And discovered the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe for bringing people together.

How Jason McGowan co-founded Crumbl Cookies

And discovered the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe for bringing people together.

Photo courtesy of Crumbl

The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.

The magic of a cookie is astounding. Imagine something so simple, consisting mainly of flour, butter and eggs, yet with the power to unite people and bridge gaps between friends, family and even strangers. This simple idea, ignited by Sawyer Hemsley and myself, quickly grew into the international brand known as Crumbl, boasting over 900 franchise locations.

It might seem like we’ve always enjoyed this success, but the journey with our designed-to-be-shared, larger-than-life cookies began humbly, and the ride has been nothing short of sweet.

The genesis of Crumbl

Before Crumbl’s inception, I found success in the tech industry, developing websites, apps and companies in Utah and Silicon Valley. Around 2015, my cousin, Sawyer Hemsley, embarked on his entrepreneurial path, launching a clothing brand named Embr during college. Impressed by the brand, I decided to invest. As time progressed, managing Embr became a challenge for Sawyer due to his academic commitments. I eventually merged the brand with another business venture of mine.

In due time, both Sawyer and I recognized our synergy. While I had a penchant for visionary thinking, Sawyer was a logistical prodigy. Post-Embr, we would often brainstorm, trying to pinpoint our next joint venture. The idea of cookies eventually clicked.

Back then, DoorDash wasn’t as prominent as today. Given my tech background, setting up a delivery system wasn’t daunting. We both cherished fond memories related to cookies, baking and indulging in them during our childhood. This timeless dessert seemed like a sweet (literally) venture.

There was only one problem: neither of us had any formal experience in baking. Sure, we had plenty of experience eating cookies at home in the kitchen, but we didn’t know how to make cookies worth selling at the time. We were determined not to let that deter us; we purchased equipment and started looking for spaces to lease. The product would be the last thing we focused on—something I would definitely not recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs today. 

While we certainly had high hopes for the concept, we had no idea if it would actually succeed. Having talked down the rental price of a dilapidated building in Logan set to be demolished in 6 months, we set up shop. We had the perfect out, just in case.

And discovered the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe for bringing people together.

Photo courtesy of Crumbl

Our initial plan was to buy dough from a third party. However, after some trials, we concluded that the quality was merely ordinary. We wanted the world’s best cookies, which meant concocting our own recipe.

Our initial baking endeavors were sometimes comical, such as misunderstanding the capacities of professional-grade baking equipment. I was so confused when the mixer paddle wasn’t touching the sides of the bowl. I thought our mixer was broken! We later learned you can’t make a normal-sized batch of cookies in large equipment; you need much larger batches. Chalk this up to one of our many learnings along the way. 

We went through hundreds of batches of dough trying to find the perfect recipe. At the end of the day, we would take our wasted dough (tainted by ever-changing ingredients, definitely not worthy of donation), pack it into large, black garbage bags, and haul it to the dumpster. We looked like criminals with body bags slung over our shoulders every night as we trashed dough. “I hope the police don’t drive by,” I often thought. 

We also had the funny dilemma of choosing between milk chocolate chips, which Sawyer adored, and semi-sweet chips, which I preferred. Our solution? Using a method reminiscent of my tech days: A/B testing or, as commonly known in the culinary world, taste testing.

And that’s exactly what we did. Milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate chip cookies in hand, we shamelessly went to gas stations and grocery store parking lots, asking people which they would pick for the ideal cookie. After several rounds of testing, we had what we believed to be the world’s best chocolate chip cookies—made with milk chocolate chips. The people had spoken. 

Our shared childhood memories of cookies played a significant role in deciding the size of the Crumbl cookies. Large and designed for sharing, the cookies resonated with the core principle Sawyer and I wanted to uphold: cookies that foster togetherness.

Stepping stones to success

With our tested-to-perfection recipe in hand, we opened our doors for business. Our milk chocolate chip cookie was the only menu item. It was the only recipe we could perfect as the building’s demolition date loomed. 

