Gaining College Application Insights from Baked by Melissa’s Cupcake and TikTok Guru

Baked by Melissa’s Melissa Ben-Ishay spoke with social media celeb, Ben Soffer, #boywithnojob, to a packed house at the JCC of Central NJ.  They riffed on being social media giants, entrepreneurs, and work-life balance (which doesn’t exist–it’s more of work life integration).  As I listened to them discuss their respective journeys, I thought about some key lessons that apply to life in general, and of course, the college application process.

It’s okay not to know what you want to do with your life.  Melissa said she had no idea what she wanted to do in college.  She didn’t sweat it, knowing that her strong people skills would help her interview well.  She always loved baking and got the idea to start Baked by Melissa after she got fired from her job as a media planner at an advertising agency.  Instead of feeling like you have to have your major or career already figured out at seventeen, focus on the things you love to do.  You never know how a hobby can turn into a career.

Know what you’re NOT good at and embrace it. Melissa said one of the keys to her ability to grow her business is that she knows what skills she does not do well and surrounds herself with people who can do the job better than she can.  This allows her to focus on her strengths and build confidence in her ability to lead and delegate.  Are you a numbers person but have trouble writing?  Do you see visual patterns but have a hard time listening to directions?  Are you great at generating ideas but can’t follow through on the details? Instead of beating yourself up for your perceived weaknesses, collaborate with others that complement your strengths.

Seize opportunities.  Melissa talked a lot about seeing opportunities.  She saw it with mini cupcakes and most recently, with her salad recipes on TikTok that went viral.  Rather than talking about her ideas, she just did them and kept at it quietly.  During Covid, she had more time to cook for her family.  She decided to create a video of her making her signature Green Goddess dressing and salad.  When the first TikTok went viral, she knew she was onto something and kept producing more to build brand awareness for her cupcakes.  One of our clients noticed that her friends were struggling with disordered eating and had no place to share their stories. She seized this opportunity to create a podcast to help others facing similar issues feel heard.


Nourish yourself. With two kids, a social media following of 2.5 M, and a cupcake business, finding time for herself seemed daunting.  Melissa works out every morning at 4 am with a group of friends.  She gets her exercise and friend time every day to sustain her.  She also eats dessert every day, which her salads help balance out.  What do you need to keep you going? When you have homework, soccer practice, SAT prep, community service, etc. all piling up, how do you recharge to stay balanced? 

Surround yourself with great people.  She didn’t start her company on her own.  Her brother and several other co-owners helped her get it going.  Don’t think you have to do everything on your own.  Ask for help if you are having trouble with a physics concept.  Put together a study group if you have a particularly hard exam coming up.  Find people that make you laugh or feel good about yourself.  

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