Entrepreneurs

How Baked by Melissa's founder bounced back from a layoff with a multimillion-dollar business

On the day Melissa Ben-Ishay was fired from her advertising job in 2008, she went home in tears. Then she started baking.

For her, baking was therapy as well as a hobby. (Her friends loved her rainbow cupcakes.) Soon, it became her business.

Ben-Ishay is the co-founder, president, and chief product officer of Baked by Melissa, the bakery known for its bite-size cupcakes.

The company has 13 stores and ships desserts nationwide.

Here's how this creative businesswoman turned a layoff into an awesome opportunity.

She moved past the negative thinking

When she was fired, Melissa's brother told her to channel the negative energy into a business.

"I could go home and sulk, or I could go and do what I love and bake cupcakes," Ben-Ishay tells CNBC.

"You can dwell on the negative or you can find the positive," she says. "That's what I chose to do the day I was fired."

At first, Ben-Ishay didn't know if she could actually build her own business. She split her time between working with headhunters to find another job in advertising and cold-calling catering companies to gauge their interest in her cupcakes.

"We started Baked by Melissa without capital, without even a business plan," she says. "Very early on I struggled with being Melissa, if you will. I needed more confidence in myself."

"I remember crying to my brother one night [saying] 'Who the hell do I think I am? Melissa, Baked by Melissa?'"

Melissa Ben-Ishay of Baked by Melissa (center) speaking at the 2016 Project Entrepreneur Summit by UBS and Rent the Runway Foundation.
Amanda Gentile / ADG Photography
Melissa Ben-Ishay of Baked by Melissa (center) speaking at the 2016 Project Entrepreneur Summit by UBS and Rent the Runway Foundation.

Ben-Ishay shared her story at the Project Entrepreneur Summit by Rent the Runway Foundation and UBS. Project Entrepreneur is an educational program and venture competition that provides women with mentorship and resources to build high-growth businesses.

She hustled

For months, the entrepreneur baked in her apartment kitchen and hand-delivered the cupcakes herself, by bus or subway if necessary.

"In general, I think success is a mindset," she says.

She talked with caterers about what they were looking for, which is how the idea for bite-sized cupcakes was born.

"Success is a mindset." -Melissa Ben-Ishay, co-founder, president and chief product officer of Baked by Melissa

After several months, Baked by Melissa scored booths at several holiday markets, including the bustling Bryant Park market. Consistently, the company sold out of product.

"To each and every person reading this, you are awesome," she says. "You can do it."

But, she adds, you must work hard for success: "You must embody the person you aspire to be as the very first step, no excuses."

Video by Brandon Ancil.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the title of the Rent the Runway Foundation.