How her fitness journey led Erica Rankin to launch a healthy cookie dough
Plus, how she's capitalized TikTok to grow her business
Credit: Robert Okine
Today, we're spotlighting Erica Rankin, the founder and CEO of Bro Dough. Launched in 2019, Bro Dough makes vegan protein-filled cookie dough that was designed for people with a sweet tooth and who want to stay healthy. If you haven't seen Bro Dough on the shelves of your local grocery store, you might have seen it on TikTok, a platform that Rankin relies on to market her delicious creation.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I went to school for psychology with the eventual goal of becoming a psychiatrist. After graduation, I started working as a research assistant in my field for about a year but I felt super unfulfilled. At the same time, from around 2017 to 2018, I did bodybuilding, which really piqued my interest in healthier food options. During that time I would recreate a lot of my favourite treats, like making chocolate pudding from avocados or adding protein here or removing excess sugar there. One of the things that I couldn't eat was cookie dough, so I would make these little protein-filled cookie dough balls.
Then, in 2018, after having an existential crisis I quit my job to go backpacking through Southeast Asia from November 2018 to January 2019. I ended up meeting entrepreneurs on that trip, which planted a seed in my head for this company. The first thing I did when I returned home to Canada was Google ‘business workshops near me.’ I drove 40 minutes from Grimsby to Brantford to attend these workshops where I learned things like how to manage cash flow and write a business plan. I also learned a lot from the internet. I ended up actually launching Bro Dough on December 19, 2019. At the time I didn’t have a marketing strategy so when I hit publish on my website, I was sort of naive and just expected orders to roll in. The whole thing was a learning experience and still is. I started to learn from other founders and Google things, and that's kind of how I got to where I am now.
How is Bro Dough funded?
I have bootstrapped it for almost three years now. I did take out a couple of loans from Future Entrepreneur, BDC and Farm Credit Canada. Those funds have helped me with things like packaging, inventory and marketing expenses. I don't have the cash flow to take on additional debt, so we're launching a crowdfunding campaign with Front Funder. Those funds will be used to fund all of our growth next year.
What does your day-to-day look like at Bro Dough?
It depends but typically involves putting lots of fires out. For example, this week, I’ll be spending my evenings going to grocery stores for demos. I always try to get a workout in the morning, eat a good breakfast, listen to a podcast, get through emails and I plan for the next few months.
We have to ask: Is Bro Dough something that you yourself like to eat?
I don't eat it as much as I used to. When I was in the kitchen I had to test every batch, so I definitely eat less of it, but I still eat it.
When and how did you decide to sell Bro Dough at grocery stores?
My product is actually very hard to sell online cause it's perishable. I think I realized as I scaled and was doing more sales that I had more problems, especially during the summer months. And based on feedback from consumers, I figured out that a lot of people would rather just buy it in-store. They weren't comfortable ordering online especially if they weren’t going to be at home. I started working with a distributor in the spring and we’re in around 100 stores now — in fact, groceries stores have become our primary channel for sales.
We'd love to hear about your TikTok account. Is it a key part of your brand's marketing strategy?
Absolutely, TikTok is basically how I grew my company. I didn't really spend any money on marketing at all for the first two years. TikTok has been a great tool to build my email list because I think it’s important to remember that any social media platform could just disappear one day. Knowing that around a third of the people who follow me on TikTok helped us make the decision to launch in the U.S. next year. In that way, TikTok has been a great way to generate brand awareness prior to launching and get that email list built out.
How do you decide what to post on TikTok?
I’m not the most organized with it but I do a lot of trends or answer questions from people about the product. I’d love for my TikTok to function as more of a community than yet another sales channel, but there’s no real strategy behind it — I just try to post at least once a day. In the future, I’d like to post more behind-the-scenes clips to TikTok.
If you had to name one, what has been a breakthrough moment in running your company?
It has to be scaling it because I initially launched this company for fun. I didn't know what would come out of it. But then, in mid-2021, when I started to sell and outgrew my current operations and had to start outsourcing operations to a manufacturer in Toronto — that was the biggest breakthrough for me.
What’s next for Bro Dough?
Aside from launching in the U.S., we have plans to incorporate user-generated content into our marketing. With a food product, testimonials and social proof are important in getting others on board to try out Bro Dough. With UGC, the goal is that people will feel more comfortable making their first purchase based on a testimonial that comes from someone that isn’t me.
What does your morning routine look like?
For the past few months I've been getting up at quarter to six and I've been going to workout classes at around six. Recently, I’ve been into pilates and hot strength training classes. I come home around seven and then get ready to go to my co-working space at 8:30.
We also love to talk about personal finance here at Btchcoin. When did you start your personal finance journey?
Sometime in mid-2021. But honestly, it's still a mess. On the business side of things, I have a bookkeeper. My journey really started when I was living at home and I wasn't spending money wisely and wanted to move out, but couldn’t afford to. That’s when I started to take budgeting seriously. Budgeting has helped me be aware of my finances and how I am spending.
What is your biggest money regret?
It’s business related, but in 2020 I rented a warehouse for Bro Dough. I thought that I needed to have it for my business to separate my personal life from my business life. I was spending close to a thousand dollars a month on this space that I did not need, which really hurt me in the beginning as I was still building this company.
What’s your most recent splurge?
My biggest recent splurge is meals that I order from a meal prep company. I order like 30 meals at a time and then just put them in the freezer and pull them out when it’s time to eat. It’s hard because I live alone and whenever I buy groceries I end up throwing out so much, so this ends up being a lot less wasteful.
What is your advice to someone who's just starting out in their career?
Don’t be afraid to fail. I think a lot of people have a hard time accepting failures and taking them personally, rather than as lessons. The way that I look at failures is: “OK, you tried something and it didn't work, so you take that knowledge and you learn from it and then you try something else, right?”
What are some of your favourite books, podcasts and TV shows?
Podcasts: I love the Ed Mylett Show and Real AF by Andy Illa. Those are the two podcasts that I listen to the most.
TV: Love is Blind has been my guilty obsession lately. I think it's hilarious and is my little treat at the end of the day.
Books: Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Power of One More by Ed Mylett are two of my favourites.