Baked by Melissa co-founder Melissa Ben-Ishay on working with siblings, feeling “like a fraud,” and getting passionate about gluten-free cupcakes.
Melissa Ben-Ishay, the co-founder and chief product officer of Baked by Melissa, built a mini empire based on what she loved–once she overcame her imposter syndrome.
— As told to Maria Aspan
What was the most difficult part of starting the company?
Just having the confidence. After I was fired from my advertising job, I worked out of my apartment for seven months, by myself. I’d cold-call catering companies and say, “Hi. This is Melissa from Baked by Melissa. I’d like to bring you a free tasting of my cupcakes.” I remember crying to my brother, “Who the hell do I think I am?! ‘Melissa of Baked by Melissa?'” I felt like a fraud.
Aren’t cupcakes over?
Oh, hell, no! Cupcakes are my favorite thing in the world. I used to eat two full-size cupcakes a day. I’d stop at the deli across the street after work, and I could never decide if I wanted the chocolate cake or the vanilla, so I would get two. Which is why our cupcakes are mini, and each is under 50 calories. You can try every flavor without the guilt trip. That’s fun.
You’ve expanded products and locations in the past year. What was the biggest challenge?
We opened our first gluten-free store in November, after I’d been working on gluten-free cupcakes for more than a year. That was the single hardest project I’ve done. I didn’t feel passionate about it at first–but gluten free was the most requested item. That type of baking is hard, so I was being a little bit lame. Then, all of a sudden, we signed a lease, and I had to have this product finalized. I was also in the first trimester of my pregnancy–and, ironically, developed a gluten intolerance. That gave me a swift kick in the butt.
You started the company with your brother, who’s the CEO. Did you set any ground rules before going into business together?
We probably should have. That would have been a great idea. But we didn’t. We’re an incredible team, but it wasn’t easy. If you disagree with him, and if you’re in a conference room filled with people, maybe that’s not so appreciated. I’ve realized that I just need to let things happen. And then we do our best to keep family time separate.