Most startup founders build their business around their passion. Tech geeks build IT companies, food lovers open a restaurant, and social media addicts establish marketing firms. While your passion may fuel you to start your own venture, you need more than that to sustain your business and keep it going.
Sheryl Thai founded Cupcake Central because guess what — she loves cupcakes! Her passion has risen out of her kitchen to 5 store locations across Melbourne with millions of cupcakes served and just as many diets broken! Sheryl describes how she discovered her passion and what she did to be able to enjoy the sweet taste of success.
Kym Huynh is a Founder at WeTeachMe and the driving force behind Masters Series. Kym discovered his passion for teaching after a bad car accident prompted him to think about what was important to him in this life. He’s now planning to turn his passion into the world’s biggest school without campuses.
Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.
Serpil Senelmis: If your passion becomes your business, can it still be your passion? Or would you need a new passion? Do you think?
Interviewing Public: Well, I do design. So my passion is art. So it has, in fact, become a part of my business. And because of that, I would say I don’t do art anymore. I used to yeah, I used to all the time. And it’s just, they’re too similar. And it’s hard to differentiate work and hobbies now, and it just seemed different enough to as a break, which is disappointing.
Interviewing Public: Absolutely. It can be your passion. Your business can be your passion, and you can live and breathe your business.
Interviewing Public: No, absolutely. It can still remain your passion, but that does not mean you shouldn’t also look out for other passions, but it doesn’t mean what you’re doing now. So can’t be your passion.
Serpil Senelmis: For WeTeachMe this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share the secrets to business success. I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded, and I’m privileged to have turned my passion into a business making podcasts. Look at me, I’m doing it right now. Now I can say from experience that it’s not easy. There’s overwhelming amount of business requirements that need just as much attention. But don’t take my word for it. We’ve got two very passionate founders for you, including one of the people responsible for us being in your ears. Kym Huynh is the co-founder of WeTeachMe and he created the Masters Series to bring founders together to share their story.
Kym Huynh: And so I left the law, something which I didn’t hate, but I wasn’t passionate about it. And I started WeTeachMe. Because I really believe in this idea that learning is something which you carry with you for the rest of your life. And it’s one of those things that no one can ever take away from you without your consent. And I think in life, you can lose your job. Equally as your house and lose your clothes in your back, but you’re never gonna lose a noise that’s in your head. And we don’t know if you can always start again.
Serpil Senelmis: We’ll hear from Kym soon. First up, Sheryl Thai. She’s the founder of Cupcake Central. Unemployed in 2009, Sheryl decided she wanted to bake cupcakes for a living. From parties to functions. She started an online business, and a year later opened the first Cupcake Central store. Now, there are five Cupcake Central’s across Melbourne. Sheryl says she feels she has changed the world in her own way. With all the smiles she’s put on people’s faces with her cupcakes, and of course, all the diets that she’s broken.
Sheryl Thai: So, when I was eight, and my parents asked me the question, what do you want to do with your life? I just instinctively said that I wanted to change the world. I don’t know why I just said that. And being Asian heritage, they really wanted me to say that I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant. And I didn’t say any of those things. But for me, I just knew from a very young age, I was put on this earth to do something that I really was passionate about. So I didn’t know what I wanted to do. When I finished high school. I just knew that I hated math and I hated science so I knew that I couldn’t be an accountant or a doctor. But I really found inspiration from my uncle who was an IT consultant. And he was working on lots of cool projects, and he would travel the world and just make lots of money. And I thought that’s what I want to do. And I eventually landed that dream job of mine. But I quickly realized that, that wasn’t really what I was passionate about. And it was really when I went over to New York, that’s where it kind of all happened. Magnolia Bakery is a super, super famous bakery people line up for hours just in cupcake. And I had no idea I didn’t really like cupcakes at all didn’t really like sweets. But I remember saying the cupcakes and people lining up and I was quite curious. So I thought I’ll do the same thing and line up a couple of hours for that cupcake. And I eventually had the first bite of this cupcake, and I was just obsessed. Something just overtook me had this passion came back was baking all the time. And any opportunity I got, I was baking cupcakes for friends and family, and I would bring them into work as well. So I really developed this dream to want to open up my own cupcake bakery. I was only 21 at the time, didn’t really know how but I continued to bake at home. And I would dream about it every day I would go into work. I’ll sit in my car five minutes before nine. And I’ll think about all the ways I could call in sick and eventually I’ll just walk up to work and the first thing I would do was literally open up a browser and look through different types of cupcakes looking at reading my favorite cupcake blog, and just dreaming about this cupcake bakery that I wanted to open. And I really just lived for two days of the week, I just noticed that every Monday I would go into work and I dread it and dread Mondays coming around. And I’ll just wait for Fridays. And I thought to myself is this one I’m living for two days of the week. And as fate would have it 2009, the GFC hit. And I was called into a meeting one day, and they basically handed me a yellow envelope saying that I no longer had my job. And so that was a real defining moment in my life. Because, for me, I had been working climbing the corporate ladder waiting for my promotion and it didn’t come about after a week I just realized that this was probably the best day of my life because I had been waiting for so