Purpose And Profit: How This Founder Beat Addiction To Build A Business That Makes A Difference

Purpose And Profit: How This Founder Beat Addiction To Build A Business That Makes A Difference

26.6.2019

Purpose And Profit: How This Founder Beat Addiction To Build A Business That Makes A Difference

Four years ago, Kelsey Witherow woke up in a Barcelona hotel room without any idea how she got there. So she did a 180.

She flew back home later that day and set out on a road to sobriety––and also, perhaps, to reinvigoration. She’d been working for years as a product marketing engineer at Intel. She was 24 and making six figures, but she was also an alcoholic who’d become complacent and had taken to coasting on natural talent. Since turning 18, she’d been arrested, hospitalized, and alienated from loved ones.

Most startups fail before the end of their first year, never making money. Many entrepreneurs buckle under the stress of the effort and quit, or succumb to their own bad habits. Doughp, on the other hand, has been profitable for nearly 18 months. And Kelsey, meanwhile, has not had a sip of alcohol since she stepped out of that hotel room in Barcelona.

Kelsey’s story reflects the timeless relevance of that boilerplate advice. But in an age of Theranos, the Fyre Festival, and Facebook, especially, it also compels an important addendum: in an age of deceit, to be great, you have to be authentic––both in your belief in your product, your commitment to self-improvement, and your desire to better the world.

That was back in 2012. Two months ago, I saw her on the news. I sent her a Facebook message congratulating her success and asked if we could find a time to chat. I told her I was interested in writing a story about her company; I was doing a series on millennial founders. We spoke for about an hour over Skype the next day.

Thus began her first foray into entrepreneurism: an online store through which she tried selling her desserts. She ran into in retrospect inevitable complications, though, and shortly thereafter had to shut the business down.

Six months later, Kelsey was given a chance to move back to San Francisco, where she’d been raised, to help run an Intel-affiliated nonprofit called Hack Harassment. Still sober, she’d get to run it in concert with Lady Gaga’s anti-bullying organization, Born This Way. At a time when millennial unemployment was still unfortunately high, it was something of a dream opportunity.

The next day, she made another batch of cookie dough at home and set up a little table in San Francisco’s Delores Park. She of course didn’t have requisite, licensed equipment to make her product at scale, nor a full recipe, nor really even a business plan, but she wanted to see if her idea was real, and so she decided to go for it. She advertised her “Edible Cookie Dough” with a sign taped to the table’s plastic brow. She had to explain to a few initial customers that her product was not in fact edible marijuana––“Oh sweeeet, edibles!” initial customers exclaimed––but this writer sees it as telling that those folks walked away satisfied anyway.

Before too long, Kelsey’s fire caught. She quit her job for good and branded her company Doughp. She was making money working events and filling catering orders all over the city. The next step, she determined, was to make good on her authentic desire to couple profits with purpose.

Three months later, Doughp opened its second physical location, this time in Pier 39 on the well-trafficked wooden planks of Fisherman’s Wharf. (Presently, the Fisherman’s Wharf store runs a 15% net-income ratio.) Then, on March 16th, Kelsey opened Doughp’s aforementioned third location in Vegas.

Now, it should here be noted that Kelsey’s story is not without controversy. In 2017, for example, upon giving her initial menu offerings unique names like, “This S’More is Hella Lit” and “Cold Brew is Bae,” she was accused of cultural appropriation. She apologized, promptly adjusted her perhaps misguided branding, and focused on further strengthening her communal ties.

Or it might not; I’m not an entrepreneur, and I’m definitely something of an idealist. But idealistic or not, if I was an entrepreneur, Kelsey’s is the kind of business I’d want to start: one that makes money, but that also at least seeks to make a difference.

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