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Brooke Muldoon

Brooke Muldoon

CEO of brüks bars

Brooke Muldoon Cooks Up a Business

The 30-year-old cofounder and CEO of brüks bars explains how her husband’s food allergies inspired her to become a successful entrepreneur.

by Jen Swetzoff

After growing up in northern California and attending college in Nevada, Brooke Muldoon moved to New York City with nothing more than two suitcases and raw determination. She found a Brooklyn apartment and a roommate online, an unpaid internship that kept her busy five days a week, and a job at an Italian restaurant where she worked at night and on weekends to pay her bills.

“I think that decision really helps explain how I live my life: trusting my gut, making a decision, and then just going with it,” she said. “I knew things would work out. I just didn’t know how or when.”

One weekend, while waiting tables during a lunch shift, Muldoon overheard a woman talking about her work at strategy+business magazine (s+b). Intrigued, she introduced herself, mentioned her background in integrated marketing, and expressed her enthusiasm for getting a foot in the door. The woman handed over her business card and told Muldoon to follow up. Initially hired as the advertising coordinator for s+b, Muldoon was promoted after a year to be the North American marketing coordinator for Booz & Company.

“That time was like being in marketing boot camp,” she recalled. “I learned so many lessons from the people at Booz & Company that I continue to carry forward today.”

Today, Muldoon is heading up her own company, brüks bars, out of Charlotte, N.C. During a recent conversation, she discussed how she went from baking gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and egg-free snacks in her kitchen to selling those same products at one of America’s healthiest grocery stores in the South.

How did you decide to start brüks bars?

When I initially learned that my now husband, Sean, follows a gluten-, dairy-, soy-, and egg-free diet, I had a moment of panic. I thought: “You’re perfect, but what are we going to eat?” The good news was that food was a big part of our lives. We both loved cooking and baking, and we bonded over that. Sean had discovered his food allergies around the age of 18, when he was trying to optimize his performance as a collegiate athlete. As a kid, he suffered from eczema and stomach issues and had other signs that we now know were the result of his intolerances. So, together, we started experimenting in our own kitchen with recipes Sean could eat. Every Sunday, we’d put together a hodgepodge of ingredients until we ended up making a truly delicious snack bar with plant-based ingredients. We started baking extras and sharing them with our friends and family. When they all started asking us to make them more, because they liked them so much, we thought we might be on to something.

So how did you grow that initial recipe into a successful business?

I think my marketing background from Booz & Company helped tremendously. We worked hard and bootstrapped it, selling the original bars in plastic bags with logo stickers after baking sometimes until 2 a.m. We handed out samples in local retailers, called bigger brands until they’d give us a meeting, and used social media to promote our product. At the end of 2013, we were in eight local retailers, and today we’re in nearly 150. We have a third business partner and COO, and two other full-time team members who manage production as well as support staff for events and administration. Sean continues to serve as our chief strategy officer, and he is involved in every major decision and every strategy decision, but less in the day-to-day. I run the day-to-day business because he works full time in professional soccer as a strength coach and sports scientist.

What did you learn at Booz & Company that remains most relevant in your work today?

No matter how successful you are or how pressed for time you may be, it’s critical to listen to the people on your team and be compassionate toward them. If you have way too many things on your list, making room for people takes priority — because those are the people who are going to help you succeed.

How would the people closest to you describe you?

At heart, I think they’d say I’m a California girl turned CEO: bubbly and compassionate while also tenacious and strong.

What’s the most rewarding part about running your own company?

I love being an entrepreneur more than I ever could have imagined. It forces you to hold up a mirror every single day and ask yourself, “What am I really made of?” because it’s hard.

What’s the biggest challenge?

Finding time to clear my head and stay focused every day when there’s always so much to do.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Getting our product into one of America’s healthiest grocery stores in the South region in less than two years. That was a big step for us. I’m also really proud of growing our team. I truly believe the reason we’ve grown so fast is that people have supported us and our products.

When and where are you happiest?

With Sean and my family. I also love to exercise and spend time outside, going for a run or taking a bike ride or doing yoga.

What’s next for you?

We doubled our production last year, and this year we’re expecting to more than double it again. We’re looking forward to expanding our business, probably on the West Coast as well as in other areas. I’m really excited about what lies ahead.

What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Always listen to the other people in the room, especially if you’re surrounded with people who may be smarter or more experienced than you. But at the end of the day, listen to yourself — and believe in yourself.

Jen Swetzoff is a freelance writer and editor. Previously, she worked with Strategy& as the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.

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