On this week's podcast, Marcus sits down with Carla Able. Carla is the owner of Cakes by the Pound, a pound cake bakery she's starting right out of her own kitchen. Listen to this week's episode for a unique look on a new entrepreneur's journey to grow their business, and hear why persistence is key when doing so.
Produced by Blue Fish in Mobile, Alabama
Carla Able: I'm Carla with Cakes by the Pound.
Marcus Neto: Yay. Well welcome to the podcast, Carla. It is absolutely a joy to have you on the podcast today. Why don't you start by telling us the story of Carla. So, where are you from? Are you originally from Mobile? Where did you go to high school and college? Are you married? Just kind of give us some flavor of who Carla is.
Carla Able: Oh, great. Well, I am Carla. Carla Able is my full name. I was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, so yes, I've been here my entire life. I am a graduate of the John L. LaFleur Magnet School. I did my undergrad studies at Spring Hill College. Go Badgers. Class of '02.
Marcus Neto: Very good.
Carla Able: I have my master's degree in business from Capella University.
Marcus Neto: Very good. What did you study at Spring Hill? Did you say that?
Carla Able: Business. Business management.
Marcus Neto: Oh you were business ... So business, and then went and got your business ...
Carla Able: Went and got my MBA, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marcus Neto: Yeah, very good. You don't go and get an MBA without being somewhat good at school, right?
Carla Able: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: Have you always kind of been ... You said magnet school, so I'm assuming ... I don't know the school systems here, but I mean, that's typically an indicator. So you were good at school?
Carla Able: Yes, I was great at school.
Marcus Neto: Okay.
Carla Able: Definitely great at school. Honor roll student. Always strived to make the good grades and to be the best.
Marcus Neto: Nice. I love that you said that, that you strived to be the best, because there's a difference between doing it and not really knowing why or knowing what is driving you, but doing it and wanting to be the best at whatever it is that you're doing is a very important characteristic. But the reason why I ask all that is because we have kind of learned over the years that there's really no rhyme or reason to somebody who's successful as an entrepreneur. Like you have an MBA, so you obviously have a step up because you have information that was covered as part of the MBA studies, that is going to help you understand what profit and loss statements are and cash flow analysis and all this other stuff, whereas somebody like myself that had an English degree really didn't have that information. But how have you found ... Like do you think that your studies really have helped you with the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur or a business owner?
Carla Able: I think it doesn't hurt. I think I would encourage people who does not have that background to either get the basics of it or hire out someone who does so that they can make sure that they're effective in those areas. I definitely think that my experiences along with my education has allowed me to be successful at what I'm doing today. Two years ago I don't think I would have dreamed of being the owner of Cakes by the Pound, baking poundcakes. In November of 2017 I baked my first poundcake.
Marcus Neto: Wait a second, so November, so actually you were at one of our very first open houses at the old location, so you really hadn't ... I mean you were just getting started at best.
Carla Able: I was just getting started, yes. Yes. So I baked my first cake November 2017 for Thanksgiving. I wanted a poundcake, so I stood in my kitchen and I followed the recipe and I made it and the family came over for Thanksgiving because I always host Thanksgiving, and they were like, "This is good." So I had poundcake, peach cobbler and banana pudding. The poundcake was gone. Peach cobbler, banana pudding was still there.
Marcus Neto: Well I understand why, because she finally brought me ... I've been begging her for some samples. That's the price of being on the podcast now, is either ice cream or cake, but she brought some in and it was absolutely phenomenal, so I can understand why they were excited about that. Obviously you have ... I've read your bio, so I know you've won some awards for your cakes and stuff like that. I mean, there's something to this. It's not just your regular poundcake, so what's the secret? Lots and lots of butter, I'm sure.
Carla Able: Well, lots of love, literally, and people think I'm playing when I say this, but if I'm not feeling good, I don't bake. I have to be completely on. I will turn-
Marcus Neto: We call that a flow state in our world.
Carla Able: Yeah, I will put on music, love music, and bake to the music. So literally I do put love in the cakes, and I do believe in God, and I truly believe that he has blessed me with this gift, because like I said three years ago, if someone had asked my sister or a coworker, "Do you think Carla will bake us a cake?" They will say, "Uh-uh (negative), no. She doesn't do that." So, yeah. It's been pretty surreal. It's been pretty surreal.
Marcus Neto: That is so cool. Well, go back ... We're going to get more into your business and some of the experiences there, but go back and tell me about your first job.
Carla Able: Oh, that's super cool. So my first job ... Okay, so I turned 16 January the 11th, 1994 and so I got on the phone and I started calling around, asking people are they hiring? I called Hardee's on Moffett Road and Mr. Adams answered the phone. He was like, "Well yeah, come in for an interview." So I got on the MTA bus line. I road down to Moffett Road right there at the interstate and interviewed with Mr. Adams and got a job, so my first job was Hardee's on Moffett Road.
