What are your gifts? Making a business in line with your skills takes trust, self-awareness and a drive to succeed.
Designer purses, Baby Shower Cakes & Cupcakes. Afrocentric Desserts, Cakes & Cupcakes. Desserts that looks like food, but are actually a cake.Debra Coleman makes more than just cupcakes. The desserts and delicious creations of Colemans Cupcakes Cakes & Desserts are masterful experiences in custom design cakery, delighting anyone that sees.
Don’t know what your loved one wants? Maybe plants, shoes, purses, sports, money or traveling. Just by answering a few questions; Colemans can bring your vision into fruition. In meeting with clients, Debra helps them find what they could only dream of in a cupcake, cake or dessert — and then blows them away by making them a reality.
Debra, who used the MAKEHERS accelerator to level-up her business as part of our pilot cohort, spoke with Hacker Lab about what drives her business-acumen, how to stay motivated as an entrepreneur and making a business you’re proud of — by finding what your core gifts are and what customers truly want.
“When I created the cheeseburger cake, it’s because this guy was having a birthday - and I know nobody eats cheeseburgers like he does,” she said. “I want to take your vision and bring it to life.”
She said every thank you, every satisfied customer, drove her to excel in every product she touches; and go to the next step beyond.“If you think that’s great, I want to step up my game to make it excellent. My passion - the fire within me - keeps me burning.”
Interested in leveling-up your business? Explore Maker-to-Market, learn about MAKEHERS or take a free tour of the Lab.
Hacker Lab: How did you decide to start your own business — why desserts?
Coleman: I’ve always had a passion for cooking and baking: I come from a family of cooks and bakers. It was always a passion, ever since I was a young girl.
I used to do more cooking. Then a lot of people started saying, “Will you bake this for me?” "I will you pay you".
Before I was in business, I said “It’s okay, just buy ingredients..” Then that got repetitive and I was looking for a part-time job and God spoke to my spirit and said look within, and the next time someone asked me to bake something, I attached a price to it — growing up under great bakers and cooks I decided that’s something I wanted to do.
As far as being a custom designer — that came from seeing people happy and excited to see their vision come to life in an edible form. We do your normal every day baked goods but we specialize in custom design, 3D cakes.
Hacker Lab: It sounds like a personal experience you create.
Coleman: It’s that moment when they open the box.
A lot of people want a dessert for a particular occasion — I ask them what kind of cake do they like - they say I don’t know.. they might have flavor but not sure about the design.So that’s how the consultation for me develops, what does that person like. Someone might say, “traveling and money.” I’ll say, “How about a nice snake skin suitcase and fill with edible money.” They’ll be like, oh my god, can you do it?!”
It’s like, sure, that’s what I want to do — I want to take your vision and bring it to life.
When I created the cheeseburger cake, it’s because this guy was having a birthday - and I know nobody eats cheeseburgers like he does
Hacker Lab: How do you find out what a customer truly wants?
Coleman: When I have a consultation, it’s about whoever that cake is for. It’s pulling out of them: What is it you would like to say with the cake? Or their favorite idea, or event.
I make edible shoes - they love shoes. I can make a chocolate shoe, and add chocolate-covered strawberries, cookies, chocolate pretzels inside of the shoe … everything doesn’t have to be a cake. It can be a cupcake or peach cobbler, banana pudding, pound cake, key lime pies — I have several clients I do cookies for at California State University, Bullet Proof Tax & Accounting, Cordova High School , etc...because they like to do designs with their logo.
Instead of giving them something they don’t want to use, give them something that’s edible and enjoyable right then./
Hacker Lab: Is there anything you can’t make out of desserts?
Coleman: I haven’t run across it yet. It might be but I feel that if you can think it, I can create it.
Hacker Lab: Now, we’re connecting after your experience in our MAKEHERS accelerator. What was your experience like and where are you going next with your business?
Coleman: It was good for me. I appreciated the resources they provided doing the cohorts that we had - it was good to know and meet other entrepreneurs out there; to see what they’re doing and what they’re growth is and what their struggle is. They can advise me on some of my stumbling blocks.
It was good to just be able to meet other people in their business as well as get information and resources.
My biggest thing is finding a permanent location. Everything has risen in terms of prices that square footage is out of price range. When that happens I’ll do consultations, displays, cake testing and other events.
Hacker Lab: How do you figure out what will sell best?
Coleman: Not everyone wants a custom design cake. They might want a simple cake with vanilla frosting. Being a custom design cakery, even if it’s just a standard cake, that’s your design and what you want; we still make the best German Chocolate, Chocolate, Vanila, Lemon, Rum, White, Red Velvet, etc. you will find. Without having a custom design, we still want you to have the best tasting dessert. What set us apart is our ingredients. We use fresh and pure ingredients. "If it's not made from scratch, then it's not made by Colemans".
Not everything is an extravagant design. My goal is business to business, that’s what I really need help with outside of a new location. There’s a lot of eateries and pizza places around here, they have good food but they don’t have good deserts. I want to do business to business, to be able to provide the desserts to these eateries, which is more of an invoice-based business I’m doing every day, every week, every month.
Hacker Lab: How do you stay motivated as an entrepreneur?
Coleman: I stay motivated by every smile I get. Every thank you, every satisfied customer, every time a customer is satisfied …it makes me want to go a step beyond.
If you think that’s great, I want to step up my game to make it excellent. My passion - the fire within me - keeps me burning.
Even if I don’t have a customer to service this weekend, that’s an opportunity to make a design of my own and put it out there. I’m going to always stay motivating because I’m constantly creating. Some people don’t know what they want. If I’m putting fresh ideas out there, they might not know what they want but once they go through my online store they see stuff they want, that they hadn't thought about. You don't have to go buy flowers and a dessert; why not buy a flowerpot cake, that looks like a flowerport with flowers inside of it, the only difference, is that the flowerpot is actually a cake.
When I created the cake with the afro hair - I made it for Black History Month. I asked myself, “What can I do for Black History Month?” After I put that out there, got several orders for that cake - they saw it and thought, “This would be great.”Hacker Lab: How best can folks support you or your business?
Coleman: Go to colemanscupcakes.com; it works just like amazon, you go and find what you want, you drop in the cart and check out. At the point of check out there’s a memo box there where you can add any additional information. You might go out and find the chocolate cake you want but want a different color — feel free to note that.
You can also indicate if it’s for shipping, pick up or delivery; I ship to all states as well. There’s also a ‘create your own’ category - you might not see the style you want, so you can use that to start a consultation.
Hacker Lab: Any other tips for entrepreneurs and potential small business owners on their journey?
Coleman: The biggest thing I can say to them is don’t be discouraged. You don’t have to worry about having room for your gifts because your gifts will make room for you.
If you have a dream and you have a gift, don’t worry about how it’s going to come to fruition because you don’t have to make room for your gift, it will make room for youContinue to believe in yourself.
I always want to try to do better.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity. Interested in leveling-up your business? Explore Maker-to-Market, learn about MAKEHERS or take a free tour of our space.