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So You Wanna Start A Specialty Baking Business with David Downing from ChipMonk Baking

Welcome to our So You Wanna Start A... series, designed to give you a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the journeys that went into creating some of your favorite local brands.

Today's guest is David Downing, co-founder of ChipMonk Baking, a specialty food manufacturing and product business in Houston, Texas.

Our favorite piece of advice: "Remember the 80/20 rule and listen to your top customers." Shout it from the rooftops, David! At Love Local we inherently believe that a majority of your business will come from repeat customers and just like David shares in his advice, you've got to nurture and appreciate those customers to build up raving fans. One customer raving about your product to a friend goes so much further than your single social media post promoting your product ever could. Invest in your customers. You won't regret it.

If you're curious about starting your own specialty food business, learn a little more from David and connect with him using the links below!

1. What do you own and why did you start this business?

I'm co-founder and CEO of ChipMonk, a specialty baking business based in Houston, TX that bakes and sells delicious low carb, gluten free, keto friendly cookies. I started the business back in 2019 with my then-roommate, Jose Hernandez. Jose was diagnosed with type two diabetes during college but has since been able to successfully manage it with a low carb, high fat diet (nuts and seeds galore!). He and I were both working around startups and got to talking about creating a business of our own.

One weekend, feeling depressed that we couldn't come up with a worthwhile business idea, Jose decided to bake us some "feel-good" desserts but he did so using alternative ingredients like almond flour and monk fruit sweetener. He ended up creating a delicious chocolate chip cookie, and, when I ate it, the lightbulb clicked for us that this was a product we could build a business around. We wanted to help people cut out sugar and processed carbs from their diet without sacrificing sweets entirely. With over 1/3 people in the United States being diabetic or pre-diabetic, we believe there's a massive need for products like ours that deliver amazing taste and wholesome nutritional value.

2. Tell us about your main offers.

We primarily sell single-serve keto cookies (6 flavors) as well as pouches of our smaller keto cookie bites (9 flavors). Instead of regular flour, we make our cookies using nut and seed flours and, instead of sugar, we use allulose and monk fruit, all-natural sweeteners that do not impact blood sugar. Our cookies are gluten free, low carb, and perfect for those on a keto diet or anyone trying to reduce their sugar intake. We offer them online on our website (www.chipmonkbaking.com) as well as Amazon and Walmart.com. We also sell our cookies wholesale to retailers across the country including Central Market in Texas.

3. What's different or unique about ChipMonk?

Unlike many specialty food startups, ChipMonk manufactures all of our products in-house. We do not outsource production to a contract manufacturer, but instead we built out our own dedicated gluten-free bakery where we make our cookies and ship them out to our customer each day. By keeping production in-house, we have a lot more flexibility than other food companies to offer unique flavors and small batches on a regular basis. It also gives us the ability to rapidly develop new products (we're currently working on protein cookies, savory biscuits, and even a low calorie cookie option).

With incredibly high quality standards and the flexibility of in-house production, our low carb cookies come in an amazing array of flavors that simply aren't offered by any other company (e.g., red velvet, birthday cake, cinnabun). We also believe that our unique blend of monk fruit and allulose as our sweeteners gives our cookies an unbelievable taste compared to most of the bland sugar-free options currently available on the market.

4. What is an early win you had that made you feel like you were on the right path?

In 2020, my co-founder Jose was featured in the Houston Chronicle. The story focused on how his experience with type 2 diabetes led to the birth of ChipMonk, and it resonated with tons of local Houstonians. The day the article was published, we saw more website sales than we had typically seen in an entire month. While it was an operational nightmare to get through all those orders, it was at that moment Jose and I really felt like the ChipMonk concept was evolving beyond a side gig or project and into a real business.

5. What's one of the biggest challenges you’ve had?

Figuring out how to develop a team beyond just myself and Jose has been a real struggle. At the start, he and I were responsible for doing everything (baking, shipping, marketing, accounting, sales, etc.) but over time that's not sustainable. We've had to build a team of over 8+ people to slowly take on various aspects of the business. As a startup with limited resources, finding the right people and building a positive culture that keeps them growing with the company can be very difficult. Neither Jose nor I had much "leadership" experience until now, but I'm quickly learning that the majority of my job is about supporting the people on our team. Giving them the resources they need, providing guidance, and having hard conversations when necessary. It's incredibly exciting, though. We have the opportunity to build a company and culture that we want to work at vs. inheriting whatever culture already exists.

6. What are three pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring business owners in the food manufacturing industry?

1) Just get started. Don't spend so much time thinking about an idea that you fall into analysis paralysis. If you have an idea, just start executing on it a little, step by step. Come up with an easy prototype and do what you can to make a sale. From there you can iterate and continually improve upon your product.

2) Remember the 80/20 rule and listen to your top customers. 20% of your customers will drive 80% of the business for you. Identify your company's biggest fans and repeat customers and engage with them. Call them, survey them, learn why they love your company and continue to do more of that.

3) Always be learning. Use LinkedIn and local associations/groups to expand your network and learn from those who have done what you want to do. If you can't connect with those people in person, read the books they've written. Reading is such an easy hack to grow your own skillset but keep the books mixed so you don't get bored and you can inspire areas of thinking you might normally engage (e.g., instead of always reading a business book, maybe read a biography about a famous artist).

7. What are some of your favorite business books?

1) Ramping Your Brand: How to Ride the Killer CPG Growth Curve by James Richardson

2) The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber

3) How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

 8. What are three of your favorite business resources you couldn’t live without?

1) DTC Newsletter

2) LinkedIn (for networking and learning from other entrepreneurs in my space)

3) Magnet Monster Email Marketing Newsletter

 9. Where is your business heading next and what are you excited about?

Coming into 2022, ChipMonk will focus on expanding our wholesale presence with a focus on smaller specialty grocery stores in certain geographies where we have seen good success so far. This will involve us working with a major distributor for the first time as well as raising additional funds to fuel our growth. We're also planning on launching some additional products for wholesale as we expand our production capabilities in-house.

We'll continue to grow our e-commerce business and use it as a hub for listening to our top Customers. Over time, we hope to become a nationally recognized brand for offering the amazing tasting better-for-you desserts and alternatives to household staple foods.

Find David & ChipMonk:

Instagram: @chipmonkbaking

Facebook: @chipmonkbaking

 Website: chipmonkbaking.com

LinkedIn: David Downing

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