At 24, Melissa Ben-Ishay got fired, turned her hobby into a business, and sold 200 million cupcakes: Here's her best advice

Baked by Melissa co-founder on leading and succeeding during Covid
Key Points
  • Just 48 hours after being fired at the age of 24, Melissa Ben-Ishay launched a profitable business. Now she's the CEO of Baked By Melissa.
  • "I printed out the logo, glued it on white pastry box, baked the cupcakes for the tasting with the caterer, and went in there as Melissa of Baked by Melissa," she says.
  • Today, Baked by Melissa has 14 retail locations and has sold over 200 million cupcakes nationwide.

In 2008, at the age of 24, Melissa Ben-Ishay was fired from her position as an assistant media planner. "They called me over a loudspeaker to HR. I thought I was getting a promotion, but I was fired," Ben-Ishay says.

Over the next 48 hours, Ben-Ishay turned her hobby of baking funky tie-dye cupcakes into a full-blown business, Baked By Melissa. In just two days, with the help of her brother, Brian Bushell, and Matt Baer (who Ben-Ishay calls her "brother from another mother"), the co-founders landed a pitch meeting with a top New York City caterer, created a logo, launched a website, and designed branded packaging.

When Ben-Ishay showed up to the pitch, it was as if she'd been in business for years. "I printed out the logo, glued it on white pastry box, baked the cupcakes for the tasting with the cater, and went in there as Melissa of Baked by Melissa," she says. It worked. "I was very lucky to almost immediately start selling a product," she says.

Today, Baked by Melissa has 14 retail locations. The company has sold over 200 million cupcakes nationwide, translating to an estimated $200 million in sales. After serving as president and chief product officer for 12 years, Ben-Ishay took the helm as CEO in December of 2019.

Ben-Ishay has expanded her brand and gone viral multiple times over on social media for posting her savory recipes, like this Green Goddess Salad, which has nearly 21 million views on TikTok. The video prompted Grammy-winning musician Lizzo to TikTok the recipe as well.

While Baked By Melissa was evolving, there were many challenges, including the pandemic. And starting from scratch wasn't easy Ben-Ishay says. Here's her best advice for anyone who's made or is considering a career change.

Have a passion? Have a backup plan too

While Ben-Ishay was fully committed to making Baked By Melissa work, "I was also meeting with headhunters, looking for new jobs in advertising," she says. "I was actively looking for jobs and going on interviews while doing everything to make the most of this opportunity."

Like many other people, Ben-Ishay's end goal was do what she loves. "I remember wishing for a job that made me feel fulfilled at the end of the day, so I didn't feel the need to like make plans at night every night," she says.

If you're feeling stuck and don't know how to start, "get a job and dream on the side," Ben-Ishay says. Make time for your passion. "I'm a mom of two small kids. Trust me, there's time. I feed my whole family, I make sure we have groceries, I clean my apartment, I take care of other people, and I'm also the CEO of Baked by Melissa," she says.

If you're not married and you don't have children, make the most of the flexibility and freedom: "That's a great time to have a full-time job and then at night, you focus on your dreams," she says.

'You won't know unless you try'

The hardest part is often getting started, Ben-Ishay says. "It's easy to say why you can't do something. if you don't have a job and need a job, spend your whole day on LinkedIn, think of companies that you admire, that you use in your daily life. Go to their page on LinkedIn and apply for open positions."

Be prepared for failure, she says. "Maybe your email will suck, maybe your resume isn't qualified ... Maybe you get an interview, and you have a conversation with a potential employer, and you learn about the opportunity, and maybe it suits you, maybe it doesn't, but you don't know unless you try."

Often, "it's easier to focus on why you can't do something or what's getting in your way, when the opposite mindset is what's going to help you achieve your goals," she says.

If you want to succeed, enjoy the journey, Ben-Ishay says. "My definition of success is working hard towards something I love. There is no greater feeling than putting your energy towards something that makes you smarter, stronger, and more experienced. Experience builds confidence."

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