One Entrepreneur’s Journey: Perseverance and Gratitude
by Amy DeGiulio, Founder and CEO of Sugar Flower Cake Shop
I’m in my 6thyear of business. Let me repeat, my 6thyear of business! Sometimes it is really hard to believe. There are days over the past 6 years when I have thought that I have a LOT more growing to do before I could consider myself a “real” business. But there areother days, when I’m reminded by my staff – and my customers – that I realize how much expertise I actually have in my craft and how many connections I have made over the years.
When I began my website in 2006 [note the use of the word “website” instead of “business”], I simply wanted a creative outlet that might allow me to put a little extra spending money in my pocket.
My family told me my product was good. But, what business did I have in starting a business? My degree is in math. While math does help with the finances and calculating the exact amount of buttercream based on the surface area of each size cake we make [yes, feel free to call me a nerd - I embrace it], my experiences as an actuary and a pre-calculus teacher did not prepare me for the life of an entrepreneur.
In my 1st year of business, my revenue was $500. [No joke!] I started by creating sugar flowers for other bakers up in the Hudson Valley. I didn’t market myself. If someone stumbled across my website, I’d make them a flower. I was not very invested in running the business at that point in my life. Now, I’m grateful that the name of my business continually bumped me up in the Google rankings. [What other website besides Sugar Flower Cake Shop should show up when searching for “sugar flower”??]
After a few years going along like this, I moved to New York City. By that time, I had more clients [including Martha Stewart!], but my business was still not generating enough revenue to make it a full-time venture and I still had no idea what I wanted to do with the business I started. I had to do something!! Internet [soul] searching lead me to FastTrac GrowthVenture, which I mark as a huge turning point for me and my business. I went into it with lofty goals, thinking I should open up a retail business – kicking the cupcakes out of my competitors – though at that point, I don’t think I even knew who my competitors were!
FastTrac GrowthVenture had me take a hard look at my business, my goals and my network. I wrote a business plan [who knew?!?!?] and developed an organization chart [even though I was the only member of the company]. I started looking at how much funding I would need for my venture and quickly realized I would need lots of help. As it turned out, I’m grateful I didn’t go through with the headache of opening a retail location at that time.
My FastTrac GrowthVenture classmates were inspiring. I still keep in touch with many of them today. One of them is responsible for my branding. She did me a favor by having her designer create a new brand icon for me, which is probably worth thousands of dollars if I were to approach a branding company. That quick design has been carried over into my new website, marketing materials, business cards - you name it!
This lesson of developing relationships and tapping into my resources has allowed me to operate a lean business and experience rapid growth.
I self-financed opening my very own commercial kitchen space in midtown Manhattan just over a year ago.
I utilized a mentor from NYC Business Solutions and their resources every step along the way.
I’ve built a network of people who have been in my shoes before. I can learn from the frustrations of others while growing my own business the way I want to.
Now, I have a professional space in which I can entertain clients, handle all of our cake production and continue to add new revenue opportunities, including teaching cake decorating classes and filming how-to videos. And, I have a baker’s dozen of employees, from pastry school interns to part-time and seasonal help to - are you ready for this - my first full-time employee!!!
A few months ago, I decided that come April, I need to hire a full-time employee. I already knew who it was going to be. The hurdle was figuring out whether my business could afford bringing someone on. Can I hit my numbers every month??? My experience and the financial projections tell me that this is going to work. I was [am still] scared.
I mentioned that over the last 6 years, there were times I didn’t feel like I had a “real” business. Opening my shop in 2011 was certainly a huge step, but bringing someone else into the company has completely changed my outlook on my business. I set out to create a company that is bigger than myself. I now feel like I have accomplished that goal. My job description has changed. I am no longer the baker, I’m in charge of business development. [Oh, wait, I’m the CEO of my company!]
The tasks ahead of me include learning to let go. I have to hand my spatula over to someone else so I can, as the face of the company, go after bigger business opportunities. My expansion has come quickly, yet I have a lot I want to accomplish.
Baker Amy DeGiulio founded Sugar Flower Cake Shop on the principle that fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients make the best tasting, most beautiful wedding cakes in NYC. DeGiulio has demonstrated her sugar flowers in the test kitchens of both Martha Stewart and Macy’s. Her wedding and other special occasion cakes have appeared on the STYLE network, TV Land, and in magazines and other media. You can find Sugar Flower Cake Shop on the web at www.sugarflowercakeshop.com.
The views, opinions, or expressions provided by Amy DeGiulio do not necessarily represent the views, opinions, or expressions of the City of New York, the New York City Department of Small Business Services, and/or NYC Business Solutions.