by Amy K. Lavender
Warren Brown, founder and CEO of CakeLove, a Washington, D.C.,-based bakery, was welcomed by University of West Georgia faculty, staff and students as well as community members to the Townsend Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday night as he shared his insight into the business world and his journey through entrepreneurship.
Brown was the latest speaker for the BB&T Lectures in Free Enterprise series, created as a partnership between UWG’s Richards College of Business and the BB&T Foundation seven years ago in order to generate a dialog about the ethical foundation of capitalism and free enterprise.
UWG President Dr. Kyle Marrero was on hand to welcome Brown and attendees as well.
“This is always an exciting series, and I like to come and talk about what this means, particularly in regard to the environment we are creating at the University of West Georgia,” Marrero said. “We create not only an opportunity for students to learn from the best professors in the state, but also an environment where they get to learn from professionals, learn about their experience in their fields of business and how their entrepreneurial spirit has made a difference in the areas they are passionate about.”
And Brown had no shortage of passion and experience to share with those gathered for the event. The owner of CakeLove is also the former host of Food Network’s “Sugar Rush,” and he has been recognized by local and national media, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, National Public Radio and CNN. Warren is also the author of four cookbooks.
He began by telling the audience how he got started in baking, a story that actually begins in the courtroom.
“I actually started as a litigator for the federal government,” Brown recalled. “It was a really good job, a noble job, but I very quickly found myself not being engaged and not excited to go to work. [….] I wanted something more.”
Soon after, Brown made a New Year’s resolution: He would learn to bake.
“I’m the kind of guy who loves eating, loves cooking, but I didn’t know how to bake anything from scratch, and I wanted to bake at least as well as I felt I could cook,” he said. “I also had this drive to change who I was. I didn’t feel like I was being true to myself. So I developed a mantra: Direct Yourself to Greatness, Answer Your Calls and Answer to Yourself. And I felt like I needed all those to push myself to that next phase. Not just away from being a lawyer but towards … what, exactly, I don’t know. I didn’t have a dream or aspiration to start a cake business. I just wanted to be a better, different person.”
While Brown was working toward a new, better self, he was also discovering how much he liked to bake cakes. Then it came to a point where he had to make a choice to either be a lawyer or be a baker because he was exhausted trying to do both.
“So I decided this was how I was going to move forward and make something that I’m proud of, that could give me a feeling of satisfaction, that could answer that drive that I have for making an item that I can share, that I think makes the world a little bit better. And it was fun, so why not?”
Brown said he had a lot of reality checks along the way, which started as early as figuring out how to develop a business plan and was followed closely by learning to listen to his customers.
Immediately realized challenges as acting as sole administrator in a business: staffing responsibilities, setting standards, dealing with customers, paperwork,” Brown recalled. But you also have to check your ego at the door and get feedback. You have to know if you’re on point. You can’t sell things the market doesn’t want. For example, we had cake flavors in the store that I thought were divine, but people didn’t want them. I thought they were crazy because these flavors were delicious, but they weren’t interested. You have to give the market what it wants, or you’re not going to sell anything.”
In his first year of operation, Brown said he shed a lot of naiveté.
“When I started, I didn’t want to be one cake shop on one corner. I even thought about eventually having a shop in the capital of every state, but that was ridiculous,” he laughed. “Once I opened up my first and then second store, I had a much better appreciation for the level of difficulty.”
A few years in, Brown says his business was getting crushed.
“There was a recession. There was competition – I counted and in two years, 48 cupcakes stores opened up in D.C. alone. So we created some focus groups and asked them ‘How can we serve you better?’ We found three things: that cupcakes were hard to carry, many people wanted ‘just a little taste,’ and some people just wanted our cream cheese frosting.”
As a result, CakeLove’s newest iteration came to fruition: cake in a jar.
“We had to take those lessons and make some changes. So my approach changed from a passionate one to a measured and disciplined one. But as a result, our customers were smiling again, and that’s why I started making cakes in the first place.”
In closing, Brown emphasized that “it’s not easy, but it is immensely satisfying to own and run your own business.” He also advised audience members to find their passion, talk to people about your idea to get early feedback and realize that any venture is a process and a learning opportunity.Posted on