Samantha Quek and Ernest Tan
Samantha Quek and Ernest Tan are the founders of Cupplets - a Singapore based boutique cake designing business, bringing art and design into each magnificently crafted creation.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
The idea of Cupplets sparked off when we were studying in Ngee Ann Polytechnic. We had a brief concept of how we wanted Cupplets to be, but it was very vague considering that we were rather inexperienced in the field of baking and decorating. It took us 3 years before the name and concept firmed up. We transitioned from being solely a cafe into a bakery. We learnt and changed along the way during the first 6 months of the business. It was only then that the idea of Cupplets started to become clearer.
How did you get your business started?
It took us a few months of planning before operation officially started. During the period of getting things started, we were still juggling with school and exams. We were not very familiar with working with contractors, so we kept our renovations very simple such as doing up the water point, electrical points, wall painting and a countertop. As for the rest, we bought the furniture from homes and IKEA. When it came to preparing for operations, we had to meet new suppliers and schedule training for our staff to become familiar with the orientation of items and equipment. The whole process sounded simple, but it was nerve-wracking at that point in time when it came to the behind-the-scenes of getting the business rolling.
What lessons have you learned so far on your business journey?
Every year as the business grew we learnt new lessons from how to maintain the operations - to building people relations and sustaining the business. The most fundamental point is to keep an open mind towards new concepts and ideas. Dealing in the cake business, we have seen how it grew and evolved from when we first started. Today, there are so many easily-accessed channels for learning new skills, compared to five years ago. People's taste and preference change, and we all need to keep up with it by acquiring new skills and techniques. We have learnt to be more confident in ourselves to dare to try on new things and to create new designs. It is critical to find ways to keep the passion going in order to remain creative in any business that we do.
How important for you has it been to have a mentor?
We did not have a proper mentor during our three years of running Cupplets. We asked for advice from our parents and friends, and weighed the pros and cons. Making mistakes is inevitable. We just had to bite the rope and face the consequences, and learn to be better the next time. I do not think we would want to change history and opt for a mentor before we started. It would probably have changed the business culture and concept from how it is now.
What are your top three tips for starting a business?
1. Be open to learn and create. We've been asked frequently how we are different from other bakeries and how we survived amid the new and emerging bakeries.
We went through the stage, like most people did, not knowing what to do with our business. We were not hands-on with social media, we knew very little about designing and also knew nothing about doing up our own website. Like any start up, it was important for us to keep costs low, and that also meant that we needed to be open to learning new skills and to be more hands-on to create what was essential for the business. This included the website, maintaining social media, designing our marketing posters and preparing our product. We taught ourselves photoshop with the help of online tutorials and friends, to help us move the business forward. It is better to have an insight and knowledge about the different aspects of your business than to rely on a third party to handle it for you, especially when you have just started the business, because no one knows your business better than you do. We should not underestimate our potential, and overload our limit. Learn what you can, a step at a time. Embrace the progress.
Same goes to our brand and our cakes. Our cake designs reflects a part of us, our vision and our style. Everyone can do the same cake design but they will never turn out identically. Our creativity, style, culture and personality is what makes Cupplets different.
2. Know yourself and know your business
It is important to know yourself well. What are your capabilities, style, perspective and skills, because those strengths and personalities will reflect into your business. Once we were aware of it, we were able to maximize the potential of the business. It gives your business an identity. It is better to be in-the-know than to be clueless.
3. Do not be afraid to say no.
For start ups, business opportunities are always plenty, when it comes to sponsorship or expansion plans. It is important to know what values you or your business holds, and be confident of that. We do not always have to be agreeable to every opportunity that comes knocking on your door. Some may not be beneficial, and it may just drain you out and make you lose sight of other opportunities that may be a better collaboration for you.
Samantha Quek and Ernest Tan are graduates of the RMIT Bachelor of Business (Management), 2014.
"Learn what you can, a step at a time. Embrace the progress." - Samantha Quek, Co - founder of Cupplets.