From balancing their studies to whipping up a creamy batter, students are using lockdown to experiment with launching a business, to earn some extra pocket money even as they upskill
Jannani Mohan, a Psychology student pursuing her Bachelor’s degree at Madras School of Social Work, began selling cupcakes from her home in July 2018. How did she manage a business along with her studies? Jannani says, “It is important to know how much one can handle; I don’t take orders during exams.”
On the other hand, Berine Vinola Simon, a Statistics undergraduate at SIES College of Arts and Science in Mumbai says, “My colleges ends at 1 pm. So there is a lot of time to bake.” Vinola clearly remembers her first order: “I baked a cake for a classmate in college. After tasting that, a teacher wanted one for her son’s birthday. That was my first order.” Now, Vinola delivers around 10 cakes a month, joining a host of students around the country who are turning their baking skills into a source of income.
This largely-teenage fraternity is an enterprising one, but functions at a scale that is far from commercial or standardised. They are not afraid to admit that they are still testing the waters.
For instance, 13-year-old Rasmika Rangarajan from Chennai, who bakes and sells under the name 53, Baker Street, describes how she began, “After referring to different recipes from cookbooks, websites and online videos, I modify them and create my own.”
Rashmika recalls the number of times she tried out each recipe, “For I wanted to get the best possible result, perfect in texture, taste and look. There is a lot to learn; I am eager to fine tune my skills.”
Vinola attended a course in baking in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai. “By the end of the course, I grew confident,” she says.
She suggests that beginners do the same. “Sign up for a course or workshop. Basics are important. Baking is like chemistry: if even one thing is more than needed, the whole thing will become a mess.”
Some of her peers honed their basics at home. in familial setups. Lakshmi Muralidharan, an English Literature student of St Thomas College, Thrissur, would bake at home with her sister Gowri. Says Lakshmi, “I have been baking at home for a long time for other special occasions, even before starting my venture Cake Bay.”
Numbers, numbers everywhere
The learning curve, however, is more about more than just cooking. Vinola recalls one of her first challenges: “I had a small microwave, with which I could bake only one cake at a time, that too not more than one kilogram. When I got an order for a two kilogram cake, I had to bake two cakes and attach them.”
And then, of course, there is the business itself, which some found easier than others. “My parents had gifted me an oven-toaster-griller. I invested ₹5,000 and bought a handwhisk, ingredients, and muffin tins,” says Jannani.
Not all parents, however, are keen on their child juggling their studies with a startup. Vinola has been fighting these odds since 2015. “It was only after orders started coming in and I proved myself to my parents, that they started supporting me. But they still want me to find a job with a decent salary.”
When she started out, she had just ₹500 in hand, with which she bought whipping cream, flour, butter, sugar and one packing box for her first order. With subsequent orders, she gradually bought other items for her business.
Vinola explains, “I sell up to 10 cakes a month, and I make a profit of 25%”. Rasmika makes around 20%-30% profit on completing 30 to 40 orders a month.
Jannani and Vinola say that they ask customers to place orders at least one day ahead. Vinola delivers the cakes herself, seeks the help of her father, or uses the local train. She does not charge for deliveries for up to 25 kilometres. Jannani uses delivery apps like Dunzo and Task Hopper.
These bakers are working without teams or high-end appliances, but, according to Janani, every baker should at least invest in a pair of weighing scales.
“For baking professionally, you need a trusty set of weighing scales. Cup measurements are volume-based and depend on how you scoop your ingredients; the amount will be different almost every time. Weighing ingredients is far more accurate, enabling me to maintain the same flavour profile. Electronic scales can cost as little as ₹300 and as much as ₹2,000,” she says. They ensure a standard taste, as does Lakshmi’s personal rule: “We use the same brand of compounds or chocolates to melt and to bake.”
Rasmika describes her best-selling Ferrero Rocher cake. “It has layers of moist eggless chocolate sponge cake with a home-made hazelnut filling, with a cream frosting and topped with a ganache drip and Ferrero Rocher chocolates on top.”
Jannani’s stars, on the other hand, are “my double chocolate cupcakes, closely followed by my fudgy brownies.” Clearly, there can never be too many people selling brownies.