22 Jul 2019
Scaling up with Noreen Khan of MyBaker
Noreen Khan is changing baking. In the last two years she’s gone from working for a bank to building and now scaling MyBaker, a digital platform which connects cake buyers with local bakers.
Now, with a business model that’s proved and ready to rise, Noreen talks us through her journey so far, what she has learnt and what’s to come in the future.
Noreen, how did you start MyBaker?
A few years ago, I was organising a baby shower and couldn’t get a customised cake for it. I turned to Instagram and found a baker who was just ten minutes away. So I started a blog and Instagram page sharing the work of these great local bakers. Before long we were getting orders through Instagram – people thought I was making them. I saw an opportunity to connect buyers with bakers and that was the start of MyBaker.
All I had was an idea, so I went to a foodTech Incubator. I was one of just five companies to get in but I was still working at Deutsche Bank so I agreed a three-month sabbatical. For me, there wasn’t any going back to the corporate world but my parents worried I was throwing everything away, so the sabbatical was a compromise.
I can still remember my Dad’s words when I started out: 'You don’t know how hard it will be.' He was certainly right!
What do you think have been your biggest learnings since becoming an entrepreneur?
I can still remember my Dad’s words when I started out: “You don’t know how hard it will be.” He was certainly right!
We came out of the incubator with the first version of MyBaker and about 30 registered bakers. But after a few months it was clear we needed bigger investment in technology if we wanted to scale.
In hindsight, I have mixed feelings about raising equity funding as early as we did. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation, we needed to invest in our systems but it was a tough trade-off.
At the time, I was in a bubble where everyone was saying the only way to grow was by raising. It’s a real echo chamber that I think a lot of entrepreneurs fall into in the early days.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
In hindsight, we could have learnt more from the minimum viable product we first built. More research would have made it easier to scale.
Early on, we were making minor changes to the design of the site every day, which wasn’t a great experience for users. We also weren’t learning anything from those tests, so they weren’t impacting our performance.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re still continually testing the design of the website, but in a more disciplined way. Our first website design pivot increased sales by 60%. Every month we’re testing different things which is really exciting.
MyBaker’s very active on social media, how has that helped you grow in the last few years?
Social media has been a huge business driver for us. The biggest source of traffic for us is Pinterest and Instagram is still hugely popular. These channels will only become more important as we scale up further.
E-commerce has come a long way in the last 10 years - no one thinks twice about ordering food online. People are now looking for unique and personalised products and with our model, we can order cakes and have them delivered within 24 hours.
What’s the response been like from the bakers you’re working with? Do they see the benefit of selling through an online platform?
Working with bakers across London and now Birmingham has been really exciting. Most of the bakeries we partner with are people baking in their kitchens at home, or they’re small family-owned bakeries.
We work with 100 bakers now - most won’t have a big presence online, let alone an e-commerce site. We’ve also been able to negotiate reduced rates for deliveries, so there’s a real cost saving from the scale we can bring.
What are your plans for the future?
One thing we keep hearing from bakers is that supplies like flour are hugely costly so we’re looking at how we can help with their supply chain. I want MyBaker to be more than just an ordering website; I’d like to become a SaaS platform for small bakers to access economies of scale that only national supermarkets have at the moment.
By the end of 2020 we’re also planning to be in every major city in the UK. Then we’re looking to Europe. Of course, some countries we can’t compete in – places like Denmark have such a strong bakery heritage – but there are definitely locations where I can see our business model working as well as it is here in the UK.