Shelley Gupta: Founder & CEO of Bakit Box

Episode 531

Shelley Gupta, Founder & CEO of Bakit Box, shares how she and the Bakeit Box team are building baking into educational and culturally enriching experiences through STEM based baking activities. The Bakit Box kits bring the world’s flavors and traditions into your kitchen, creating memorable moments and fostering culinary curiosity for all the family to enjoy. We learn about each kit’s unique recipes from around the world and why this is central to their mission, as well as her journey from going from being a strategy consultant in a large company to becoming an entrepreneur. How different are the experiences? What challenges did she face? Plus what does it take to scale a brand like Bakit Box? You are going to love this episode and I can’t wait for you to hear it. Now on the #TheKaraGoldinShow. 

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. So excited to have my next guest. Here we have Shelley Gupta, who was the founder and CEO of Bakit Box. And if you have not heard about Bakit box, it’s a fairly new company that transforms baking into educational and culturally enriching experiences. And wow, what an incredible incredible surprise when I saw these boxes and received them, they’re so so awesome on many levels. So through their quarterly STEM based baking activity kits, you can bring the world’s flavors and traditions into your kitchen, create memorable experiences, but also just create really great things to be baking together. And and that’s exactly what the goal has been. So I’m super excited to have Shelley on to meet her, but also hear a lot more about this, because I think they’ve done an awesome job. So welcome, Shelley.

Shelley Gupta 1:43
Thank you so much. Great to be here.

Kara Goldin 1:45
Awesome. So tell us a little bit about what you were doing, I guess, before Bakit box like how did this all come about?

Shelley Gupta 1:52
Yeah, well, right before Vega box, I was actually working as a strategy consultant in the tech industry. I was working for Accenture consulting. And the idea of Bakit box actually was just in my own home experimenting with baking and cooking. I’ve always come from a finance and strategy world. I’ve worked in real estate, banking, music, and in consulting. So that’s what I was doing at the time. Amazing.

Kara Goldin 2:17
So you were creating some of these different things at home. But you hadn’t been an entrepreneur. So what was the moment when you just thought I have got to do this? I mean, did anybody inspire you out there where you’re watching other entrepreneurs? Or like, what what was the moment that you said, I need to just go do this? Yeah,

Shelley Gupta 2:40
absolutely. I hadn’t been an entrepreneur at the time. But I definitely grew up around a lot of entrepreneurs, my parents included. So I think it’s definitely in my blood. And it’s something that I always thought I would experiment with at some point in my future. And so it was really just acknowledging that there’s a gap in the baking industry, in my opinion. And when I realized how powerful that couldn’t be, that was the motivation for me to be like, I got to try this. Like we, like, just you just I wanted to put this out into the world. And if people responded to it great. And if not, okay, like, you know, I but I didn’t want to not try.

Kara Goldin 3:18
Definitely. So how would you describe Bakit box to people who are not familiar with it? I mean, what can you give people the visual of it?

Shelley Gupta 3:26
Yeah, absolutely. So make it box today is a STEM based learning activity box that is focused on baking. And so all of our recipes are actually culturally diverse and inspired by different countries. So what you actually receive is a box of different recipes from different regions of the world. detailed recipe cards, like very user friendly and broken down so anyone can can follow along. And you have color coded coordination between the recipes on the retail and the retail store and the recipe card. In addition to that there are STEM learning activities included. So thinking about baking as a science, you know, we wanted to introduce even more education into the box, including tech, engineering, art and math, through activities that kids can follow along while they’re baking while they’re baking with their parents, and really create a fully cultural experience.

Kara Goldin 4:20
So you were incubating this during COVID? And, and I think there were a lot of people who were thinking about ideas during that time, but you actually brought it to market what was kind of the first developing kind of challenge that you gave to yourself that you said, Okay, I’ve got to figure out what the recipes were. You know, it comes in a box as well. Like, how did you figure that strategy out? And how many SKUs did you start with all of those kinds of things?

Shelley Gupta 4:52
Yeah. Yeah, it’s so funny, because when you start you have no idea right? Like what what it really takes. I’m very grateful For an incubator program here in Chicago called the hatchery, and that was a very, very helpful resource for me to figure out how to start a food business. One of the first challenges was just getting all the licensing for being, you know, an official registered business in the middle of COVID. Definitely, that was the first barrier, because, you know, I just wanted to get online and make it available to people. But of course, we needed all the right licenses, shared kitchen user licenses, business licenses, as you can imagine. So that was definitely a barrier. Everybody was, you know, at home, and even all the government officials were at home. So there were a lot of delays there. But we got through it, which was great. And we actually worked with ingredient and the hatchery on recipe development, and created for recipes as our first the, you know, the first launch, we put it online kind of as an MVP in 2021, just to kind of test the waters. And we had a bunch of orders before I even had a kitchen space to fulfill it in. So that was a that was a very cool moment for me, but also very scary moment, because I was like, oh gosh, how do I do this? I got a I gotta make these boxes now. But that was kind of the start of our MVP.

