photo credit: Sweet Cake TV
Everybody loves cake.
Except you’re avoiding the tasty treat for health or religious reasons, you’re almost certainly a freak. How can any living, breathing human not love cake?
We gift and expect cakes to celebrate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, graduation, promotion, retirement and dozens of other special moments. In fact, cakes almost always show up whenever there’s a reason to celebrate.
With the rise of Africa’s middle class and the growing influence of Western tastes and culture on the continent, the baking industry in Africa is expected to experience significant growth to meet the rising consumption and demand.
It’s no surprise the baking industry is attracting hundreds of young entrepreneurs who are looking to learn the science, art and skills of baking so they can start their own business, build a brand, and earn a fulfilling income.
Maria Makanjuola is a pioneer who has built a thriving baking school on the internet. Yes, on the internet!
Unlike the traditional face-to-face style of tutoring, she has created an online baking school that allows her to share her talent and skills with thousands of aspiring baking entrepreneurs within Africa, and across the world.
The value of the global e-learning market is estimated to reach $243.8 billion by 2022. Using the omnipresence of the internet, online learning is significantly disrupting the education industry such that anybody can learn anything, wherever they are, as long as they have access to the internet – via their mobile phone, laptop or TV.
In this interesting interview, Maria shares the inside story about how she stumbled on this business idea, her successes, challenges, and aspirations in building a truly African global brand for cake bakers across the world.
Let’s meet her:
Tell me about yourself. How did you end up in the cake business?
My name is Maria Makanjuola and I live in London with my family. Often I say that I am British-born, but Nigerian-made!
My background is in the life sciences, engineering and food science. My journey into cakes started 8 years ago when I needed a birthday cake for my first son who has multiple food allergies and intolerances which includes eggs and dairy.
I needed a birthday cake for him and there was no local baker that could make the type of cake I needed for him so I decided to research about alternative ingredients and give it a go myself.
I enjoyed the creative process so much that I carried on baking and experimenting with all sorts of recipes and techniques and I would take my tempting creations to church with me on Sundays and other members started to request that I make cakes for them. Both traditional cakes, with eggs and dairy, as well as allergy-free cakes. Gradually, the orders started to come in and I started a cake business.
What exactly do you do at Sweet Cake TV School, and how did you come up with the name?
Sweet Cake TV School is a baking and business school. It is an online learning platform where students, also referred to as “sweet cakers”, log in to access video courses on professional baking and cake decorating, and also cake business management-focused courses that are delivered via video, podcasts, e-books and worksheets.
In the school, we also have a chat community and a Facebook group where members interact with and help each other with their baking or cake decorating problems on a daily basis.
As part of joining the school, sweet cakers have access to on-demand business mentoring/coaching to help aid their business growth. We do not only teach how to make professional cakes for all types of occasions, we also teach sweet cakers about business management, marketing, customer service, social media marketing, food safety and hygiene, digital marketing, financial management and bookkeeping and ways to diversify their business so they can generate passive income streams.
It may sound surprising, but I saw the name ‘Sweet Cake’ in a dream and I saw myself being called out to teach a cake decorating class full of people. I guess you can call it my calling, but more than that I am very passionate about helping other women succeed, I am business-minded and I like the creativity I express when I decorate cakes so it’s a perfect marriage of my interests, passions and skills.
How did you move from ‘idea’ to ‘action’ with the business?
I started a Facebook group, called Cake Business Club, in April 2015 which quickly turned into a community of 25,000 members within a year. I knew that I wanted to help cake decorators in Africa and also in the diaspora to be more skilled and also more business-minded and strategic in how they run their cake businesses.
Cake decorators are notorious for undercharging for their services and skills. Most do not make enough money to foster any kind of personal financial freedom because many fall into running a cake business accidentally without prior preparation or knowledge of how to run a cake business. As a result, many do not see much profitability in running their business, which leads to a lot of frustration and disappointment.
I started the Facebook group to help educate other bakers about the business side of the industry and how to maximise their skills for maximum monetary gain. I shared information within the group, every single day, through articles for several months for free and the community grew organically, members referring their friends to the group so they can learn together.
There are hundreds of people in the baking business. How did you know the market would be receptive to Sweet Cake TV School?
It was the time I spent interacting with the members of the Cake Business Club that helped me to get a great level of understanding of the cake industry in Nigeria, Kenya and other countries in Africa.
By conducting weekly group Q&A sessions whereby members can ask me questions and get answers to their most pressing problems, I learned about the challenges in the industry and thought of ways to provide solutions to those problems.
One of the major problems is access to world-class tuition which I knew I could solve by creating an online school (www.sweetcaketvschool.com) where they can easily access baking and business development/management courses. I knew they’d be receptive because they requested that I teach them formally and they stipulated that they would be receptive to online learning because of the convenience and lower cost of getting excellent quality education.
What were the main challenges you faced (or are facing) with operating and growing the business?
The main challenge that I am facing is inadequate awareness about the nature of online learning. Many people still think that higher-cost live classes are better. And that’s because they do not understand the convenience and cost-effectiveness of learning online from your phone, tablet or laptop from anywhere in the world.
Another challenge, from the customers perspective, is high internet data charges. However, when they calculate the cost of joining an excellence-minded school and internet usage charges and compare it to the cost of undertaking sub-standard training locally which is at a higher cost, they soon see the advantages.
Furthermore, the added bonus of business mentoring, which no other school in the whole world offers within the cake industry, is invaluable.
What are the top 3 things customers are saying about your product/service?
The sweet cakers are saying that the courses are comprehensive and fully loaded. They are saying that they appreciate that I do not withhold valuable information from them and I give my knowledge freely. Lastly, they say that they like the international perspective that I bring to the table.
Where do you see yourself and Sweet Cake TV School in the next 10 years?
I see myself at the helm of a global brand that originated out of Africa, which is not a common occurrence!
Sweet Cake TV School as a brand is already extending this year into Sweet Cake TV (a free-view online channel for cake hobbyists and mums who want to see how to make quick healthier meals and treats for their kids which will also be featuring allergy free food preparation), Sweet Cake Magazine ( a bi-annual digital dessert, cakes and pastries magazine fusing both African and world culinary influences), and Sweet Cake Publishing which will be focused on getting more African cake decorators and chefs to publish their work to a global audience and bring much needed authentic African influences to world cuisine.
It’s common belief that entrepreneurs are restless people. Tell us about the next big idea in your pipeline.
Yes, I am restless! Still within the same cake industry, I am working on launching the African Cake Artists Network (www.africancakeartistsnetwork.com) which will be an association/network for all African cake decorators/artists to learn, grow and also promote their skills and talents to the world. It will also exist to set high standards of excellence in the African cake industry.
We will be launching with the largest cake collaboration between African cake decorators on this year’s Africa day on the 25 May 2017. This will be a virtual collaboration where pictures and live videos of artists and their cakes will be shared across social media. It’s the third collaboration that Sweet Cake TV School has sponsored since inception, but it’s set to be the largest. You can join in on the action and see all that’s happening under the hashtag #africadaycakeart on Africa day.
What’s your single most important advice to entrepreneurs who want to start a business?
Research your market and target audience thoroughly before investing significant funds into any business. Get inside the mind of your target customers. Discover their problems, then conjure up solutions and think how to monetize those solutions.
Lastly, be passionate about what you do. You will need it to help you get through the long days, sleepless nights and more.
How can prospective customers and partners reach you?
We also have our social media pages: Facebook: @sweetcaketvschool — Instagram: @sweetcaketvschool — Twitter: @sweetcaketvsch.
You can follow Maria on Facebook: @mariamakanjuola