SupportBiz presents an exclusive conversation with Geetha Krishnan, where she talks all about The Fragrant Kitchen, entrepreneurship and more.
How long has The Fragrant Kitchen been in operation, as a blog and as a business?
The blog started in its basic form in August 2008. The restaurant reviews site started in October 2009, and the baking operation started around Christmas 2009.
What were you doing prior to starting The Fragrant Kitchen? Are you still working at your day job?
I started my career as a Java developer in 1997, and switched to tech writing in 1998. I was a tech writer till about 2004. From 2005 to 2009, I was moving around overseas - in Sydney for 9 months, in Tokyo for about 18 months, and in Santa Monica for about 18 months - with two to three months in India in between each trip.
Because of all the moving around, I never really got a chance to settle down and go for a job - so decided to blog instead - and found that this was way more fun than doing a job.
How did you come up with the idea of starting The Fragrant Kitchen as a business?
I've always had requests from family and friends alike to cook things for them.
A lot of them also told me to charge for my products, otherwise they would not be comfortable asking me to cook for them. So, the business part of The Fragrant Kitchen pretty much came about because of pressure from my friends and family.
That said, I have always been interested in doing something around food, but never really got around to doing it because of inertia. Thankfully, these people pushed me over the edge, and got The Fragrant Kitchen going.
What are your signature products?
I have been baking plum cakes for over 15 years now- and most people know me for my plum cakes. Recently, I came up with a bite-sized cake with a wee bit of frosting in a unique flavor - Red Velvet. In sugar art, my Angry Birds cakes are very popular. I also make cookies, cupcakes, muffins, pastries, 3D sugar art-themed cakes and chocolates.
What are your most popular products?
Coffee and tutti-frutti cupcakes, gingersnap cookies and pizza muffins. I also get many orders for eggless, sugar-free or fat-less cakes and pastries.
Do you have any retail outlets from where you sell your products? Do you work out of your home?
As of now, I do not have any retail outlet where I stock my products. Frankly, at this point, I am quite busy dealing with direct orders itself, and it would be difficult for me to make stuff on a regular basis for retail outlets.
However, there are a couple of retail outlets that pass on their birthday cake orders to me. The Taj (West End and Gateway) sources its sugar art flowers and animals from me, but they don't stock it for sale; they use it in the cakes that customers order from them. All my products are home-made, and I work out of my home kitchen.
How big is your team at the moment?
At this point, it is just me! My husband, mother, sister and some close friends help me out whenever there are some large orders to be executed.
Do you have any expansion plans for your business in the near future?
I am looking to partner with someone, so that the workload can be shared. At some point, I want to move out of home, into a small rented work space, so that I can handle larger orders. And, of course, I have a dream of opening my own cafe at some point in life.
How do you get your customers? Do you indulge in advertising of any sort?
I do not undertake advertising of any sort on a regular basis. Most of my clients come in through word-of-mouth referrals from friends, family, and existing customers. I did minimal advertising as part of sponsoring the December Music Festival in Bangalore recently, which I thought was a nice way of combining my interests in music and baking.
What are the major challenges that you face?
Like every other business out there, getting someone to help is a major hassle. One problem unique to me is that I refuse to compromise on ingredients or quality - so when people come up with things like "But that baker charges only so much!", it is quite difficult to convince them. Also, sometimes, when it rains, it pours - I have had times when I have had to refuse orders because I already had too much to do, or when someone calls in at the last minute.
What have been your proudest moments as an entrepreneur?
At the end of the day, more than the money, owning a business is satisfying because of the delight on the faces of customers. My customers have made me a part of their celebrations, so making their celebration special is what drives me. When I delivered my first sugar art cake, there was a kid there who asked me: "Can I actually eat these flowers? Everything?", and when I said "Yes!", he was so excited he did not want to wait for the cake to be cut! This sort of moments keep me going.
How do you cope with the competition from other similar businesses?
Bangalore is big enough for all of us home bakers. There are enough times when I have passed on orders to others who live closer to the customer, and there are enough times when others have passed on orders to me as well. Also, we all have things that we specialize in, so we do pass on orders based on specialization as well. Competition has never really been a major factor in my business so far.
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
I would love to tell an aspiring entrepreneur: Do what you love to do. There will be enough times when things aren't going the way you want them to, but if you love what you are doing, that will help you deal with the toughest times.
I would also like to say this: Follow your dreams. You will not find that pot of gold unless you chase the rainbow.
Most importantly, believe in yourself; if you don't, no one else will!