Looking to get your foot in the door with your dream employer? Try showing up to the office with a box of cupcakes.
At least that’s what worked for Jon Ebner, now the East Coast sales manager at catering startup Cater2.me.
He shared with Business Insider the extraordinary steps he took to get his start at the company — a journey that included hand-delivered baked goods, a late-night letter writing session, and more than a month of working almost for free.
Here’s the full story:
In late 2012, Ebner was living on Long Island running his family’s Apple computer resale business, a responsibility he shared with his brother after his father passed away in 2010.
Deciding that the business was stable enough to pursue his intended career path in sales, Ebner started looking for a startup job in New York City.
He became smitten almost immediately with Cater2.me, a company that caters gourmet office lunches and at the time had only 18 employees.
A self-described foodie who is “super into lunch,” Ebner was excited not only by the free food he’d get to eat but by the opportunity to work for Cater2.me’s Wharton-educated founders, Zach Yungst and Alex Lorton.
“There was just something about this company,” Ebner says, admitting that he also half-heartedly applied to other companies as a back-up plan. “I really believed in the company and I wanted to do whatever I could to be successful with this company — not just to be successful, but to be successful with this company.”
And so, he went through with the process of applying for an operations job via email.
He followed up with a phone call, and when that went un-returned, he sent a second email to Lorton about one of his favourite New York sandwich shops, Bite. At the end, of course, he mentioned that he had previously applied to the operations role and would love to meet up for an interview.
“I just said, ‘If I were the founder, what would actually make me want to read this email? Why do I care about this person writing to me?'” Ebner tells Business Insider.
The food-lover’s appeal was successful in getting him a phone interview, but alas, there was one small hiccup: by the time Ebner got his interview, Cater2.me was already in the process of hiring someone else for the role.
Ebner never heard back, even after sending an email saying that he would be happy to take a position as a salesperson, instead.
“I kind of hit a wall there,” Ebner says. “I just remember I was up at night, I was watching TV and I was like ‘Man, what do I have to do to get in here?'”
He got up from watching TV and began typing a deeply personal letter to Lorton, the Cater2.me cofounder, about a teenager who went door to door handing out his resume to everyone in Ebner’s hometown.
Ebner’s late father ultimately took a chance on him, and the man today operates a successful business of his own.
“I signed off the letter saying, ‘I just want a shot,'” Ebner says.
Armed with his letter and a box of cupcakes from Buttercup Bake Shop, Ebner went into Manhattan in search of a face-to-face meeting with Lorton.
The cofounder wasn’t there when Ebner first arrived, but the other employees said he would be back in two hours. Ebner left a cupcake for each of them (he’d previously found out exactly how many people worked in the office) and came back later.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the fact that this was terrifying,” Ebner says. “It’s almost like when you’re in a bar and you see a girl at the other end of the bar and you have no idea, but you’re like, ‘I’ve gotta go.'”
Ebner took the elevator up to Cater2.me’s office and almost immediately ran into Lorton, who granted him the impromptu interview he desperately wanted. Ultimately, Ebner didn’t even have to give him the letter he’d composed.
In the meeting, Ebner laid out his plans for what he would do if given a job as a salesperson, stating which companies he would target and how he would grow Cater2.me’s New York business.
Lorton agreed that Ebner would be a good fit for a sales role, but said the company wasn’t hiring for such a position. Instead, he suggested Ebner work on a three-month trial period during which he would have no base salary and be paid only in commission.
Despite the fact that he would be paid next to nothing, Ebner left the meeting elated.
“At the end, he shook my hand and said, ‘By the way, nice move on the cupcakes,'” Ebner says.
Ebner’s paycheck for his first month of work was just $US100, and he was forced to live off his savings from the family business as he developed contacts to sell Cater2.me’s services. After a month and a half, he asked the company if it would be willing to give him an advance on his next commission to help him make it through the month.
Instead, Cater2.me offered to hire him full-time, noting that he had impressed with his willingness to work long nights and weekends.
Though the starting salary wasn’t much — he didn’t break even at the job until about three months in — Ebner has received incremental raises and equity with the company since joining. A few months ago, he was tapped to be Cater2.me’s East Coast sales manager, overseeing a team of salespeople in a company that now has 65 employees.
And Buttercup Bake Shop, which provided the cupcakes on his fateful cold call at the office, is now one of Cater2.me’s vendors.
“In my mind, I was going to do whatever it takes,” Ebner says. “I really just wanted to get involved with the company, so I would have mopped the floors if they had asked me.”
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