Successful story of Sofia Terebova - Business Camp for Women's participant
06 April 2020
My bakery, March&Co, produces desserts including cakes, cupcakes, cookies and pies.
I've just moved into new premises, so I am currently rearranging production. The most important thing for me are the quality products I use; natural butter, Belgian chocolate, almond flour, fresh eggs — everything you'd feed your own child. These sweets turn out to be a bit more expensive, but my clients know they are buying high-quality products for their families.
I established March&Co after my first year at university at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. It all started with a street food festival where I sold 150 pieces of home-made bakery products in just two hours. People lined up to buy my sweets; that's when I understood there was demand.
Since then, I used every opportunity to bring my desserts to events at the Academy. Word of mouth advertising began to spread, and eventually I received one order for 180 cupcakes, 360 patties, and a thousand cookies, which was way too big to bake in my mom’s kitchen. That was when I started renting a kitchen on an hourly basis and found an assistant.
I continued to get more and more orders. My friends and colleagues advised that I open a dedicated kitchen where I could bake on demand. Since I focused on delivery to business centers, I rented a place in the city center of Kyiv.
It's hard to say whether the decision was right. I was inexperienced, and used to cooking in only four square meters of my mom’s kitchen. I rented 120 m² at UAH 50,000per month. It turned out that together with my colleagues we used only a part of the facility. Additionally, this space required a number of renovations. I had planned to buy equipment with loans, but my loan application was denied. I had to pay full price, upfront and used all my working capital.
I opened in December 2018, which was a great business month with the holidays. It took me by surprise how a team without experience did so well. But when January came, with far fewer orders and I quickly went into debt.
I delayed salaries and one baker left my team. If previously, one order a day was enough to pay my bills, salaries and turn a profit, in this new space, I needed 7-8 orders to foot the bills. However, I was not generating close to that number.
I expected lines out the door after the bakery opened; looking back, I see how naïve new entrepreneurs are. I was finally able to duplicate December's original success by May of the next year, and only at that time was I almost able to reach a break-even point.
I was learning by doing, through faults and success, and step by step, I started to explore my new entrepreneurship universe.
In late Spring of 2019, I noticed an ad for the first Business Camp for Women, looked through the program, but I wasn't sure it was for me. However a friend on Facebook also saw the ad and sent me a link to the application form. I filled it in and submitted it. I thought they were looking for women entrepreneurs with substantial experience, so I was very surprised when the organizers reached out to me and said I was selected.
Thank God it happened this way at the right moment, as I learned a lot of new and useful information at the camp. Each camp gathers 20-25 women having or planning to have their own business. The organizers also bring successful women in power, state bodies, and businesses from different spheres to share their experience with camp participants.
Each camp lasts for five days, and it was not easy for me to leave my baby-business for almost a week. However, once at camp, I understood the format is great, as you start to learn how your business should work from legal, operational, financial, and marketing aspects. The camp is a great networking place where you can talk to all the women and cool speakers, ask your specific questions, and receive appropriate advice that helps meet your own needs.
At the end of the camp, there's always a tour to an enterprise owned or managed by women. I decided to skip that as I couldn't leave my child alone that day. But the organizers surprised me by hiring a nanny for my son so that I could attend the company together with other participants.
I found the social media marketing and financial advice very useful. Also, the communication section helped me understand how people perceive March&Co, so I corrected our positioning. I became more confident in my product and found new partners, now have around 20 partner coffee shops thanks to the great networking, which I continue to expand.
The steps I took after the camp helped me to boost sales and improve the organization of production. In December 2019, our working capital tripled, and so did the team – I had 12 people compared to 4 the year before. Restructuring is on the agenda, and I want everyone to have clear responsibilities. I'm planning to improve communication, reshape our Instagram page, enhance service quality, and adjust delivery, as every delay damages our reputation.
The project "Business Camp for Women" was implemented with the support of the USAID Competitive Economy Program (CEP).