This is the first in a monthly series where I will answer questions about starting a business. If you have a question about my experience here at PGB or about your own idea for a business, please email it to email@example.com.
Today’s question is a two-part question that I’ve been asked a lot: Why did you decide to open a cupcake business and how do I know if my idea for a business will work?
So here’s the thing about my choice of business: I’ve always been obsessed with everything to do with cooking, baking and entertaining. I can’t remember not cooking and baking. The topic of favorite toys came up recently with some friends who laughed when I said “Easy Bake oven” but it’s true, before using a real oven, at age 4 I was baking up cake mix in those little pans under a light bulb.
Later on, I started focusing on cupcakes. I didn’t restrict my baking to cupcakes but there was something about the cupcake business that really appealed to me. Cupcakes are just so cute! And delicious! I’d drag Andrew into cupcake stores when we travelled, lecturing the poor guy about various sins I noticed, like making icing with shortening instead of butter.
Andrew and I worked together at the bank and when we decided to get married, it was a perfect time in banking (2008-2009) for me to do something different. What the “something different” would be wasn’t at all clear. I tried valiantly to stay in my lane: I talked to lawyer friends about going back to practicing estate law, I took a one-week mediation course, I wrote a book on estate planning and considered spending a few years promoting it through speaking engagements.
But I couldn’t shake cupcakes. I doodled on scraps of paper about the menu I’d have in a cupcake store. I took a one-night class about how to cost baking in a business. I researched cupcake store websites and online shopping and had phone calls with cupcake stores in other cities and cupcake box manufacturers. I met with restaurant consultants and food photographers. One day I retained a commercial realtor. And then a website designer.
It was so much fun. I couldn’t stop myself from imagining and then planning and then starting a fresh-baked cupcake business in downtown Toronto. I knew it would work. I wasn’t worried. I saw the flash of shock on people’s faces when I said what I was doing, and I was okay with that.
So why open a cupcake store? Because I got to the point where I couldn’t not open it. I liked thinking about the business before it existed and now as I’m working on its 5th location, I still enjoy thinking about PGB, it’s really interesting to me. If I didn’t love my business, I can’t imagine doing it.
So what about your idea?
My experience is that the right business idea is the one that we can’t shake, that we think about constantly, that we talk on about to our friends and when we’re researching it, time slips by unnoticed.
Think about the decision in two ways. The first is analytical and logical, looking at things like competition, pricing, the marketplace, and the capital required. You need to dig deep into these areas and make good assessments. There are always resources to help with this kind of research and frankly you should find it fun because if you don’t find the research stage fun, you’re not going to find it fun over the long haul.
The second way to look at the decision is to think about your degree of excitement. The secret sauce to business ownership is your passion and only you can assess that. But it needs to be there in spades.
To open a successful business, it must be a good idea, yes. The tricky part is that there are lots of sound business plans that don’t pan out and some crazy ideas that have explosive success. There needs to be a huge amount of confidence. If you’re feeling a lot of doubt and anxiety, I suggest looking for inspiration for a new idea.
And if you’re overflowing with enthusiasm for your business idea, well, it doesn’t matter what I think – we both know you’re doing it anyway.