It began with a brownie.
Matt: I had just graduated from Ball State University and was a few months into my first job. During lunch on a particularly frustrating day at the office, my boss was telling me about an episode of Oprah featuring inventors. One of the guests on the show, a young girl named Abbey Fleck, had invented a microwave bacon rack and earned millions of dollars from it in just a few years. We laughed about the luck of it all and dismissed it as if she’d hit the lottery…but then I thought about it. The truth is that she was creative, smart, and ambitious. She identified a problem and invented a brilliant solution, and that simple thought inspired me. After all, if a middle-school student can create a useful product, surely a hardworking 24 year-old college graduate should stand a chance, right? That very evening, while chewing on a warm brownie (a corner brownie, my favorite), and thinking about inventions, it suddenly struck me. I love corner brownies – and a simple redesign of the conventional pan could give me a pan full of them. The design was so obvious and straightforward, I was convinced someone else had already thought of it. As it turns out, nobody had.
I developed the concept for the Edge Brownie Pan in 1998, but it wasn’t until 2002 that my wife Emily and I cleaned out our savings account to make the first prototypes. (A very scary moment, to say the least.) In January of 2005, seven years after the thought first popped into my head, we produced our first pan.
A chef stirs the pot...
Emily: I’ve always had an interest in cooking and baking. I remember as a little girl watching my grandma bake homemade bread and angel food cakes, and being amazed that she never used a recipe, yet it always tasted wonderful.
In college, I was the roommate who made homemade cookies for everyone and always cooked my own meals. I never ate a package of Ramen noodles and called it dinner. I had grown up with actual meals, so I couldn’t stand living on macaroni and cheese just because it was cheap and easy.
After college, I purchased a cake decorating book and would practice decorating cakes on my coffee table at night. I even tried my hand at one of my grandma’s favorites, lemon meringue pie. I began taking all my extra cakes and baked goods into work because I couldn’t eat them all... the next thing I knew, people were asking me if they could place an order. I figured it might be fun, so I started by baking a few cakes a month. Six months later, I completed my first wedding cake. I began to realize that I not only loved it, my customers were really happy with my work. So, I decided to take the plunge and attend culinary school. I applied for scholarships, quit my job, and moved to Kentucky with Matt to attend Sullivan University. It was a big leap of faith at the time, but I’m so glad I did it. I received my baking and pastry arts degree from Sullivan and graduated Magna Cum Laude.
At that time, Matt was refining his idea for the Edge Brownie Pan. We spent days and weeks and months thinking about the details of the design... it took a lot of late nights to get everything just right. Matt was also cramming his brain full of intellectual property law so he could file a patent application. At times, it felt like we were both back in school -- studying, writing, and spending a lot of time in the library.
If you can’t find investors, enter a contest.
Matt: It makes me laugh when I think about it... it’s definitely an unconventional way to start a new business. For months we tried to get investors on board, but we got a very abrupt “thanks but no thanks” from almost everyone we approached. You’d have thought we were trying to sell people triangular wheels. But it’s understandable. At the time, our business consisted of three people with no prior experience and a few crude prototypes. At first glance, I’m sure we looked like a very risky proposition. A long shot.
The “Ideas Happen” contest, sponsored by VISA and MSN, was huge for us. I remember entering at the last minute and I don’t we thought winning was a real possibility. Before we even knew what was happening, I found myself in the finals... people were finding us on the contest website and the votes just kept rolling in. A few months later we had $25,000 in prize money – which is enormous, but only barely enough to start a bakeware company. It was an incredible step up - and crazy and unbelievable.
Emily: I’d also just given birth to our first child, Gavin. Matt and I were learning how to be parents, trying to start a new business, working late nights and weekends... and the pan was beginning to develop a life of its own. A lot was happening all at once.
Matt: No question. But it was all really, really good! Although, I do remember not getting nearly enough sleep.
And ever since...
Matt: It’s been an amazing ride, and almost none of it has gone according to plan. I think we imagined our business would unfold and evolve in a way that was fairly ordinary. You know, predictable and slow. We knew we had great products to offer, but because the designs are so different we thought it might take years for people to accept them. Instead, the exact opposite has been true.
Emily: Almost by accident, I think we discovered a market that nobody knew existed. Most people really are willing to embrace new ideas and solutions, if the products deliver what they promise.
Matt: In March 2006, the home page of our website was hit maybe 500 times. In March 2007, it was hit 50,000 times. We’re now getting email from people all over the world. It’s almost surreal... way beyond our expectations. It’s such a huge thrill for us. Nearly every day something new and cool and crazy happens.
What’s the best part?
Emily: Not knowing what’s next is a little unsettling at times, but we’re in a much, much better position than when we first started. We learn more about our business and how to grow it every single day. I sometimes can’t believe how far we’ve already come. It took every bit of courage we had for Matt and I to pour our savings account into three very crude prototypes, but the joy we get from our building our own company is so much more valuable. I know there are so many opportunities out there for us to explore... it’s exciting to know that we’re still just beginning!
Matt: I love that we’re still small. Even as we grow, I think we all want to keep that same mindset. We don’t want to grow so fast that we lose our personality, passion, creativity, or our one-on-one relationships with our customers. People might not know this, but when somebody sends an email to “customer service”, it goes to Emily, or me. I love that we’re still able to do that. It’s horribly inefficient, but why be in business if you don’t want to talk to your customers?
Emily: If there’s a model for business success, we’re probably not it. We enjoy being small and unique and just going our own way. Take a look at our website, for example. How many bakeware or cookware companies are creating animated videos for their products? The benefit can’t be quantified in dollars and sense, but it sure was fun to make them. We love being unconventional that way. It’s not just our product that’s different. And you know what? Breaking the rules has helped us. We’ve never had to compromise our values, we’re more excited about our business than we’ve ever been, and we wake up each morning believing that today could be the best day we’ve ever had. We won’t end up the richest people in the world, but we’ll have an absolute blast along the way. We wish for everyone that kind of success.