long to start my own business. And this gave me an idea opportunity to start, you know, the small redundancy package that I had was enough to start a business. So I decided that I would take six months off, work on my business. And if it didn’t work, I could always go back into the corporate world. So the first three months, what I did was I scribbled out a business plan. I get distracted quite easily. So I remember popping my phone in the car and then I went into a cafe just with a notebook and a pen. And I started jotting down imagining what my bakery would look like, what we would sell, how customers would feel when they walk in. And even writing down to the detail, you know, would bake at this time of the day, making sure that people could look into our bakery and watch us bake. Everything would be really high quality, all those little things I kind of drew out, I even drew out with tables where and like a plan of how my store would look like. And so it just started from there. And it was really quite simple. I didn’t even Google what a business plan looks like. I just put it all down and what I thought it should look like, and then I registered my business name. It was super easy. The hardest part was actually coming up with a name for the business. I eventually came up with Cupcake Central, because one of my own bosses, so we used to bake, I used to bake cupcakes and bring them into work. And there was one day where everyone would bring in. It’s kind of like a potluck, everyone bringing something that they cooked, and she sent around an email going oh, Sheryl’s got her Cupcake Central. And so I kind of stuck with that. I registered my home kitchen. I didn’t know anything about registering my home kitchen, I went out and asked all my friends, hey, do you know how to you know, register home kitchen and a lot of them hadn’t registered a home kitchen before but they would all give me lovely advice. And some of them would say oh, it costs 10s and thousands of dollars and you need a whole separate kitchen. And so I feel really scared because I don’t have 10s of thousands of dollars and I can’t afford to build a second kitchen. But I just thought hey, I’m gonna call up the council. My local council and asked them. And so when I did that, and realize that it cost less than $500 to make modifications and could get it registered quite easily, that was my first revelation that when I need to go out and find advice and answers that I’d be asking people that had done it, rather than seeking advice and answers from people that hadn’t. I also launched my online business. And back then you couldn’t really just start up with site on Squarespace or anything like that. So I asked a lot of my friends that were in IT and that could develop websites and, and I did a lot of bartering meaning I would say, Hey, I’ll bake cupcakes for your wedding, if you can build me a website. So that’s exactly what I did. And, you know, I really was quite clever with my money and making sure that I wasn’t just spending 10s and thousands of dollars on things that I didn’t need because I knew that I had six months before I had to go back to work, so I needed to make every dollar count. And so I started my business with less than 2000 thousand dollars. Once I launched my business online, I started selling them at the markets. So I actually set the date of selling at the market before I even registered my home kitchen. I knew that if I had set a date and put down a deposit to sell at a farmers market, that I would be pushed to do all of these things and tick them off the list. So create my product line, create the flavors, create a menu, register my business name, get, you know, the food registration and all that sort of stuff. So, for me, I really wanted to work backward with a timeline. Because sometimes if you have a goal or something and you don’t have a set date, you just keep dragging it on. So for me that was how I kind of started and made myself accountable to making it work. After I launched it at home within about nine months, I was so busy baking cupcakes at home, I couldn’t do it anymore. And so at this point, my ex-boyfriend and I decided to open up a store. So over the last eight years, we’ve built five retail stores. The physical retail stores. So I guess where it all started and how we’ve been able to build and grow. I believe it all starts with the brand, vision and values. And so we’ve never really swayed from these three things. So for us, we always looked at quality and the experience and also the aspiration. So the aspiration element of it is, you know, I really imagined when people were holding our cupcakes that they would walk into a bar or restaurant, and when they’re holding our cupcakes, other people would be like, wow, they’re Cupcake Central cupcakes. And funnily enough, these days, even if I go to restaurants and see our cupcakes, and I’m spying on them, you know, I can hear these comments and people are really impressed by them. And we are known for making the best and freshest cupcakes in Melbourne. But along the way, it’s been really, really challenging as well. At the very beginning. The first 10 months was terrible. Like for me, I was working about 15 to 18 hours a day. So I’d wake up at 4 am start baking, and then I’ll clean up the kitchen and serve customers then close up the store around six o’clock and then have to do the books and then marketing. And you know and go to sleep at around 10 and have that start all over again seven days a week. So that was like a never-ending cycle. And I just remember one day, I think 10 months into it, I just woke up going, this is not the dream I envisioned. I’m doing something wrong. And so I started to think about how other entrepreneurs working because I didn’t feel like an entrepreneur, I didn’t know really think I was an entrepreneur. But I knew that I had a small business owner mindset because I was doing everything. I didn’t want to delegate. I didn’t want to teach others how to do it. And it was really one of those things that there was a defining moment. I just remember so tired of taking the cupcakes out of the oven, and my arms just couldn’t lift the trays because the trays are super heavy. And so I just remember dropping them and then I just broke down and ran up to the cupboard upstairs. And I just locked myself in there and cried for about an hour. So that’s when I started finding other people that were doing what I wanted to do and learn from them and went out to a lot of networking events met other people started learning from them.
