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Alumni Stories

Cameron Smith

A portrait of Cameron Smith

Talk about your path to Ensign College. What ultimately led you to want to study in downtown Salt Lake City?

I was on my mission in Zimbabwe when my parents told me about Ensign College (LDS Business College at that time). I was from Nebraska and desired to attend a school in Utah around more members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ensign College mentioned that there was a returned missionary scholarship. The thought of me qualifying for a scholarship was a little surprising and intriguing. I was not a bad student in high school, but my grades were not where I would have easily received any scholarships. My grades in high school also impacted my ability to receive acceptance into another more well-known religious university there in Utah. That was when I decided, a little reluctantly, to have my parents apply to Ensign College, so I could start right when I got back from my mission.

Looking back, I am so grateful for Ensign College. It was perfect for me and what I needed out of school. In the first semester, I was on the Dean's List! This was huge for my confidence and belief in my abilities as a student. The instructors were supportive, and they genuinely wanted me to succeed. I loved how my classmates were diverse, religious, and collaborative. Due to my experience, I had two sisters that followed me to Ensign College, both of which had great experiences.

What were your goals when you left Ensign College? As you look back now, how have things turned out differently than what you had imagined?

Cameron Smith's shark tank appearance
Cameron and Joel pitched their business on Shark Tank but left without an investor.

I finished my degree at the University of Utah when I left Ensign College. I had a desire to start a business, but I knew that would be challenging, and I did not have an idea worth starting. As a result, my goal was to get a job that could become a career. It was important to me to add value to whatever company I worked for.

I met Joel at Kodiak Cakes a few years after I finished at Ensign College and became a business partner with him over the years. I never would have imagined being a part of a company that grew from $1mm in annual sales to over $300mm. I believe this happened because I learned I could do anything I desired. I saw from school that if others could be successful, so could I if I worked hard.

Talk about the early days at Kodiak Cakes. What was it like anticipating the day when the arc of the business finally was going your way? Did you ever seriously think about packing it in and moving on to something else? What motivated you to persevere?

Picture of Cameron and his family at Kodiak Cakes
Cameron and his family

Those early days at Kodiak were fun, challenging, energizing, and discouraging. I would call buyers at grocery stores, and they would not return my calls, or if they did answer their phone, they did not care about what we were trying to sell them. I did not believe that Kodiak would grow to become a significant business. On several occasions, I thought we should sell the business and move on to something else. I wondered if I should get a different job even though I did not believe I was built for the corporate world.

Having my family and, more specifically, my wife support me along the way was significant. She always believed in me and that I was just as capable as anyone else. I knew she would listen to me as I went through challenges and keep me balanced as the business grew. I have found that having a dedicated support network is a valuable resource for an entrepreneur.

What also motivated me were the letters we received from consumers telling us how much they loved the product. There were times that influencers/bloggers would write about Kodiak and how much they loved the product, which always resulted in a spike in our online sales. I have learned how crucial it is to celebrate the little wins and that if you string enough of those together, you start to see the bigger wins.

Kodiak Cakes' product is on the shelves of many of the largest grocery stores and retailers. What is it like to walk into a store and see your "baby" on the shelves?

When I started working with Joel at Kodiak, we had four total items (2 pancake mixes, a brownie, and a cookie mix). We started selling oatmeal, frozen waffles, and bars because we didn't believe we could get more items in the pancake mix category. A lot has changed since those days. The other day I saw a pancake category that had 36 spaces for Kodiak products on the shelf! This was mind-blowing to me. I never thought that was possible.

It is even more rewarding than seeing the product on shelves when I meet people telling me how much they love our product. I cannot believe I have been a part of helping them in their daily life.

Cameron demonstrating Kodiak Cakes
Demonstrating the product

In late 2022 you decided to move on from Kodiak Cakes and step down as president. What was that thought process like? How did you know you had a successor that could carry on the legacy you and your business partner, Joel Clark, had created?

Cameron cooking some Kodiak Cakes on a griddle outside
Camping and Kodiak go together

Joel and I were truly fortunate to have the success that we did while growing Kodiak. The business has grown to over $300mm in sales, and more than 120 people are in the company. We had recently gone through a sale to a private equity firm, and Joel and I decided it was the right time to bring on someone to lead the business through its next growth phase.

Kodiak has grown with different people through distinct phases. Joel and his dad were a part of the second phase, and Joel needed his dad to get through that phase. His dad was ready to step aside in the business before I joined. Joel and I needed each other through this most recent phase of growth. We learned so much through this phase and had so many people help us. As Kodiak embarks on this new phase, the business, team, and brand need more experience than we had. I am glad to have been a part of that last phase and look forward to watching the team grow this brand over the coming years.

What advice would you offer to Ensign College students who are just now looking at making their mark in industry? What have you found to be the most important compass to direct your life?

Believe in yourself! Do not wait for others to believe in you before you start believing in what you can accomplish. I love the part in Alice in Wonderland when she comes to a fork in the road and is not sure what path she wants to take. This is where the cat appears and asks her where she wants to go. She says she does not know where she wants to go. The cat then tells her it does not matter what path she takes because any path will get her anywhere. I believe you cannot complain about where you landed if you do not know where you want to go.

Believe in yourself and plan out your future. If you do this, you will accomplish more than you thought possible.

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