By Bolatito Adebayo ([email protected])
OLADUNSI Bajomo is the CEO of Doodle Cakes, a confectionary which specializes in baking cakes. In Lagos State, if you mention the top ten cake companies, Doodle Cakes will be amongst them and it’s known for mouth- watering cakes with unique recipes she inherited from her grandfather. In this interview, Oladunsi shared her success story and how she has been able to calm the storm in her business.
So, how did you start?
I’m like a third-generation baker. I started in 2000 when I graduated from secondary school. You know, the period most students stay at home, that transitioning from secondary school to the university. So, I had an aunt then who was working in the defunct Gulf Bank. It was Valentine’s Day and then I went to her and asked if I could sell, you know, little things in her office. I needed her to introduce me to a few of her colleagues; you know then, the mentality is that bankers had money. She was like the branch manager then. So, she took me around and introduced me as her sister. I sold cakes that year. From there, orders started coming in for personal cakes and birthdays. Then, I was admitted into LASU and from there, after lectures we’d take the bus and put a driver there.
You said you’re from a generation of bakers. Can you elaborate?
It started with my grandfather. He was a missionary cook back in those days. So, whatever skill my mum learnt was from him. Really nobody went to any professional school or any fanciful culinary or pastry school. It was grounded on love. We inherited recipes, things we did along the line. My mum was a full-time teacher but baking was her passion; a hobby that fetched income for her as well. I grew up in Gbagada and she used to bake for neighbours and friends. Initially, I wasn’t interested. We used to watch mum bake, you come in, you taste, you even criticize and walk away. It was much later that I just picked it up.
So, how has it been since you started?
It’s been great, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. As much as people see cake making and cake firms, they go as far as saying it’s a piece of cake(Laughing). No, it’s not a piece of cake. You see, I just ended a class now. I said to myself, don’t scare them but let them understand what they’re going into. If you take a class of about maybe twenty people, yes, they might all be enthusiastic, the zeal and interest can be there. You need to separate the serious ones from the unserious ones because cakes require a lot of dedication and attention to details both physically and mentally because you’re trying to come up with new designs, fresh ideas, combine those ideas and get inspiration here and there. Besides being passionate and interested, it could be capital intensive. Cake instruments and equipment and yes, the raw materials are very affordable. Your sugar and flour are everywhere but you begin to talk of the equipment, because without the equipment, you can’t get the finishing you need in a cake. So, investing in it takes a toll on your pocket.
Like how much will it cost you to invest in a cake business?
In cake business, you ask yourself how far you want to take it. For several years, I baked in my mother’s kitchen. Later on, you know, they cleared out a section of the house for me. When I got married, I was doing it in the house, cleared the whole of the ground floor before I actually started to come out as a brand. So, if you start in the house, the capital you’ll need is different, if you launch out as a brand the capital will be different. I could decide to start my business with a local oven, you could decide otherwise because you have more money. I think it’s just based on the amount that’s available and trying to make use of the resources you have because you can start a business in your house with N1m, N2m or N5m. It’s all about being able to make use of the resources you have at hand. If you wait until you have N10m, you probably won’t start anything but if you’re determined, with just N500,000, you get someone that can make a local oven for you, that’ll also work and give you the same results.
You were talking about designing the other time. I do see cake boss and cake designs but we rarely get the ones with good finishing here. Why?
Like I said, you see, cake designing, cake baking and decoration is like an art. In fact, you’re as good as an artist. Your level of meticulousness, creativity and attention you put into details varies. So, if you’re the kind of person whose personality reflects in your cake, perfect finishing is just based on personality. It’s a reflection of who you are. You talked about Cake Boss, yes, abroad there’s availability of equipment for budding bakers. You know, I said it earlier that it depends on availability of equipment. If you have the right tools, it’s just like a carpenter trying to put together a table, if he uses a manual saw and uses the electric saw, you will see the difference in the finishing. So, the same applies to baking cakes.
So, what were your challenges when you started?
Starting up, number one challenge was capital. It’s just a pity we’re not in an economy that encourages SMEs. The major challenge any entrepreneur faces is availability of capital. If you’re fortunate to get capital from family and friends, you know, you could get it at little or no interest at all. But then, if you begin to tow the line of going to banks, microfinance banks and what have you, you will pay the price. So, number one is capital. Number two is the availability of goods and reliable equipment. You know, the market is so infiltrated with low quality machines and equipment to mention a few. So, getting the right people to sell the right product is another challenge, either in terms of machinery or the raw materials.
Does it mean you have your own special recipe?
Yes, developed over the years, even recipes back from the days of my grandfather that we’ve not even adjusted. We just tried to bring in fresh, new ideas into it. So, we developed our recipes. No other cake can taste like Doodles’ Cakes.
How profitable is the business?
Very profitable. If you’re not lazy, you’ll reap the fruits. It is profitable. Get your books right, train competent people that you feel will promote the vision of your business far. It’s profitable. It’s a business you can succeed in . As a matter of fact, there are a lot of bakers, like I said, but are there a lot of professional bakers? That is the question we need to ask ourselves.
Baking, especially cakes, is highly competitive. So, how have you been able to tackle competition?
Competition will always be there. You know, there’s no aspect of business without competition. It now depends on the niche you carve for yourself.