‘Fess up, folks. Some of us make plans to have people over, then two days before the big day, secretly hope everyone cancels. “My house is a mess. I can’t cook for sh*t. Where’s everyone going to sit? And does an empty wine bottle count as decor?”
Melissa Cummings feels you. Some of us need a little help to host guests easily and meaningfully - and that’s why she and her husband Tanner do what they do. And her instincts are so spot-on that Cedar + Ink took off and hit nearly a quarter million even though popular Amazon tools basically said, “Um, whaaat?” when she researched the products she wanted to sell.
Left Brain, Right Brain, Mean Brain
Melissa’s got a massive left brain. She started as a synthetic organic chemist at Merck Pharmaceuticals, back to grad school, then worked a decade in her dream career as a physician’s assistant serving nephrology patients undergoing dialysis.
But her right brain’s no slouch, either. Melissa recalls the moment hosting came onto her radar. She’d walked into a friend’s apartment and her mouth went dry. This friend clearly had gotten a double-dose of the Martha Stewart hospitality gene. The place was decorated impeccably, from the charcuterie boards, nuts, chocolates, and wine to the music playing in the background. She felt overwhelmed by the sense of being seen, cared for, and welcomed.
And then, a little voice in her head cleared its throat and said, “You could never host like this.”
Not one to back down from a challenge, Melissa went with her strengths - research and listening. She learned how to create an incredibly welcoming environment for others, and that others yearned for help with hosting. She took her friends’ wedding, engagement, or birthday party Pinterest boards, distilled them, and created beautifully cohesive events - a fun side project.
In 2012, she met Tanner, an engineer who “lit more candles in the first three months of knowing me than he had in his entire life until then.” They got married, helped friends with their events, and worked hard at their jobs, socking away the savings that would fund their future.
The Spark of Inspiration
On the hunt for some specific and elusive party decor items in 2019, a very pregnant Melissa and a between-jobs Tanner decided to start Cedar + Ink. They figured they must not be alone in wishing for a one-stop shop for gracious hosting supplies. They were right.
In 2019, they did $23K in sales. In 2020, $80K. And in 2021, sales topped $241K. Entirely organically. No marketing, no paid ads, no fancy software. They used keywords Melissa made up in her head. Still, 87% of their products hit the top 100 list for their categories in Amazon. Clearly, they’d hit an untapped market - a real winner.
Then Melissa hit the wall. She’d lost her excitement. As she’d never really nailed down a vision, her brand’s values, or its avatar. She was a product seller.
Funny thing was, by March of 2021, Melissa had begun hearing the name Ryan Daniel Moran a lot in her house. “Is that guy some kind of spammer? A total hack? Who IS this guy?” she asked Tanner. He insisted she listen to a couple of podcast episodes; she got hooked.
A Side Hustle Becomes THE Hustle
By then, they’d both quit their lucrative day jobs to go all-in on Cedar + Ink - a bold move that yanked the “oh, this is just my side hustle” hedge out from under their feet. It was do or die time.
That’s when Tanner proposed that they join the Capitalism Incubator. Melissa pushed back, saying there was no way they could afford to do it. Tanner said there was no way they could afford not to. If they were going to grow this business, they needed help. The Cummingses say the Incubator paid for itself in the first month.
They dove into understanding their customer, creating a Vivid Vision. Where they’d started by running on instinct, they became purposeful about their mission: Great spaces create great connection. It’s about more than just a perfectly pretty space - it’s an invitational space that beckons guests in and makes them feel welcome.
The Incubator became that same kind of welcoming space for the Cummings. It’s the rare entrepreneur who’s not the oddball among their real-job-working friends and family members. And it’s the rare entrepreneur community that is a safe, encouraging, and collaborative space for its members. “People here are just really rooting for each other,” she says.
Ever Pitched Your Business to Investors?
“Cancel! CANCEL, Tanner!” That was Melissa’s response when she found he’d signed them up for Pitch Week. “We’re not ready,” says just about every member ever. With a little nudge from Coach Stan, Melissa recognized Pitch Week as the invitation it was to battle her fear - and she accepted.
With a cap of three pitchers, the Cummingses missed the cut this time. But they both count pitch preparation as one of the most impactful exercises they could have ever done. In fact, Melissa’s best advice for you is to prepare and share your own brand’s pitch (obviously, best done inside the Incubator, but you can Google that shizz for a DIY start). There’s no better way to get extreme clarity, find the holes in your plan, and potentially make some strategic partnerships. Through their own pitch prep, the Cummingses clarified their vision for Cedar + Ink. Over the next 3-5 years, they will build the brand and then sell it.
In the end, Melissa shares, this whole process of building their business and preparing their pitch has been an exercise in personal growth. She says, “Fear, guilt, and shame set themselves up in front of our true identity. Shame has never said, ‘Melissa, you’re a bad basketball player,’ though it would be right. Instead it hits where it hurts. Moving through it, I always find my truer identity on the other side. If I let fear speak into my life, it wins. If it has the loudest voice, it gets to write my narrative and define me. The fear of being rejected is the fear of not being enough. Even though we didn’t get into Pitch Week, I still feel so proud of what we’ve done because the victory came in facing the fear.”
