In college, I was the epitome of broke. The youngest of seven kids, it’s a wonder that my single mother had ANYTHING to contribute to my college fund. Miraculously, minimal financial aid, terrible summer waitressing jobs, and generous contributions from my mom’s insignificant retirement fund aligned to somehow afford the tuition to Holy Cross. For college spending money, however, I lived week-to-week on money I made working various work-study gigs around campus. For the most part, this worked-out pretty well; I’d make just enough money every week for beer, snacks and a few packs of gum.
When Spring Break rolled around, and a bunch of my cronies planned a tropical getaway, I knew that I would have to get creative about funding the trip. There was no way I’d make the charter flight, without finding some sort of side hustle; the trip to Cancun was a typical college drink fest on the cheap, but it still cost about $500 per person.
Being true to my entrepreneurial self, I somehow decided that a great way to fund the trip would be to sell brownies all around my dorm, during busy study nights. I’d been working at the school pizza pub as a work study job during the semester, so I figured I’d “borrow” the industrial-sized cookie sheets, whip-up a few trays of brownies, and be sunning myself on the Mexican beach in March.
In hindsight, I really have no idea what I was thinking. I was not the slightest bit a baker; prior to my big brainstorm, I honestly don’t think I had even baked packaged brownies at home EVER. Nonetheless, I traipsed to the grocery store at the bottom of College Hill, and bought piles of the cheapest package mix that I could get my hands on. With my ingredients and giant borrowed cookie sheets in hand, I headed to the kitchen in my dorm’s social room, to find my inner Betty Crocker.
Much to my young and idealistic surprise, the bake-off was an utter fiasco. The oversized cookie sheets were so large that the oven door wouldn’t close shut , so I had no way to regulate the heat. The brownies came-out either terribly undercooked, or absolutely burned to the crisp. Back in the 80’s, there was no cute packaging to help the cause, so my Food Club brand plastic wrap made the individually wrapped brownies look like piles of “hot mess” (I think that there is a popular emoji out right now that would give you a good visual). The hundred plus bucks spent on the supplies, which I had high-hopes of turning into $500 in profit, went right into the dorm dumpster. My amazing friends, who watched the entire mess unfold, insisted on buying a few brownies to make me feel better; it’s a wonder that I didn’t give them all salmonella poisoning.
Not to worry - – there is a happy ending to my sad story. My absolute “bestie” from college refused to give up the dream of me partaking in the Spring Break shenanigans; she discovered that the Vacation Club running the trip was the one and only “Filene’s Basement, “ and that I could pay with a “Filene’s Basement” Credit card. Two hours on the landline with Filene’s basement later, and I was the proud owner of a Filene’s Basement Credit card with a limit of $550. Isn’t America a wonderful country of instant credit and opportunity?
Now thirty some-odd years later, this story has so many life lessons. The first, is to know your product! I knew absolutely nothing about baking brownies, so I failed miserably. The second lesson to this snappy story is that it’s really okay to fail , so long as long as you learn from your mistakes. I think it took me a solid ten years to pay off the Filene’ s Basement credit card, so I learned an awful lot about high interest rates, to say the least. I could almost smell the wretched brownies every month that I wrote the minimum payment to Filene’s Basement financial services. Also, I realized that I am forever an entrepreneur. Even as I re-told this story in my head, I started wondering: “ Hmmm, I wonder if I had swapped-out the brownies for candy bars or caffeinated soda…”
Ultimately, what I learned from my disastrous college brownie bake-off is that I have phenomenal friends. Rather than laugh me off the college campus, they supported me, and found a way for me to thrive with limited cash flow and big dreams. That’s the way they’ve always been. Oprah has a saying that talks about how lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is “someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down. “ I have no doubt that any of my college tribe would hop a greyhound with me at the drop of a hat. Speaking of hats, when I launched Sharks On Shore last Spring, the first orders that came through our website were from my college pals. They are such great friends that they make me feel like I can become great.