Penny Karas left a career in policy-related communications work in D.C. to start Hello Cupcake. She opened her first store in 2008, and is getting ready to open a second location soon, as well as launch a national shipping platform. Penny keeps things simple, leverages really cool design to enhance her brand, and refuses to sacrifice the quality of her ingredients. Her passion for her business is contagious – you start whiffing cupcakes when you’re speaking with her over the phone! She’s learned a ton in just a few years, and we’re stoked to be able to share some of her philosophies and advice.
Don’t Wing It – It took me a few more years to develop the concept, develop the recipes, and get it off the ground…my actual storefront. I did catering out of my home for a while as I was perfecting the recipes and building out the store, and then we opened our store in August of 2008.
Live Your Own Philosophy – It really is a part of my philosophy that, as a business owner, you really have to live your own philosophy in your business.
Never Cut Corners – Even when I was baking out of my home kitchen, I never cut corners. I did it in small batches. It was all done from scratch. And that continues to be an important element of the business. We haven’t gone to any sort of mixes, even though our suppliers are constantly pushing us to buy their mixes. We do everything from scratch. We juice our own lemons, we crack our own eggs – we don’t even use liquid eggs. So it really does have a home baked feel about it.
Make Your Space Part Of Your Brand – Another important thing is that the shop has a very high design concept. And this concept of this brand experience, where you’re in a space where the space itself is part of the brand – that’s really important to me as well. So that’s one of the things we planned for the brand from the very beginning.
Use Business Planning Software…And Friends – I used business planning software to do it. I had never done that before, so I highly recommend getting a good business planning software. It guides you through the process, and you basically just plug things in, which is really nice. I counted on a couple of successful business-owner friends to review it for me, and to tell me where bank would call me on things.
Don’t Take “No” For An Answer – I went to the bank, and I knocked on their door, and I didn’t stop knocking, and I wouldn’t take no for an answer (laughs). I stuck my business plan in front of them, and they were like, “Oh no, no, no, no, no. This is ridiculous. Cupcakes? No.” And I was like, “Yes! Trust me (laughs).” So that’s basically what it was. I was very persistent. And every time they asked me for some other piece of information that was a pain in the ass for me to get, and to put together, I would do it. And I would put it in front of them, and I finally convinced them that this was something that they could support.
Double Your Budget & Your Time Frame To Get Started – I get people asking me all of the time, “Oh, I want to open my own bakery or my own cupcake store. What do I have to do?” I tell people not to be afraid of those numbers, because they seem really big when you’re just opening your first business. But you start to realize that you can handle it in pretty short order. I also tell them to double their imagined budget and their imagined time line for their business (laughs).
Marry Your Location With Your Brand – We are in the city. We’re located across the street from a very busy metro station. It’s key in a number of ways. It’s key because it’s just a great location – there’s lots of people walking around. And it’s also key because it meshes very well with our brand. We’re a very upscale, urban brand, appealing to young professionals, and that’s the part of town that we’re in. We’re right in between the neighborhoods where people live, and the neighborhoods where people work. We’re right at this very busy metro stop. There are lots of other small, independent businesses around us. It’s not an area of town that has become national chainified, like other parts of town. So I think it’s been really key for us, in both those ways.
The Schedulefly Crew