Kara Goldin 6:18
What were the four? I’m so curious.

Shelley Gupta 6:21
Yeah, we had a Mexican empanada, which had was filled with jam. We did a New York style bagel, just delicious. We did a ricotta cookie, which was like lemon and ricotta cheese included. And I believe it was a zucchini bread. Oh,

Kara Goldin 6:40
wow. That’s, that’s amazing. Now, were there any recipes that you develop that you thought this is going to kill it? And it just wasn’t? What people wanted? I always say that, you know, we definitely I found a company called hint, water. And, you know, there were definitely skews that I thought were just going to be amazing. And I think that the thing is, is like people say they want unique and different. And then oftentimes, you know, they go back to wanting cherry and strawberry, right? Like you have to be able to visualize what they’re gonna get at, especially for repeat business. But I’m curious, was there any recipe that you guys developed that you thought was going to be a lot better? Or maybe one that you were really surprised that it really took off? Yeah,

Shelley Gupta 7:27
that’s a great question. There. Um, there’s been a few over the last couple of years that I’ve tried to experiment with that didn’t quite hit the mark. Nothing in particular, to be honest, but one that actually ended up being a big seller, and I’m not really surprised by is our Persian love cake. It’s a beautiful cake. It’s got rosewater and cardamom in it, and lemon. And I put it out as a Mother’s Day offering, which at the time was just going to be for the month of May. And it was just so popular. I couldn’t I couldn’t take it off the menu. So now it sits as an evergreen recipe that you can you can buy at any time. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 8:06
it’s amazing. By the way, I use that one too. So it’s so so good. So you were a consultant, a strategy consultant, you were used to doing planning and big challenges. But what was the biggest transition going from working in your previous life to actually starting this idea from scratch? And I’m so curious what you would say to that, and what were the big kind of moments that you look back and think about? Yeah,

Shelley Gupta 8:36
I mean, it’s a huge transition, which I don’t know if I realize at the time, but um, you know, in terms of strategy, and planning and problem solving, that’s something that comes very naturally to me now, like no naturally given what I did for a living. But being an entrepreneur is just such a different beast. And what’s so interesting to me about it is, you know, you work countless hours, but it’s for something I really care about, and for something that I’m really passionate about. And that was like a very big difference, because of course, you work a lot of hours in the corporate world and in consulting as well. But you’re not as connected naturally to the brand or to the company that is benefiting from it. So that was a really big and kind of interesting transition for me. I think the other is that it’s so much white space. You can do anything as an entrepreneur, which is amazing, but can also be very scary. There are no boundaries, and there are no borders. So I had the, you know, a rare opportunity to come up with an idea to come up with a channel and an app like kind of a path and an avenue when there’s 100 Different things we could have chosen. And so that was a big transition to like how do I create a strategy around this because I could do 100 different things, but what do I need to focus on today? And that was something very very unique and a big transition for me as well coming from a world where it was all project based and I knew what my scope was.

Kara Goldin 10:08
Yeah, definitely. So you’re combining baking with STEM learning. So how do you think about designing these kits? And how do you balance kind of making sure that you’re, I mean, you’re obviously very interested in educating and getting people excited about the learning process of it. But you’re also interested in selling the kits, right and creating great products, because you’re not going to if you educate, but then the products don’t taste good, or most people don’t like them. I mean, it’s there. There’s, you know, that balance that has to be created. How do you do that?

Shelley Gupta 10:51
Yeah, that’s a great question. It really comes from our customers, and what they’re looking for truly, so, you know, our first, the first MVP I put out actually didn’t have educational pieces to it. And that evolved over time with customers giving us feedback and sharing their experiences at home. So in terms of how we balance it, it’s definitely through a lot of customer feedback, and then naturally through through my team, you know, we we have very deep discussions on each of our products, and it is truly a team effort. I will never forget some feedback from some customers every once in a while, like reach out, and you know, just ask for feedback, have conversations with a few different people. And there was an individual that just mentioned, like, what else can I learn about this country or this region. And that felt like such a interesting opportunity for for me that I didn’t think about because, you know, just acknowledge that you’re getting, you know, let’s use the Persian Gulf cake as an example, you may not be familiar with the region of the world or those flavors, and we weren’t providing that education few years ago. So they were it was opportunities like that, and moments like that, that made me realize that it was important to include it. And baking is still our core, and it’s still our focus. So that is always going to be the main, you know, the main part of the activity. But there’s so much to learn outside of the baking. And there’s so much to incorporate. Baking already is a science. So we wanted to kind of incorporate other elements of education in there. And then in addition to that, baking also has some downtime. There’s some times you have to prove your dough, you need cooling time, resting time or baking time. And so those are those opportunities where we have activities that the families and the kids can do in those downtimes.

