Kim Nelson of Shark Tank Talks About Cakes & Entrepreneurism
A few years back I was watching ABC’s Shark Tank, my new obsession at the time. Bakepedia was a fledgling start-up and I enjoyed watching entrepreneurs try to get the Shark’s attention with their products. Kim Nelson walked out onto the set with an idea about how to expand her cake business. I was transfixed. This was right up my alley and I was rooting for her from the get-go. At first I thought they were going to eat her alive, but while the guys were stuffing their faces with her sample cakes, Barbara Corcoran was honing in and made a deal. Then, just last month I got an email from Kim’s publicist telling me about her new book, Daisy Cakes. I couldn’t respond fast enough. I was going to get to sample Kim’s cakes and interview her about what it was like to go “into the Tank” as well as what it is like to be an entrepreneur growing a cake business.
Kim, I saw you on Shark Tank when it first aired! I was so excited for you – but nervous too! So many of our community members have small home based baking business and some dream of opening bakeries…I thought it would be perfect to bring you to our audience to chat about your experiences.
Kim Nelson: Well, Dédé, I appreciate all the interest and support.
And we appreciate your time…
I just got back from the Metro Cooking Show…
Do you travel a lot?
There are a few shows that we go to and I love getting out there and I get to eat at new places and demo on stage and then hang out with people like Michael Symon and Carla Hall!
What do you say to those who have a dream of opening a bakery or a business based on baking cakes?
It’s not easy (she laughs)! But you know this is what I have done since I was 10 years old. My Mom and I used to bake a yellow cake with chocolate icing that we sold for $7 and folks thought it was expensive!
Who were you selling to?
Oh just everyone and anyone! Word spread around…anyone that needed a good homemade cake, made from scratch. A birthday cake, celebration cake…something better than you could get at the store. Many friends, and friends of friends…mostly people knew my Mom, Geraldine. This wasn’t a business by any means, but it most certainly was a start of where we are today. And it was fun to do. It’s where I learned a lot about baking!
After college I had a catering company. We did everything. Small jobs for 50, elaborate sit-down dinners for 1800 at auditoriums…the smaller jobs might be a 7-course meal…we did it all.
Oh, not just desserts?
No, everything…I can do savory and bake but my partner was very business oriented and together we made a great team. But then we were going to tear down the house that we were working out of and I was getting married…she continued the catering. Then after a while I had a restaurant with my Mom and we catered as well…doctors offices, pharmaceutical companies, sometimes several different jobs in one day. I had baby #1 and kept going, but by the time I got to baby #2 it was time to sell the restaurant. I couldn’t be successful at both.
I did catering for 6 years and know how exhausting that can be…
Exactly. A few years later in 1998 I started teaching people how to cook. Four people would come to the house and each would get a burner…we would make cakes and they would split them and take half-cakes home. We would make dinner on the stove while the cakes were baking…but it wasn’t practical.
Eventually my Daddy built me a 16 x 32 foot kitchen. We still use it today…fast-forward to 2009 and I started Daisy Cakes as a business. I simplified things…just baking cakes!
That’s quite a story. You really have done quite a bit, but it has all prepared you for this. You have come full circle baking cakes!
Yes. And I just love it. The next step was thinking beyond local. We wanted to ship nationwide. We had been making 5 core cakes (5 main flavors) but then the “Price is Right” wanted to give us as a prize with a “cake of the month” for a year, so we had to add varieties or we wouldn’t be eligible. But it brought folks to the website and was really good to get national exposure…
Have you ever done any of the shopping networks?
Yes, I did QVC 5 times. First time was with David Venable. Paula Deen was on that night too! We sold 5000 cakes so fast! That was on 11/30. They invited us back again before Christmas!
So bring us to Shark Tank. Here you were, a businesswoman already, but I don’t know about you, but before I began researching launching Bakepedia I had no idea these entrepreneurial worlds existed. It is such an interesting subculture – or culture – of its own. And then once you are in it, all of a sudden there is a new lingo and books and sites and people that everyone knows about that you have to get familiar with really quick!
