Lila Owens, cupcake connoisseur and owner of CupCakin Bakeshop, started her small business from humble beginnings. Working out of her home kitchen as an event caterer, she relied on friends, family, and social media to get the word out about her delicious little treats.

Photo Credit: SF Gate

In June of 2014, only a few years after her catering business began, she opened her own brick and mortar shop on Durant Ave. in Berkeley, CA.

Why did you start a small business in Berkeley?

I am a local native and, since it’s cupcakes, the target audience is younger. I like the liberal, light-hearted audience that's drawn to Cal and the Berkeley area so I thought it was the perfect opportunity to open up here.

What's the single most important factor when starting—or maintaining—a small business?

Knowing your numbers. It’s easy to have a good product but if you’re not pricing it properly and you’re not financially secure, then you’re likely going to fail at some point. 

Apply for money, even when you don’t need it, because you’re going to need it at some point. There are a lot of different loan products geared towards small business because it’s so difficult to get funding from a traditional bank–Fundera, Kabbage, PCV, GoFundMe. The options are there, you just have to be proactive, not reactive.

What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you solve them?

Getting financing to complete the build out and learning the ins and outs of running a retail business. I was working out of my house as a caterer, so learning the different aspects—finance, marketing, operations—all of those working parts seemed overwhelming at first.

Do your research, be constantly learning, take classes at small business development centers [Lila recommends the SBA], network with other business owners, apply for money before you need it, and be mindful of the culture you create in your workplace.

Even if you have really good employees, if they don't work well together, it won't be an environment conducive to cooperation and growth.

What do you look for in a hire?

Enthusiasm, passion about my product, the ability to work with other people. I know this is going to sound corny but I try to hire nice people, easy-going folks that are responsible, can take direction, and can work with people.

What steps have you taken to foster strong company culture?

I use my instincts when I hire. I am mindful of how I think a person would fit in the establishment—personality, work ethic, energy. 

Through Localwise, I tend to get hires that work really well together, as opposed to other sites that attract applicants that don’t have a background that’s close to my industry or just aren’t good candidates because of their work background.

This helps tremendously because my turnover rates aren’t as high as other establishments, based on industry standards. You get to work with people longer and they get to learn about your business and be a part of the growth, as opposed to having people constantly coming in and out.

It’s the quality of the candidate, too. I’m getting folks who know and understand customer service and they know Berkeley, so I think it’s a better work experience, not just for me but my employees, too.


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