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NOTEBOOK: The road to success by cookie


When Dereck Lewis was a budding entrepreneur — before he hit it big with Thelma’s cookies and ice-cream sandwiches, he bought a pallet of glow necklaces and sold them at a giant spring festival at Iowa State University, the now-discontinued Veishea. He cut class to clear brush after an ice storm. And twice he spent “internships” hunting big game with rich business representatives in Alaska. 

“I worked as a big-game hunting guide during college, too, as a study-abroad internship, which was stretching the definition for that. For two falls, I basically lived in a tent and hunted big game. I was trying to find something in that field.”

He did learn a lot about business in those tents. “The guys who go on those hunts are dropping $25,000 a hunt, so most of them own companies. So I got to spend a lot of time in a tent with guys that run companies. I quizzed them a lot. That’s where I got a lot of interest in starting my own company.”

One lesson: Come up with something that will sell. He honed his Thelma’s treats at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market. 

“I think that’s why the farmers market was so important to our process, because we could immediately vet the product,” Lewis said. “If you can find a way to sell directly to people and assess their reaction, that is going to guide your product development. You can make a product and pitch it to Hy-Vee, but if it doesn’t sell off the shelves, you’ve basically wasted your time. You need to get to the customer first.”

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