SFU Beedie alumnus turned cookie entrepreneur saw sweet opportunity in pandemic
Aug 09, 2022
When Jessica Nguyen graduated from SFU Beedie in 2020, she had a marketing job lined up at a tech start-up and was ready to join the workforce. But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like many others, Nguyen lost her job offer—companies were no longer hiring.
As it turns out, the pandemic may have been the best thing to happen to Nguyen and her brother, Andy. The two of them are now co-founders of a wildly successful cookie business: BAK’D Cookies. Born in the beginning of the pandemic, their cookie business shone a ray of light in the dark, early days of COVID-19 and brought positivity and hope to their local communities. BAK’D also won the 2021 Coast Capital Venture Prize competition’s Local Impact Award through SFU’s Charles Chang Institute for Entrepreneurship and has since grown their revenues to over $250k. Since November 2021, BAK’D has been part of SFU’s Coast Capital Venture Connection incubator program, where they received incubation services including paid mentorship by serial entrepreneurs and were also connected with SFU’s Ancillary Services to operate a sold-out pop-up cookie event on campus in February. BAK’D will be a highlighted vendor at this fall’s upcoming #MadeBySFU marketplace.
For the high-achieving Nguyen, who majored in marketing and graduated with honours, not being able to get a job after graduation felt like a personal failure. Even though she knew there were external factors at play, she couldn’t help feeling frustrated. She had worked hard, gotten involved in extracurriculars, done everything right—and yet still found her job prospects quashed by the unexpected chaos of a global pandemic.
Nguyen’s brother, Andy, who was 17 at the time, had been laid off from his job as a junior baker at the local pie shop. He had always been passionate about baking and offered to bake something to cheer up his older sister. Nguyen accepted his offer and challenged him to replicate some cookies she had tasted in New York—they were big and gooey with walnuts and chocolate and were the best cookies Nguyen had ever had.
“He loves a good challenge,” says Nguyen. “He started making all these batches of cookies and I would eat them and say, no this isn’t it. The texture is off, or it needs to be fluffier. It was kind of silly and it was nice that we got to bond before he was supposed to start university.”
The pair began to post their cookies on Nguyen’s Instagram where they quickly got noticed by friends and family. All the local bakeries were closed and people were on lockdown. They started getting questions about where they were getting these cookies and offers to buy some. The community wanted to support local—and what was more local than a neighbourhood family business run out of their townhouse? Nguyen and Andy started getting media coverage. They were even offered a free pop-up shop at the mall to get some foot traffic.
“The news was very negative all the time during the early days of the pandemic,” says Nguyen. “People wanted to hear something positive for a change.”
Nguyen quickly put her marketing skills into action—she built a brand, a website, and a social media presence. It wasn’t long before BAK’D really took off. Nguyen and her brother started to introduce new flavours, including a new special flavour every month that customers can vote on. The soft, gooey cookies weigh five ounces—as much as a hockey puck—and were delivered within 12 hours of being baked to be enjoyed fresh, with flavours varying from traditional (the “OG”) to Earl Grey honey, caramel macchiato and birthday cake. What started out as a passion project for them became a full-time business.
“In 2020, we spent zero dollars on marketing—we were able to grow our business all organically through word of mouth and media coverage,” says Nguyen. “It’s all thanks to the things I learned during my marketing degree at SFU Beedie. Shoutout to my professor Jason Ho—he was awesome and taught us a lot about analytics and how to use them to build a strategy. That was incredibly helpful for BAK’D.”
Another favourite course for Nguyen was BUS 360: Business Communication, which taught her professional business writing. Business communications make up a huge part of Nguyen’s duties at BAK’D—she sends upwards of 30 emails a day liaising with vendors and customers.
“Because of our young age, sometimes we don’t get taken seriously,” says Nguyen. “The business communication course taught me how to write professionally. When people meet us, they’re surprised to see that we’re younger than they expected. Also, when you’re running a business, there are things that go wrong—business communication also taught me how to address upset customers and resolve problems.”
Despite the explosive growth of BAK’D, running a business was not without its challenges. Although the pandemic provided the perfect environment for their delivery-model based business to flourish during lockdown, the unexpected twists and turns during the pandemic were tough even for seasoned business owners to navigate, let alone a recent university grad and current university student with little experience in the business world.
“We had to be super agile and adaptive with all the changing public health orders,” says Nguyen. “The fact that we could overcome the challenges of the pandemic made us feel like we could tackle anything.”
BAK’D has now outgrown the commissary kitchen out of which they’ve operated for two years—they can no longer store enough cookie dough balls to meet the current demand. Nguyen is scheduled to tour some business locations and hopes to open their own storefront within the next couple of years.
“In five years, we hope to have a couple of locations opening and to introduce a new product line that we’ve been working on,” says Nguyen. “My long-term vision is to have a few stores in the Lower Mainland, maybe even on the island and up in Whistler and Kelowna. But for now, we’re aiming to get our first store opened and then we’ll see.”
Feeling hungry? Check out BAK’D Cookies.