Kie Ann Brownell Interview

What a unique business Kie Ann Brownell has brought to the Internet.

She sells Birthday cakes. I mean delicious Birthday cakes!!

And she ships them all over the United States.

How did she decide on the Birthday Cake business? Read on.

Q – Kie Ann there’s certainly a lot of great looking cakes on your website, but nothing about your background. How did you get into the business?
A – My partner and I are serial entrepreneurs. We’ve done a couple other businesses and we met through an organization called EO, the Entrepreneur’s Organization, formerly known as YEO. We had just been talking for awhile about wanting to do something together. In about November of ’04 we had this idea to deliver birthday cakes to college kids. I had that idea in college which is what 20 years ago. It didn’t make as much sense and I was an accounting major, pretty serious. So, I went to work in Public Accounting. I never really gave it a second thought until ’04. We just started doing a lot of research online and seeing what the competition offered and thought there was definitely some opportunity in the States. We did a lot of research about birthdays in the U.S. and then just started thinking about the cake business and the ability to deliver cakes in general. We think we have a different model than what exists out there. We don’t do like the FTD model, which is a network of local bakeries all over. We also don’t bake the cakes ourselves. We use wholesale bakers that are phenomenal bakers and know what they’re doing. For what we really do, we focused on shipping the cake and getting it there and putting all the fun around it. We really say we sell the celebration. So, it comes in this awesome lime green box, with the whole party in the box. The plates. The napkins. The confetti. The candles. Everything you need. Then we have a whole online party feature as well, where you can organize this party online and get lots of people to sign in and wish the recipient Happy Birthday or Congratulations or whatever the case may be.

Q – So, if you and your partner are not making the cakes, are the people who are under the same roof as you are?
A – No.

Q – How then can you guarantee quality assurance for these cakes?
A – We worked on it for about 14 months before we launched it. We knew what we were looking for-----wholesale baking cos. that could scale, that made really great layer cakes. So, we looked all over the country. We’re headquartered in Denver, but some of our cakes are made in Los Angeles. Some of our cakes are made in Denver. All of the cakes are blast frozen off the line. They come out and they’re immediately, what they call blast-frozen. At first, I was like frozen? But, truthfully most of the food we eat today, certainly in all of the most popular restaurant chains has been blast frozen. Some of the cos. we work with provide a lot of desserts for some of the major chains that you would be very familiar with and people are. So, these people are just food experts. They’re experts at making high quality, great tasting products and preserving them so that they can be frozen and then delivered. That’s the key. They ship them to us. They’re flash frozen. We put them in cold storage and then we ship them all over the U.S. So, they start frozen and they thaw.

Q – How many years have you been doing this?
A – We launched officially on January 18 th 2006. So, we’re just up and running.

Q – Why did you zero in on birthday cakes? Is it because no one else is really doing it?
A – Well, a lot of people are doing it. Honestly, what we’ve found now that we’ve really gotten into it is that we end up doing a lot of other cakes as well. We’ve just finished a big client thank-you program for this customer of ours that just celebrated their 10 th Anniversary and they wanted to thank all of their clients. So, they just sent cakes to all of them. So, we’re finding it’s a lot farther reaching than just birthday. If you just sort of step back and think about it, you know there’s 700,000 birthdays in the U.S. every single day. I kind of started paying attention. It’s like everyday is a birthday. Virtually everyday I see somebody having a birthday if I’m out at a restaurant or on the ‘Today Show’. There’s a lot of interesting psychology around the whole importance of birthdays and the importance of birthdays in our society today. In a lot of cases we’re not as entrenched in our neighborhoods as we used to be. They’re communities, whether it’s their kids soccer community or their church community or in many cases their work. So, it’s becoming increasingly important for people to celebrate within their work community because that’s one of their most important community experiences in their life. There’s a lot of interesting research on how important it is to celebrate a person’s birthday. On that day they make themselves emotionally available. It’s very interesting and truthfully, think how much fun it is. (Laughs). Everybody loves cake. One of the things we’ve been talking about is, we’re really in a lot more than just the cake business. We really feel like we’re in the business of creating celebrations and connecting people more than anything. We really are aimed at the distance markets so your kids away at college or your sister who lives in another city or your 80 year old aunt that you can’t be with. Here’s kind of the thing we say: if we were in the same city, we would be celebrating your birthday together for sure, but, we’re not in the same city, so, we’re gonna send you a cake. That’s one of our markets for sure. When you get a cake, as opposed to say a cookie, a cake invites celebration, because it invites you to share it. It instantly helps people connect, whether across the country or across the room.

Q – Do you ship overseas?
A – Right now, we’re only in the United States. We’re negotiating with Fed-Ex right now to start some overseas service this summer (summer of 2006).

Q – Have any of your cakes been damaged in transit?
A – We’ve shipped a few thousand cakes so far and we’ve had less than five cake failures as we call them. We’ve had a couple of instances with Fed-Ex. Almost every instance we’ve had a problem we’ve been able to get them on the phone and say ‘This is a birthday. You can’t put it off ‘till tomorrow. You gotta get it there’-----and they do. So, knock on wood, so far, we’ve been very fortunate. And one of the things we do, is stand behind it. In almost every instance that we’ve had a problem or a failure as we call it, we instantly refund the money and say, hey, we’re gonna ship another one on us. You tell us when you want to do it. Give us another chance, ‘cause this is not the norm. We can fix it. In almost every instance we’ve been able to save the customer and make it a good experience for them.

Q – I guess I can’t ask you what your busiest season is ‘cause you haven’t been open all that long.
A – Yeah. We’re not there yet.

Q – How many people does it take to get one of these cakes made?
A – We’re just getting going on that. We’re both experienced entrepreneurs. So, one of the first things we wanted to do is get the cash flow positive. Once we’ve gotten there, we’re starting to hire a couple of people to help us. Sort of building out the rest of the corporate model and get it going. That’s something that as the volume grows, we’ll see. It’s sort of a hard question to answer because now we still do so much of it and even as we hire people we’ll still continue to do so much ourselves.

Q – Before Go Cakes Go, what other business were you involved in?
A – I was in the wholesale floor-covering business. My partner had her own management consulting business. And then I had a few other cos. that sort of broke off as a result of the floor covering business. At one point we had a trucking co. and a number of other ancillary little entities. But, for the most part we’ve both been doing entrepreneurial things for a long time, and had the good fortune really because of the EO to really be able to study what makes a co. work from the beginning and how to build it right and look at our friends that are really doing it, and learn from them, so hopefully we don’t make the same mistakes over.

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