With seven kids among them, all in middle and high school, Erin and Cameron have no need for a consumer tasting panel. Everyone gets a cookie: each kid, all their friends, and every teacher. How quickly those cookies disappear determines the next iteration of the recipe – maybe it needs a different flour, something with more protein and structure? Fewer chocolate chips? More sugar?
Erin has been perfecting her chocolate chip cookie since she was as old as her kids, so she’s feeling pretty confident about the current recipe. The products are classics, but they’re thoroughly trialed: before launching the most recent treat, an ice cream sandwich, the team tested sixteen different ice creams and three different sandwich sizes. COVID-related shortages exacerbated the need to experiment; when Erin’s favorite organic flour became unavailable, she stalked the grocery store at opening time, three times a week for four weeks straight, to no avail. She tested six different flours (many offered by other makers at KitchenTown), but did not find an adequate substitute. Thankfully, the manufacturer was willing to overnight a two-week supply, and the cookies remained perfect.
Cameron is not a baker, but she’s a very reliable taster and an even better business partner. The transition from friends to professional partners can be a big leap – “By far, this is the hardest job I’ve ever had,” Erin says – as it requires a constant juggle of decision-making, creative problem-solving, and handling the pressure of responsibility. But the duo have known each other for years, and their strengths complement each other as well as chocolate and cookie dough. Erin has a deep knowledge on how to eat well; Cameron has an instinct for consumer needs. They happily defer to each other’s talents.
Before forming Drops of Dough, Erin had been working on a fundraising campaign for three families in their neighborhood, each of which had a child with osteosarcoma. The disease, a very rare form of cancer that begins in bone cells, is most common among adolescents. It still isn’t well understood. One doctor in San Francisco is working on it, but he needs a lot more money (hundreds of thousands more) to fund his research. So Erin and Cameron buckled in and got to work.
Neither had any experience in the food business, but they did know cookies, and Erin’s degree in accounting held them steady on the business end. A rented space at KitchenTown and a whole lot of flour purchases later, Drops of Dough was well on its way. The brand specializes in ready-to-bake, pre-measured raw cookie dough “drops,” and 5% of sales go directly to the doctor’s research grant.
But they’re not thinking of this as a temporary bake sale. Erin and Cameron dream of building up a dependable brand with long-term sustainability in mind. “Our products are traditional, but our business model is innovative.”
One area in which they’re walking the talk is in their packaging, which is 98% compostable and recyclable. Especially with a product that funds research into children’s health, the team was dead set against materials like Styrofoam or plastics. It took quite a bit of sleuthing to find a national partner – while there’s no shortage of sustainable packers in Europe, finding a more local supplier wasn’t easy. The one they use now is based in Michigan and makes box liners from corn.
That was just the first step. The product is frozen, and must stay frozen; if the cookie dough arrives thawed, it’ll be a goopy mess. As shipping grew increasingly unreliable in the spring of 2020, Drops of Dough had to get increasingly resilient. Learning, perhaps, from their kids’ science teachers, Erin and Cameron set up a full-fledged experiment: rows of boxes lined with dry ice in varying quantities and varying setups, cookie dough packed, multiple timers running. This is how they learned what it takes to keep a solid from turning into a liquid.
A recent mentorship program through KitchenTown paired the team with Executive MBA students from Santa Clara University, who encouraged them to lean in to their all-around thoughtfulness. As Drops of Dough continues to focus on quality ingredients, sustainable packaging, and contributions to research, they intend to adopt a new motto: “Making It Right.”
Instagram, as for many CPG companies, is a primary platform for their messaging. “We’re way too old for this, but we’re learning as we go,” Erin says. “It’s like we’re fishing in a lake we’ve never been in, and also, we’ve never even fished.” But the bites keep coming; their cookies can now be found at several local markets and restaurants, including San Mateo’s Amici’s, Burlingame’s Mollie Stone’s, and KitchenTown Curbside, and this week they launch in the well-known Erewhon Market in Los Angeles.
Ten months after their first sale, Erin and Cameron are still good friends. Once, on her way to KitchenTown with a large shipment, Erin was on the phone with Cameron, chatting through some plans for the day. “Oh no!” Erin suddenly cried. “I just spilled coffee all over myself.” Cameron, without hesitating, replies: “It didn’t spill on the cookies, did it?”