By Maggie Gioia | Marketing Coordinator
Whether they want to or not, many high school seniors plan to head off to college post-graduation — but every so often, there is a special batch of students that break the cookie-cutter mold to follow their intuition.
Traverse City, Michigan native and Big Dipper Dough co-founder, Austin Groesser, was part of this special batch. As opposed to college, Groesser sought out “adventure and excitement,” not yet aware of the success that was to come following the creation of his edible cookie dough business.
“I was looking to do something with my life,” said Groesser. “I’ve never been one to sit still for too long.”
Instead of sitting still, Groesser did the exact opposite — he joined his local fire department as a firefighter and emergency medical technician at 19 years old. Feeling inspired by the job’s physical trainings, Groesser decided to also begin training for a marathon.
During one of his runs, Groesser was overcome by a craving for something cold and sweet. When he arrived home, he went straight to his mom’s kitchen to whip up a bowl of edible cookie dough — and thus, the idea for Big Dipper Dough was born.
“I always wanted to start a business and for years and years I wrote down different ideas,” said Groesser. “For some reason when I got this idea, I was like that’s the one. Something in my gut told me to do it.”
Groesser shared his idea with friends and family, and for five months, his group of supporters taste tested over 250 different recipes of edible cookie dough until the ingredients of Big Dipper Dough were finally nailed down. They landed on an eggless recipe that is free of artificial flavorings and preservatives, ensuring that consumers can indulge in their favorite homemade treat without the risks of ordinary cookie dough.
Once Groesser’s product was prepared, he collaborated with fellow Big Dipper Dough co-founder, Daniel Fuller, to develop a team and get the business off the ground. In September of 2015, Big Dipper Dough was finally open, making its first sale at a local store in Northern Michigan.
“There’s a grocery store right down the street from where I grew up, and I had a vision of eventually selling my product there one day,” Groesser said. “My partner and I brought in samples to the dairy manager there and when we came back a couple days later to follow up, he was like ‘that’s really good, I’d like to get some more.’ We thought he was asking for more samples!”
Groesser recalled bringing two or three more samples into the grocery store, but when the dairy manager explained that he couldn’t sell just a few, Groesser and Fuller realized they had made their first sale.
“We didn’t even have labels. So [for] our very first order, Dan and I had a graphic designer print out our labels on really nice thick paper and we just glued them on,” Groesser joked. “We cut them out with construction scissors, like the kid scissors!”
Groesser’s first sale took place while he was working two full time jobs — one at the fire department and the other as an appliance repairman and equipment technician. After four and a half years, Groesser was able to leave the fire service to work his day job and run Big Dipper Dough, and about a year later, Groesser left his day job to pursue Big Dipper Dough full time.
“I’ve been doing the business full time for about four years now. Over the years we began doing more white label or private label, especially on the grocery side. We do quite a bit now with some of the really big national retailers… We kind of found a niche in there being a young, innovative supplier that [retailers] feel younger generations would be interested in, like Gen Z and millennials.”
Now, Big Dipper Dough is available in three flavors — Rocket Chip (chocolate chip), Galactic Fusion (cookies and cream) and Super Cluster (cherry chocolate chunk). Though the edible cookie dough may not be produced in Groesser’s home these days, it is still made with love in the United States with sustainably-sourced ingredients in mind like Madagascar vanilla — with proceeds from each purchase donated to Madagascar farmers — as well as ethically farmed West African chocolate, purified sea salt and American wheat flour and butter.
Consumers can find the dough at over 3000 retailers nationwide, including national and regional chain grocery stores, club stores and independent businesses. Nonetheless, Groesser and his team are looking to expand even further, particularly in the white and private label sector.
“It’s really fun to work with these billion-dollar companies because it’s not a ‘hey we’re selling you something’ it’s a ‘hey we’re collaborating with you on something,” said Groesser. “I’ve found it to be cool to get products on the shelf in some faraway [store] and be out there visiting and just happen to see a product you’ve worked your butt off on on the shelf.”
But that’s not all. The “out-of-this-world” edible cookie dough co-founder is hungry for more.
“We’re at the next stage of our journey,” said Groesser. “We’ve started to look at some other food products and what makes sense to get into. Just taking all of the knowledge, contacts, and resources we’ve built over the years and using that to leverage into a new food product or food category that we were not previously in and that we feel is underutilized or underserved.”
The team at Big Dipper Dough plans to launch a new, non-cookie dough product “soon.” But until then, Groesser takes the time to reflect on the process of starting a business and how far both himself and Big Dipper Dough have come.
“The business has been my life. It’s certainly shaped me in a lot of ways,” Groesser said. “When I quit my job, I moved down to Chicago. I didn’t know anybody down there, I moved to focus on growing the business in a larger city. Moving away from friends and family, what’s comfortable, will get you out of your comfort zone… I feel like I personally got a lot more independent that way.”
Groesser also shared that choosing that independent lifestyle showed him that it was okay to ask for help, and that asking for help can improve your business.
“I’m definitely not perfect by any means, but I’m much more open to being wrong. I’m much more acknowledging of my own ignorance. I don’t know what I don’t know, and that’s very beneficial for business long term because if you come in guns blazing on something that’s totally off base and wrong, it can be expensive, it can put you out of business, it can cause a lot of damage. And the more you can recognize that I don’t actually know what I’m doing here, I need to find help or find better advice, it can be incredibly beneficial.”
While Groesser noted that, “you don’t necessarily want to go in entirely unprepared or unplanned” when building a business, it’s better than “waiting for years and getting the plan perfect.” In other words, if there will never be a right time, why wait?
“The biggest thing that stops a person from starting a business is fear,” said Groesser. “I think that 90% is just starting and figuring it out over time… but early on, you just have to be scrappy, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and think I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’ll figure it out and enjoy it as best I can along the way.”
Photos courtesy of Austin Groesser and Big Dipper Dough.