to produce the quantity of product we needed. Our online orders were pinging in at one order per minute, so we had to shut down online ordering just to keep our heads above the water.”
Every entrepreneur wants their business to be a success, but as in Tomlan’s case, too much success too fast can quickly put you out of business.
Tomlan wasn’t ready for the enormous customer response she received, but she knew that if anyone could get DŌ back on its feet it would be her. “I could only save myself,” Tomlan says. “Once the initial shock wore off, I began fixing the problem and, for the first time, truly building a business that could achieve what I wanted it to achieve.”
Dealing with the Disaster
What would you do in Tomlan’s situation? How can anyone keep their business running when unforeseen circumstances arise?
What Tomlan did was evaluate what her biggest concerns were and went from there. What she saw as her highest priorities were (1) hiring more employees, (2) increasing production and production space and (3) ordering enough inventory for the increasing demand.
With these priorities in mind, Tomlan set off on a mission. The shop had to close for two days after its first weekend to catch up on production. While that was happening, Tomlan says she used “every possible moment” to look for additional help. Tomlan needed hires both at the storefront and in positions managing the backend of production. Tomlan’s team soon grew to 60, becoming much more efficient and organized.
DŌ’s kitchen space was also in need of extra help. They invested in bigger mixers, larger refrigerators and eventually went on to hire outside help from production partners.
When it came to inventory, Tomlan quickly learned how to analyze her sales in a way that effectively managed orders. Tomlan says that for the first couple of weeks she never ordered enough. She even went to buy extra butter and vanilla herself on occasion. It wasn’t until she carefully calculated inventory with her team, after some more trial and error, that Tomlan began ordering what DŌ needed, plus some cushioning.
From time to time, issues still arise for Tomlan and her team at DŌ, but they keep learning and keep moving on. When you and your business face disaster, it’s nice to know that you never have to go through it alone. In most cases, doing it alone isn’t an option.
Giving up isn’t an option either, on yourself or your vision. In one interview, Tomlan recalls, “I had to trust myself and be confident I was making the right decision. And somehow find a way to get it all done.”
When your plan doesn’t go according to plan, rewrite it to make it work, but don’t throw it away. Like Tomlan, you may be more qualified than you realize once you learn the ropes.
“WE ALL MUST GO AFTER WHAT WE WANT WITHOUT HESITATION.” – KRISTEN TOMLAN
Tomlan’s Advice for YOU
Wherever you find yourself in your entrepreneurial career, remember that there are some situations you can never prepare for. But the power to solve those problems and save your company lie within you.
Tomlan learned each step of the way what would save her business. Some CEOs are not so fortunate. Uncontrollable circumstances prove to be too much, and the startup they loved falls to pieces.
To those struggling business owners, Tomlan offers some last advice:
- Surround yourself with people who are passionate like you. Hire them so you can let them help you! She also notes that it helps to have people around who know more than you do.
- Be true and authentic to your brand, as well to your own ideas and values.
- “It’s okay to say no.” Gradually build your business as best as you can, without taking on unnecessary obligations.
If your big chance is waiting for you, follow Tomlan’s advice and don’t hesitate to go after it. Be smart with your decisions, but above all, follow your heart.