SWEET CAKE TV SCHOOL is a community driven platform which teaches it’s members mainly Nigerians and Kenyans women how to sell more cakes and manage their business by providing them with the best resources, and guiding them towards implementing marketing strategies to achieve their business goals.
We had the opportunity to email interview the Founder of Sweet Cake TV School, Maria Makanjuola who’s part of the Africans Building Africa Community.
- Tell us about yourself and your organization
My name is Maria Makanjuola, often referred to as Mimi, the Sweet Scientist, and I am the founder of Sweet Cake TV School which is an online baking and business school that started as a response to the need of predominantly women in Africa for excellent quality teaching in this area of industry.
My background is in life sciences and engineering and I have degrees in Biochemistry, biochemical engineering and food science. I live just outside London, UK where I run Sweet Cake TV School and my other project, the African Cake Artists Network which started in 2016 with the first ever social media cake art collaboration that showcased the manifold creative talents of African cake artists both at home and in the wider Diaspora.
The Sweet Cake TV brand grew out of the community in the Facebook group I started in early 2015 for cake business owners and aspiring cake business owners called Cake Business Club. The group is 25,000 plus members strong with 60% of the members in Nigeria and the remainder in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda. There are also members in the USA and UK in the group.
Sweet Cake TV School currently has students enrolled in Nigeria and Kenya and we are looking to expand into more African countries to help empower African women with a relatively low-barrier entry level skill and sound business management and development knowledge.
- How much did you need to start your organization and how were you able to raise that capital?
I launched the Sweet Cake TV School website with £150 and a lot of sweat equity! Prior to this, I started the cake business club group on Facebook with nothing, just my experience from being in the food industry for 7 years and my knowledge of food science and also my business acumen. At the outset, I did everything in the Facebook group. I knew that I wanted to build a community and gather as much knowledge as possible from cake decorators in Africa, initially focusing on my homeland Nigeria, about the local industry and the issues/problems that they were experiencing so that I can help them to successfully navigate them. I posted valuable and actionable information through articles into the group every single day for 6 months. And also offered my expertise in free Q&A sessions with the members and also offered free phone consultations to those who needed help with strategies for their business. The popularity of the group grew by word of mouth as a result.
As time progressed, I began to see the business opportunities in the problems that the members were experiencing in running or starting their cake business on a daily basis and I realised that setting up an online school and group mentoring service would be the way to offer a solution to these problems. I tested my idea through various short coaching/mentoring offers and the members enrolled with me and the business took off from there. After 3 months of testing the idea in an informal basis, I launched the website in October 2015 with £150 which paid for the logo and web hosting. I built the website, with no initial knowledge of WordPress or digital marketing, and I planned to use the baking equipment and tools that I already had in my possession from running my own home-based custom cake business.
As time passed and I got more students, I reinvested the business revenue and also invested more money myself to get to the next stage and so on. After about 9 months of proving the concept to myself, I raised more capital with my mother’s help to move the business to the level that it is now.
- What are some of the challenges you face in your organization and how do you overcome those challenges?
The main challenge that I face in my business is the level of IT knowledge of our students that enroll. Online learning is still very new in most of Africa including Nigeria so I have to spend considerable efforts to educate the prospective students and enrolled students about the nature of online learning, and the convenience of learning using the internet.
A lot of the members in the group think that Facebook is the internet and online learning means chatting or watching clips on a messenger service such as WhatsApp or Telegram. This is only because this is what they’ve been exposed to thus far and I am bringing something new (though its not new in the West) to them. I overcome this challenge by posting sample video courses on social media, by posting the testimonials of the current students and by answering questions as informatively as I can.
- Where do you see your organization in 5 years from now and what steps are you taking today to reach that objective?
In 5 years, we hope the Sweet Cake TV brand will be providing a free online learning channel for hobbyists and mums to learn the basics of baking and healthier food preparation for the family and I hope that we will have expanded into providing branded products through an e-commerce store shipping to Africa and also other countries around the world. We also hope that our online baking and business school will have expanded into other countries on the continent and be the number one online school to learn baking and business and possible other food business related skills.
Lastly, I hope that the African Cake Artists Network that will be officially launched later on this year will be a positive community hub for all cake decorators on the continent providing opportunities to network and promote the industry and also set standards for the industry.
- What advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking to start a business in Africa?
I would say go for it, but do your research very thoroughly beforehand. I consciously spent 6 months getting to know my target industry and audience and served them to the best of my ability for free without pay for nearly 12 months so that I understand them and their problems. This was necessary because I do not live on the continent at present and I was not going to go into business blind without first-hand information.
- How is your business participating to the development of Africa?
My business is helping to develop Africa by developing the ability of the African women in my chosen industry to think strategically in business. As part of the free mentoring service that comes with membership to the online school, I teach them about business development and about financial management. I challenge them to see business opportunities all around them by viewing problems as opportunities and not just something to complain about and do nothing. I challenge them to always think bigger than their current circumstances and to pursue excellence in everything they do for their business. I hope to help them see the benefits of operating a business in an ethical way and to understand that everything that they dream of having for themselves and their families in within reach through skills development and focused hard work.
Finally, I try as much as possible to infuse them with self-belief, self confidence and self reliance. All of these attributes I believe are very important for African women to possess so they can fully grow into becoming who they were born to be.
LinkedIn: Maria Makanjuola