This lockdown concept has since grown their nationwide success
When Mark Sinjakli, took over My Baker it was a platform of 80 bakers, mostly London and Birmingham. Today is has over 200 bakers, based in the majority of UK cities, providing artisanal cakes for customers, made by talented independent bakers, often at short notice.
Mark takes some time out of his day to speak to Business Matters …
What is the main problem you solve for your customers?
Providing a quality, reliable, cake delivery service at short notice. By carefully vetting bakers and only accepting those that meet our high standards, the customer is assured of a lovely cake, without the potentially “hit and miss” approach of contacting local bakers directly.
As independent bakers are frequently run by a single individual, they may lack the bandwidth to respond promptly to a customer enquiry, not have the capacity for a certain order, not be able to make a certain style of cake, or be able to adhere to a certain dietary requirement.
By aggregating the services of over 200 talented bakers, we can get the customer the right baker for their specific needs, and at short notice.
It is also great for the bakers – they take the orders they can do, when they need them most, with no obligation if they are too busy.
We opened our first physical bakery in Hendon, North West London, in November 2022, which gives our offering even greater brand presence.
What made you start your business – did you want to rock the status quo, was it a gap in the marketplace that you could fill?
We acquired the business in June 2020, when the country was in lockdown, it was already established but needed some TLC. The business exists because it fulfils the needs of both of its key sets of stakeholders – customers and bakers. There was a real gap in the market for a cake provider that offered cakes nationwide, guaranteed quality, and speed of service.
As our reputation has grown, we now receive applications from several bakers a week looking to join our books.
What are My Baker’s brand values?
- A commitment to high quality and excellent service: My Baker is synonymous with convenience and quality;
- Our bakers work with us, not for us: each one is a valued partner, and many have become friends. We pay them well, and we have on occasion paid out early to help them through financial hardship. We get them a range of supplier discounts, and we offer them orders at no cost to them and with flexibility to choose. Being small and without layers of hierarchy to wade through, we can make these decisions quickly and considerately. We are a family-owned and run business.
- Honesty. This is absolutely critical. To give an example, on the rare occasions we have a complaint, we assess it carefully and absolutely on its merits. We hear from the customer, and the baker, and take all the facts into consideration before deciding on the appropriate approach. At my former firm, AlixPartners, one of the core values is “candour with compassion”, and I think that’s a very good approach.
Do your values define your decision making process?
Absolutely. All of our bakers have to meet the required standards and be fully complaint with food hygiene legislation before they work with us – no exceptions. At the same time, we have been a supportive ear to many of them.
One incident I am particularly proud of is when one of our bakers faced a tough (and in many ways unreasonable) complaint. It wasn’t even on one of our cakes, it was one they had made directly to a customer. But I was able to talk them through how we deal with complaints, help them process the emotion, take everything into account, and reach a fair settlement with the customer. Some months later they said to me that just talking to me had helped them “step back from the edge”, and must admit I felt very emotional when I heard that.
Is team culture integral to My Baker?
It is vital. We are a small team and work closely together. By necessity everyone in the team has to perform to a high standard if we are to thrive.
At the same time, we are humans, not robots, and there needs to be an acceptance of mistakes, of “off-days”, of life outside of work, and of people’s genuine limits in terms of skill sets and working hours.
I think we all give our best because we all believe in this project and like each other.
How do you go the extra mile to to show your team you appreciate them?
Some very tangible things in terms of paying well and for exceptional employees there is a share scheme, so they get to participate financially in the success of the company.
But based on my experience as a junior employee and then coming through the ranks, it can be small things, like acknowledging when great work has been done publicly, and never taking credit for what someone else has done.
In terms of your messaging do you think you talk directly to your consumers in a clear fashion?
We like to think so. We are available on the phone and live chat seven days a week, and having recently overhauled the website one of the big focal points was improving the customer journey.
However, there is always room for improvement. Automated order confirmation emails, for example, have sometimes confused customers and we’re striving to get that right.
Our strapline which is repeated across all our branding, and on our signage at the bakery, is “My Baker – Cake to your Door”. We wanted something that explained what we did succinctly and we think we’ve found it!
What’s your take on inflation and interest rates – are you going to pass that on to your customers or let your margins take a hit and reward customer loyalty in these tougher times?
I think inevitably it’s a bit of a compromise. The price of butter, flour, and sugar have all gone up substantially, plus fuel for deliveries. Our two key stakeholder groups are our customers and our bakers, and we have to do right by both groups.
