From Kitchen to Cupcake Entrepreneur: How I Built Cuppies Into a Big Business

From Kitchen to Cupcake Entrepreneur: How I Built Cuppies Into a Big Business

Ever been torn between whether to indulge in a cupcake or a cookie for dessert? Well, if you eat a Cuppie, you don't have to pick—seeing as this ingenious sweet is a cupcake with a cookie baked right in its center.

The woman behind the curious confection is Melissa Zimmerman. We sat down with her to talk baking, and what it was like to turn her invention into a full-fledged business: It's a Cuppie.

Dying to sample one of Melissa's confections? You can do this—and even meet the entrepreneur—at LearnVest LIVE New York City on Tuesday, October 1. You'll get to mingle with several dynamic speakers at the nearly sold-out event, along with fellow LearnVesters. Get your tickets here.

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LearnVest: How did you come up with the idea for It's a Cuppie?

Melissa Zimmerman: As a kid, my parents often baked for the holidays and special occasions, so they taught me the basics. I started baking on my own in high school and college, and when my older sister was in graduate school studying vocal jazz, I "catered" the reception for her final concert. I made eight or 10 different kinds of baked goods—brownies, cookies, cupcakes, dessert bars and more.

After trying some of my desserts, my sister's friend asked if I'd be interested in baking cupcakes for her wedding—and gave me creative reign. Since the market was a bit oversaturated with cupcakes, I wanted to create something a little more unique. At the time, I was reading "The Art of Eating In," by Cathy Erway. In the book, she discusses how she once used cookie dough instead of frosting on a batch of cupcakes ... and I began to wonder what would happen if I baked cookie dough inside a cupcake.

RELATED: 4 Small-Biz Success Stories

melissa zimmerman

I did a lot of experimenting until I produced my first flavor: chocolate chip cookie dough inside a vanilla cupcake. The taste-testers loved it—and so did the bride! At that point, my boyfriend said, "You should start a business. If one person wants to order them, why wouldn't other people?" I thought he was crazy, but here we are, three years out from when the first Cuppie was served.

What has been most challenging about being an entrepreneur?

There are so many steps to consider in the beginning. You can't just get a business off the ground in a month. My to-do list seemed interminable: I had to come up with flavors (I now have 15!), make a website, buy the domain, build publicity, legally become a business and trademark the word "Cuppie," among other things. Although I started the business three years ago, things have only really taken off in the past year and a half.

When I see people try a Cuppie, and how happy it makes them, I stop caring that I was up baking all night.

When did you know you had finally "made it"?

There were a few defining moments. The first was in the spring of 2012, when I sold Cuppies at the Hester Street Fair in New York City. Up until that point, I was mostly doing private orders for family, friends and friends-of-friends, so it was my first time actually selling my desserts to the public. Another notable day? When I was able to make the final payment back to my dad for the money he'd lent me to start It's a Cuppie. It definitely takes a while for a business to become profitable, but once it does ... boy, is it sweet.

What advice would you give to would-be entrepreneurs?

One of the most helpful things that I did was to talk to as many people as I could. Find someone who's doing something similar, and ask about his or her process. I sat down with a bunch of people in the dessert business to pick their brains.

As an entrepreneur, you also just have to know that there will be days when you don’t get a lot of sleep—but it's totally worth it. When I see people try a Cuppie, and how happy it makes them, I stop caring that I was up baking all night. That’s what it’s all about.

RELATED: Be Career Fearless: 7 Tips From Intrepid Entrepreneurs

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