I’m with you! I didn’t even know any of this existed! The whole entrepreneurial world is so different. When I applied they were in re-runs and it was crazy. I had not been in business that long and I didn’t have a lot of sales…it was kind of fun to not know what I was getting into! (We both laugh).
But weren’t you nervous during the taping of the show?
I had excelled in public speaking, which was to my advantage…I wasn’t afraid even in front of the sharks. There were some pre-phone interviews and you don’t really know who is on the phone. For all I know Mark Burnett was listening in. Who knows? It is fascinating to see these subsequent seasons of the shows and I have become friends with other people who Barbara has invested in.
I remember watching your pitch and the guys were stuffing their faces with cake, but Barbara had her eye on you!
Oh my, they were huge pieces of cake! They said they would have a freezer for us on the set and we shipped out 2 or 3 of each flavor. We thought we, and they, had thought of everything. They had even hired a foods stylist to make everything look all pretty…then there wasn’t a knife to cut the cakes!
The stylist didn’t have a knife?
No! And we were using this little plastic knife and we couldn’t get the slices to be neat and pretty. No way we were cutting with precision! (She laughs). So we had these massive pieces of cake!
And then you have your pitch ready and it has to be less than a minute and Robert, and Damon and Kevin…they are all sitting there and I was handing out the different cakes for them to taste in a certain order and they wanted to change the order and I said “No, you are going to mess up my pitch!”
You said that? (I’m laughing now). Wow. That’s gutsy! Did you have any preconceived notions about which Shark might like you?
No…maybe Mark Cuban…I didn’t really know…I was in the lobby of the hotel with all the other entrepreneurs and they are all talking about books that the Sharks had written and talking about their bios and articles they read to research. I knew nothing! I didn’t really know them or know what I was getting into! I had only $27k in sales…
They often tear people up with small sales. I think it was your genuineness; it worked in your favor. And you know your business!
I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. And Barbara is such a joy to work with. She’s like that favorite teacher you had that just made you want to do good work so she would be pleased with you.
I even got to go out and be on The Taste with Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson. 60 of us got to go out…eventually I didn’t get picked and someone asked “Are you sad?” and I said, are you kidding me? I’ve gotten to go on a TV set twice in my life and meet all these people. I’m not bitter, I’m elated!
You have a very positive, forward thinking attitude. I think that is a must for an entrepreneur. What can you tell other budding business people about following their dream?
Oh, I don’t even hear “no”! If someone says I can’t go down that aisle, I go down that aisle! I don’t hear that negativity. I don’t address it… you know my son just went on tour with me and he got to see me in a different light…I’m not mean or ugly, but I mean business and he sees that this is my God given talent. I can cook like nobody’s business. I’m not good at math, but I am good at this.
I feel it in my very core…to the depths of my heart. This is what I was meant to do. I don’t want to do anything else…and I have the most incredible people in the kitchen and the office. They act like they own the business – which is good! They take pride. And like I said, Barbara makes me want to get straight A’s! I want to show her that she did the right thing.
You have to love what you do. Whether it is the first day or the last day…you have to have the fire in your belly. Then it isn’t drudgery! If you love it, you are doing the right thing. And you have to do everything you can do to make yourself successful…
I like that you said that. Sometimes there is luck, but I also believe that we have to make our own way and be ready for good fortune. Work connections, make one’s self available…
I am a lucky girl. Barbara says I was born under a lucky star…but look, I was 48 when this all started to happen. You are never too young or too old…a 12 year old recently came up to me at a book signing. She likes to make cakes and cupcakes and I told her if this is what you want to do, go do it! And don’t let anyone tell you not to do it…doesn’t matter if you are 12. Just stay focused.
Are these recipes the same as the ones you use for your cakes available for purchase?
Kim, thank you so much for your time. I love speaking with fellow entrepreneurs and your story is inspirational.
Dédé, I appreciate the opportunity and everything you are doing for us…and I will share the stories with Barbara!
Oh yes, I would love that! Thank you.