Carol Ann McLaughlin featuring her Sweet Carol Ann's Fudge It! sauce at a recent food show.

Carol Ann McLaughlin featuring her Sweet Carol Ann’s Fudge It! sauce at a recent food show.

By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker 

One of my favorite startup stories is the one about my cousin’s business, Sweet Carol Ann’s Fudge It!  A caterer for over 35 years in a New Jersey shore town, Carol Ann’s dessert fudge sauce was a popular menu item for her customers. During the holidays, Carol Ann would package the sauce in gift jars for her family and friends. She did this out of her desire to prepare a holiday treat for the special people in her life, but she didn’t foresee that her passion for sharing her fudge formulation would set the foundation for a new business. She was just doing what she loved.

Soon Carol Ann had a new inner circle of family and friends who became fans of her fudge. They convinced her to mass produce it and sell it in stores. And so it came to be: the sauce she created out of a labor of love had a new brand name, and Carol Ann had a new business – Sweet Carol Ann’s Fudge It!

A decadent fudge sauce like no other

A decadent fudge sauce like no other.


 Startup profit principles that Carol Ann already had in place:

  • Distinctive Competence: She had experience in the catering business and was talented and skilled in preparing food.
  • A Business to Consumer (B2C) value proposition: Her sauce had a distinct quality and taste advantage over what was already available on the shelves of the local stores. The sauce “wowed” people.
  • Proof-of-concept: Carol Ann already knew her paying catering customers preferred her sauce, and her holiday gift recipients could also be counted among her future customers.
  • Reliable feedback: She knew the feedback about her product came from people who could be trusted to be honest in their assessment.
For Sundaes...and Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

For Sundaes…and Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.


Carol Ann Knew What She Didn’t Know

As great as her fudge sauce was, Carol Ann didn’t know anything about running a food company that served a mass market. She found herself heading into new territory. She quickly learned there were government standards that required certain ingredients and production standards to ensure consumer safety and product shelf life. She became versed in  packaging materials including jars, lids, and labels. Carol Ann embraced the learning curve as she prepared for launch, and she continually sought the advice of business and industry experts.

It’s easy to think that your passion and skill for creating a great product or service will logically convert into sales, cash flow, and a profitable business. But as Carol Ann found, it’s important to be realistic about your distinctive competence – your knowledge, experience, and expertise – and then surround yourself with people who have distinctive competencies to complement your own. I explain how I learned this principle the hard way in my blog, Death By Passion: How I Killed My Startup.

Carol Ann’s learning curve continued to unfold as she studied the fudge market to determine her price, Then she secured pre-orders from food stores, lined up shelf space, and coordinated product packaging, warehousing, and distribution. The process of securing and fulfilling store orders was an eye-opening experience for Carol Ann because of all of the logistics involved.

One step at a time, Carol Ann persevered as she walked into new experiences and learned the ropes for a successful launch. Today “Sweet Carol Ann’s Fudge It!” is being sold on, on Sweet Carol Ann’s  website and in stores in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, including Tom Bailey’s Gourmet Market in Spring Lake, NJ, one of the first stores to stock it!

You can never be too rich or too thick.

You can never be too rich or too thick.


Opening Your Own Business

In the end, Carol Ann achieved her business vision. You can too! Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Has a passion or talent motivated you to create and sell a new product or service?
  2. Do your friends tell you to use your talent to start your own business?
  3. Do you work for someone else and see a new or better way to fulfill the need of the market they are serving?
  4. Do you have distinctive competence – as well as passion – in the business you want to pursue?

Sit down and figure out what it will take to turn your idea into a product or service. Be realistic about the extent of your distinctive competence and surround yourself with the knowledge, experience, and expertise of others to complement your own.  Starting a business in which you have distinctive competence will give you a much greater chance of being successful, because your chances of understanding the market, finding trusted advisors, and securing pre-orders are greater.

Are you ready to start a new chapter in your life?  Take a step and download “The Pull To Become An Entrepreneur!” here.

If you have a comment or question, you can email me at

Ed McLaughlin is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.

Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin All rights reserved.