FROM CORPORATE TO CUPCAKES: GROWING A BUSINESS WITH GEORGETOWN CUPCAKE

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Owning a cupcake store sounds like every girl’s dream, and with a whole lot of passion and hard work these two sisters have made their dreams become a reality. We recently sat down with the delightful Katherine and Sophie from Georgetown Cupcake and talked about life as bakery owners, cult flavors (did somebody say “peanut butter fudge“?), and what the future brings:

1. You say that your grandmother inspired you to open Georgetown Cupcake. How did her influence push you to take the first step?

Because our parents both worked while we were growing up, our grandparents raised us and we spent much of our early childhood with our grandmother, baking with her in the kitchen. We developed our passion for baking from her – she was a very strong influence on us growing up and was the inspiration for starting Georgetown Cupcake. She and our grandfather immigrated from Greece, and they took a huge chance in starting a new life in an unknown place. Their ability to take that huge risk and create a new life for their family in an unknown place really inspired us. Becoming an entrepreneur is a scary decision, and our grandparents’ courage and drive really inspired us to take the leap of faith to start Georgetown Cupcake.

2. What is the best part about running Georgetown Cupcakes?

The best part of running Georgetown Cupcake, for us, is the ability to work together every day, as sisters, and live out our dream and our passion. We always wanted to open a bakery together — it was a dream of ours since we were young girls, and to be making that dream a reality is such an incredible experience. Running a bakery business is certainly challenging and exhausting but doing it together makes the world of difference in handling the challenges. Every day is different (you never know what is going to happen) and we love that aspect of it as well.

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3. What is something you didn’t expect?

When we started Georgetown Cupcake, we didn’t expect people to be so intensely passionate about certain cupcake flavors.  There’s definitely something intrinsically personal about cupcakes, and our customers are passionate about their favorite flavors.  Our menu development is something we take very seriously since some of our flavors (like Red Velvet, Salted Caramel, and Peanut Butter Fudge) have serious cult followings. Not many other dessert categories have such devoted and loyal followings. We spend a lot of time listening to our customers and taking their feedback into consideration when developing new flavors.

4. When the mornings are early and the nights are late, what are some practical steps you take to stay motivated and excited?

When we are exhausted and worn out, we always try to think about the big picture – at the end of the day, our business is about making people happy and celebrating the special moments in their lives – whether they are getting cupcakes for their wedding, anniversary, birthday, to celebrate a promotion at work, or to celebrate their son or daughter’s “A” on a test — our business is centered on celebrating happy moments. Or, if somebody is having a bad day and comes in and gets a cupcake and their mood is lifted — we’ve done our job. The best part of our job, especially when we are stretched to our limits, is to see the tangible results of our work on a daily basis – we can see the smiles on peoples’ faces when they come in – and that makes it all worthwhile.

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5. You both have amazing vision and drive. Where do you see the company going in the next several years?

When we started Georgetown Cupcake, we honestly thought it was going to be a small neighborhood bakery – that’s all we set out to do – just follow our dream and open a bakery and be able to work together. As our customer and fan base grew, we decided to expand Georgetown Cupcake in a very thoughtful way, by being very focused on keeping what makes it special. We’ve been very selective in choosing the neighborhoods in which to expand across the country (SoHo in New York City, Newbury Street in Boston, Robertson Blvd in Los Angeles, and Buckhead in Atlanta) so that anytime a customer visits a Georgetown Cupcake in another city, they have that same special experience that they do at our flagship in Georgetown. We also ship our cupcakes nationwide since our customers love giving them as gifts, and it’s something we worked really hard on. Over the next several years, we’ll continue to grow Georgetown Cupcake to more iconic neighborhoods across the country and also expand our national shipping platform. We are launching a new version of our mobile app that will allow our customers to send cupcakes to their friends all across the country with just a couple of taps on their phone!

