Today we are featuring Eric Chuah from The Cookie Project, a social enterprise in New Zealand that provides paid work experience for people with disabilities. Eric and Graeme, the founders of the company, met at a community event in 2017 and launched The Cookie Project in June of 2018. Currently they employ over 20 people with disabilities and have over 50 more individuals on their waiting list. As they continue to grow, Eric hopes they will be able to support up to 100 employees by the end of the year, and they’re doing everything they can to continue scaling up that number.
The Cookie Project is doing an incredible job of making the world a more open and accessible place for those with disabilities, and storytelling has had a great deal to do with their success. I recently got a chance to talk to Eric about The Cookie Project and hear more about how they use digital storytelling to create awareness and opportunity for those in the community with disabilities.
Hey Eric! Thanks so much for interviewing with me! To begin, can you tell me how The Cookie Project got started?
It was purely by accident. I was a banker for over fifteen years and I found that the banking industry was getting a little too profit driven, so I decided to venture into the social enterprise sector. I went to a speaking engagement and met one of the audience members who stood out to me because of his powerful story. He has actually adopted four children, and three of them have some disabilities. So I thought, how can I help this man? I didn’t know what to do at the time, but a couple weeks after that I tried some of the cookies he was making and I told him, this is the future for you and your kids. It took about six months to find the perfect recipe, and we put in the best butter we can get in New Zealand, which is by Lewis Road Creamery. We launched into the market in June of 2018 and have sold over 5,000 pieces!
How important do you think it is to share the story of the company with customers?
It’s absolutely without a doubt very important. Storytelling really brings the personality of your brand to life. Launching a brand with no purpose or value lead is not going to win people in the long run. We use the power of storytelling to bring our brand to life, it really shows how a purpose lead organization is designing everything around our people, around our bakers. Storytelling really gives the audience an immersive understanding of how the product meets the purpose in our organization.
More importantly what we’ve found with storytelling is how we can create an inclusive storytelling platform. That’s where we came across Kapwing! We found that having captions in our videos these days assures that all types of people on the disability spectrum can consume our content and understand what we’re doing.
What are your favorite digital storytelling and social media tools? Insta? FB?
Video so far has the highest engagement rate across all social media platforms. Whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. In terms of the tools, we just use our smartphones to capture content, and I think that’s better because it makes us feel more authentic. Kapwing is absolutely our number one favorite tool now, especially because of the subtitler. It is by far the best tool on the planet. It captions everything so accurately and allows you to edit things so easily without having to pay a huge subscription fee. What you guys have done is made your product more inclusive and accessible by making sure you don’t have a big paywall to access all those amazing features! You guys made it possible for us to create an inclusive video. We’ve tried other platforms, Google, YouTube, offline versions, and Kapwing absolutely beats all of them hands down. It’s probably the number one storytelling tool for us now.
What has been the hardest part about growing the company?
Brand credibility is the part we found the most challenging initially, because with a purpose driven organization it takes some time to establish credentials in the market. Our quality is also something we had to learn is very important, we work with only the best Kiki brands to produce high quality products that our customers are willing to pay a premium for. At the same time it makes our bakers feel very proud of what they do, what they produce, and who they work for. So for us, the biggest challenge is to convince our customers that we are purpose lead and that we use quality ingredients. The success you see today took quite a bit of time, but through persistent storytelling we have helped build credibility when approaching big brands to work with them.
What is a favorite memory you have from growing the company?
To be able to work with Lisa King from Eat My Lunch. They're a great social enterprise in New Zealand. We were in a place where we didn’t have a kitchen, so we ended up meeting with Lisa and telling her our situation. She said it was a no brainer, and she would love to donate her kitchen for us to use. That was a pivotal moment for us because without that hand up, our company wouldn’t be where it is today.
Do you have any advice to people trying to get a company up and running?
We always say if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. So when we stumble across a challenge we are always not afriad to ask our friends, social media, or established brands for a hand in assistance. This has served us really well. We’ve been in challenging positions before and had no idea where to go because we can’t solve problems on our own. But together, with other like minded people, we can tackle challenges, mountains, and seas.
This article is part of a series that features creators, the projects they’re working on, and how they use digital storytelling tools like Kapwing to share their messages with the world. Are you a creator who’s interested in being featured in a spotlight? Shoot us an email at [email protected]