Marcus Neto: Very cool.
Carla Able: And I stayed there my entire high school career.
Marcus Neto: So when we look back to our first experiences in the workforce, I often find that there are some lessons that people still remember from that. Are there any lessons ... Obviously he made an impression on you because one, you wouldn't have stayed as long as you did, but two, you were very excited, very animated when I asked you about that, almost as if it was a very, very good experience. What were some of the lessons that you learned working there that you've carried with you to today?
Carla Able: If you want something, go after it. I very well could've just been the average 16 year old sitting at the house playing video games, but I took the initiative. I wanted a job and I took the initiative to go and get it, and then learn what I needed to learn there to be successful while there, but they teach you how to work as a team. Sometimes you're it and sometimes in that case I would have to work different stations by myself because people didn't come in to work. So it definitely taught me a work ethic that, you know, sometimes you have to just get it, you know? You don't always have help around but you do have the knowledge and the skills and tools to make things work.
Marcus Neto: The work still has to get done.
Carla Able: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: Yeah.
Carla Able: Still has to get done.
Marcus Neto: And unfortunately if you're the business owner, you're at the bottom of the hill and as they say, it all rolls downhill.
Carla Able: Okay.
Marcus Neto: We'll clean it up a little bit for the audience. So tell me how you started the business. You described that first experience of baking the cake for Thanksgiving, but especially for someone that's preparing food, I know there's a lot of ins and outs with that, so what are some of the things that you can tell somebody about starting a business like that?
Carla Able: Well, you definitely have to do your homework with starting the food business but I didn't set out to do it. I baked the cake and then I took some to work. I was working in a call center, and my boss was the one that actually told me that I can sell the cake.
Marcus Neto: Wow.
Carla Able: So think about ... I work for you and you're telling me I need to sell the cake, and so I kind of used the call center as my test audience, and January the 23rd, 2018, I sold my first poundcake.
Marcus Neto: Wow.
Carla Able: Yeah, but you have to ... If you're in the food industry, you definitely have to make sure that you are abiding by the food laws. I operate under the cottage food law out of my home, and so you have to make sure you get your business license and things of that nature. Stay on top of recalls, any type of food recalls or what have you, but you just really got to be alert and aware because you are dealing with food, and there are certain things that you can't sell being in a cottage food law setting versus a commercial kitchen setting, and you have to know the difference.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, and do you have any projections on how long you'll be able to stay as a cottage ... I mean, your business has grown.
Carla Able: It is grown. It is growing. Right now I am looking for a kitchen space that has more than one oven, that's conducive to the growth.
Marcus Neto: Right.
Carla Able: Yeah. So, it's kind of tough in Mobile right now. There are not a lot of commissaries that are available for food preparers.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. So for those of you that aren't familiar ... I mean, I have enough people that I know in the restaurant business, restaurateurs, that I've learned quite a bit about this. So when she says commissary, basically anybody that's wanting to sell food whether it's a food truck or somebody that's doing food prep and cooking and then selling as Carla does to people, you can rent time and space at a commercial kitchen and you operate under their ... I mean, they're the ones that get approval that everything's up to code and stuff like that. So you're operating within their ... Guidelines is the wrong word but I think you get what I'm saying.
Carla Able: Well you have your own separate license, so the health department will come out and will inspect your business underneath that business, yeah.
Marcus Neto: Yeah, and then I just meant like the physical stuff, like making sure that everything's up to code and stuff like that. But there seems to be kind of like a shortage of these commissaries for people because we've had kind of an uprising of small business owners like yourself that are wanting to do food type businesses, and also there's just been a real big boom as far as the food trucks go too, and so, hey, if you're out there and you're looking to start a business, I think this is one way that you could get going. I'm sure the startup costs are not cheap but you'd have a lot of people clamoring for space in your kitchen.
Marcus Neto: Now, tell me about that first ... You mentioned selling your first poundcake. Tell me about that first sale. I know you said your boss told you, "Hey, you need to sell this," but there's kind of a thought process when you sell that first piece, whether it's my first website or your first poundcake. What was that like? What was there that made you think that there might be something to this?
Carla Able: Well, it was really pretty easy because I had actually baked a cake for my team. When it's my birthday I always do a potluck where I give back to the team, and so from the cake, everybody in the office was talking about the cake, and so she was like, "Well, I'm doing a team builder for my team. Will you bake me a cake? How much will you charge me?" I probably charged her probably not enough because I was just starting out and kind of getting the bearings about it, but I was pretty stoked about it. I think I even made a post on Facebook about it that came up in the memories this past year.