Kara Goldin 12:40
Yeah, definitely. So how do you find like market fit? You’ve strategized with a lot of different companies in the past in your previous life, but I know that people whenever they’re starting their company, they think this is what my goal is, this is who my demographic audiences, and I’ve got to go find those people. But so often you find other people who are interested in your product, too. And so it sort of messes up your thinking around product market fit, but obviously, you have to keep moving forward or, or not, I guess, is the other option. But how have you looked at that overall? And, and any advice that you would have to others who are kind of thinking about, Okay, here’s, here’s how you’ve got to think about, you know, product market fit, and here’s how we did it?

Shelley Gupta 13:33
Yeah, you know, it has to come from experimentation and feedback from your customers. I think the you know, a huge asset for me as an entrepreneur is that I listen, and I adapt based on what the market and what our customers are asking for. And if you’re not, I mean, if you’re not doing that, then you’re you’re not going to serve them best totally. And an example, which was kind of a little bit of a crisis for us. A couple of years ago, I was very adamant for a little bit of time that I wanted to include the perishables in our box, I thought, there’s so much value there, like make it all inclusive. You don’t have to go to the store for butter or even for milk. And I tried to make that happen. Naturally, it’s makes the product much higher cost. You have to add ice packs, you know, cold shipping and all that. But I was I was doing all that. And we had one of the hottest summers across the country in 2022. And there were also issues with our fulfillment and delivery partners with staffing. They were just understaffed, and so much product went to waste because it sat in our warehouse or it sat on the doorstep of someone’s place. And it was a moment of you no realization that if I don’t adapt this product and don’t adapt what my customers are looking for, like this isn’t gonna work. And so ran a ton of surveys and ran top towel A bunch of customers just to understand, like, do you care about that part of the box, and it was really eye opening, because majority of them were like, not really. Like, I have butter and milk at home. Like, it’s nice that it’s in there. But I already have that. And technically, if you, they basically said, like, if you give me the freedom to not have to throw it in my fridge right away, and it could sit on the doorstep or considered my front porch for a couple of days longer if I’m traveling or something like that actually would be valuable to me. And I was like, Oh my gosh, we were thinking about this, like, completely kind of upside down. So from that moment on, I went completely shelf stable, removed all the perishables and it opened so many doors. Yeah, I

Kara Goldin 15:43
bet. I mean, I can only imagine I always tell people like, that was the moment we were actually able to get our product tent from, you know, three months, if we were lucky in the beginning to a much longer shelf life it just like, it was a whole new world for sure. So I can Oh, my gosh, absolutely. Yeah, for sure. So what’s the most challenging aspect of not only building a company, but you’re building a brand, right? You want people to, you know, start asking for bacon? Obviously, you want them to, to subscribe and get it and get the kids to but I mean, you really want people talking about it? Because that’s, you know, how you’re going to grow the brand overall, like, what is the most challenging part? Do you would you say of building a brand?

Shelley Gupta 16:35
Yeah, um, it takes a lot of grit. And it takes a lot of thick skin. So I think the challenging part is, you know, this is the closest thing to my heart in this moment where you have to really have a thick skin, and you have to be able to listen to people’s opinions. And of course, take everything with a grain of salt. But I think that is the hardest part. Because the more as I mentioned earlier, the more you can listen and adapt based on customer feedback, or based on you know, your advisors and stakeholders, the better you can be. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what you initially were thinking it was going to turn out to be like, there’s this balance of what is the market looking for? And what do I feel really compelled to create, and you have to find the blend between those two, because sometimes they don’t match up. So just continuously trying to find that balance of, you know, like, I’m so passionate about this product, and I’m so happy that our customers like it, because they there’s could have been a possibility where they didn’t. So I think that’s really hard. And then secondly, I would just say, continuing to grow a team is always challenging and finding the right team members, I’m so lucky to have an amazing team that’s been with me now, over a year, all of them kind of one to two years now, and who are super passionate about what I do as well. And that’s very hard to do with startup because you know, they’re taking a risk. I’m taking a risk, and we’re building something together. So it’s super fulfilling, but can also be very challenging.

Kara Goldin 18:06
Yeah, definitely. How are you getting the word out? About bigger box?