What we didn’t want to do was to keep nudging prices up. Therefore we made substantial price increases over the summer, but now we don’t plan any more for the foreseeable future. The attitude was, “do it once, do it properly, give customers and bakers certainty”.
We recognise that things are hard financially for our customers, and have a range of discounts and offers, our semi-naked classic and classic ranges, and free delivery on larger orders, to ensure our offer remains reasonably priced and to offer something for most budgets.
How often do you assess the data you pull in and address your KPIs and why?
Some weekly and some fortnightly. We have a very scaleable platform here, and the aim on one level is quite simple: growth, through more sales and more talented bakers.
Data such as website traffic, search engine rankings, CTR and ROAS on paid ads, and press coverage is therefore critical and monitored weekly.
We have a great digital marketing partner (Lead Genera) and terrific PR Agency (Rochester PR) and we discuss these metrics with them frequently.
Is tech playing a much larger part in your day-to-day running of your company?
My Baker has always been a tech business, from its inception. The initial investment was used to build a tech platform capable of accepting orders, locating the nearest bakers, filtering them for relevant skill sets, and assigning the orders. There was nothing off the shelf that could do this, so a custom-built system was required.
What is your attitude to your competitors?
We’re conscious that we didn’t invent cake! There are some longstanding companies, some exciting new kids on the block, and some great offerings out there. We respect and learn from what others do.
However, we don’t fall into the trap of becoming obsessed by our competitors. It is more important and a better use of head space to have a clear vision and implement it, than to seek to mimic the approach of others.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting out in business?
Get some experience working for someone else before going out on your own.
Many people see starting their own business as a route to freedom, but It’s not for everyone so think carefully as to whether you are wired for it. As far as is possible, make sure you have a financial cushion in place, and try to obtain third party funding as well as putting your own money in.
My own journey has been to get experience in my 20s and 30s, where I trained as a chartered accountant and had a career in corporate restructuring, before becoming an entrepreneur in my 40s. I don’t think I would have been a very good entrepreneur in my 20s, I learnt so much from others (including their mistakes) in my first career.
This is probably the number one point though: figure out what it is that you are really good at and enjoy doing. Do that, well. And then surround yourself with people who are good at the stuff you aren’t good at / don’t want to do. I am incredibly lucky that in our small, nimble team, we all bring something entirely different to the table. You wouldn’t want me baking and decorating cakes (Mel) or crafting our brand identity (Shane)!
It can be a lonely and pressured place to be as the lead decision maker of the business. What do you do to relax, recharge and hone your focus?
I’d love to say that I’m in training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for charity and doing an Iron Man, but that’s just not me! I obsess about the business and it leads little headspace for other pursuits.
I think the things that keep me grounded are the fact that I have a great team, the bakers (many of whom have become close friends), a superb set of friends and family, and some fantastic advisers – so I am never short of a sounding board.
One recent addition to our lives has been our cute Pomeranian, Marley, who needs regular walking and gives us a lot of affection. He does allow me to genuinely switch off!
Do you believe in the 12 week work method or do you make much longer planning strategies?
I don’t think there is a “one-size-fits-all” answer to this question. From my years in the City, I came to realise that you need a combination of approaches.
On the one hand, you need long-term planning. You need to define your goals and strategy, and implement processes and best practice to achieve that.
At the same time, you never know when and where your next big opportunity is going to arise, or what macro-economic factors might be at play. For example, when we bought the business, everyone bar essential workers was working from home, so there was little point in courting the corporate office market. But now, we do really well there, with WeWork in particular a fantastic client for us.
So you need to be reactive and nimble. One of the great advantages of being a small company is that we have very simple, flat and non-hierarchical decision-making processes.
What is your company’s eco strategy?
Our model is intrinsically eco-friendly, since we are a national network of local independent bakers. This means that our cakes are delivered to the customer’s door over short delivery distances, normally about one – three miles.
Coupled with this, we insist that our bakers only use recyclable packaging and free range eggs.
What three things do you hope to have in place within the next 12 months?
- We are launching our “5 by 77” programme in January – we aim to have 5 talented bakers in each of the 77 cities of the UK by December 2023;
- Our new bakery is a fantastic space – as well as serving the public with cakes to take away and cake consultations for future events, we plan to make it a place for content generation and baker collaboration;
- Last but not least – we’re looking to bring our incredible service to even more customers, which may require an injection of capital, and potentially the support of a strategic investor and / or a crowdfunding campaign– so watch this space!