From Mom’s Kitchen to Business Success

Thursday, April 9, 2020
Sofia Terebova, owner of the March&Co Bakery
USAID Competitive Economy Program in Ukraine

March&Co Bakery is a young company that produces desserts, including cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and pies. The company had a difficult beginning, but found its way after Sofia participated in USAID’s Competitive Economy Program (CEP) Business Camp for Women. 

Sofia Terebova, the bakery’s owner, started the business with no entrepreneurial experience, merely a vision to produce creative desserts using quality products such as natural butter, original Belgian chocolate, almond flour, fresh eggs, and “everything you'd allow your own child to eat.” These sweets are a bit more expensive, but the clients of March&Co know they are buying high-quality products for their families.

Sofia’s business start was quite inconspicuous. It began when she sold her favorite desserts, which she prepared in her mother’s kitchen, during a street festival in Kyiv. To her surprise, she sold 150 pieces of home-made desserts in just two hours, with people lining up to buy her sweets. Sofia immediately understood there was demand for quality, fresh-baked products. 

Sofia saw a business opportunity and began promoting and selling desserts at university events whenever possible. Word quickly spread about these wholesome and tasty desserts, and orders increased. She knew she was onto something serious when she received an order for 180 cupcakes, 360 pastries, and a thousand cookies, which were impossible to make in her mom’s kitchen. She decided to rent kitchen space by the hour, and quickly hired an assistant.

As orders continued to increase, she realized she needed her own place, in the city center, where most of her orders were coming from.  Then she ran into problems. 

March&Co opened in December 2018, a good month to start, with the holidays at hand. Although they had little experience, the team did surprisingly well. But when January came, the orders dwindled. The bakery quickly went into debt and Sofia couldn’t pay salaries, which resulted in a key baker leaving the team. If one order a day was enough to pay bills, salaries and turn a profit previously, in this new reality Sofia needed a minimum of seven to eight orders to break even. Her bakery was not generating close to that number. 

“It's hard to say whether the decision to move into our own premises was right,” said Sofia. “I was inexperienced, and used to cooking in only four square meters of my mom’s kitchen. I rented 120 square meters at UAH 50,000 per month (~$2,000). It turned out that we needed only part of the space. Additionally, the place needed renovations. I had planned to buy equipment with a loan, but my loan application was denied.  I used all my working capital to cover costs.”

Sofia and her team at the March&Co Bakery
Sofia and her team at the March&Co Bakery
USAID Competitive Economy Program in Ukraine

 

She and the team had expected lines out the door after the bakery opened. Looking back, she  realizes now, that new entrepreneurs are often naive, their dreams often overtaking their realities. She needed basic legal, financial, operational, and marketing knowledge.  It took Sofia until May to make progress, and even then, she was only able to break even. 

Sofia was learning by doing; falling and getting up. She persisted, and step by step she started to explore her new business path and the entrepreneurship universe. 

“In late Spring of 2019, I noticed an ad for the Business Camp for Women that USAID’s Competitive Economy Program (CEP) was organizing. I looked through the program, but I wasn't sure it was for me. However, a friend on Facebook also saw the ad and sent me a link to the application form. I submitted it. I thought they were looking for women entrepreneurs with substantial experience, so I was very surprised when the organizers reached out to me. I am thankful it happened at the right moment, as I learned a lot of new and useful information at the camp,” explained Sofia. 

Each of USAID’s CEP business camps gathers 20-25 women who own, or are planning to start, their own business. The organizers also bring successful women from both the public and private sectors to share their knowledge and impressions on pursuing success. 

Each camp is five days long, and Sofia was reluctant to spend time away from her young business. But the agenda promised a lot and she decided to participate. Sofia wanted what the camp provided: knowledge on how newly established business should work from legal, operational, financial, and marketing aspects. The camp also provided great networking opportunities and the ability to find new business partners and receive guidance from knowledgeable speakers with substantial professional and business successes. 

Sofia was also pleasantly surprised at the length to which the camp’s organizers would go to ensure each woman got the most from their experience. In her case, they provided a nanny for her young son for one day, so that she could attend an excursion to a successful young business.

“I found the social media marketing and financial advice very useful. Also, the communication section helped me to better understand how people perceived March&Co, so I corrected our positioning. I became more confident in my product and found new partners. Today I have about 20 partner coffee shops as clients, thanks to the great networking opportunities,” Sofia explained.

The steps she took after the camp helped to boost sales and improve production. In December 2019, March&Co’s working capital tripled, and so did the team.  Sofia now employs 12 people, up from four the previous year. Restructuring is on the agenda, as she wants everyone to have clear responsibilities. Today Sofia is much more confident in her abilities and her success. She is reconsidering promotion approaches, reshaping the March&Co Instagram platform, enhancing service quality, and adjusting delivery procedures. 

Sofia attributes her growing business success, after a rough start, to her business camp experience. “I recommend the USAID/CEP Business Camp for Women to every woman interested in business, as only here can you meet and understand entrepreneurs with the same feelings and problems. Only here can you find solutions and new partners, hear inspired success stories, and then write your own success story.”

Last updated: September 24, 2020

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