Carla Able: Really and truly, every time I get a sale, it's crazy but I'm still excited, just like the first one, because that means that somebody believes enough in me and what I do to choose me, because there are a thousand of bakers in Mobile, Alabama, but you hadn't had Cakes by the Pound.
Marcus Neto: Not only are there a thousand bakers but there's a lot of really good cooks.
Carla Able: Yes.
Marcus Neto: In Mobile as well, so ...
Carla Able: Yes.
Marcus Neto: If you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Carla Able: Don't give up. Don't give up. There will be days that you will not have a sale. There may be several days that you don't have a sale.
Marcus Neto: Preach.
Carla Able: But don't give up.
Marcus Neto: And don't panic.
Carla Able: Yes, don't panic, definitely, because when you panic, you make stupid decisions.
Marcus Neto: Well, and I think one of the things that I hear over and over again in the business community is don't give up because you never know just how close you are to your success.
Carla Able: Yes.
Marcus Neto: Like you could give up and literally the next thing could be the boom that you need.
Carla Able: Yes, yes. The investor that I need, you know? Yeah, exactly.
Marcus Neto: Now, one of the other things too, we're kind of on the topic of cash flow because you were saying you may not make a sale. Anything that you can do to kind of alleviate some of that stress ... I don't know if you use QuickBooks or not but going back into QuickBooks and looking at the reports to see what your sales are like, because there's usually a natural ebb and flow to a business, and I find that if I haven't made sales, if I go into QuickBooks and realize, "Oh, well we're in a month that we usually never make any sales, so suck it up and buckle in and do your best." So if you're out there and you're having one of those weeks where you're not making any sales then there's still hope. Don't give up.
Carla Able: Yes, definitely.
Marcus Neto: Now, tell us what a typical day looks like for you.
Carla Able: A typical day is I probably get up at 4:30 in the morning.
Marcus Neto: Wow.
Carla Able: And bake batches and then get the kids off and come back. If I haven't had a chance to put it all together I'll put it all together and then they can catch me in the city. So typically what happens is if they haven't pre-ordered, I will post on Facebook a general location of where I'm at and then they'll message me or call me and say, "Hey, I'm in this area," or, "I'm coming to meet you," and that's really how it works.
Marcus Neto: That's very cool. Almost like a popup store, you know? Wherever Carla is, that's where you get your cake. That's cool. It just goes to show, because I think people worry about whether they need to get into retail or whether they need to get into a grocery store or something like that, and it just goes to show, you don't necessarily have to do that. Is there anything that you're currently working on for the business that you can share?
Carla Able: Currently I am just working on that commercial kitchen, because what the commercial kitchen will allow me to do is to be in stores and restaurants, because ...
Marcus Neto: You can't do that without that?
Carla Able: Yes, been commercial kitchen, but you tasted the cake.
Marcus Neto: Yeah.
Carla Able: People who taste the cake absolutely love it, and so my goal is to get the cake into as many hands as I can, and so having a commercial kitchen will allow me to do that.
Marcus Neto: That's good. She brought me two of the smaller cakes. I ate one and it was so good ... Normally I'd share with the team. They're not getting any of it. Sorry. If you look to the business world, and I don't mean the local business world. I mean globally. If you look to the business world, what's the one person that motivates you? See, everybody thinks this is easy being on here. It's not. I ask hard questions.
Carla Able: No, that is a great question. Globally, who motivates me?
Marcus Neto: Don't give me any of this crap about your grandmother or whatever. Like yeah, we get it. Your grandmother was a great baker.
Carla Able: But see, you know what? The baking doesn't ... I don't glean that from my family.
Marcus Neto: It's all good. Everybody's common theme is they go back to a parent or something like that.
Carla Able: No, that's not my experience, no, but, you know, when I think about from a ... Wow, this is really a tough question. I should've been prepping for that question.
Marcus Neto: Normally I'd stop. I'm not going to stop. You know what? You mull on that one a little bit. We're going to come back. Are there any books, podcasts, people or organizations that have been helpful in moving you forward as a business owner?
Carla Able: I would say yes. My mom is my biggest supporter. She actually ... I didn't get to tell the story, but ... So when I baked the poundcake for Thanksgiving, I did it with a hand mixer.
Marcus Neto: Oh gosh, yeah.
Carla Able: So my daughter was home from college and she said ... I overheard her talking to my mom and she said, "Well Mom, do you want to give her her Christmas present early?" But I didn't think anything of it. Well for Christmas I got a KitchenAid mixer.
Marcus Neto: Nice.