We held a grand opening, and one of my daughters excitedly told me, “Dad, you own a cookie store!” I had done other exciting things in my tech career, but for some reason, my children, extended family and friends seemed the most excited about this simple cookie store. That’s when I knew we were doing something so much bigger than baking and selling cookies.  

I can still vividly remember the day that our first customer stopped by. It was an older man wearing a plaid shirt. He handed me a few dollar bills, and it hit me—people were actually willing to spend money on something we created! He was followed by a line of others. 

"'Bringing friends and family together over a box of the best cookies in the world.' This sentiment captures the essence of Crumbl, portraying our belief that, while we might be a cookie company at heart, our true essence is enhancing lives, making them a tad sweeter with every cookie."

And discovered the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe for bringing people together.

Photo courtesy of Crumbl

From that day forward, we always had a line out the door. Having become a bit more experienced in our craft, we experimented with new flavors. Our first specialty flavor was Midnight Mint, served exclusively from 12-2 a.m. More specialty flavors followed, and customers came flocking in day after day to try our latest creations. 

With a major focus on single-unit economics, we were profitable within the first month. 

A second location in Orem soon followed. This one focused more on delivery, and we experienced so much demand, we knew we had to expand. Sawyer and I weren’t the only ones who wanted a Crumbl on every corner. 

The success of our initial outlets catalyzed our expansion, but Sawyer and I were adamant about not accruing debt. We also noticed the keen interest of family members in our endeavor, especially Sawyer’s mother. The lightbulb moment? Franchising.

Franchising was instrumental in our global outreach. Sawyer’s parents were our pioneer franchise partners. The exhilarating phase came with a sense of responsibility—ensuring our brand’s success was vital. Our third store’s success was a testament to our joint efforts and dedication. Our subsequent outlets were strategically handed to close acquaintances and family, marking the beginning of a family-centered enterprise.

A popularity problem

Adopting the weekly rotating menu was one of the best decisions we made. I would go so far as to say that this was one of the leading factors in our success, but it wasn’t intentional in the beginning. 

It was 2018, and we were serving 11 different flavors on the menu. Customers lined up outside every day wanting to try our new flavors, but there was so much demand they would sell out after a matter of hours. Ingredients were also getting harder and harder to source in the amounts we needed. Simply put, we couldn’t keep up

After experiencing this for a short time, we decided we needed to find a solution before we had major burnout and hurt the customer experience by constantly selling out. 

How do we keep flavors fresh and interesting but make the baking process easier to manage? It wasn’t until that moment that a weekly, rotating menu became clear. We decided to implement the concept—full steam ahead. At this point, it wasn’t a creative marketing idea. It was an operational necessity. 

This model proved beneficial as customers returned in anticipation of the week’s flavors. Our expansion was exponential, and soon, Crumbl became more than just a side gig for both Sawyer and me.

A mission rooted in togetherness 

As Crumbl evolved, Sawyer and I realized the need for a central mission. Our cookies became more than just a dessert; they became a medium of connection and joy. From proposals at our stores to long-distance relationships enjoying our cookies together, Crumbl played a pivotal role in countless cherished moments.

A simple treat had become something people were using to share their love with one another. Once we noticed this, the mission statement just came to us.

“Bringing friends and family together over a box of the best cookies in the world.” 

This sentiment captures the essence of Crumbl, portraying our belief that, while we might be a cookie company at heart, our true essence is enhancing lives, making them a tad sweeter with every cookie.

Jason McGowan is the co-founder and CEO of Crumbl, America's fastest-growing gourmet cookie company. Prior to bringing friends and families together over a box of the best cookies in the world, Jason built We're Related, an app that helped connect 120 million users to their families; founded a ring company called EMBR; helped design and build Nintendo TVii; and was a 40 Under 40 in BusinessQ Magazine. He is a proud American citizen who recently immigrated from Canada. He thrives on working with brilliant people in creating simple, high-quality products and services that can improve the lives of others and impact society for the better. Jason enjoys spending time with his wife and seven children, competing in board games, golfing and traveling.