Sheryl Thai: So saying yes to opportunities before I’m ready. So there were always a lot of opportunities along the way. One example is our second store at Mountain Central. When they asked us and approached us to open up a store, they’re like, no way we have no money. I heard people tell me that you’d made half a million dollars in the bank before you can open a store up in a major shopping center. And I was just like, Nah, can’t afford it. There’s no way there’s no way we could do it. But something inside of me is just said, Yeah, let’s just go take a look. So I just remember going in and taking a look at Norman Central’s new development. And I just could imagine our store being there, and somehow we made it happen. It was so bizarre because even though we had no money, and we had no real credibility, other than having one store for 10 months in Hawthorne. I told him the dream and I said, you know what, I’m going to run workshops here, we can create a whole experience. We’re going to bake cupcakes fresh every morning, so people can say, it’s going to be an open kitchen. And then they just turned around said, yeah, okay, we’ll give you you know, $100,000 to build it. And so for me, I was just like, what people give you money to open up stores and fit our contributions. So that was one of those things that it just kind of happened and I said, yes, before I was ready, it was very stressful, but it was yeah, great learning. And then also the hell yes, hell no thing. So I think over time, as much as you want to say yes to everything, there comes a point where you get too busy. So it could be anything it could be going to dinner or meeting up with a friend or whatever it is. I always applied this in my life, it is the hell yes, hell no scenario. So if someone says, Hey, do you want to go out for dinner with me? If you don’t feel like you want to say hell, yes, you know, like hell yes. Then it’s a hell no. So I think for me now, I’ve realized that time is so scarce, that I need to be so excited about something that I want to go all in. Otherwise, what’s the point? Because I don’t want to do you know, half-assed things. So that’s one of my life-changing practices. And I think, for me how Cupcake Central has been able to grow is because I’ve really thought about what makes me want to wake up every day, as corny as that sounds. But every single day, I don’t have that whole thing where I wake up not wanting to go into work. You know, I get to choose what I want to do each and every day. If I want to go and travel and still do work on the side, I can do that. Of course, it takes a lot of work, but you feel so much more fulfilled in life. That’s what I felt and to be able to think about how many people I’ve reached over the years, how many smiles are put on faces with cupcakes. You know how many diets I’ve broken as well. It’s kind of like one of those things that makes me feel like wow, I’ve somehow changed the world in my own little way. Thank you, everyone.
Serpil Senelmis: Now am I the only one thinking about getting a cupcake right now? I can’t believe how much work Sheryl had to put into her passion. 18 hour days, but it all paid off. Thanks, Sheryl. Coming up next, a man so passionate about education, that he created a whole new way for teachers and students to connect.
Ad Guy: Masters Series is presented by WeTeachMe. You can make your passion your business simply by sharing your skills with others who want to learn. Find your students the easy way at weteachme.com. This podcast is produced by Written and Recorded. Passion is always at the heart of a good story. No matter what the topic is, that’s what keeps us listening. Put your passion in someone’s ears with writtenandrecorded.com. And now back to the podcast.
Serpil Senelmis: Thanks, Ad Guy. Now to Kym Huynh, co-founder of WeTeachMe. Actually, Ed Guy, you’re always talking about WeTeachMe, can you set the scene for us?
Ad Guy: Glad to. WeTeachMe is an online booking system that helps teachers and schools build and grow successful businesses. In this fireside chat with his colleague Wayne Lewis. Kym says he’s passionate about education because learning is something that you can carry with you for the rest of your life.
Kym Huynh: Funnily enough, when I was eight, my mom said, Kym, you tell me, what are you going to be when you grow up? What do you want to be when you grow up? Because I was eight, I did not know that that was a trick question. And I said to her, I want to swim with dolphins. I want to spend the rest of my life swimming with dolphins. And she gave me a big smack. And she said you’re going to be a lawyer, Kym. And so that’s, that’s what happened, I became a lawyer.