Carla Able: Which made baking the poundcake so much more easier to do. So yeah, she definitely has been one of my biggest fans. Addie Lamour with 221 Studios believed in me and has been supporting me. My biggest customer, you all may know him. His name is Larry Cohen of Green Magic Landscaping.
Marcus Neto: Oh, that's funny.
Carla Able: When I tell you literally I saw him three times in one week for cake and two of them were whole cakes.
Marcus Neto: Wow.
Carla Able: Yes, so it's been a beautiful experience, and there are a ton of other people who I have just met off of Facebook. That's basically my customer base. When I first did it, y'all, I was so nervous because I'm meeting a stranger, and I'm like, "Oh my gosh." So then I said, "Okay, I'm meeting this person at this place and this is where the are. This the kind of car they're going to drive," and then when they were just so sweet and nice, I said, "That's peace," and everybody has been just genuine and I appreciate all of my customers, because without them I wouldn't be where I'm at today.
Marcus Neto: I hope you've drawn the connection of if you're making a lot of sales through Facebook then you need to double down and actually do more of that. If that's your primary way of getting in touch and getting in front of people, then I would definitely lean into that. What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?
Carla Able: Got to had a revenue.
Marcus Neto: Yeah.
Carla Able: You got to had ...
Marcus Neto: Without revenue it ceases being a business, right?
Carla Able: It does. You've got to have the funding. You've got to have the funding. There are a lot of people out here with great ideas, great businesses, but they lack the funding or lack the know-how of how to get the funding, and I think that as a business community, progress, we need to ensure that we're cultivating those people that are going to come behind us in being business owners and really tapping into that. I just don't think we do enough of seeking out and paying it forward, because we all are in business but there's someone that was instrumental in us getting where we are, whether it be the startup, whether it be going to the next level. There was a key component in that round.
Marcus Neto: So just out of curiosity I'll put you on the spot. What are you doing to give back? How are you helping that next generation?
Carla Able: Well at this point the best thing that I can do based on my revenue base-
Marcus Neto: No, it doesn't always have to be money, right? There's knowledge that you've got that-
Carla Able: Correct. Yes, and so I have people who've asked me how to start a business, and I've helped them do the process, whereas they go and register for a name and show them how to do their LLC and things of that nature.
Marcus Neto: Okay, so the reason why I asked you that is because you have been at this for literally less than two years. Is that right?
Carla Able: Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Marcus Neto: And so for you to be able to help somebody else is phenomenal and I think it's important that we remember as business owners that no matter where we are in our journey, there's always going to be people ahead of us and always people behind us, and those that are ahead of us, we seek to understand the knowledge that they've gained. The people that are behind us, we seek to pass on that knowledge so that it can continue and live on, and so I think that it's wonderful that you've realized that and that you are passing that on. How do you like to unwind?
Carla Able: Really, like dancing.
Marcus Neto: Dancing?
Carla Able: Yeah, I love to dance. I love to dance, so a nice party, cabaret. Spending time with my friends, my boyfriend.
Marcus Neto: There you go.
Carla Able: Yeah.
Marcus Neto: No, it's fun. It is important to have that outlet and just be able to go and maybe have a drink or two and unwind. Well, tell people ... Actually, know what? Is there a person that's come to mind in the business world?
Carla Able: From the business world, the thing about it, everybody loves her. She's down to earth. She is just the love of the world. That's Michelle. That is Michelle, and you can learn a lot from her with her poise. Everything that she had to endure as being a mom and a wife of ...
Marcus Neto: Of the president.
Carla Able: The president, you know? And to still maintain just such a level of decorum and class and not get down in the trenches with those who were hurling things at her, and so in business, you have to be able to maintain that same level of decorum and class. You may have a customer that is not satisfied with what you've done, but you can't go back and forth with a customer on social media. You can't argue with the customer and be rude and belligerent. Maybe the customer is. You figure out a way to diffuse that, and so definitely I hope that I'm able to be consistent in that realm, that people know that, hey, if I have an issue, she'll fix it, but she's always classy and poised.
Marcus Neto: That's an excellent answer, so I'm glad I came back to it. Now, tell people where they can find you.
Carla Able: You can find me on Facebook under Carla The Pound or at The Pound 18. That's the business page. You can also contact me at 251-289-0532. My email address is CakesByThePound@Yahoo.com.
Marcus Neto: Very good. Awesome. Well I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast. To wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?
Carla Able: Thank you for the opportunity to share about Cakes by the Pound. Definitely hope that if you guys are listening and you're interested in learning more about me or even tasting Cakes by the Pound, definitely go to my page and like it, but remember, you can do whatever you put your mind to and don't give up.
Marcus Neto: Yeah. Absolutely.
Carla Able: Don't give up.
Marcus Neto: Wise words. Well Carla, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.
Carla Able: Thank you.