Yay! I’m very excited to be back with the business interview series! My first interview for 2016 is with Modupe Marianne Ladapo, owner of Lenox Cupcakes in Atlanta GA. She started business based on a craving she had and over the last few years has gone from baking in her kitchen for friends and family to owning her own commercial business location serving some of the world’s largest companies like Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, CNN, AT&T, to name a few. In this interview, Modupe is sharing a ton of awesome information on how she got started, what mistakes to avoid and what makes her business a success. Enjoy!
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business. What is it called and what services / products do you offer?
My name is Modupe Marianne Ladapo. My business is called Lenox Cupcakes and we offer gourmet baked goods for corporate and private events.
Can you share a bit about how you choose this line of business? What transition did you make to owning your own business?
It all started because I developed a craving for cakes when I was pregnant with my son in 2007. I couldn’t eat a whole cake by myself so I started baking cupcakes. Gradually, it became an activity that I found soothing, almost therapeutic. Whenever I had a stressful day at my full-time job, I would get in the kitchen and bake.
One day, my sister suggested that I sell some to a friend. The business started in my home kitchen with the eggs and butter in my fridge, and equipment I already owned, selling to people I already knew. Later on, I set up a website for $17 and got my first corporate client that way. To this day, most of our business comes from other businesses.
Do you have any special training?
I am entirely self-taught and continually try to update my skills.
What are some of your biggest accomplishments as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment as a business owner is growing from a home-based business to serving some of the world’s largest companies – Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, CNN, AT&T, to name a few. It’s been incredible. My personal favorite moment was when the CEO at the time of Coca-Cola, went on my little website and placed a personal order for his wife’s birthday. I was floored. I recognized his name from one of the cases I studied in business school and I did a double take because it’s a pretty unique name. I sent him a personal note to tell him how much I appreciated his order and he wrote back to say his wife loved the cupcakes!
How soon after you started did you start seeing profits? Or when do you project to begin earning a profit?
I have been profitable from day one because of my low cost of entry.
How did you decide how to price your services? How did you determine what your services were worth?
In the beginning, I priced myself on the lower end because I wasn’t quite sure of myself. However, as I became more established and as my operating costs increased, I raised my prices to be more in-line with market rates.
What mistakes, if any, have you made with your business? What did you learn from the experience and how did you bounce back?
My biggest mistake was probably growing too fast. Once I went full-time into my business, I went from my home kitchen, to a commercial kitchen rental, to signing a lease at one of our luxury malls in the space of a year. I had always been an online business and to go from operating an online business to a brick and mortar store, while maintaining the online component, was quite a big adjustment.
There were times when I had to pause the online side just to cope with the demands of the brick and mortar. What I learnt from that experience was to evaluate decisions from all angles. Once that lease was over, I moved my operations to my current location where I have been for the past four years. In this new space, I have more control over my business operations and have been growing at a pace where I can meet the demands of both sides of the business, while introducing new products and services to our clients.
What do you consider the most important elements of running a successful small business?
Consistency and offering exceptional customer service. As easy as it sounds, consistency is very hard to maintain. It is giving your customers the level of service they have come to expect over and over and over again. One bad experience can turn people away for good so you have to be mindful of this. Exceptional customer service goes without saying. In the competitive environment that we are in, customer service is what will sway people your way.
Do you have any start-up advice you can share with women reading this who would like to launch their own businesses?
I would say to them, if you have a burden in your heart, something you are bursting to share with the world, then you need to go ahead and do it. Take small, calculated risks, do your research, and go for it.
Do you have any advice on managing your small business finances?
From the very beginning, it is important to maintain separate accounts for your business and personal finances. Once you start off on that note, it becomes easy to see your business as a separate entity and all transactions related to the business should come from that account. Another thing is to find a way to track all of your expenses. At the end of the day, we are in business to make money and you can’t do this if you don’t know what it costs to run your business.
How do you balance work and life owning a small business?
I take time off a couple of times a year, just like I did when I worked in corporate America. This all happened because I realized that as a business owner, I didn’t give myself the vacation benefits I had received from my employer. I also leave work at work. That’s a boundary I try not to cross.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself opening more outlets. I also see myself expanding my product line.
Please share a fun fact about yourself.
I am a huge foodie. Whenever I visit a new city, all I want to do is find interesting places to eat. I belong to a dining club in Atlanta called the Foodie Chicks. We meet up once a month at independently owned restaurants for dinner. It’s wonderful to be able to share this love for food with others like me.