What happens when you bring together two IAG employees and an office bake? The Big Bakes! Former Global Head of PR, Events and Partnerships for IAG, Eloise Frank and Adam Chaudhri, Creative Manager for Europe, Asia, Middle East and Africa and Head of Marketing and Communications for IAG organised such a successful bake-off competition for their colleagues that they realised a gap in the market.
Together the pair launched The Big London Bake, a bookable, experiential baking competition, in 2017. Taking on an empty event space at a London pub, the pair used their PR knowledge to launch the experience to media, influencers, consumers and brands.
Now hosted in two locations, The Big Bakes is in Floodgate Street in Digbeth, Birmingham, and Tooting Broadway in London, Eloise and Adam hope to launch the concept in cities around the country. The pair also regularly host blogger events, consumer parties and corporate away days and have worked with major brands including Deloitte, Tesco, Google, Virgin, and many more.
What is your superhero origin story?
It was one of those high-risk high reward scenarios. We both had amazing jobs (with free flights) and after a fierce office bake-off we started on a path that would lead us to quit our high flying jobs and starting what has become the UKs number one baking event!
Eloise Frank worked as the Global PR, Events and Partnerships Manager for IAG. Whilst Adam Chaudhri was Head of Marketing and Communications for IAG. It was at this point that we met. We worked together for about a year on numerous high profile events, press launches and partnerships and realised that our yin and yang balance was the perfect fit to take our competitive baking idea further.
At the time of launching the business, we had both built up years of PR and Marketing experience. Working in a corporate environment meant that we had built up expertise in key skills such as event management, financial planning and organized global brand and marketing initiatives.
Although we had little in the way of baking experience, our knowledge meant we knew how to plan, design, recruit for and launch our concept. Raising awareness of our now award-winning event and getting our name out there was vital to us. We tapped into every press contact, rang every news desk and created and wrote our own press materials, videos and assets that we knew we needed in order to launch our business the right way. In our first couple months we secured national coverage in the likes of The Evening Standard, Buzzfeed, Timeout and many more and fast forward to today we have been on BBC Radio, Channel 4 and Sky.
What was your eureka moment, and how did you test your idea for The Big Bakes?
It all started back in 2016 when we organised an office bake-off with our team at work. We loved the creativity, fun and competition it led to, and it sparked an idea for us to create an experiential like no other.
We began to search for a baking based night out for our team. After a few days of hunting for a baking class in London, we quickly realised there was nothing in the market light-hearted, fun and accessible and we realised there was a gap in the market.
After a relentless period of recipe research, marquee meetings, property searching, bank meetings, professional baker interviews and so much more… we decided to buy a marquee and it all went from there!
We first tested our idea for The Big Bakes in April 2017 and launched a couple of weeks later in May 2017! Despite our first event being for just friends and family, the pressure was still very much on. We hosted 4 ‘test events’ where we invited all our guinea pigs to give their honest opinions on where we could improve and what elements we could change.
We had to test the concept we had spent months planning for; for us it is vital that the finer details are perfect.
For example, the timings, the session changeovers, how guests enter our venue to how they leave. Our first session to the public was opened by us and was about 70% full. We spoke to every customer to see what they thought. It was a truly amazing feeling as every single customer said they would be coming back with more friends, telling colleagues, one even said they would be booking a corporate booking the very next week. For us, happy customers is the true test of success, so we felt it went brilliantly!
What’s your competitive advantage when it comes to the industry?
Our concept is truly unique, we are the UK’s first and only live competitive baking event.
We realised there was a gap in the market for a baking event that was based around fun, accessibility, creativity and a bit of friendly light hearted competition! The alternatives are cooking classes that tend to be quite specialised, costly, are a few hours long and more about education than enjoyment – our aim is to make baking fun and accessible, and show the nation how baking can be for everyone!
We now have award-winning venues in both London and Birmingham where guests take part in unique competitive baking sessions.
Our baking venue gives everyone from friends and family to co-workers the chance to compete in a bake off. It is hosted in a beautiful fully kitted out marquee, with 12 idyllic bake stations, a treasure trove of customisable decorations and is led by a team of professional bakers. We change the theme every month with a bake that is always fun, delicious and can be customised as our guests wish!
