We spoke to Sheryl Thai, the Founder and Director of Cupcake Central, about how she turned her hobby into a successful, and budding business.
Most small business owners get started by pursuing a hobby or passion and that age-old tale certainly rings true for Sheryl Thai. The journey from IT consultant to baking aficionado to building a fledgling online business with five Melbourne shop fronts has been an interesting one.
After a holiday in New York City and a visit to the infamous Magnolia Bakery, she returned to Australia and started baking her own frosted creations. And it wasn’t until she lost her job during the 2009 economic downturn that Sheryl decided to follow her dream of making cupcakes full-time.
Building the business slowly, she filled orders for friends and family, catered for events and parties and eventually launched an online store. She soon outgrew her home kitchen, and with the support of her business partner Thin Neu, together they opened their first retail shop in Hawthorn, Victoria. In the last six years they have gone on to open four new stores in Melbourne Central, Highpoint, Eastland and Fountain Gate.
To grow the business, Sheryl and Thin considered external investors and franchising, but neither option appealed to them. Like many small business owners, they turned to traditional banks for a loan but had difficulty accessing the funds they needed.
“Obtaining business loans were often long, laborious and frustrating. Having to prove that we would be able to pay back the loans even though we had been in business for years was disheartening,” explains Sheryl.
This led them to consider alternative, non-bank lending options that offered professional and timely services without hidden fees and costs. Enter Moula – one of the first non-bank lenders in Australia.
“Building the company to five stores has been a slow and steady path. Getting short term loans that are quick and easy allows us to spend more money on things such as marketing and elevating customer experience – which sometimes may seem like a nice-to-have – which makes a difference to our growth,” says Sheryl.
There has been a rise in the number of non-bank lenders offering loans to small to medium-sized businesses seeking reliable and fast finance. With about 20 established lenders, it’s a booming industry.
“The brand and story behind Moula initially attracted us as it was created by entrepreneurs. After understanding how easy the whole process was, we decided that the time and frustration we would save would be more beneficial to our productivity and ability to grow the business. We can never get wasted time back!” says Sheryl.
Launched in 2014, Moula provides unsecured business loans using data sources, such as Xero to analyse real-time sales data and performance history to determine whether applicants can repay a loan. For Cupcake Central, the process was simple as the business already uses Xero and their accountant was able to assist them.
“We got approved within 24 hours and had money in our account in less than 48 hours,” Sheryl confirmed, adding that the loan allowed them to achieve the rollout of their 4th and 5th stores within two and a half months, expanding their brand in Melbourne’s competitive food industry much faster than they’d anticipated.
For businesses looking to grow, Sheryl agrees the simplicity of the Moula application is the greatest benefit, allowing owners to used the time saved to invest in growing their business; harnessing their energy and putting it towards the actions and decisions that will ultimately push their business forward.
“If you’re not growing, your business is dying, there is no in-between.”