Justin Ellen found herself at a difficult juncture at age 17 – should she pursue her passion for full-time baking, or go to college to further her education?
At the time, the youngest contestant on Netflix’s popular baking show was arguing with the school as well as making custom cakes from home.
He was bringing home at least $ 5,000 a month, but he couldn’t help but compare himself to his peers.
“The thing that got me down was seeing all my friends [apply for colleges]”
Still, the young celebrity Baker stuck to his gun, believing that “everyone has their own way.”
Just two years later, a full-time entrepreneur and cake business owner, Everything Just Baked, is making over $ 100,000 a year – and he’s not going back.
In March of this year, he made his debut on Netflix’s “Is It Cake?” – A baking competition where cake artists make edible replicas of everyday things, such as bowling pins and sewing machines.
The show, which premiered on the streaming service March 18, has been on the top 10 most-watched list in the United States for four weeks. It has received over 100 million hours of views from around the world.
But the path to success is not without failure, Ellen told CNBC Make It. Sheer hard work and wise words from loved ones helped her.
‘Who made this cake?’
As a digital native, Ellen knew from the start that the presence of social media would be crucial in building her business. But it takes a lot of practice – and courage – to get to know yourself.
“In the beginning, my social media wasn’t great. There weren’t great photos. They were very blurry. But as I went along, I realized that they had to be very clear.”
Ellen also noticed that video was “really pushing” content on the Instagram platform, and that’s when she decided to turn on her camera, sharing snippets of her life as a young baker.
“In the beginning I must have been shy because it was just awkward for me. But the more you do it, the more like it, oh well and really, no one cares if your hair is a little neat today,” he shared.
“Honestly, it makes you more relevant. People want to know the person behind the brand and if they enjoy you, they will want to spend money with you.”
Still, Ellen said posting on social media was something she didn’t “take seriously” at first.
“I was just posting for fun. Finally, [through] Word of mouth: People keep asking, ‘Can I order a cake?’
Ellen bakes whenever she gets the chance to slowly build her followers and clients, even if it’s for a family event.
“It doesn’t even have to be a huge cake. Just make something small because you don’t know who will be there. Someone will eat it and ask, ‘Who made this cake?'”
Before she knew it, she had 50,000 followers on Instagram and was earning about $ 5,000 to $ 9,000 a month in high school.
“I understand, wow, this could be a serious business.”
Unemployed to Entrepreneur
In high school, when he saw her rushing past him, Ellen began to think of baking as a profession. But not everyone is approved.
“My father was like a baker? I think there is a meaning [with baking] Like, ‘Oh, you don’t make too much money’ or ‘You have a lot of work to do,’ ”he said.
But Ellen had bigger plans for herself.
“I realized I don’t have to think small. You can do a lot on the field … think about each lane where you can go.”
“I looked at other unemployed people who have built their businesses – they have product lines, which I had no idea was something you could do.”
It was at this point that Ellen, like all the friends around her, had to think about what would happen after high school.
“Maybe around the junior year, when everyone is looking for a college… I was arguing [about] Going to culinary school. [But] I realized it wasn’t for me, “he said.
“I just felt like it wasn’t worth it and it meant a lot. And you can’t really teach how to make art in a sense, it’s really just practice – and the more you practice, the easier it will get.”
It was an important moment for Ellen, who realized that she was no longer a high school unemployed person.
“[I’m an] Entrepreneur first, then unemployed. If you want to be unemployed, work for someone else. “
Best business advice
Social media may be “completely free” to use as a form of marketing, but Ellen needed initial capital assistance to start and run her business.
“Initially I was selling cookies that I sent … I asked my parents for $ 500 to buy boxes and other items.”
This is the first and last time she has asked her parents for money for her business, she said.
Although her parents were skeptical of her business in the early days, Ellen credits her success with their wise words: Always reinvest what you earn.
“I was able to reinvest that money [I got from] People are buying, my business is back. I didn’t go to buy Jordan, “he said with a smile, referring to Nike’s popular Air Jordan sneakers which can be priced at least 200.
This mentality is something that was inspired by her parents – who run their own real estate companies – Ellen said.