Wayne Lewis: How long did that last for Kym?
Kym Huynh: That lasted for about three years. But the reason why I tell this story is growing up I had always done with what is always right, study hard at school, get into a good university study at a university or get into a good law firm. And but at the end of that process, I just felt so exhausted. And so I said to my family, I’m booking a one-way ticket to South America, and that’s what I did. And at that time, that was a huge scandal for my family. And when I was over there met up at some friends, we were on the beach the whole day. And then we got a call from one of my close friends and he said, hey, you need to come to my lake house. I know it’s a three or four-hour drive. But just get in the car, get up here and let’s just spend quality time together. So we all jumped in the car, of course. And we drove and when we got up to the mountainous region where his lake house was, it was about 11 o’clock at night. 12 o’clock at night. Dark, it was raining, it was stormy. We’re up in the mountains, potholes everywhere. And I remember at that time thinking, oh my god, I’m not feeling very safe right now. And I remember reaching out to touch my friend’s shoulder, I was in the back of the car. And I was going to say, hey, maybe we should just slow down and just take it easy. And at that point, I kid you not. The car hit a pothole, it’s swerved, and then drove off a cliff. And in that moment, I was in the back of the car and as a car was going over the cliff, everything just slowed down, in the movies where everything slows down. That’s what happened? And half of me was thinking, oh my god, I’m gonna die. And the other half is thinking, wow, this is this really happens like in the movies. It’s kind of cool, but not. I was thinking about key moments in my life that were meaningful to me key important people, my mom, my dad, my sister, my best friend. And I remember just trying to grab all those memories and just try to send it back to them. And the only thought that I had in my mind was I am so sorry, this is how it ends, but I love you. And I want you to know how much I love you. The car hit the tree, fell over, and then black. I didn’t remember anything else. Long story short, we somehow woke up. Everything was kind of working. But my arm was just mangled. We go to the hospital, they flew in the team of surgeons from Argentina. I stayed in South America for another two or three months to recover from that surgery. Then I came back to Australia and spent the next two years recovering and regaining all that strength. And it was bizarre, but sometimes I think that when traumatic things like that happen in our lives, and for me, that was my traumatic moment. It was almost like a work up a little bit. And I said, you know what our lives are so short, things can happen through no fault of our own, we might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And then something can hit you. And that’s it. And I said, You know what, I do not want to spend an iota of time doing something unless I was incredibly passionate about it. And so I left the law, something which I didn’t hate, but I wasn’t passionate about it. And I started, WeTeachMe because I really believe in this idea that learning is something which you carry with you for the rest of your life. And it’s one of those things that no one can ever take away from you without your consent. And I think in life, you can lose your job, you can lose your house, you can lose the clothes on your back, but you’re never going to lose the knowledge that’s in your head. And without knowledge, you can always start again. And that’s why I left the law.
Wayne Lewis: And how did you parents react to that then how did they take your ideas of WeTeachMe?
Kym Huynh: Mum cried a lot. I think for the next few years, she cried a lot. And she still told all their friends that I was a lawyer. I think it mostly comes from a place of just wanting to know that I’m going to be okay. WeTeachMe is a technology company, right? It’s a website. And for people older than our generation, it’s a very abstract concept. And when you talk about you say, well, I can’t really show you a product that we created. I can’t really show you something tangible, but I do have a business card and an email address so that I can email you. But I think after, after my family saw what I was doing, the people I was associating with, all the wins that were getting on the board. They really got behind me and really supported it.
Wayne Lewis: If you think to those early days of WeTeachMe and obviously getting your passion out there and communicate and how did you go about that to the masses, how do you communicate your passion?
