FOXBUSINESS.COM PROFILES ENTREPRENEURS 35 AND YOUNGER
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When marketplace for a product—even a trendy one—is as jammed as the cupcake biz, most entrepreneurs run the other way, looking for a new niche to fill. Innovation and the novel are part of what makes a startup, well, a startup.
But Tawny Ong doesn’t see it that way. She says when she first noticed cupcake emporiums sprouting all over the city, she wanted to have one, too.
Ong, the energetic and bubbly 32-year-old entrepreneur behind Desserts by Tawny Ong, stands behind her cupcakes, saying that everything from the flavor to the way they’re sold is unique to her.
“Opening up a carbon-copy cupcake business is not what I wanted to do,” said Ong, who lives in New York City. “I went out and literally catered to the customer and found out what they really wanted, and that became my niche. Now I am in the baking business with a menu that caters to my clients and also in the wedding and custom cake-making business I never thought I'd get into.” Watch more Young Guns.
SIX SHOOTER Q&A with Tawny Ong:
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Q. Who is your role model or inspiration?
A. My family and friends. Everything I’m accomplishing is because of them.
Q. Do you think you need to find a niche in the market to start a business?
A. I think if you have a niche that is great, but I had to find my niche. Opening up a carbon-copy cupcake business is not what I wanted to do. I went out and literally catered to the customer and found out what they really wanted and that became my niche. Now I am in the baking business with a menu that caters to my clients and also in the wedding and custom cake making business I never thought I’d get into.
Q. What has been the biggest lesson learned so far in starting a business?
A. Find a niche within you, or in other words, find your strengths.
For example: My strength is my product, and I get clients through referrals. That’s how I was given the opportunity to make the Lady Gaga welcome home cake on January 20, 2010. I knew the pastry chef who made her previous cake did an exact replica of the Borgata, right down to the little cars and miniature tourists. I was asked if I wanted to do an exact replica of Radio City Music Hall, and said that I would use it as a starting point for the cake design.
After some research, my company was able to create a cake that meant something to Gaga and her mother (who placed the order). It was a three tiered red velvet cake. The top tier was the client’s request for Radio City Music Hall marquee saying Welcome Home Gaga (in a recent interview with Oprah she mentioned she liked to be called Gaga vs. Lady Gaga, so we changed accordingly); the second tier had Gaga’s signature thunderbolt logo; and the third tier represented her love of music and piano since age 4. So I’d say our niche is finding out what the client wants and putting a lot of heart into creating something delish and always with the intent of putting a smile on people’s faces.
Q. What is the biggest mistake you've made so far?
A. I think the biggest mistake I could make right now is to not try new things…to not stay challenged and get comfortable. It may lead to mistakes, but I’d rather make a mistake and learn than play things safe.
Q. Where do you see your company in five years?
A. I want to find a home for my bakery and see my business grow at a pace where I can still provide a great product and customer service as well have fun during the process. If I lose that, what’s the point? I truly love what I do…baking, catering events, and meeting new people. I’m still the one who makes the deliveries and caters events because that’s where I get to see the smiles on my clients’ faces and watch them enjoy their desserts as much as I enjoy baking them.
Q. How do you view competition?
A. I look at their prices and try their products, but other than that, I don’t see them as competition. There’s always room for one more good one. NYC is big, and people have different taste buds. The more cupcake bakeries that open only helps my company because then it’s not a fad but a common practice to bring cupcakes for any and every occasion.