We all have hobbies and interests as children. But most of us tend to leave those hobbies far behind as we enter the real world of academics, pressures and adult life. However, there are some individuals who with sheer hard work and a drive to succeed, along with the support of their families, not only keep their hobbies alive, they turn them into fruitful ventures.
Ayesha Baseem is one such young entrepreneur, who began Ayesha’s Cakes in 2011 during her O-Level exams and has continued to expand it over all these years, along side pursuing her degree in Chartered Accountancy!
We, at ChalkTalk, spoke to her about her highs and lows so far and this is what she had to say!
Q. Do you remember the first time you baked something? How old were you?
A. During the early years of my childhood, my family lived in New York City. Away from home and family, my mother always tried to keep us busy during our free time so that we wouldn’t miss Pakistan, our friends and family so much. Apart from school activities, she would engage us in other things and one of these was bringing home cake mixes and baking tools so that my sisters and I would stay busy. This is how where my interest in baking began.
Q. Tell us about Ayesha’s Cakes. How and when did you decide to take your love for baking to a professional level?
A. As I approached my teens, my passion for baking grew enormously. I would jump at the chance to bake, even if it was for a small occasion! Baking was a part of my regular routine and I loved to try recipes from my mother’s recipe books (there wasn’t much YouTube back then!).
I was in Grade 10 when my school friends who would get to taste my baked goods most often, encouraged me to start this venture.
They were the ones who introduced me to the idea of a ‘virtual business’ using social media. After some experiments, tests and trials I finally came up with ‘Ayesha’s Cakes’ in mid-March, 2011. At that time, there were very few home-based businesses in Karachi, especially on social media, so with word-of-mouth and use of social media, more and more people got to know about Ayesha’s Cakes and gave us a chance to pursue it as a business.
Q. Is this your personal venture or are other people (partners) involved?
A. Ayesha’s Cakes is more of a family business managed by my entire family. We all have our roles and responsibilities and every ‘department’ is led by one family member. My parents are the greatest support behind this business; they keep my passion alive at all times! With time, as I became more occupied with studies, my mother took over the baking department of our small organisation. She bakes while I decorate. My father manages the procurements, while marketing, branding and promotion on social media are managed by my siblings. We all work as a team and this is what makes our small venture special since its core is the family bond!
Q. What is your Unique Selling Point (USP)? What makes your desserts stand apart from the myriad others available these days?
A. My fine arts skills helped enormously in creating our USP. The specialty of our cakes is not only taste and quality but also the finesse of the artwork we do on our cakes. We specialise in customised designer cakes, each of which is hand-crafted with the use of art skills. We incorporate the personal requirements of each client into the design resulting in a piece which is unique and personalised.
Our customisation and the flexibility of creating ANY element desired by the client onto the cakes is our USP.
We put in our best efforts to create each cake to meet the customer’s satisfaction and ALWAYS strive to differentiate our designs, finishing and quality of work from others.
Q. When and how did you enter the field of customised cakes/cake decor?
A. Initially, we entered the market offering a variety of baked goods. But within a short time we identified our strength and decided to specialise in the area of customised cakes. By mid 2011, we had decided to focus primarily in the field of customised cakes.
Q. Since you started baking professionally at such an early age, how did you manage to maintain a balance between work and school?
A. I was always a studious child; very attached to books and performing sufficiently well in academics throughout my school years. And I have always been good at multi-tasking. When I started Ayesha’s Cakes, I was in my final school years, with the O-Level exams looming before me. My parents, who had always encouraged me and supported my venture, were slightly concerned that the business may affect my academic performance.
But with hard work, determination and multi-tasking, I performed well in my O-Levels and achieved 9 A*s and straight As in my A-Levels as well!
Achieving such high results in academics during the first three years of my business motivated me to take this venture further.
My parents were also satisfied since launching and managing this venture did not have an adverse effect on my academics. But when I opted for Chartered Accounting after my A-Levels, it became more challenging to maintain a balance between studying and running my own business. It was at this time that we decided to transform the business into a family-run organisation and distributed the various roles and responsibilities.
Q. Do you sell sweet and savoury items or do you specialise in desserts?
A. Our business is mainly desserts and we do not provide savoury items. While we specialise in designer cakes, we also offer other dessert options such as cakepops, cupcakes, brownies, cookies, mousse and puddings. We also provide dessert tables at events which consist of a variety of desserts – all customised according to the theme and requirements of the client.
Q. What are some of your hottest selling items? What’s YOUR favourite dessert from Ayesha’s Cakes?
A. Our designer cakes, hands down, are our hottest selling items! My personal favourite from Ayesha’s Cakes are the Nutella Brownie Wheels. These are round, fudgey and gooey brownies, topped with Nutella. Yum!
Q. What are some of the problems you face in the business?
A. Since we operate on a small scale we have limited production capacity. Turning down clients and not taking orders when we are fully booked on certain days upsets some people, leading us to lose market share.
