For a 20-year-old junior business major, the call to cookies seems like a strange one, especially in an age of simple yet widely popular insta-hits like Flappy Bird. These days, when you think of a young entrepreneur, someone like Mark Zuckerberg may come to mind — nerdy and socially inept — or perhaps the Limitless version of Bradley Cooper — a suave savant who had the world in the palm of his hand. University of South Carolina student Michael Madden, however, is nestled somewhere in between.
He speaks genuinely and with the uncertainty of any new business owner, but there are moments when one sees the spark that started Mook's Cookies, a delivery business the USC student operates right out of his apartment kitchen. So far, it seems that cookies were a perfect fit.
"I wanted to sell something on Twitter and cookies seemed simple enough,” he says. “After class I just randomly started making cookies and they got a pretty favorable reaction."
It's not an official business quite yet (he doesn't have any licenses), but what started as a very small venture in November of last year is slowly gaining traction through the use of traditional advertising methods like placing flyers around apartment complexes and dorm rooms, and through social media. Tinder, a dating app used to quickly find potential partners in a given area, is one way Madden has been able to reach a large audience without paying a dime.
"I'd heard about Tinder and its popularity, so I knew if I put my face on there some girls would like me. Then I would hit them with a free advertisement — key word, free."
It's hilarious, somewhat narcissistic and, above all else, very smart, playing into the duality Madden displayed when interviewed. He is shy yet willing to exploit social media for what it is, an opportunity to connect and interact with as many people as possible. But despite his creative use of media tools, Madden says that additional exposure is something he'll have to continue to develop moving forward.
"I'm also thinking about pizza and breakfast — pancakes, hash browns, everything. Fried chicken? Who knows? But my biggest hurdle would be getting over the hump, so that everyone in Columbia knows my name and what I do."
Thus far Madden's menu mainly focuses on chocolate chip, M&M, Oreo and peanut butter cookies, while occasionally throwing "snickerdoodle-esque cinnamon" variations into the mix. And although he does periodically pay a friend or two to help with deliveries, Madden is the primary baker and courier.
There are, however, a few shops in town that already seem to have a good handle on the cookie business, particularly when it comes to college students. Insomnia Cookies has been around for years and was started in a dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania. Interestingly, Madden hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as well. Coincidence? Perhaps, but Madden is not at all worried about the competition.
"The cookies speak for themselves," he says.
Currently, Madden has decided to close his business for the summer, but plans on expanding into other foods, particularly pizza, when his venture reopens. Keep an eye on @MooksCookies for updates.
Fun Fact: Mook's Cookies is named after the character Mookie from Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.
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