Building a business is a labor of love. It can be challenging and immensely rewarding at all once. If you are hoping to turn your passion into a business endeavor, you are not alone. To help inspire you, we spoke with Andris Lagsdin about his company, Baking Steel (which makes an ultra-conductive pizza stone made of steel), and how he built his business.
Can you tell us how you got the idea for Baking Steel?
- “When I was a young adult, I worked in restaurants and studied culinary arts and restaurant management. I loved the vibe, but it required a lot of hours and was a tough lifestyle to sustain. I decided to take a break and reevaluate my life.
My dad is an entrepreneur and as I was growing up, I worked with him at his steel company, Stoughton Steel in Hanover. I decided to rejoin the family business, and stayed there for years – got married and started my own family, but I never gave up being a foodie.
After a number of years, I was reading Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold and he mentioned that steel would help create a perfect pizza crust. A lightbulb went off in my head because I knew steel and I knew pizza recipes from my time in the restaurant industry. It was like a bat over the head - a truly serendipitous moment.”
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How did you turn your idea into a business?
- “At first, I decided to experiment. I brought home some steel and made pizza. As any home chef can tell you, it’s difficult to get a nice crispy pizza crust at home without a wood-fired oven. Using the steel, I was able to get perfect, crispy crust in seven minutes. It blew my mind as a foodie and a steel guy.
I brought the idea to my dad and brother, but the company - which manufactures products and components for construction equipment makers - was too busy to take the pizza steel on as a project. So I shelved my idea for a full year.
I then had a team help me make prototypes of the project. I would send it to friends with a food background. About a year and half later, I launched on Kickstarter with the hope to sell 100 units and maybe gain some credibility. Well, my kickstarter campaign ended up selling 500 units in 30 days and raising $40,000. And as they say, the rest is history. ”
How has Baking Steel grown?
- “Within the first six to nine months after launch in April 2018, we got a lot of media coverage and our product quickly gained credibility within the industry. Around the same time, the family steel business was starting to be divisioned off and I started the Baking Steel Company. I developed a relationship with Eve Elliott at Rockland Trust, who took a risk on my small business and I am forever grateful.
Initially, I set up the back-end of the business to support us. This meant developing a good team, setting up ecommerce, and establishing good reporting so I could see sales, expenses, and other key financial indicators.
One of the most important aspects of my business is branding, which is driven by social media. All of our marketing is done through paid social media and digital advertising, which helps to get the word out.
In an effort to bring restaurant quality food into people’s homes, we also established a test kitchen in Cohasset. We teach classes about making legendary food at home to educate our customers, not just sell to them. Building that relationship with our customers has been vital to our success.
As we move forward, innovation is the name of the game. I am actively working on new partnerships to develop additional products and continuing to improve our flagship product.”
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What do you wish you had known?
- “Honestly, I wish I started sooner. I was really nervous and scared for the first year. I think that everyone has great ideas for products. There is a big fear about taking that next step toward creating a business. But that is where many people overthink things. I wish I knew to just go for it and that I would figure it out as I went.
This isn’t to say you should do things without research and a plan. It will never be perfect, especially right out of the gate. Listening to feedback is essential. But if you don’t get out of your comfort zone, you’ll never know what you can accomplish.”
Do you have any advice for other business owners?
- “I think there is something to be said about believing in your product enough to give away knowledge that gets customers talking about your product. For us, we teach classes in our Cohasset test kitchen and now virtually via Zoom. We show people how to make amazing pizza at home and those people start talking about our products. That word-of-mouth is invaluable in terms of marketing.
Most importantly, I think business owners should think about how they can scale even what seems unscalable. We hand write thank you notes to customers, for instance. Bigger businesses do not have that personal touch, and that can set us apart in a customer’s minds. It is all about developing relationships with your customers.”
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Our business banking officers have worked with thousands of businesses of all sizes to help them reach their financial goals. We are honored to play a part in the stories of successful businesses like Baking Steel. For more helpful advice about running a business, from managing cash flow to tips for succession planning, visit our Learning Center.