6. A company name holds a lot of meaning and represents the entire brand. How did you choose Georgetown Cupcake?

Georgetown is one of the most historic and charming neighborhoods in the country, and we both spent a lot of time shopping and eating in Georgetown and knew it would be the perfect neighborhood for our bakery. When we found our first storefront, a tiny Federal style townhouse, we knew it was the perfect spot. When deciding on the name, we considered many different options but in the end, decided to go with the most simple option that conveyed who we were and what we did: Georgetown Cupcake.

7. In addition to your grandmother, who or what has been your greatest inspiration?

In addition to our grandmother, our Mom has been a great inspiration to us.  We were very fortunate to grow up with two strong female figures in our lives. Our Mom has been a key part in helping us in building Georgetown Cupcake – she’s our biggest cheerleader and supporter!

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8. Running a business can be stressful and time-consuming. When do you make time for relaxing and spending time with family and friends?

We are fortunate that we get to work together, as sisters, so we get to spend time with each other while working. Our family is very close-knit and we live nearby so we always see each other, though we’re usually always talking about work! Though we may not be able to spend as much time as we used to going to parties and events or vacations, we try to really have fun during any free pockets of time we do have. The work-life balance is difficult, but we try our best.

9. You both started out in fashion and venture capital, but completely changed course to open Georgetown Cupcakes. How did you find your passion for cupcakes, and how did you get the confidence and courage to follow your dream?

We spent much of our early childhood with our grandmother, baking with her in the kitchen, and we developed our passion and love for baking from her. We always dreamed of starting a bakery together but our grandparents and parents were from Greece, and they discouraged entrepreneurship from an early age. They had that mentality that they were working hard to send us to college and we needed to work for large companies in business or medicine. So, while we shelved our dream and went to college and worked in fashion and finance, we still never let go of it. We always still talked about it and finally in the summer of 2007 we asked ourselves “Are we going to spend the rest of our lives wondering ‘What if?’ “So, we had a very frank and honest conversation and we decided to take the plunge and start our bakery.  It was a very scary decision and our family was not very supportive at the time, though now they are!  We decided on cupcakes because we had all of these wonderful cake recipes from our grandmother, and we thought that if we did cupcakes, customers could choose different flavors, mix and match, and we’d be able to offer a wide variety of flavors, but at the end of the day, just focus on baking one product, and make it best-in-class.

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10. Starting a business takes dedication and hard work and you have both created an amazing brand. What are some qualities young entrepreneurs should have and develop as they start on their journey?

Passion is key. You need to be passionate about building your company because entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart.  The days can often be long and hard, and it will test you every day, but if you are passionate about your work, it will make all the challenges easier to navigate. Be flexible. The first day we started Georgetown Cupcake, our business plan went out the window, but we were able to adapt our business model to fit what our customers wanted. The most successful companies and brands are those who are able to adapt to change. Finally, don’t get discouraged. Starting a business is definitely tough and there will be highs and lows. At the beginning, we got very hung up on the fact that things were always going wrong and wondered “Why can’t there be a day where everything goes smoothly??” And then we realized that day just doesn’t exist when you are an entrepreneur.  We learned to embrace all the daily ups and downs and learn to love them since they are all part of the experience.

11. Through D.C. Cupcakes and your success as a company, you have a huge audience of support. How would you advise someone just starting out to build support and connections?

One of the best things to do is to share what you are doing and connect with your customers on a personal level  – whether it’s through sharing your products online and getting customer feedback via social media, sharing recipes, or talking to your customers in person. As a follow-up to DC Cupcakes, we just recently launched Cupcake Cam LIVE with TLC and are now sharing an inside look at the baking, frosting, decorating, and packing at Georgetown Cupcake – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are sharing the entire bakery experience with our customers and fans so they can literally join us inside the bakery all day long, for an up close look at what goes on every single day, and be a part of the whole process. Engaging your customers, interacting with them personally, and making them feel part of the process is an important part about creating a passion brand.

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