School of Communications senior Michelle Schechter is the owner of startup For Real Dough. The 22-year-old from Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, makes and sells egg-free cookie dough in chocolate chip, cookies and cream, and crunchy peanut butter flavors. She is currently a theater major with a business minor and is also pursuing a musical theater certificate. North by Northwestern talked to Schecter about the inspiration behind her startup, making her cookie dough and balancing her busy lifestyle.
How did you come up with the concept of For Real Dough?
I was in an entrepreneurship class last spring with Professor [Michael] Moyer—he rocks—and the entire class is structured around you developing a product idea, and then you stick with it and a group for the entire class. Then, at the end, you pitch it to real investors for the final. The recipe and concept for it was actually something that I, as someone who has been baking a very long time as a hobby, went into the class with. It was a bakery/restaurant idea, and this was one of the products that I wanted to sell. So my group kind of formed around this initial idea that I brought into the class, people who liked the idea and wanted to join the team. Then I made some samples of the cookie dough as one of the products and did a little bake sale at Norris, and they were all gone in five minutes. People were saying they would pay a lot more money than what I was selling them for. I kind of realized that I had this really awesome new product that wasn’t really on the market, and so I decided to kind of switch gears and concentrate my entire project on this one product rather than the full restaurant. So it formulated a lot and grew a lot during that class. We ended up actually winning the final pitch competition. That’s what lit a fire under my wanting to continue this to see what it could turn into.
Do you make the cookie dough yourself?Could you walk me through the process of creating this product?
I order the packaging, little liners, labels and ingredients all from different places. We had our launch and we had some people who created really great flavors of cookie dough, so hopefully the week we get back [from Thanksgiving break] or reading week I’ll be able to experiment with many new flavors. So I get all of those supplies whenever they come in. I order them when I run out. On Monday nights, I go into the Norris kitchens and I have this little corner that they have all my stuff in. I make the dough, and you don’t bake it so I just mix it up, and then I take a scooper and scoop it into the liners. Then I put the liners in the package, stick the label on, and air suction all of the air out of the bag and put it in the fridge to put out into the stores.
As a senior and a theater major, you must be pretty busy. How do you fit all of this into your schedule?
I did a majority of the work when I was here over the summer. I met with Morty, and he loved it. He set me up with a lot of people in NU Dining and Sodexo. This whole summer was spent figuring out all the logistics and crazy madness of it all, which was easier to handle because it was sunny and homework-free. Now it’s pretty consistent. I have a period blocked off on Monday nights. Monday nights, which are ‘dark nights’ in theater and my only night off from rehearsal, I go and make the cookie dough. In that way I’ve kind of made it fit into my schedule. It’s a busy life. I’m slowly starting to actually have a team of students interested in the project, so hopefully by winter quarter that will be more of a team project rather than just me.
How has being a theater major affected the success of For Real Dough?
I think that I wouldn’t be here at all actually if I wasn’t a theater major. I think the reason why this has been successful, other than the product being cool or tasting good, is that my communication and presentation skills allow me to be able to effectively communicate with people. I can communicate the brand and the potential of the product. For example, in our pitch final I felt very comfortable pitching to those investors. I do think it’s helped me enormously. Something moving forward that I’m really excited to explore is promoting undergraduate entrepreneurship and also cross-major collaboration. This class allowed me to collaborate with engineers and people of all different interests. A graphic designer would help with one thing and an engineer with another. That’s so important because business isn’t just one skill.
What is your plan for For Real Dough post-graduation?
I’m fine with whatever happens. I would love to continue it. Spreading this to other universities is something that’s always been on the horizon for our relationship with Sodexo and their presence on other campuses. Right now we are trying to spread it in that way, so that’s something that I’m really excited about. I also realize that it’s my first startup. This entire experience has kind of been going really fast. I’m just kind of learning as I go. More than anything, it’s been the most incredible learning experience. For me, the process of this happening is almost more important than how much money I make or where it goes next year.