There is something so enticing about a freshly-baked chocolate-chip cookie. It’s why realtors lure prospective home buyers by wafting smells of deliciousness during open houses. But it’s not only about stellar recipes, although that certainly helps. It’s also about the baker, or in Wunderkeks’ case, a gloriously cheerful and charismatic married couple – Hans and Luis. The pandemic almost destroyed the business before it properly launched. One tweet changed the company’s trajectory forever, and Wunderkeks has proven that it’s here to stay.
Hans started baking cookies with his family in Guatemala. One December, he baked his way through an Advent Calendar. That same holiday season, he gave away over 1,000 cookies to family and friends. When he met Luis, “the most successful Tinder date ever,” the couple teamed up.
Even though Luis wasn’t a baker, he was passionate about “preserving childlike joy and innocence.” The couple started baking in Guatemala but wanted to spread their wings. As a gay couple, they could not legally get married in their home country. In 2018, they flew to Austin, Texas and made several trips before they said goodbye to Guatemala for good.
Austin was perfect because it is very accepting of LGBT couples and a welcoming place for entrepreneurs. Luis and Hans were also looking for a place known for great cuisine while also being close enough to home. Austin fit the bill.
Newlyweds and Business Partners
The newly married couple knew they had a hit on their hands, and they began to sell the cookies at the local Farmer’s Market in Austin, Texas. They were an enormous hit and customers would queue up to bring a taste home. Many of the recipes were handed down from Hans’ grandmother who hailed from Austria but the taste was proving universal. Wunderkeks means “Wonder Cookies” in German.
Hans and Luis started to brainstorm ways to build their brand outside of the market stall and that’s when they came up with a number: once they hit $20,000 in sales, they would explore scaling their business. They explored the competition on retail shelves in upscale supermarkets and didn’t find what they were looking for.
As Luis tells it: “There is still space for the premium cookie. You have sugar-free and gluten-free, but what about a traditional and natural version of this? We came from Guatemala to Austin, Texas, three years ago to build this exact thing.” They also don’t believe in artificial flavors and preservatives and most grocery stores were filled with treats loaded with added ingredients.
Luis and Hans negotiated a deal to sell their cookies at a local market in Austin. Wunderkeks was quickly becoming a cult classic. When the store blew through its inventory and became a top seller, Wunderkeks was approached to bake at a pop-up shop at SXSW.
This giant deal involved baking 25,000 cookies. They were about to graduate from a Farmer’s Market stall to a hot commodity seemingly overnight. But, enter a Global Pandemic. SXSW was quickly shut down and Hans and Luis ended up with a lost deal and massive inventory – cookie dough consumed every square inch of their fridge space.
The partners were desperate. They had a barebones website because e-commerce was, at the time, a bit of a distant dream. They hit up all of their contacts from the Farmer’s Market and cobbled together fifty orders. It was nowhere near enough and they were running out of time. Cookies, after all, have a shelf life.
Luis was scrolling through Twitter and wondering if he would have to give up on cookies forever when actress Busy Phillips was in New York and craving a cookie. She put out a call to her followers to ask them where she should pick one up. Luis thought he was dreaming and put out a Hail Mary tweet letting her know about the canceled SXSW cookies, and then he went to bed.
One Tweet Can Save a Business
When he woke up, he saw that Busy had ordered $300 of his cookies. But, even more than that, she retweeted his story to all of her followers. Let’s just say that the cookies went very quickly after that. Luis calls it his “lemonade out of lemons” moment and he’s not exaggerating one bit. They quickly sold all of their leftover inventory and could finally look forward.
“We had $50,000 worth of sales in the first month.” But, this was the early days of the pandemic and markets were running out of basic ingredients as people stocked up. Flour was proving to be one of the trickier ingredients to source, but Luis and Hans love a challenge. They didn’t know how to ship cookies, and they didn’t even have boxes to ship them in.
They were figuring everything out on the fly. And it was paying off in dividends. They went from $50,000 to $75,000 and by May, 2020 hit $110,000 in sales. It was all word of mouth and thanks to organic growth (both the cookies and the customers). The holiday season was absolutely explosive for revenue. People were gifting cookies to one another, and everyone was stuck quarantining at home.
By March of 2021, Wunderteks was doing $600,000 worth of sales a month. And this is the cautionary tales part of the story. Right around this time of insane growth, Hans and Luis wanted to spend money to build up the brand. They hired an agency and pooled their money together as an investment in the future of the company.
It’s Not All Gravy, Er, Cookies
Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived. While Luis and Hans rolled up their sleeves and planned out ways to grow their kitchen staff, the agency was busy not delivering. It took an initial deposit of $50,000 promising to bring in new customers and brand awareness.
But the agency’s strategies were misguided. It didn’t optimize Wunderkeks’ audience. Its social media campaigns felt like a shot in the dark. As Hans says: “They were skipping a step in the funnel.” All of this coincided with a complete freeze in customer orders and this made for a very challenging and stressful summer for the partners.
Business suffered tremendously in the form of a 60 percent drop in revenue from its most profitable months. Hans is completely honest about this dip in his journey. He hopes that his authenticity can help other founders not make the same mistakes. “We had a very poorly thought out partnership with our agency. They got all of the funding upfront and we got diminishing returns and near disaster. We were tired and way too trusting. When the agency suggested free shipping, we jumped on it. But, we were so underwater.”
Once they realized that they would have to quickly change course, they allowed themselves to wallow for a brief moment and then went right back to work. They broke ties with the first agency and found a new partnership that seemed much more equitable and communicative.
Back on Track
Hans and Luis asked the right questions – taking ownership of everything from website development to advertising revenue and mined the existing data to make informed decisions. Hans urges other founders to ask the right questions at the beginning. “If the business is running smoothly and you don’t ask the questions until there is a problem, it’s too late.”
Hans and Luis wanted their branding to reflect their creative energy and fun side. They also wanted to support a fellow Guatemalan artist and Muxxi fit the bill. Hans says, “We do this thing to ourselves where we see what happens in Guatemala as second rate, and it is definitely not. We are proof of that and so is she, and as much as we can support talent from back home we will!”
Hans and Luis are right on track for a profitable holiday season. There were many sleepless nights and lots of uncertainty from the partners. They experienced such massive early growth only to have everything turn upside-down. Could they recover? Could they come back stronger? They promised to “surround ourselves with people who can advise us and who have a ton of experience in different fields. We have integrated every single part of our business and now we measure everything so it’s easier to know if we are on track.”
Now that Luis and Hans are back in control of every aspect of their operation, the couple has emerged stronger and more resilient. They are also better partners in business and in life. The second best part? The cookies are so decadent and delicious, they scream “Eat me.” The chocolate chip cookie is a fan favorite but don’t be afraid to try all of the flavors and give them equal opportunity to shine. This calls for a celebratory tweet from Busy Phillips for Wunderkeks’ next chapter.
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