Click the arrow above to hear Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton’s interview with Michael Coles.
If you’ve ever been to a Great American Cookie Company store, you’ve likely heard the tale: The company started with $8,000, and grew to hundreds of stores nationwide with sales over $100 million. “Everybody would assume it must have just gone smoothly from the very first day,” said Michael Coles, founder of Great American Cookies Company. “So let me tell your listeners the story,” he said, forebodingly.
On the very first day of business, Coles and his business partner had promised surrounding businesses and neighbors free cookies from 9 a.m. to noon. Just before 9 on that first day, 150 people were standing in line waiting for cookies. Coles and his partner were thrilled. But after baking the perfect, golden brown cookies, and the oven’s bell dinging to signify that they were finished baking, they realized – to their horror – that they had no oven mitts, no rags, and no way to get the perfectly baked cookies out of the oven.
That was the moment they realized how little they knew about what they were getting into. Luckily for them, they were quick learners. Within the first 30 days, they did $30,000 in sales, and the business took off almost immediately.
Six weeks into the business’ opening, everything changed. Coles was involved in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. At 33, doctors told him he would never walk without crutches or a cane again. His life was irreversibly altered, but he was undeterred, and decided to build back his body and his business simultaneously.
It was that accident that forced Coles to focus on the cookie business instead of shifting his attention to other business interests. “Something that could have been a real tragedy turned into a real triumph and we focused on the business and created a terrific company,” Coles said.
While the Great American Cookie Company rose to national prominence, Coles created his own “self-styled” rehabilitation program. He started powerlifting, martial arts training, and made his way from the stationary bike to a regular bike. He learned to walk again, and eventually set three world records biking coast to coast.
In this long form interview, Coles tells the origin story behind the Great American Cookie Company and lessons learned in entrepreneurship. He shares his accidental entry into the industry, and tells listeners everything he put on the line to make it a success.
Click the arrow above to listen.