Founder Friday Feature:
Whitney Lounsbury of Butter Baked Co.
Butter Baked Cake Co. is making clean baked goods with ingredients even your child can recognize
Butter Baked Cake Co’s origin story is a personal one for founder Whitney Lounsbury. “My six-year-old son was having quite a few health challenges and we were struggling to identify what was going on and how to find the right solutions for him. We found that he was sensitive to a lot of the foods in our traditional American diet, so as a family, we decided to cut out gluten, sugar, grains, and inflammatory oils, and also eat a low-carb diet to help with some of his medical diagnoses. It was quite a shift for the family, and at that time, there wasn’t anything on the market that met all our needs.” To help ease both her son and her family into their new diet, Whitney began making baked goods for her son and family to enjoy. “The beginning was terrible, and the treats were awful,” she says with a laugh. “But I have a background in baking, so it didn’t take too long before they started tasting very, very good.”
As her family grew and they welcomed a second child, Whitney realized that the market for the products she was making went beyond her immediate family. “There are a lot of families like ours that are looking for clean ingredient treats — whether they’re sugar-free, gluten-free, or keto — so I decided to take it to the market because I knew that there was a large following of people that were looking for treats like mine.” Whitney began selling her baked goods at farmers markets and street fairs, and soon after, she started shipping direct-to-consumer. Butter Baked Cake Co now operates DTC and is in around 60 grocery stores including Erewhon and other natural grocery stores.
Butter Baked Cake Co’s mission and why shame is not a part of it
Though Butter Baked offers clean alternatives to traditional baked goods, Whitney is also clear that their mission is never to bring shame to any food group. She explains, “I never want my kids or anyone to feel ashamed of food. I try hard not to be militant about food because I don’t want to create disordered eating. I’m cautious to talk about the way food makes you feel. Did eating that food make you feel great or not so great? I don’t think shame should ever be a part of eating.” That said, for consumers looking to eat clean, simple treats for their health or any number of reasons, Whitney is proud to offer products with ingredients people can trust. “I couldn’t care less what people eat, but I care that food companies are allowed to lie about what’s in their food.” Butter Baked uses ingredients that most consumers recognize: “Cage-free eggs, real vanilla, non-GMO, butter, salt, and almond flour. The only ingredient some people may not recognize is Xantham gum, which acts as a gluten replacement. Everything on our label is something that most customers can identify and that their kids can probably pronounce.”
Butter Baked has found a large following in the “clean keto world.” Whitney explains, “We were able to connect with affiliates and brands who align with our mission, and they have helped us create a strong following in the Keto world.” Whitney explains that, while Keto is not explicitly their mission, they do make a clean Keto product that meets many consumers’ needs. “Our mission is to help families reduce sugar and know what’s in the product, but because we are also keto it allows us to have a very strong niche in our direct-to-consumer model. If you’re at the grocery store and you see something that’s labeled Keto, half the time, the ingredients are actually worse for you than the [non-keto] original. So many of our customers are on the ketogenic lifestyle, and they’re very supportive of us because they know how real we are. We are so grateful to have strong relationships with effective affiliate messengers in the keto world who believe in us and are willing to advocate for us and our growth.”
Fundraising and challenging perfectionism
Speaking of growth, over the last few years, Butter Baked Cake Co has been an entirely bootstrapped business, but Whitney is now preparing to begin a fundraising round. She explains, “So far, fundraising has been an inside job. I’ve been getting my mindset right because I’m a perfectionist. I probably should have fundraised a few years ago, but I was so set on making sure that I was the most effective founder and CEO possible and that [Butterbaked] was proven out, which it has been. We outperform nine out of 10 brands at retail, and our direct consumer is up 115% this year. We have all the metrics, but I have to get out of my own way.” This perfectionism is common among female founders, Whitney says. “We feel like we have to be perfect before we ask for money. Male founders will ask for money before they have any proof. Now, I’m working with mentors to push me out of my comfort zone, and I’m also working with a fractional CFO to perfect my financial model and project for the next few years. My anxiety about asking for money is partly because I feel like I need to make sure every single number is perfect. So having the CFO confirm, ‘This is the right metric.’ Or ‘You’re asking for the right amount,’ will help me with my confidence.” In this round, Whitney is seeking to raise 1.5 million via angel investors.
Customer feedback as a bright light in a difficult industry
Beyond fundraising, the biggest challenge Whitney has faced in running Butter Baked Cake Co lies in a refrain that may sound familiar to her fellow founders at Startup CPG: “Sometimes I feel like I’m building an airplane while I’m flying it,” she says. “I feel very lucky because the better-for-you CPG world is so nourishing to each other. I have a very robust support system, and I am very supportive of other founders, but there is also the reality that, as a founder, no one is coming for you. You have to learn how to do everything when you don’t have the money, and there are so many times when you don’t know if you’re doing the right thing and you’re on a cliff. Are you going to go out of business this month, or are you going to go viral? And if you become viral, do you have the money to support it? ”
Amidst the challenges of running a small brand, Whitney finds motivation in the feedback she receives from her customers. She says, “I got an email recently from a customer, and it made me cry. She wrote, ‘I feel like I can be a part of the world again and that I’m included in celebrations.’ It’s funny because I’m like, ‘It’s muffins,’ but that is exactly the reason I do this. I don’t care that there’s no money. [Emails like] that keep me going — especially if somebody says anything about their kids being able to have dessert at a party. Forget it — I’ll start crying. It’s so gratifying every single time I get the little ding from Shopify. I still say thank you out loud every time because I am always and will always be grateful that my customers believe in the product.”