A small business with a big heart

How Kelsey Moreira ditched her corporate job to start a cookie-dough company.

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Key takeaways

  • Kelsey Moreira ditched a decade-long career in the corporate world to start Doughp, a company that sells edible cookie dough.
  • The company found quick success with customers and investors, and today does a brisk business online. Her next goal is to reach grocery store shelves.
  • Moreira founded Doughp in her first years after becoming sober, and she aims to put recovery and mental health at the core of the company's mission.

Kelsey Moreira entered the corporate world at just 16. Starting as a marketing intern at Intel's Folsom, California offices, she kept working for the company part time through her school years, then joined full time after graduating from college.

"I had grown up with this intense passion and pride in my work and my schoolwork," she says. In her marketing roles, she could learn from "some amazing business leaders, watching their decision-making and big strategic decisions—soaking up whatever I could."

But at the same time, Kelsey says, the work and the pressure she placed on herself added stress upon stress, and she started turning to alcohol to cope. "It was a big shift in my personal life to go from just being a kid to being an adult really quickly."

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By 2015, some 8 years after she'd started on her corporate-world journey, she began to feel a need for change. Her first step? Getting sober. "I was tired of having alcohol holding me back—of not being able to be the best version of myself," she says.

In her first few months of sobriety, as she was exploring her new identity, Moreira kept finding herself in the kitchen—baking and eating desserts, then taking her treats to share at the office. Friends, family, and coworkers loved what she was making and encouraged her to start selling her products.

Then, while experimenting with vegan recipes, she stumbled on an eggless recipe for cookie dough that made it safer to eat raw.

"And that light bulb just went off—this could be my thing," she says. "Where can you go and get a scoop of cookie dough with friends?"

Young, scrappy, and hungry

Moreira knew she'd struck on something special. But her long experience in marketing also helped her approach her new venture strategically. "You've got a great recipe. Your family loves it. But before you go and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to build out a restaurant, let's go see if the market likes it," as she describes her thinking.

So in 2017, she took a 10-week sabbatical from work—using the time to try to prove out her concept. By then she was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, and for her first day scooping dough, she bought a $500 food cart and headed to San Francisco's Mission Dolores Park. She sold out within 3 hours. "I was like, ‘All right, people really like cookie dough!'" she says.

That first day led to more opportunities, including corporate catering events she secured through her network of friends in the tech industry. The whole sabbatical was packed with action (and dough), she says.

"When the 10 weeks came to a close, I had to call the boss and say, ‘I can't come back. This cookie-dough thing is really working.'"

After 10 years in the corporate world, she left for good to found her edible-dough company, Doughp (pronounced "dope").

If you scoop it

While Moreira trusted her vision in those early days, she knew that quitting a steady corporate job to sling dough full time might raise some eyebrows.

"I think everyone thought I was having a quarter-life crisis," she says. When her father pressed her on whether the move really made sense, she told him she felt compelled to see her idea through.

"I said, ‘Dad, if I don't do it, someone else will, and I'll never stop thinking about it,'" she says. "I remember just being so determined that I was going to make this work."

It didn't take long for her idea to catch on. A few months after her day at Dolores Park, she was offered a retail space on San Francisco's Pier 39, where she could get the Doughp brand in front of thousands of tourists a month.

A high-profile boost

Doughp's quick success was also aided by Moreira's 2019 appearance on Shark Tank, a reality show in which entrepreneurs pitch to potential investors.

Though the judges ultimately didn't choose to fund Doughp, the appearance gave her great exposure to customers and investors alike, and offers from other investors started flooding in after it aired.

As sales grew and she secured additional funding, Moreira was able to open another location, this time in Las Vegas. The company also began a successful e-commerce business, shipping cookie dough nationwide (which would later prove crucial to the company's continued success after COVID hit).

Before long, Doughp garnered national acclaim. In 2020, Moreira was named one of Forbes' 30 Under 30. Her next ambition: getting Doughp onto grocery store shelves across the country.

Served up with a side of heart

From the beginning of Doughp, Moreira also wanted to create a community to discuss mental health and support those in or seeking recovery. She started by sharing her own story with customers. On the day her first location opened, which happened to be on her 2-year sober anniversary, customers who said the phrase "It's dope to be sober" got 20% off at checkout.

Her openness prompted customers to respond by sharing their own stories on social media. "It was like this beacon to other people who so desperately wanted to talk to someone else who was traveling that path," she says. "I was blown away by the conversations I was now having with otherwise strangers."

To formalize the company's commitment, Moreira started an initiative called "Doughp for Hope." The initiative has 3 key pillars: putting mental health and recovery at the core of its communications with customers, offering a robust mental health policy for employees, and donating a portion of all sales to a nonprofit that supports women in recovery.

Doughp or bust

Running a business hasn't always been smooth sailing and has come with plenty of risks. Moreira's only dependent when she quit her Intel job was her cat, Chip, so it was easier to save the 6 months of emergency savings she felt she needed first. And after COVID hit, she had to make the painful decision to close all of Doughp's brick-and-mortar storefronts—to focus on e-commerce—a major pivot that thankfully paid off.

But at this point Moreira wouldn't have it any other way.

"One of the big bonuses is life fulfillment," Moreira says. "You might like what you do for your job, but what if you loved it? And you could not imagine getting out of bed for literally anything else?"

And her advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs considering taking the plunge?

"Jump on in," says Moreira. "The water's nice."

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