Alumna Yael Krigman Highlighted By White House for Entrepreneurship
The White House recently highlighted Yael's company in its blog feature:
"Women Entrepreneurs Are Creating Jobs: An Interactive Timeline"
(click on April, 2012 to view Yael's profile)
"As their stories make clear, women small business owners are an essential part of our economy. Forty years ago, women owned just 5 percent of all small businesses. Today, women own 30 percent, a total of 7.8 million companies generating $1.2 trillion a year in sales. America’s entrepreneurs are at the heart of our country’s basic promise: That no matter who you are, or where you come from, you can make it if you try. I hope you enjoy this timeline that shows how women small business owners are helping to preserve that promise, and create an economy built to last." -Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President and the Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls
Q&A with Yael
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m from Annapolis, Maryland. My mom is from Philadelphia and my dad is from Israel. Most of my relatives are in Israel, including my aunt who is the original baker in the family.
Did you go to law school directly after your undergraduate studies?
After I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, I went to Spain on a Fulbright Scholarship where I lived in Madrid and researched the role of nonprofit organizations in Spanish society. When I got back from Spain, I got a job as a legal assistant at White & Case LLP. I was at White & Case for a few years before I started law school. I continued there on a part-time basis during law school and after graduation, became an associate—my sixth and final title at the firm.
Why did you decide to go to law school?
My heart has always been with social justice. I was very active in the West Philadelphia community when I was at Penn. At White & Case, I started the community service program in our office, which served as a model for community service programs in other White & Case offices in the US and abroad. As a legal assistant, I worked on a number of pro bono cases, but, understandably, my role was limited to providing administrative support. I felt that a law degree would allow me to be a true advocate for the under-served population in DC.
What was your favorite class, teacher, or experience at GW Law?
My favorite class was, hands down, the Public Justice Advocacy Clinic with Professor Jeffrey Gutman. To this day, I consider that clinic to be the most valuable experience of my legal career. I learned more from the Public Justice Advocacy Clinic than from any other class or working on any case as a practicing attorney. Not only did I learn about wage-hour laws, but I learned how to interact with clients. I had the opportunity to draft complaints and discovery requests. I also had the opportunity to participate in settlement negotiations with opposing counsel. Professor Gutman provided the perfect balance of supervision and autonomy. I was responsible for the legal research and writing. I also was primarily responsible for communications with clients and opposing counsel, but Professor Gutman was always there to guide me in the right direction and provide oversight.
The experience was a real eye-opener, too. I couldn’t believe how brazen some employers are—that they blatantly violate clear wage-hour laws and think they can get away with it. Sadly, more often than not, they do get away with it.
To this day, wage-hour cases continue to be my favorite type of legal case and I try to volunteer at the DC Employment Justice Center whenever I can.
When did you become interested in baking?
My interest in baking started almost by accident during my final year of law school. A law school friend came over for a visit one weekend and requested bagels for brunch, so I went to a local store that advertised fresh New York bagels. I was so disappointed that I decided that I could no longer rely on others—if I wanted a good bagel in DC, I’d have to make it myself. So I did!
Why did you decide to start your business?
To be honest, I don’t know if I would have started my business if I hadn’t been a lawyer. I took a few months off work to study for the bar and when I came back as an associate, I started bringing in a different treat every Monday for my coworkers, just for fun. “Monday Treat” became a tradition in the office. (In fact, White & Case has continued the tradition and sponsors Monday Treat with Baked by Yael desserts.) My colleagues looked forward to their Monday Treat and they used to stand at the entrance to my office with a half-eaten cookie and say “You know, you’re a fine attorney, but if the lawyering thing doesn’t work out, you should open a bakery!” I think most people would have been flattered and simply said thank you. To go through all the red tape of starting a business is quite a lot of trouble to go to. But, because I’m a lawyer, it wasn’t a big deal for me. I created an LLC and the same day I opened a business checking account to avoid comingling of personal and business funds. I went through the very tedious process of obtaining a business license. As soon as I obtained my business license, I bought product liability insurance!
