For the love of cupcakes

My first meeting with Dr. Pittaway as my independent study advisor was like a spring thunderstorm: I waited forever for it to come and prepared as much as I possibly could, but when it hit, it knocked me off my feet.

In our initial meeting Dr. Pittaway discussed deliverables with me (and I spent the first ten minutes wondering what deliverables were). We settled on three deliverables for the semester, the first one was due on Feb. 25, one month from that day.

We were set to meet every Tuesday until graduation.

I left the meeting slightly overwhelmed, but ultimately very excited. I was really doing this. I always thought journalism was it for me, but here I was spending time learning about the world of business, and I was loving it.

The first deliverable was a portfolio of popular cupcakes on the current market. It sounded simple enough, so I procrastinated more than I should have. Each week,  I showed Dr. Pittaway a few flavors that were to be added to the portfolio.

The night before, I realized just how much I underestimated the assignment. I began counting the list of flavors I accumulated over the past three weeks. 20, “not so bad,” I thought. Then 30, “Okay, that should be good. But I still have a few more to go.” 40, “Okay this list has to end soon.” 54 was the final number.


In three weeks I gathered a list of 54 different cupcake flavors. In one night, a photo and flavor description had to be compiled into a neat little portfolio, along with citations.

Suddenly, the clock flashed 12:15 a.m., which wasn’t so comforting.

I sat on my floor until 3 a.m. that night copying, pasting, formatting, typing, and editing. Finally, with one last annoying whirr, my printer spit out the final page. I couldn’t resist the urge to see them all side by side before I stacked them neatly in their cover. I spread them out on my table, inhaled, and took it all in as I saw what I thought was a pretty neat sight.

My next task was to survey at least 100 people using the portfolio to determine which flavors were most desirable. After that, I had to bake three of the flavors on the list and conduct a series of taste tests with my fellow students. Easy, right?

When all was said and done, I had a reduced list of 20 cupcakes that were ready for my menu.

As the semester carried on, I balanced work, cupcake orders, classes and very little sleep more easily every day. I began to leave Tuesday meetings eager to put plans into action.

Just as I adapted to my routine, I realized I had a rapidly approaching elevator pitch and trade show to tackle in my business classes. My team and I worked on my business all semester and for me, those two competitions were the real test for my business. If I couldn’t win those, I had no business in the real world of entrepreneurship.

At 1:00 a.m. on the morning of the elevator pitch competition, I fought to keep my eyes open in the fluorescent-lit room of Tanaka Hall. I shifted in my seat, my eyes glazing over as I worked with my team on another project, the elevator pitch untouched, unrehearsed.

At 1:30 a.m. I wrote a brief summary of my business, touching on all the key points. I shut my laptop, feeling defeated and discouraged. If I wanted to be alert while delivering the pitch I needed sleep, not practice.

I sat in my seat, palms sweaty, my eyes glued to the incoherent paragraph I scrawled that morning. We were third on a list of six teams set to give our pitch that day. We had been forewarned that the judges could choose out of order, but we remained confident that they had no incentive to do so.

The first judge seated stood briefly, “We would like to hear from Sugar Tree Sweets first.”

No. No way. I thought I had at least five more minutes of frantic memorization.

In shock, and more nervous than ever, we left our seats and traipsed slowly to the front of the room. The handouts I had spent all night preparing for the judges sat safely in my bag…exactly where they weren’t supposed to be.

The boys stood back a bit, placing me in the center of the room, ready to deliver a three minute pitch to the 40 blank faces staring back at me.

I tried my hardest to draw a mental picture of the key points on my computer screen. It just wouldn’t come to me.

Two minutes into my pitch I could not possibly come up with any more words. My shoes squeezed my toes and I felt my left leg beginning to shake. I quickly wrapped up my last sentence before the judges could see my nervous, shaking leg.

Next came the questions. Hard questions.

IMG_9152.JPGWe designated a field of questions to each of my team members. Brandon would handle finances, Patrick fielded marketing, and Kenneth was in charge of anything miscellaneous.

They handled everything nicely, until a judge turned to me.

He wanted to know how much it costs me to produce one cupcake. I quickly spit out a number that sounded realistic. We had actually calculated precisely what it costs me, but I panicked and overestimated my costs. The judge then asked me what my break-even point was.

“Umm..six cupcakes,” I muttered, as my face turned beet red.

I knew by the look on everyone’s face that I was 10,000 percent wrong. I wasn’t even in left field; I was in the parking lot with that answer.

Visibly disappointed, the judge restated the question. Brandon came to my rescue and began spitting out numbers: yearly costs, wages, per cupcake costs, salaries, etc. You name it, he knew it.

The judges thanked us for our time and with one blank look urged us to take a seat. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, mainly because if I didn’t I would have cried. I was somewhat confident in the pitch I delivered, but I wasn’t so confident that I thought my lack of handouts and terribly wrong answer could be forgiven.

The remainder of class we watched team after team struggle to answer the judges’ questions, some more than we did. As they wrapped up the judges gave tips to the groups that were set to present on Wednesday.

With advice from judges and a base of questions I thought there was no way the other teams wouldn’t beat us.

Wednesday morning I woke up prepared to watch team after team deliver flawless pitches. I checked my phone before leaving for class and in my inbox sat an email from an unfamiliar name. It was addressed to “Tristen of Sugar Tree Sweets.”

“I had the opportunity to see your presentation in Dr. Uzuegbunam’s class on Monday, and our TechGROWTH Executive in Residence, Lee Groeschl, also assessed your application to the International Pitch Competition.  We all feel that your idea, which you’re already implementing, is very impressive and has potential,” it began.

My eyes welled up with tears. Winning the competition wasn’t important to me anymore. Someone in the business world heard me babble about my cupcakes in class and was impressed. I just couldn’t believe it. That was the door, that was the push, that was the encouragement I needed to know that just maybe, I had real business here.

With Tristen’s graduation less than a week away this column will take a brief period out of publication. When it returns it will be with another publication, check out for updates on the column. 


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