I’ve hosted two charity food offs this year – chocolate chip cookies and sausages (both in Toronto). I’ve talked about leveraging my skills and connections to make a broader impact. And we took it to the next level.
On November 4 2017, we hosted an NYC Charity Chocolate Chip Cookie Off. The event was a collision course of the following:
- A ridiculous amount of cookies (33 different and unique takes)
- Wondrous people (100 entrepreneurs who all anted up $250 each)
- Journalists (40+ across the spectrum of health, food, and business)
- A marvelous cause (She’s the First, which educates girls in developing countries)
Collectively, we raised over $30,000. And donated over 1000 chocolate chip cookies to the Bowery Mission (no food wasted!)
I get asked that a lot – why a chocolate chip cookie off?
I usually adopt a George Mallory mindset, and respond with a pithy “because I can” but the truth of it is that I’m far more interested in bringing people together and doing interesting things.
My favorite kinds of books are biographies. The question I am forever asking myself – “would I read my own memoirs? ” – is what drives me to do something like this.
For those who have not seen the evolution, a quick rehash:
- I used to be a gordito. I lost weight while still enjoying copious amounts of chocolate chip cookies.
- I started meeting up with entrepreneurs at my favorite chocolate chip cookie place (400+ in the last 5+ years now)
- Through my trash-talking nature, we had a chocolate chip cookie off last year
- After people started saying they could make better cookies, I told them to send them to me in the mail. 175+ in 18 months!
- I hosted a follow-up Chocolate Chip Cookie Off in Toronto, and it brought marvelous people together
- I hosted a Sausage Showdown in June of this year, and we raised $10,000 for charity (plus 20+ people flew in for it!)
- I decided in mid-August to do one in NYC, which means we put all of this together in 75 days
And that’s how we end up here (my next article will give full details on how and what goes into making this happen).
A slow and steady evolution can lead to some fanastic things. Cookies: from managing weight loss to raising tens of thousands of dollars!
A smorgasbord of cookies
With under 75 days to make this happen, we still had 33 bakers and pastry chefs generously donate their cookies to the event.
You can see them tagged, but I want to link to every single one here:
T> Susan White
AC> CR Bakery
AD> Alice’s Tea Cup
AF> Le Gourmand (from Toronto!)
AG> Clean Cookiez
Imagine trying to eat one of each… it’s one of those things that’s both amazing and horrible at the same time.
We have a very egalitarian voting system. Everyone votes for their top 5, and then as a bonus, everyone also votes for the cookie they thought was the most interesting. We then add them all up, and the winners:
Top 12 Overall:
- Culture Espresso (X)
- Milk and Cookies Bakery (L)
- Zenobia’s Sweet Tooth (K)
- Levain Bakery (G)
- Danny Macaroons (P)
- Le Gourmand (AF)
- Sweet Corner Bakeshop (O)
- By the Way Bakery (AB)
- L’imprimerie (Q)
- Gramercy Tavern (B)
- maman (A)
- Butter and Scotch (AA)
Top 5 Most Interesting:
- Dark chocolate toffee potato chip crunch by Milk and Cookies Bakery
- Banana Pudding Chocolate Chip Cookie by Zenobia’s Sweet Shop
- Chocolate chip meringue by Brooklyn Cookie Company
- Chocolate chip salted caramel macaroon by Danny’s Macaroons
- Sea salt chocolate chip by Sweet Corner Bakeshop
Networking… AMPED UP
As I’ve said from day one, my approach to networking is about building relationships and friendships, not as some transactional ledger. It is because of these relationships that I was able to get so many awesome people out to this event.
We sold the event out in just over 10 days. Not a single person complained about the $250 price. In fact, I feel pretty confident I could increase it to $500 and still keep people coming.
Why? I’d say three reasons:
- Curated. Everyone there was someone who I had vetted; they all were accomplished in their respective fields and had legitimate knowledge to share. There were no wantrepeneurs or people who would see some eCeleb and think “oh shit I have to take a selfie with that person.”Sensible, friendly individuals.My buddy Nick Gray mentioned a few more of the more “well known” individuals who attended.
- Intake and assignments. I had everyone fill out an intake form (inspired by my buddy Jayson Gaignard… who drove down all the way from Toronto!)I then used that information to assign 1-4 people that I wanted them to say hi to. Furthermore, I made sure that there were 1-4 other people who were told to say hi to them!
If you look closely in the above picture, you can see that Aimee is holding a post-it that says “Stephanie Lee” on it… who she is talking to!
Ask yourself – How much is a great connection worth?
- A great cause. More on that in the next section.
- Does not scale. I have no email list to blast saying ‘come to my event.’Every single person was messaged or emailed (I’d say roughly 90% was via FB messenger!)This isn’t about selling maximum # of tickets… it’s about selling tickets to people I want to hang out with!
Put something unique (and interesting) together, and people will support it.
A great cause (that was important to me)
I’m an immigrant. I’m ethnically Kashmiri. I was raised in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Japan until we moved to Houston when I was 14. I’ve lived all over the US and also in Argentina.
We’re all the same. Whatever race, whatever gender, we generally want the same thing – a good life for us, and a better life for our kids.
I also know that 99% of my success is because I moved to the West. The opportunities that arose here massively dwarf whatever would have been available to me in Asia.
It’s all about opportunity.
And you know who gets the shit end of the stick when it comes to opportunity in developing countries? Girls.
So – supporting She’s the First, a non-profit that educates girls was a no-brainer.
We got lucky. It so happened that one of the organizations that She’s the First supports is Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project.
It also so happened that Netflix recently did a documentary on them – Daughters of Destiny:
Aaaand it so happened that Ajit George and three of the girls from the documentary were in NYC at the same time as the Chocolate Chip Cookie Off.
Having Ajit talk about the organization and its goals, and then Preetha talk about her experience and being the first girl to graduate from her family… it brought it all home.
Instead of just hearing about it, you get to see and understand what a difference your dollar makes.
You may have noticed that the cheque I gave was $25000, but here I am claiming $30000+. What happened is that others donated beyond buying a ticket. For example, Kevin Lee stepped up:
Here’s the thing… one of the people attending, I was telling him about the charity and what not, and he said this:
The cause mattered to me, and because it mattered to me, it mattered to people who cared about me.
I make fun of passion being the foundation for a business, but it is absolutely fundamental when trying to do stuff like this. The enthusiasm is self-evident, and that motivates others to join you.
There are so many charities and non-profits today that you should find one that speaks to you and help them.
More to come…
So far this year we’ve raised over $40000 for charity… not too shabby. We’ve also upped the ante every single time… from ~$2000 to ~$8000 to $30000+ with this most recent event.
We’ve also kept it tight to only 100 tickets, and that’s something I am going to strictly adhere to (possibly even drop it down to 80).
I’d love to hit $50,000+ per event… so we’ll see what we cook up!
Serious about being an entrepreneur?
Leave behind the unqualified gurus who have never done it themselves. Follow SJO.com for real-life experienced advice and thoughts.