Kym Huynh: I believe that when you start a business, you have to know how to sell. If you don’t sell you then have a business. So if you don’t sell your business doesn’t grow. And I would not count myself as a natural salesman. I’ve never done sales in my life. Oh my god, the first time I did sales, I remember this story so vividly. I had started doing websites for law firms just for fun. And I said You know what, I’m going to do a sales call. So I’m in my car. Demi is in the seat next to me and she goes Kym, you can do this and I said yes, I can. Picked up the phone, called up a law firm and I said, Hi. I can build websites for you. He said, No, you can’t good luck, hang up on me. And that traumatized me, Wayne. You have no idea how crushed I was. I was as crushed as when I watched the red wedding and Game of Thrones. It literally traumatized me for two years. After that I did not cold call ever again. I am not a natural salesman. But with WeTeachMe it was interesting because WeTeachMe hits my core values. I don’t really need to sell it. All I need to do is just talk about the why. Why am I passionate about WeTeachMe? Why am I passionate about learning? Why am I passionate about education? And why did they start WeTeachMe? And I’ve found with the first 100 customers, they bought into me, they didn’t buy into WeTeachMe or the company or the product or the service they bought into me. Because when I stood in front of them, and I said, You know what? My parents left Vietnam, as refugees after the Civil War. They left their community, they went to a place where they could not speak the language did not understand the social norms. They rebuilt their entire lives. And I have seen firsthand how they took their learning and invested in their learning and changed not only their lives but also the lives of their families that they brought over. And then the community around there. It’s just, I believe in learning and how it transforms your life, your family’s life, and your community’s life. And that clicks that moment. You see it in people’s eyes when they know that you’re speaking from something which you truly believe in and then they bind to you when I cottoned on to that, it just became super easy. I’m not selling, I’m just telling you a story about why I’m passionate about what I’m working on.
Wayne Lewis: In those early days of WeTeachMe obviously, the products and the service that you’re offering. How did that change? And how did that shape how the company is today?
Kym Huynh: The product has definitely changed. When we first launched the website. Oh my God, this was our biggest mistake and also painful to make. We created a website that we thought we wanted to use. So we had this idea that if we created a website called weteachme.com, and we listed all these classes, how to speak Spanish, how to bake, that we thought a flood of people would just come and buy courses, and we’d retire because this was at the time that the movie about Facebook, The Social Network came up and I looked at it and I said to Demi, I said, look what he did in two hours. Imagine what we can do in a year. So we spent a year designing and developing this website, we launched it and no one used it. And we would look at each other and I’d say well, maybe not today but maybe tomorrow or someone will use it, tomorrow would come, no one would use it. Or maybe not today, maybe tomorrow. And we did that for about three months. And eventually, we got to a point where we said, either we give up, or we go back when we do it properly and we start again. And that was an incredibly painful lesson to learn.
Wayne Lewis: And it was also listening to the vendors that you’re working with the next product was born out of the fact that they wanted a solution to some of their other problems.
Kym Huynh: Exactly. So then we picked up the phone and called Sheryl from Cupcake Central, our first customer, and we said, well, tell me about your headaches and how can we help you and from those conversations really gave see to WeTeachMe on what it is today, and it changes every single year. But what has remained constant is the reason why we started WeTeachMe which is our passion about learning, sparking that curiosity for learning that passion for education. That’s always remained constant.
Wayne Lewis: What does the future hold for WeTeachMe?
Kym Huynh: There’s an infographic that floats around the says new companies, the biggest taxi company in the world doesn’t have cars. The biggest hotel company in the world doesn’t have physical hotels or buildings. I would like WeTeachMe to be up there, the biggest school in the world doesn’t have physical campuses. Now more than ever, we have this opportunity to access incredible talent. We have this opportunity and all these amazing tools which are often free. It’s insane that we can use to create our businesses or create software or create prototypes. We have access to incredible founders who are experienced who often have already achieved what we want to achieve. I truly believe that there is no excuse to not go out there and just try something that you have incredibly passionate about. What’s the worst that can happen around for me? If WeTeachMe doesn’t work? Then I can go back and be a lawyer.
Wayne Lewis: Yeah, at the end of the day, you can. So guys can we have a round of applause for Kym Huynh of WeTeachMe?
Serpil Senelmis: Wowwee so it took driving off a cliff to start Australia’s biggest school with no campuses. Thanks for that story, Kym, and thank you Sheryl as well. Next time on Masters Series, building a powerhouse brand turning your passion into your business is one thing. But do you then become a brand? Or can you create a brand that is bigger than you with its own identity values and goals? We’ll hear from two successful brands to see how they’ve actually done it. Until then, I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded, and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.
About Masters Series by WeTeachMe
Masters Series is a show about inspiring entrepreneurs, creative thinkers, and visionary dreamers, and the stories behind how they built their companies.
Subscribe to podcast
Podcast brought to you by
Thank you to Jahzzar for the music.
Masters Series is presented by WeTeachMe.
The Masters Series podcast is produced by Written & Recorded.
The views expressed by the contributors on this podcast and linked websites are not necessarily endorsed by the publisher.
Question of the day
What was your favourite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Stay in Touch With Me
- Instagram, My favourite place. Quotes, stories, and my daily life
- YouTube, Episodes from people I interview
- Facebook, Stay up to date on everything I do
- Twitter, The most direct and personal way to reach me for 1–1 conversations
- LinkedIn, My business profile
- Medium, Where I share my thoughts in detail
- Podcast, Perfect for your commute