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“We just had complete ignorance really. We didn’t know what to do.”: Dessert lab founder ‘Mr Frugii’ – StartupSmart

Cupcake Central founder, Sheryl Thai

When Sheryl Thai launched online store, Cupcake Central, she was working from her home kitchen with just $2000 in capital.

Thai always had an “incredible passion for cupcakes” and was known for baking her creations for friends and family any chance she got. After losing her IT job during the economic downturn of 2009, she found herself presented with a chance to fulfill her dream.

“I realised that [making cupcakes] was what made me happy. Soon enough, that obsession became overwhelming to the point that I just had to start something,” she says.

Thus, she began, a modest online business that quickly grew beyond the confines of her home kitchen to a bricks-and-mortar store in 2010, which Thai opened with business partner Thin Neu.

The business now has five stores across Victoria. Thai has since written a self-published cookbook, won Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2013 at the Australian StartUp Awards and was a finalist for the 2016 Telstra Business Women’s Award in the Entrepreneur category.

Teething problems

Early in her journey, Thai found it difficult to secure finance, and the team had to find ways to work smarter with the money they had.

“You need to possess the ability to paint a picture and dream of how your business will grow,” she says.

“This is why pitching is so important, the belief that you have in your business and yourself is one of the key selling points and you need to be able to get that across so people will buy into your dream and provide you financing.”

“When I started baking cupcakes from home, I realised that I should be seeking advice from those who had actual experience. If I had listened to the person that mentioned they heard it was extremely hard to get a home kitchen registered, and that it would cost tens of thousands, I wouldn’t be here today,” says Thai.

“I called up the local council and it cost me less than $500 in modifications to my kitchen to get it approved.”

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Hiring the first employee

“I remember a time when it was just myself, my business partner and our two brothers working in our first store,” says Thai.

“When it came to hiring our first employee, it was difficult because it meant all of our profit for that week was going into wages.

“We thought we could each pick up a bit more work to cover having to hire, but in reality, if we didn’t invest in this new employee we knew we would forever be stuck in the owner-operator mentality.”

Now Cupcake Central has more than 75 employees.  

Helping her peers

After being in business for almost seven years, Thai says there comes a point when you need to start living beyond your business. Although, she acknowledges, this can be hard when you’re feeling overworked in the first few years of business.

That’s why early on in her journey, Thai realised she wanted to support like-minded female entrepreneurs – in 2011, she co-founded the online platform and organisation, League of Extraordinary Women, which connects and supports female entrepreneurs to fulfil their ambitions.  

“Aside from stating the obvious traits such as passion, determination and perseverance, I’m going to say that a huge part of achieving what you want out of life is imagination and the ability to dream.”

Written by: Thea Christie

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