I’m finally back with another Behind the Biz interview. These are some of my favourite blog posts to share because not only do I love discovering new businesses but I also love learning about the people behind the brands. You can explore the full Behind the Biz series here.
Today’s business, My Baker was founded back in 2016 by Noreen and Yvonne. They quit their safe city careers and started a truly innovative business with the aim to provide delicious cakes to customers and a much needed revenue to independent artisanal bakers.
In the Spring of 2020 Noreen and Yvonne made the decision to sell their business.
This is where Mel and her husband Mark come in. They acquired the business in July 2020 which means this month is their first business anniversary. My Baker is now well into its second chapter and that’s what we’re going to be taking a closer look at today.
Please give us an overview of My Baker
My Baker’s vision is to provide attractive, delicious cakes to discerning customers, and in doing so provide much-needed impetus to a community of high-calibre, independent artisanal bakers across the UK. Or, more simply put, “Interflora for cakes”.
As with many new concepts, My Baker began as a London-based business, but through its flexible, expanding baker network, now services most major UK cities and a growing number of suburban and rural areas. (You can see if we deliver in your area here).
How did you discover My Baker and what led to you buying the business?
Mel: Whilst expanding the network of bakers, in 2019 Noreen happened upon me and my small baking business. I signed up to My Baker and fulfilled many orders over the next 12 months, as one of the independent bakers.
My Baker really helped my business with order volume and broadening my cake skills repertoire. Mark and I talked about how great it would be to own and run My Baker, but didn’t think it was ever a serious prospect.
Mark: Then a lot of things came together, very fortuitously, to make that dream a reality:
- I had decided I fancied a change from working in the City;
- We nearly bought a pub in late 2019 but it fell through. We were gutted at the time but what a lucky escape that turned out to be given the events of 2020;
- The initial plan was to go travelling around the world, but Covid scuppered that, so we were both looking for a fresh challenge;
- At that time, Noreen informed the bakers that the My Baker platform was up for sale.
Mel: I had a great rapport with Noreen through working with her for over a year, so approached her to express our interest.
Mark: The deal was concluded in a really co-operative and mutually helpful spirit. After 17 years in the City I can honestly say it was the most collaborative, fair and friendly deal I’ve ever been party to. Noreen and Yvonne had built a great business and we’re lucky to be the ones building on their strong foundations.
How do you approve baker applications? Is there a lot of taste testing involved?
Mark: We do taste test – that’s the fun part! Albeit keeping the weight off during Covid was a challenge for everyone and even trickier for us!
We’re constantly scouting for new talent nationwide. We get a really good sense of a baker’s ability from their online profile.
Mel: The cakes must both look and taste amazing. We’re looking for people who can bake and decorate to a high standard, and who enjoy the challenge of meeting lots of orders, testing their skill set making all manner of cakes, and often baking at short notice. But we also accommodate bakers who only want to bake a few times a month, and need more notice.
In return, we’re incredibly supportive of our bakers. Growth for us means growth for them, so as well as our supportive ethos it’s straightforward, good business sense.
What did you do before acquiring My Baker?
Mel: I was and still am a baker, with a keen interest in the cake industry more generally, as well as other creative pursuits such as sewing, abstract art and upcycling old furniture.
Mark I worked as a business consultant in the City, with a focus on helping underperforming businesses turn around and achieve meaningful growth. They were great times and some huge projects, but after two long stints in the Ukraine and Croatia, I felt the need to base myself in the UK and see friends and family more regularly.
Did you always have a burning desire to be an entrepreneur?
Mark: I did. I had loads of ideas in my twenties but no-one in my family had a business background so the thought of going out on my own was quite intimidating. As I was good at exams which led me to a more conventional career in accounting (initially auditing, then corporate restructuring), a well-rounded career with all of the training, support and structure that entails.
I would often go in and help directors run companies in my old role, so it was a great entrepreneurial training ground. Now I’m a bit older (and hopefully wiser), but still young enough to have plenty of energy, it’s the perfect time for me to take the reins of my own business.
Mel: Probably a bit different to Mark, but in so far as baking and decorating is my passion, and I enjoy working independently and the interaction with other bakers, the entrepreneurial lifestyle also suits me.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business?
Mark: Lockdown was something of a double-edged sword for our young enterprise. On the one hand we temporarily had no access to those large gatherings, weddings and corporate get-togethers on which we’d once forged our reputation, however this short-term loss was more than recouped by a growing appetite for online shopping.
Mel: When you factor in the temporary lack of access to pubs, restaurants and non-essential shopping, there was a lot more gifting between people who couldn’t meet up, and those gifts became more meaningful. People wanted to give their loved ones something really special, and that is where we came into our own.
Please share a business high and low with us.
Mark: High -our first all-office corporate order with WeWork. Coordinating nine bakers in six cities, ensuring standardised products and packaging, and delivering to 54 offices in a two-hour time-frame was nerve-wracking and took a lot of planning – pulling it off was a real high. Also our intern Shane (who is fantastic) agreeing to stay on as an employee.
Mel: For me it’s a buzz when we add a new baker, and they really seem to enjoy working with us. We’re constantly amazed by the high calibre of our partners, and as a result our high levels of customer satisfaction. I love seeing the cake pics come through!
Mark: One low was the initial service from our bank (who we won’t name!) We were trying to replace the former directors on the mandate, and it wasn’t straightforward!
At one stage we were seriously contemplating paying the bakers from personal savings rather than miss a payment run! Happily the issue was resolved just in time, but it took a few sleepless nights, a lot of needless jumping through hoops, and a four page letter to a very senior banker written at 3am!
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurial couples?
Mark: Before you go into it, be really sure that you are compatible as business partners as well as husband and wife. We love working together and the time it allows us to spend together (so far anyway!), but lots of marriages work better with some degree of autonomy and separation between the partners. And of course, if it becomes strained it’s your livelihood and your marriage on the line all in one go – high stakes if it goes wrong!
Mel: Having different skills to bring to the table and knowing those strengths is key. We’re lucky in that our strengths complement each other, and to a degree compensate for our weaknesses. I wouldn’t want to have to sign off on the annual accounts, and Mark would be the first to admit you wouldn’t want him in the kitchen developing new products!
Mark: I dispute this!
What exciting plans do you have for My Baker in the final half of 2021?
Mark: We’re just getting started! Alongside our B2C business, we’re revamping our offering to corporates, adding bakers at a rate of 10-15 a month meaning we can cover new areas, and we’re looking to expand our team with some carefully selected quality hires.
Mel: We’ll also continually engage in product development, adding to our range to keep pace with (and dare I say to a small extent even influencing) evolving trends.
I hope you all enjoyed today’s Behind the Biz interview with My Baker co-owners, Mark and Mel.
I want to thank Mark and Mel for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing their business journey with us. I can’t wait to see my Baker continue to grow over the coming years.