Shelley Gupta 18:11
Yeah, a few different ways. We started off with organic social media, just truly building our channels. And then we started working with paid channels as well with Google and with metta. And we do events around the Chicagoland area to build build awareness, organically like in person. And I’m actually doing some events out of state as well. So kind of a combination of things. And, you know, partnerships with other brands as well as helps. That’s

Kara Goldin 18:42
awesome. So what are you most excited about for vacant box your your launch your online, your, you know, off the off to the races? What are you most excited about? And maybe I won’t say the next five years, but over the next year, like what are you really, really excited about?

Shelley Gupta 19:01
Yeah, oh my gosh, there’s, there’s so much some that I can’t I can’t say yet. But this is gonna be a really exciting year, we’ve got some new partnerships coming, which I can’t share yet, but they’re going to be really really awesome new kits, new recipes. And what I’m really excited about is this, the introduction of stem into our boxes has been such a cool aspect for families and watching. Watching our customers send in videos or sending content with their, with their kids, you know, doing the activities or speaking this other language or, you know, writing in different languages or different letters is just like the most amazing thing to receive. And it just like, continues to motivate me. And it’s like why I’m doing what I’m doing but I’m very excited about this year. New partnerships, new products. We have a really, really exciting summer bundle that’s coming out in July and then holiday On holidays, always a really, really exciting time for us, because it’s an opportunity to get so creative with what we’re what we’re making and what we’re selling. So I’m just excited about everything that’s happening, including like introducing new products and just continuing to make continuing to make a lot of families happy with our products. That’s

Kara Goldin 20:19
awesome. So have you raised money to date? Or how have you funded the company to date?

Shelley Gupta 20:26
Yeah, so started off bootstrapping. And just you know, using personal savings, and then I did do a family and friends round are in 2122. And then we were very lucky to get selected into TechStars, Chicago, in 2022, which also provided some funding, thank you, it was awesome. And that actually really helped us get off the ground with this version of our product, which was a family oriented STEM based product. So we have raised in the past, I am actually doing another round now that can help us activate new channels that we are exploring right now, including the educational industry, as well as the homeschooling industry, which is really great. So I’m raising a small precede now.

Kara Goldin 21:10
Oh, that’s great. How’s it going? So far? I mean, is it? Everybody says it’s super challenging right now? Do you feel like it’s more challenging? Do you feel like being able to have some traction out there, you’re able to kind of tell us different story than you could, you know, when you were first getting going? Yeah,

Shelley Gupta 21:31
for sure. It’s, it changes every time that you do this, like, you know, definitely traction and being able to show the story and tell the story and tell an authentic story, I think is really important. So that’s definitely been great. It’s going well, I mean, I’m having a lot of conversations. And what’s interesting is, you know, it’s a different story that I’m telling than it was a few years ago when I did my first round. And I’m just so grateful for the people that jumped on board early on, I think back sometimes to when I was doing that race, and I’m like, I didn’t like we didn’t have anything. Yeah, we didn’t even have a product. So very grateful for those people who believed in me early on, and I’m excited about what this next round is going to help us achieve.

Kara Goldin 22:15
That’s awesome. So you’re based out of Chicago, you and I were talking about this earlier that I’m meeting more and more entrepreneurs that are based out of Chicago, how do you find other kind of like minded people that are building startups in your community, I feel like that’s where you kind of get the most strength. And I always found that, especially in the early days of hint that it wasn’t necessarily meeting other people in the beverage industry. It was meeting people who were just kind of doing what I’m doing in their industry and tackling really hard things. And I would get energy from those people. But I’m sure you’ve got a pretty good network out there. But how do you find those people?

Shelley Gupta 23:00
Yeah, it’s a little challenging at first if you don’t know where to start. But Chicago has been amazing, because there are a lot of organizations that are trying to help facilitate the ecosystem in the startup world. And so through these multiple different organizations, I’ve met other founders, from early stage to, you know, seed stage and beyond, that are doing just incredible things. I’ve met a lot of female founders, which are amazing women, and super inspiring through these organizations. And I’ve also applied for, you know, every opportunity there is to either pitch or to win money. And so through those organizations as well, I’ve met some amazing people. That TechStars was also another avenue where I met some really, really great founders. So you know, there is an ecosystem for it. And Chicago has been great in that way. Because there’s a lot of different different industries and different avenues that you can learn from. So I am grateful for the large network of founders that I can like, you know, reach out to at any point in time.

Kara Goldin 24:04
That’s awesome. So we’ll Shelley Gupta, thank you so much for coming on with us. And we’ll have all the info in the show notes. Everyone needs to get on to bake a box and and definitely order and give it a try, for sure. But it’s it’s really terrific. And I’m so happy you’re doing this and good luck in everything. And thank you everybody for listening as well.

Shelley Gupta 24:27
Thank you so much.

Kara Goldin 24:28
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too. So feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal. Best selling book undaunted where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint we are here every monday wednesday and friday thanks for listening and good bye for now