Having pursued a career as a structural engineer, Jade Ryan now knows she can have her cake and eat it too. Jade also happens to be a professional baker which has been the source of inspiration for co-founding her own startup.
With her partner, Greg Ryan and their friend Ben Norman, the three University of Newcastle graduates have been cooking up an idea that hit the digital shelves at the end of 2018.
“Before that, I was doing my Clever Girl Cakes business, and people were having trouble understanding cake costings. I was trying to work out a way to quote without having to spend time explaining why every detail of the cake costs what it does. I was spending a lot of time and effort quoting and re-quoting, and that's just where profits go to die,” Jade says.
Jade believed there had to be a better way to develop quotes for cake. Enter the website, CakeServer.
People can create their dream cake virtually, while the website tracks cost estimates. CakeServer sends out the final design to a network of professional bakers, who quote on the job. The customer then reviews the quotes and profiles of the bakers and accepts the one, paying a deposit to complete the booking. CakeServer makes money by taking a small commission on successful bids with no additional cost for the shopper.
They are still in beta stages but they’ve come a long way in a short time, and they reckon they wouldn’t be where they were today without hard work and support from people and organisations in Newcastle.
Last year CakeServer was provided $25,000 seed investment and a 10-week access to tailored training and mentoring with Slingshot’s ICON Accelerator which was delivered at I2N Hub Hunter Street.
“We didn't think we'd get into ICON, to be honest. We thought, ‘you know what, it's an idea, let's go for it.’ And we went in, and two weeks later we're in,” Jade says.
“The University’s Integrated Innovation Network (I2N) gave us coworking space which is quiet, so it was easy to work. It’s really clean for a shared space,” Jade says. “It’s the middle of Newcastle with a lot of natural light and a good internet connection and good coffee machine.”
They said the I2N influence lit a fire inside them, forcing them to put their ideas into action. Before they won the pitch they were moving very slowly, making sure everything was perfect.
“We learnt that sometimes you just need to get it close enough and go forward because you don't build word of mouth by just talking about it, some people need to see it to believe it,” Jade says. “So that really pushed us forward; we weren't expecting to get where we are today were for another six months.”
Their website developer Ben described the workshops they attended.
“You’d be in from 9am to 6pm one day a week. Each workshop would be a different focus, one week might be on user interface (UI) aspects and they’d get in a representative from the industry,” he says. “The guest lecturer would speak for the first half of the day and then they’d do workshop exercises. We’d do pencil sketches, UI examples of what we think our prototypes would look like with the other groups. We’d try it out on the other people. Other weeks we were focused on marketing, culling it down to its most essential: money making.”
CakeServer learnt about targeting their audience; you can have a great idea but if you don’t know who the idea is for it’s not worth monetizing. Ben mentioned how the concept of “if you build it they will come” is a dangerous idea in the startup world. It’s important to prove people are interested in your idea.
“They have a whole bunch of techniques like focus groups, also setting up landing pages where you generate your interest. You put up descriptor saying this is what you’re bidding on, sort of like preregistering or prescribing,” Ben says.
One thing in particular stuck out to Jade.
“They were really excellent with the fact that I had kids. Whenever I had to get up to do something, all my group was wonderful. When we went in to pitch for the first time, Siobhan Curran (I2N Manager) held my baby,” Jade says. “Everyone understood. I basically laid a mat down and put all the toys out and no one blinked. Almost everyone’s like ‘I wanna squeeze the baby!’”.
They enjoyed the mentorship, workshop and space. After their first investment from Slingshot, the door opened for more opportunities. They met other entrepreneurs and startups at the Hub who were willing to offer friendship, advice and support.
Of course, they still have struggles; Jade is learning to accept that not everyone will like her idea, no matter how hard they work to make it the best it can be. She elaborates on this and more in her interview for the Welcome to Day One Podcast, here.
Despite the occasional expected setbacks, CakeServer is gaining momentum as their sweet idea takes off across Australia. Theirs is a great example of innovation in the Hunter region, no matter how you slice it.
Listen to Jade Ryan's founder journey by downloading the Welcome to Day One podcast episode here.