Well said, Melissa. And well done. We’ll be watching what you and Tanner do with Cedar + Ink, and we’ll be rooting for you the whole way.
Chapter 2: The One Where Melissa Shares Her Blueprint for Audience Growth
Blueprint For A Facebook Challenge That Adds Ideal Customers To Your List
Tanner and Mellisa Cummings of Cedar + Ink built the brand that helps everyday people (aka NOT Martha Stewart) create spaces that invite people to linger and savor time spent together.
They recently followed the 6 Figures Per Month in 6 Months training inside The One Percent and started up a perfectly-timed Challenge to help people get ready to host gatherings over the holidays.
Several students have run challenges and grown their lists exponentially, but the best case study is Alicia Reynoso, who created that course. Alicia used challenges to transform her “product-first” water bottle company into a real brand. She built her audience, tripled her revenue, increased her customers’ LTV by 45% and differentiated her “commodity” business into a brand that got acquired for a very nice, life-changing exit.
The Cummings worked with Alicia to create their Challenge and we thought you’d like to know how, in case you want to do it, too. Here’s what you can learn from how they’re doing the do:
#1: Want to go fast? Go for the low-hanging fruit first.
You can absolutely run ads to your Challenge and draw in thousands of Facebook users. But you might want to start with a test-run, tapping into your personal network to invite friends… who invite friends… who invite friends. Incentivize them with a little sumthin-sumthin’ that encourages them to spread the word.
#2: Aim to serve the living daylights out of those folks.
What’s the #1 stressor during the holidays? Um, the whole freaking season! Here, we’ve got the chance to host the people we love most in the place we love most (home!) and instead of having the relaxed, connected, memory–making time we envision, we freak out.
That’s why Melissa wanted to run a hosting challenge to help people with the holiday season. She knows that they can deepen their relationships, show love, and use their homes as a tool to do so. Assuming they don’t die from the stress first! So, she’s created really helpful, practical content to present during the Challenge to help her people host with grace.
#3: Make it so people can join anytime.
The Challenge structure includes one overarching challenge for the whole 60 days plus a mini challenge for each week. If you make it so they can join anytime, they will.
In this case, the overarching challenge is about gratitude. It encourages people to spend a few minutes practicing gratitude daily… handy for getting your head right for the holidays, right? Then, for three weeks there’s a mini challenge around a quality like: Impactful, Mindful, or Restful. They’ll even dip a toe into managing family dynamics, because… well… holidays. The remaining weeks are super practical: how to set any table - from paper plates to China, decorating your space on any budget,
#4: Bring in help.
Melissa’s got co-hosts for each week’s Facebook Live training. You can bring collaborators in to help you create a valuable experience for your Challenge participants. You don’t have to know everything yourself! This is a great way to help other business owners expand their reach while serving your people on an even deeper level. Plus, it’s a lot less scary going live when you’ve got a buddy!
#5: Prizes, prizes, prizes!
Be sure to choose great prizes for the mini challenges and the big one. If you’ve already got product on hand, that can work nicely. But even if you don’t you can easily find some great prizes that will entice people to play along. Don’t forget to ask your co-hosts for input… and some of them might even have prizes to contribute.
#6: Engage with your growing community.
You’ll want to engage with the group on Facebook at least once a day. That’ll take you 15-30 minutes tops but will make a huge difference as far as keeping them involved and feeling like they’ve made a connection. Melissa goes live every Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern - and those Lives only last 30 minutes. On Monday, she does a quick recap and re-announces the winners from the past week.
#7: Collect and use all that content.
While you run the challenge, you’ll create a ton of content. Some of it will be training. Some will come from your participants. Maybe they’ll give a rave review that you can use for your next Challenge. Some will ask questions that you can use to create more content. You’ll even get product feedback and ideas from your participants. The more involved they are, the more content and ideas they’ll hand you, right on a silver platter.
Alicia ran her Challenges over and over and over - each time, growing the number of participants. Even if the first one feels wonky or small, it will grow and get better with repetition. Challenges are all about excitement and accessibility. As you serve your customers on this more personal level, you offer this exquisite combination that they can’t get anywhere else.
Tanner and Melissa Cummings are the dynamic duo behind Cedar + Ink, a brand that helps hosts create meaningful, inviting spaces for their guests. Their growth is a testament to their business instincts and ability to follow a proven strategy.
We'll keep you posted on their progress on the road to $1 million. Check back now and then to see if their next chapter was ready to be told!
If the Cummings inspire you to build a successful business that makes the world a better place, too, you're in the right place.
In fact, we're on a mission to make one million millionaires by 2028. We'd love YOU to be one of them!
That's why we made this FREE course that will walk you step by step through the process of becoming a millionaire.