Who would have thought a 40-year old family recipe for a naturally gluten-free cookie would end up in 4,000 Walmart stores nationwide? Melissa Blue and Melissa Mehall, cofounders of Meli’s Monster Cookies, had that ambition from the outset. “Melissa and I are thrilled to have our cookies nationwide! Our initial dream was to make Meli’s available to everyone, and we are so excited to see that vision come to fruition,” said Blue. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, will stock three of the company’s delicious cookie mixes—Original, Choco-lot and Cashewlicious. These gutsy childhood friends started and grew the company with no previous food industry experience and no outside investment. I had the opportunity to chat with these charming Southern ladies about what their inspiration was to start a cookie company, how they balance motherhood and entrepreneurship and what advice they have for women who want to follow in their footsteps.
Caroline Castrillon: Starting from the beginning, of all the potential business ideas out there, why did you decide to start a cookie company?
Melissa Mehall: The cookie recipe is a 40-year old family recipe from Melissa’s mother-in-law. At the time, Melissa’s niece was suffering from a gluten allergy, and her mom was struggling to drive back and forth from Waco to Austin to buy gluten-free products for her daughter. That was the “aha” moment. We felt like it would be the marriage of a great recipe that’s been around forever with the ability to meet a need that hadn’t been fulfilled in the food industry for a great tasting naturally gluten-free cookie. Then Melissa called me and said, “I really want to do this, but I can’t do it alone, and I can’t think of anyone better to do this with.” So that’s really where it all started.
Melissa Blue: And thankfully she said yes!
Castrillon: Did either of you have experience in the food industry before starting your company?
Blue: No, I’m actually a gemologist by trade and Melissa went to law school. So that first few months, I just reached out to some local Austin consumer packaged goods companies, and they were extremely helpful. They told us what we needed to do and walked us through the whole process.
Mehall: We just jumped in, and if someone said no, then we’d go in a different direction. We also reached out to our contacts and family friends who had their own businesses to get information. For us, I think not having food industry experience drove us in a really positive way. Walmart also has an amazing program for women-owned and other minority businesses at the Tuck School of Business. They sponsor scholarships for some of their suppliers to go so I was able to attend classes at Tuck every day for a week to learn how to build a successful business. We revamped many aspects of our business based on that program.
Castrillon: What is it like working with a childhood friend as a business partner?
Blue: We honestly have a blast together 98% of the time! I’m in Austin, and she’s in Ft. Worth, so we pretty much talk on the phone non-stop. It’s been great because we know each other so well and we inherently trust each other. We also think a lot alike and have a similar work ethic. If anything, it’s fortified our friendship.
Mehall: Also, we complement each other because our strengths and weaknesses are different. When a contract comes in, it’s mainly my responsibility, and Melissa focuses on more of the financial and accounting aspects of the business. That’s something that’s made it great for us to work together.
Castrillon: What’s the most rewarding part of your jobs?
Mehall: I love that we get to be our own bosses and create something that fulfills a need for so many people in the marketplace. That along with balancing being a mom is really wonderful. I hope that we’re inspiring our children as well.
Blue: For me, just giving people a great product that they’re excited about—it never gets old to get an email from a customer telling us how much they love our cookies. It’s also rewarding to know that we’re helping to grow jobs.
Castrillon: What gets you through the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur?
Blue: There are times when you feel kind of stuck, but you have to just keep going. Having a partner to play off of is also helpful. As an entrepreneur, it’s a long-term trajectory. You have to go into it knowing there’s going to be good and bad.
Mehall: Most of the time if you give something a couple of days, it does work itself out. My mom has a three-day rule. She says to let it sit for a while and in three days it will be better. Remaining positive and leaning in on each other through the ups and downs have also helped.
Blue: Ultimately, you have to check your pride at the door. The only person that’s ever going to care if you win or lose is yourself, so keep going for it. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen; just work hard. We’ve found that hard work does pay off.
Mehall: And a great product!
Castrillon: How do you juggle motherhood and running a business?
Blue: Fortunately, the kids are in school, so we’re super focused on work during the day and then try to be present for them when they get home.
Mehall: I have an 11, 10 and 5-year-old so my New Year’s resolution is to be really present with my children. Time goes so quickly, so I try to stay focused on what’s important. We also have great husbands who support us!
Castrillon: What was the best piece of advice you ever got?
Blue: One of the best pieces of advice we got was to start small and make your mistakes small. So, the first year we were in a handful of stores, and that allowed us to learn about the process—if we made a mistake it was a small mistake. That was a great piece of advice because you don’t know everything when you start, but we’ve learned a lot along the way.
Castrillon: What advice do you have for women who aspire to start their own businesses?
Mehall: Start with a great idea and then do your research and talk to as many people as you can to figure out the right path to get there. Also, believe in yourself!
Blue: Be ready to work hard and take on the challenges that come with being your own boss. Don’t ever think anyone is an overnight success—just be prepared to put the work in.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity