Posted: 2:10 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11, 2013
By Kimberly Weisul
The Georgetown Cupcake founders talk about the business and hiring decisions that let them scale without compromising on quality.
00:09 Kimberly Weisul: So how--my--I'm really curious to know how you scale a business like this because like the first day you sold out of cupcakes, closed down, baked cupcakes for a while, sold more cupcakes. But, you know, at the end of the day, especially at the beginning, you only have a certain number of employees and a certain amount of space in the oven and stuff has to cook for a certain amount of time. So how do you scale that? Like one of your competitors basically develops recipes and has somebody else bake them, which, I mean, on some level makes sense.
00:37 Sophie LaMontagne: Yeah. Well, for us it was very important to keep all baking in-house because that was part of the Georgetown Cupcake experience and why people come to us. I think if you have our cupcakes, whenever, wherever you go, whether it's in SoHo or Los Angeles or on Newbury Street in Boston, you're going to get the same amazing cupcakes that you do when you visit Georgetown. For us, we wanted to control that because that is our core product and we don't want to kind of outsource that, like that's something we would never outsource.
01:03 LaMontagne: But in terms of scaling, it was very difficult in the very early days because we didn't want to shut down. We had a lot of people saying you know what? You know, shut down and revamp your operations because when we started, our business model was well, people are going to call and they're going to have orders for events and weddings and baby showers and bridal showers and they'll come and pick up just like you would in any other traditional bakery. You have an event, you place an order, you pick it up. People didn't want that. They wanted their--to come in, get their cupcakes then and there. And we were not set up to do that. And it would've been very easy for us to say you know what? Sorry, that's not how we work. You're going to have to call and place your order in advance and--
01:32 Weisul: So if they wanted like two dozen cupcakes, they wanted to just walk in and have them there, yeah.
01:37 LaMontagne: And that's not the business model that we had set ourselves up for. But instead of saying no, that's not our business model, we changed our business model to accommodate what our customers were telling us. And so it was challenging. You know, what we did was we hired more people. We revamped our kitchen. We put in more ovens. And when we got to the point where we couldn't put more ovens in that kitchen, we actually moved our flagship in Georgetown to another, larger location a block away. It is about hiring people constantly. And I think--I can't underscore this enough. When you have your own business, you always have to be recruiting and hiring because you don't want to hire people just in the nick of time when you're desperate. Those kinds of hires seldom work out well. You always want to hire the best people. And you've got to give yourself the luxury of time because it's not easy to find great people. You--people I think sometimes dismiss hiring and HR and things like that. But that's actually one of the most important parts of your business because your business, it's all about hiring great people. And so we're always looking for people. And so that's something we did in the early days, just bringing--like trying to interview people, bring people on, expand the capacity. And it's not easy. The answer is it's not easy. But when you're in a rapid-growth mode, you figure it out. There's no textbook that teaches you how to scale your business very quickly. When you have customers, you want to be able to meet their need. And it's challenging. But you get through it.
02:51 Weisul: So how do you--we spoke earlier about the challenge of finding people for like essentially entry-level jobs who will nonetheless be really loyal and committed and detail-oriented even though maybe they're not getting paid a ton, they don't have a ton of education, so how do you find those people.
03:07 Katherine Berman: Oh, it's really hard. We've been fortunate enough to be in a lot of cities where there are a lot of colleges, so--nearby so we can hire part-time students who are looking for work. But it, you know, even then it's very hard to find people who are ambassadors for your brand. And I think it's so important to find people who can represent your brand or your company the way that you want to be represented because when those customers come through the door, you know, they are the face of Georgetown Cupcake. And we want to make sure that they're smiling, they're happy, they're talking to our customers, engaging, and, you know, they're our--we tell our employees like the 20 seconds that you're having that day that are, you know, you're at your worst moment because something happened will, you know, be their impression of Georgetown Cupcake for life, so that's why you always have to be on constantly and you can never let, you know, if you're having a bad moment, you need to go to the back and build boxes, but never to do it, you know, in front of our customers.
03:58 LaMontagne: And we try to recruit--we use social media a lot in recruiting in terms of getting people who are already passionate about our brand in the door and kind of funnel them into our web site applying for jobs. We find that hiring referrals of current employees are--is also very beneficial to us, especially on the baking side, the actual production side of our business. You know, our bakers have been with us, you know, from Georgetown since the very beginning. And so we love that when they stay and they're part of, you know, they're part of our growing business. So it's about finding--you're always going to be hiring. You find your people who are already passionate about your business and also getting referrals is also very, very helpful.