Unbirthday: The Icing On The Cake For Nikki Lee

- February 15, 2016 5 MIN READ

You quit your corporate job to start Unbirthday, how did that feel?

I actually quite enjoyed working in corporate sales but I knew inside of me that when the time was right I would dedicate some energy to making something that I loved doing since I was kid.

I thought I’d give myself a year to really focus on the baking and just see where it takes me. I didn’t intend for Unbirthday to be a business when I started, I think I just wanted to make some cakes and share them with friends and put it on Facebook and just see what happens.

How did you fund it in the beginning?

I was really lucky that I was able to work from my home kitchen so there were no overheads in terms of having a commercial space. I had enough savings to say ‘look if nothing happens with the business I’ll be fine’, so I had all these security blankets and cushions around me so it was quite comfortable to do.

The only expense was my time and ingredients, so I was really lucky.

How did you build such a strong Instagram following?

I think it is doing really good work constantly. Instagram is visually focused so you have to have nice photos of your work. I think people don’t want to read anything on Instagram they just want to see something in three seconds and then they decide whether they follow or not, like or not like, so it’s very quick.

I don’t put up any photos of myself, I don’t want it to be about me, it’s really about the brand and the team that work behind the scenes. I do maybe one photo a day or every two days. I just keep it very strict on just showing the work rather than lifestyle shots or things they could buy or other things associated with cake.

What made you think you could compete with huge players like Michele’s Patisserie and the Cheesecake Shop?

I think that there is a real market for boutique products whether it’s a cake or clothing or something that everyone knows about but maybe no one has seen it done in a certain way.

With bigger players, their strength is obviously in their quantity and in their franchising methods. In terms of the way they present their products, design and taste, I think it’s fairly average to be honest. I wasn’t really worried about competing because our unique point of difference gave me the confidence to know that no one is styling cakes like this at the moment so lets just start a new trend or ride the wave with it.

Why do you think there has been that trend toward boutique, handmade, artisan products?

I think people always appreciate something they know someone is personally putting expertise or creative perspective or time into.

Traditionally, people might spend $20 or $30 on a little cake. At Unbirthday, the minimum you’d spend is $90. So it’s about encouraging the customer to make that jump confidently.

We never have that conversation because customers know that everything we make is done in our own kitchen, we don’t outsource it into a factory, the icing, the cake batters, it’s all made from scratch.

For our cakes, every single layer of cake is two hours of human time baking, putting it together, icing and styling it. People know someone did that with their talent instead of just putting it next to a machine.

What would you say your biggest challenge is right now?

I am 15 weeks pregnant and it’s been wonderful so far but I’ve just experienced levels of tiredness I don’t think I could have predicted! I’m so lucky with my team, they’re just so strong and extremely supportive so I know the work will continue without me whether I’m there or not.

From a business side, we are moving into a larger commercial space, so that’s going to be new, different, exciting. There’s going to be physical work involved in getting this space set up, mental work involved in switching gears from working in a home kitchen to now being out.

But I think the strength of how we’ve set up the system that supports it all is there so I’m not too worried about how it’s going to go.

How many cakes do you make every week?

At the moment, we do about 60 orders a week on average. It’s not a big number if you compare it to say selling clothes, but 60 individual cakes – remember how long I said it takes to make one tier – and some of them are two or three tier.

That’s at our maximum capacity right now so I know that once we’ve hit that mark then we’re booked out so I just close off the calendar.

Do you have a favourite cake?

Yesterday one of the girls made a carrot cake which we do for our wedding cake flavours, we don’t do it for our normal birthday cake flavours, and it was phenomenal.

The cakes are like children, you can’t name favourites, I love them all equally!

What is your best advice for others wanting to start a business?

Don’t put any financial pressure on yourself. If you’ve got an idea and you want to try something, don’t cut off all sources of income before you do it. Do something else, get a part time job, pack boxes at Coles at night, it doesn’t matter what it is.

If you know there’s a little bit of income coming in and you also know you’ve got the time and energy to start something new then ultimately that’s a very very good balance.

If you honestly love what you do, throw yourself into the work as much as you can and really respect the process of where that work takes you and who responds to it.

Every week, KBB’s Dannie Doughan chats with an entrepreneur and features their story on our website. If your business wants a ‘Date with Dannie’, email us a quick bit about your biz!

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