When customers arrive at The Big Bakes they are adorned with all the ingredients, equipment and instructions they need to create a stunning bake. While the sponges are rising and the dough is cooking, competitors then have the chance to rummage Creation Corner to find the templates, colourings, flavours and decorations that will make their bakes truly unique. Each session is led and judged by our expert Head Bakers and then customers take home their creations for them to enjoy.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting?
It is hard to pinpoint one biggest mistake. When you start out you make loads of small mistakes and learn and grow from them all the time. We had everything from putting up the marquee ourselves and putting on the covers inside out (we now hire professionals) to purchasing tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment to then realising people will often sponsor you for free!
The largest learning curve we both had was finding the balance. We both had full-time jobs in the first years of our business. That meant we worked days, nights, weekends and any other hours that made themselves available to us. It was shattering.
We have now learnt when to make the jump. It seemed nerve-wracking at the time to quit our secure jobs, but looking back we should have done it sooner and been able to read the signs and have the confidence in ourselves.
What role has social media played in your success?
Social media is hugely valuable to us at The Big Bakes – we do the majority of our marketing through social media. It is a core way for us to reach and communicate to our prime audience and we do that via video, regular Instagram and Facebook posts and messages.
Just recently during the COVID-19 lockdown, for example, we have heightened our social media attention and started releasing 3 baking tutorials via our social channels for free. Since then we have seen our social following jump by 28,000 followers. Having a purpose to your channel is so important, and every time we publish something we ask the question ‘would I watch this, would I like this’.
The tutorials have had national press coverage and we have even had celebs baking our recipients at home. Our website traffic has grown too, with people curious about our main event and how they can take part. We’ve grown traffic from having just under 1000 visitors a week to just over 30,000 last week.
When partnering with others what criteria do you look for?
We look for companies that are complementary to ourselves, e.g. we are sponsored by the fantastic guys over at AEG who provide us with top of the range ovens, mixers, fridges and hobs for our customers to enjoy and keep our event looking top-notch. We also look for partnerships who are in it for the long haul and have bigger ideas than just collabing on social posts. It means we can do things that haven’t been done before, and that excited us!
Who is your ideal collaboration with?
We have our ideal kitchen collaboration partner in our equipment sponsor AEG 🙂 We would love to work with long term ambassadors who help bring our event and passion for baking to life.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Each other. Having an equal business partner to be able to share the highs, lows, journey, mistakes and difficult decisions with is invaluable. We know we would not be able to do what we do without each other and although we both have the greatest support from our friends and family, the particular person we are both grateful for every day is one another.
The most worthwhile investment we have made is our time.
We both worked full time high pressured roles for two years whilst running The Big Bakes and this was hugely challenging. We would work every evening and weekend to balance the two, but this meant that we were able to save hard and spend sensibly in order to grow our business and open up new sites that are completely self-funded. Therefore although we have both suffered many a sleepless night, it was all worth it.
What piece of industry advice do you often hear that you disagree with and why?
There is a lot of advice about taking venture funding, where to get it, when to seek it and how best to do it.
For some businesses, this may be the right path, but we always remind people it’s not the only way. Venture teams bet on several horses, hoping one wins. But in your own race, it’s only you and your customers who need to win, and that gives you a different perspective.
Outside investment can put huge pressure on your business and its growth and for us, we take pride in the fact that we have self-funded our business and maintained full control over our company, whilst building the funds we need to expand. That is not to say we would not be open to future investment, but it would need to be at the right time for the right end goal.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business on their own?
- Do your research and listen to potential customers, actual customers and feedback. This will help make your concept better.
- Test your idea until you are confident in it, but do not over complicate perfection as perfection is ongoing, your business will adapt and change over time. As you grow you will develop and streamline processes and this will come with experience.
- Think about what you want your business to stand for, what are your values – then hire accordingly. With start-ups roles can be intertwining and therefore at the beginning sometimes hiring for culture and not necessarily skill can be crucial. Find your hero’s that will adapt, evolve and stick with you and have a true passion to learn and exceed.