Being a business owner provides me with a never-ending series of challenges and opportunities. I enjoy the business aspect very much—marketing, sales, even the financial side. I also put my legal skills to use every single day as a business owner, so my law degree definitely comes in handy.
In terms of a legal career, my heart is in public interest. It’s difficult to commit much time to public interest legal work right now, but I’m hoping that will change eventually and I remain in good standing as a member of the DC and Maryland Bars. I enjoy wage-hour cases very much, but I would also love to work with small businesses, helping them navigate the many complicated rules and regulations in DC.
How has a law degree been useful in business?
A law degree has been a true asset to me as a business owner. I used my degree to create my LLC and I’ve used it almost every day since then. Sifting through the many, many DC regulations is much easier after you’ve spent three years reading and analyzing various laws and regulations.
The writing skills I honed in law school are put to use on a regular basis, albeit in a non-traditional way. I am constantly writing e-mails to prospective and existing customers. Three years of intense legal training has made it much easier to craft succinct, persuasive messages that convince prospective customers that Baked by Yael cake pops are a must-have at their office happy hour. I think sometimes I may subconsciously TREAT my proposals to prospective customers, even if it’s just a short e-mail.
Recently, I was asked to provide samples and a quote for several hundred cake pops that would be used at a trade show. I was told that the prospective client wanted to use Baked by Yael cake pops as a giveaway at their booth, but they weren’t sure if they would be allowed to. When I inquired further, I learned that the vendor was permitted to distribute food, but was not permitted to distribute “tchotchkes”. The concern was that an individually wrapped cake pop would be considered a tchotchke. My legal instincts kicked in and by the time I had arrived home, I had in my head an outline for a brief distinguishing cake pops from tchotchkes. Fortunately, my business judgment kicked in and I sent a short list of bullet points instead of a 20-page brief with citations. To make a long story short, I got the order.
As Baked by Yael has gotten more and more press, I’ve also gotten more phone calls from companies inviting Baked by Yael to participate as a vendor in a “Daily Deal”. I participated in one such deal, mostly because the website running the deal was very reputable and the sales rep promised me that I could make any edits I wanted to the contract. Apparently, I was the first person to take him literally. I reviewed the contract line by line and made numerous edits. The next day, I received an awkward response from the rep saying that he didn’t think I could change the legal jargon, only the details of the daily deal. I later learned that after the exchange with me, the sales rep no longer sends the contract as a Word document. Instead, he sends it as a PDF and he does not tell the vendor that she may make any changes she wants to the contract. His boss was also a bit peeved that I found so many errors and typos in the contract, as the company had paid a prestigious law firm to draft the template.
I used my law degree when I operated a cake pop cart at the Annapolis Mall and had employees. The difference between an employee and a contractor is a big one for a small business. By reviewing employment regulations in Maryland and DC, I was able to catch an error that my payroll company made when they almost paid withholding taxes to the wrong state. I researched the regulations in Maryland regarding employee wages to determine if it would be more advantageous to pay my employees a higher hourly wage or have them earn their salary primarily in commission. A law degree also comes in handy when you’re arguing with a telephone company over $500 in over-billing!
What has been the most challenging part of your business?
The most challenging parts of my business have been finding enough hours in the day to get everything done and being patient.
I also volunteer occasionally at the DC Employment Justice Center’s Wage-Hour Clinic at Bread for the City. It’s challenging to find time to volunteer on a regular basis, but continuing my public interest legal work is still a priority.
What has been the most rewarding part of your business?
The most rewarding part of my business is making my customers happy. I am very passionate about my products and my business in general, and my customers are, too. Many of my customers (most of whom I’ve never met in person) have taken the time to e-mail me and tell me how much they enjoyed their Baked by Yael cake pops or the bagels they ordered. Through Baked by Yael, I’ve been part of Bar Mitzvahs, graduations, baby showers, and 80th birthday parties.
Are you willing to share the secret ingredient that makes your cake pops so good?
The secret ingredient in my cake pops is love!
For more information about Baked by Yael, please visit www.bakedbyyael.com or call 202.480.YAEL (9235).
You can also find Baked by Yael's treats in the catering section of www.seamless.com.