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Melissa Ben-Ishay Talks About Her Sweet Success

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Scrumptious, bite-sized, moist mini cupcakes in flavors like tie-dye, chocolate chip pancake and red velvet. You know them: The hard-to-resist Baked by Melissa (BBM) cupcakes that you've seen all over New York City. As aspiring entrepreneurs, we turned to a successful female founder and role model, Melissa Ben-Ishay herself. She's the president, chief product officer and the creative vision behind BBM.

We met Melissa, dressed in a Bohemian, flowing tank and jeans in a conference room at the AOL offices. Accompanying her was BBM Brand Director Mallorie Rosenbluth. We started off by asking about how Melissa comes up with new cupcake flavors because each one seems to be an experience of its own. Chuckling, she told us that the "creative process is pretty internal." A majority of the time is spent brainstorming by thinking and writing in front of her computer. Then, she goes into the kitchen and brings her ideas to life. You would think that as Baked by Melissa garners more and more success, that Melissa would be in the office more than in the kitchen, but typically she spends four days a week in the kitchen and one day in the office.
Randy Fenoli Signs Copies Of "Kleinfelds / Say Yes To The Dress"If we were surrounded by cupcakes all the time, we would be eating until the end of time, so we were curious to know how Melissa resists the omnipresent temptation. At first, it wasn't easy.

"I would be sitting in a meeting, and I could eat 25-30 cupcakes because they're my favorite thing in the world. Now, I've learned to have some more control." But that doesn't mean she can't have a cupcake here and there, Melissa tells us with a grin, "I know that I made a kick-ass flavor when I can't stop eating it."

Her favorites? Peanut butter & crackers and sugar cookie. Yuuum. Melissa creates all the flavors herself, but that doesn't mean she eats them all herself. "I bring in the entire management team for tastings. The girls who work in the kitchen with me eat 10 cupcakes a day." Umm, sign us up! If we were the tasters, we would definitely approve every flavor, but Melissa says she gives every new employee in the kitchen "the talk." "I tell them, 'I want to hear the honest truth.' I do get a lot of 'that's delicious' and I am like, 'No really, what can be better?' Feedback is everything; it's the only way you can really improve."
DASH New York Grand Opening - InsideAside from discussing the enticing cupcakes, we were just as curious to learn about the process of starting a business. As many founders face initial roadblocks, Melissa has also encountered challenges along the way. "The biggest challenge when we first started was more internal, in just having the confidence to wake up every morning and work my ass off and remind myself, 'You are Melissa. Baked by Melissa'...But then when we opened our first location, and everyone was coming, a challenge was baking enough product to make sure we had every flavor available." Not a bad problem to have!

With so many bakeries and cupcakeries around NYC, what really helped the company take off, Melissa says, is resources and talent. "My brother is our CEO. He is very business-minded and protective of his little sister," she said, "And I met this caterer who is great at PR, and he would literally bring the cupcakes everywhere that he went out. So if he was at the new club opening, he would bring the Baked by Melissa cupcakes." At BBG Ventures, we've learned time and time again - a strong team is essential to startup success.

Branding also helped give Baked by Melissa its special touch. "It's funny because I really wanted to call the company Baked, but there was already a Baked that existed and my brother insisted on having a personal tie to the brand so we settled on Baked by Melissa, but I really love the carefree culture of the '60s and '70s and the tie dye cupcake. Our logo just brings it all together, and I think you get that vibe that's so on brand with who we are."

Yankees Unite For Tornado Relief BenefitHave you seen the beautiful cupcake art that Baked by Melissa has done? Amazing. It's like putting together a puzzle. "I recently did one with my husband who also works at Baked by Melissa because we were the only two people there who knew how to do it, and actually my brother helped, too. That was frustrating. It took three hours. It's really amazing what you can do with cupcake art. It's like pixel art." But, sometimes people can accidentally mess up your masterpiece. "We did the Lone Ranger premiere, and we had just finished. It was a 2,000 piece cupcake art, and this woman tripped - I almost had a heart attack. Luckily she caught herself...You put so much effort into these things and sometimes they travel around the country but yeah...what's the worst case? Just smooshed cupcakes."

Finally, we asked Melissa what the #BUILTBYGIRLS cupcake would look and taste like. You could really see the creative gears moving in her head. "I'd probably make it blue to screw with everyone and their stereotypes." As for flavors, "Chocolate. Bold and rich flavors." The filling? "Probably chocolate fudge, maybe with some cookies in the icing and the topping would be colorful." Hell yeah. How cool would a Baked by Melissa x #BUILTBYGIRLS collaboration be?

We loved interviewing Melissa because Baked by Melissa was #BUILTBYGIRLS. It's incredible and empowering for us to see successful women dream big and do big. What does #BUILTBYGIRLS mean to Melissa? "Anything could be Built By Girls. I think there's a lot more built by girls than we even know, so it's great that there's energy put behind understanding it more. Giving women a platform to do more and learn more is really awesome."

Thanks for hanging out with us, Melissa! We loved chatting with you.

(Cambio Col[lab] is a lab for young creators to showcase their passion and develop their voice. Like what you're seeing? Share it to support their effort!)


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