Sometimes the best gifts are free

This might seem a little odd coming from a company in the business of sending out gift boxes of cookies and brownies that while reasonably priced, are not free. We certainly do hand out cookies without collecting payment on occasion, but doing that for everyone would be a very short term business strategy. And yet, we believe in sharing a gift of high value to those who need it without collecting a penny or attaching a caveat. It is our knowledge and expertise.

Several years ago, I was honored when Howie Rhee, Managing Director, Student and Alumni Affairs & the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business asked me to help out an alumnus who was interested in starting, of all things, a cookie business. I met with Randy and Liliana to hear their story and share some of what I’ve learned along the way. They ended up using our bakery for product development and testing.

Eventually, they set sail on their own, setting up the business in Liliana’s family bakery in Miami. And while their cookie business ended up not taking flight, I’m happy to say their love for each other did. They are now married and off on the next leg of their journey together.

Melissa and Doug Entrepreneur program at Duke UniversityRecently, Howie asked me again to offer up my experience and advice as a part of a mentoring program at Duke that was created by Melissa (Duke ’87) and Doug Bernstein. If you’ve been shopping for toys, you’ll probably recognize the Melissa and Doug logo. As entrepreneurs who understand the value of giving back knowledge, they started the Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurs Program at Duke University to help students pursue their dreams of starting a business.

I was paired up to mentor an amazing young woman, Becky Holmes. Becky is a senior at Duke and comes from Pennsylvania. Her dream is to pursue her passion by developing her company, Ello Raw. She makes dessert bites (think truffles) from raw ingredients. Healthy, delicious and satisfies the need for something sweet.

My first meeting with Becky was via a phone call. She described her business, was prepared with a list of questions and sought answers to help move closer to her dream. During that brief call, Becky demonstrated an insatiable desire for knowledge, gathering bits of information from my experience and combining it with nuggets from other mentors. She understood the value of experience and was extremely grateful.

becky-holmesI’ve had the opportunity to meet with Becky since then, offering up stories on what I’ve learned at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, sharing my list of contacts and connections to help her in pursuit of the dream. In a few weeks, I’ll have the honor of traveling to meet Melissa and Doug at their home in Connecticut. They are hosting an evening for students (Becky among them) who are pursuing their passion and the mentors who are helping them.

Knowledge and experience isn’t something we limit to mentoring entrepreneurs. It actually happens on a regular basis at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies. It might be something as simple as a call from a customer, asking if we bake pumpkin spice cookies, or can bake a cake for birthdays, or some other request. It’s not something we can deliver, but I’m always happy to try and help someone find a place that can deliver what they are looking for. I enjoy sharing our experience in the gift business, whether or not they ever place an order. If our products are not a fit, it’s okay. I’ve probably lost more than my share of sales over the years, but the value received from giving the gift

of knowledge and experience far outweighs a few dollars here and there.

    “Giving intangibles works like lighting candles. When you do it, you create more lit candles, not fewer.”
    –Tim Sanders, Author of “Love is the Killer App”

I believe a culture that values sharing knowledge and expertise isn’t something accomplished by conjuring up text in an annual report or a mission statement. I believe it is woven into the fabric of the business. When I look back at my personal journey, the road is filled with individuals who gave me the gift of their time and expertise, helping light the way for me on the road ahead.

When someone sends a gift from Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, we’re in the business of creating a memorable experience for every single person who opens that box, or tastes that cookie. But we are also happy to give the gift of our experience to friends, customers and young entrepreneurs like Liliana and Becky. Hopefully, somewhere along the way, they’ll look back and see a small section of the road with a sign reminding them of something they received from Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, besides an incredibly good cookie. I consider that a pretty sweet gift.


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