Kodiak Cakes may be a multimillion-dollar company today, but its beginnings couldn’t be humbler. Joel Clark BS’99 (pictured here) and his brother, Jon Clark BS’92 MBA’98, were just kids when they first sold their mom’s whole-wheat pancake mix, packaging it in brown paper lunch sacks and toting it around the neighborhood in a little red wagon.
Years later, Jon resurrected the idea into a legitimate business. He dubbed the company Kodiak Cakes, evoking an image of hearty, whole-grain flapjacks on the Alaskan frontier. Joel, still a student at the U, joined in, then took over when Jon offered him the business a few years later.
“Here I was, 23 years old with another year to go at the U,” says Joel. “I’d always dreamed of having my own business. But I had no clue how hard it was going to be.”
As Joel finished school, got a full-time day job, and earned an MBA at Oxford, he kept Kodiak Cakes going as a side hustle. “It was incredibly tough just keeping it alive,” Joel says. He leveraged everything he had and considered selling more than once. But his passion for the business kept him going. “I loved the idea of selling a product based on my mom’s recipe,” he says.
Eventually Joel quit his day job. A few years later, he hired his first full-time employee—Cameron Smith, whom he’d found after listing the job through the U’s Career Services. Cameron got them on Shark Tank, which didn’t result in a deal but did result in national exposure. Then, after Joel added protein powder to his pancakes one morning on a whim, the idea for Power Cakes was born. They launched the product at the height of the protein craze, and “it took off immediately,” Joel says.
Kodiak Cakes is now the second-best-selling pancake mix, frozen waffle, and oatmeal in the country, with a presence in 26,000 grocery stores and chain retailers.
Joel’s advice to would-be entrepreneurs: follow your passion. “Passion can help you make illogical decisions. And sometimes you have to go against logic as an entrepreneur,” he says. “You’re going to face big obstacles. You have to make sure the passion is so deep that it drives you to keep going.”