Additionally, providing our clients with high quality products and catering to their specific requirements often involves the use of imported ingredients and tools. At times the non-availability of these prevents us from taking certain orders.
Q. What are some of the problems you have faced with regards to difficult customers?
A. ‘The customer is always right’ is the policy our business adopted way back and we ALWAYS abide by it.
The main aim of our venture is to provide the maximum level of satisfaction to our clients. At times, clients want us to replicate certain designs EXACTLY and this is when we need to explain to them that since each cake is hand-crafted, no two pieces of artwork can ever be 100% the same. No customer is ever ‘difficult’ so to say; it is just that each customer aims to gain maximum utility from our products and we try and cooperate with them to the best of our abilities!
Q. Do you provide delivery services or do customers collect their order from your location?
A. We do not offer delivery services for a number of reasons. Cakes, especially designer cakes, take a great deal of time in being crafted and the time to bake, design and craft ONE cake ranges anywhere between 4 to 12 hours (and even more in some special cases!). These cakes are delicate and require special care and attention during transportation from one location to another. An ordinary delivery system can result in damaging the product before it is received by the client and hence, we always recommend the customer to collect such cakes to ensure their safe delivery.
This way, once the client has checked the cake at our location, all risks and rewards are transferred by us, making the client the sole person responsible for transporting it to the desired location. We understand that this can be a setback in our venture; however, we would not like our clients to receive deformed and damaged cakes and hence, we do not provide delivery services.
Q. You recently conducted a cake décor workshop. How was that experience?
A. We conducted our first cake decoration workshop back in the summer of 2012. Since then we have been conducting such workshops regularly and have trained more than 500 women in the art of baking and decorating cakes. Training others in this field at a professional level has always been a great experience and has helped enhance my own abilities in cake decor. It has helped me to sharpen my cake décor skills and given me confidence which assists me greatly in managing my venture. Recently, we conducted a workshop on a larger scale and were quite overwhelmed by the response. We hope to keep conducting such workshops in the future and share our skills with others!
Q. You are currently pursuing Chartered Accounting from ICAP. How do you manage Ayesha’s Cakes while studying for such a demanding field?
A. It’s not easy. Doing my CA not only requires me to pass my examinations but also to undergo a four-year mandatory training at an authorised training organisation. Hence, I am currently inducted as an audit assistant at A. F. Ferguson & Co – a member firm of the PwC Network – and managing and operating Ayesha’s Cakes along with office work has become quite difficult over the last few months. However, as I said earlier, determination, dedication, passion and of course, the support of my entire family is what keeps Ayesha’s Cakes running!
Q. Do you have any plans of diversifying your business (in terms of food items) or expanding into retail sales via your own bakery/having your desserts available at cafes/patisseries?
A. It has always been my dream to have my own bakery and dessert café. But expanding at this stage, we might not be able to operate with the same level of proficiency as we do on a small scale with me being the sole cake decorator. Also, at this point of time, I am more focused in pursuing my professional qualification and hence, lack the time to turn this dream into a reality.
However, in February 2012, I founded the Baker’s Studio which is a retail business catering to the needs of bakers in Pakistan. Being a baker myself, I faced difficulties due to non-availability of numerous baking supplies, cake decorating tools and ingredients. Initially it was an online venture but after two years of existence and having obtained continuous growth, we opened up our first retail outlet by the name of ‘Baker’s Studio – House of Bakeware’, located in Emerald Mall, Clifton, Karachi.
Once we decided to open a retail outlet, my role in this venture became limited because with Ayesha’s Cakes and my academic requirements, I was not able to look after it completely. However, I did not want to wind down the venture at that stage and once again my parents came to my rescue. Since the last four years the major operations and management of Baker’s Studio is being handled by my father while I look into the smallest aspects of this venture.
Q. Who has been your biggest support and inspiration during this journey?
A. My parents. Hands down. NO QUESTIONS ASKED! They have supported me at every stage and always motivated me to take my talent to the next level; especially my mother who believes in me more than even I do!
On the other hand, my biggest inspiration and role model is my maternal grandfather, my Nana Abbu, who is my lifeline. He has always inspired me to work hard with a good and clean intention. He always supported my actions at every stage of life and guided me with the best of advice. Seeing him and his way of living life has inspired me to follow his footsteps and continue my journey incorporating honesty, modesty and loyalty at each stage. I hope to make him proud with my achievements.
Q. What would you like to say to youngsters who wish to start their own venture? What message do you have for their parents, if any?
A. NOTHING is impossible! Believe me, if you aim for something, you can surely achieve it if you keep your intentions clean and pursue your journey with hard work, dedication, determination and passion. Follow your dreams and do what you would LIKE to do in life. But ALWAYS seek guidance from your elders as their experiences may assist you in making the best decisions for yourself.
I would like to give a message to parents as well. Just like you support your children when teaching them how to walk, give them your moral support throughout their life journeys and in building their dreams so that if they are ever faced with an obstacle, your support protects and guards them.
For more details about Ayesha’s Cakes, please see the links below:
Instagram ID: ayeshas.cakes