Kimberly Aya is the Owner and CEO of Fun Cakes, an innovative bakery and nationwide sensation that changed the way people think about party planning. After appearing on the hit show Shark Tank, Kimberly and Fun Cakes became an overnight sensation including appearances on Good Morning America, the Today Show, Rachel Ray, CNN and much more. After 16 years of running Fun Cakes, she sat down to discuss traditional marketing practices, what makes a good pitch, how to deal with expedited growth, and much more.
What is Fun Cakes?
Kimberly Aya: So I've been doing Fun Cakes for almost 16 years. My cakes are really fun because they're fake. I don't do any real cakes. I don't have an oven, I don't have a refrigerator. So we cover styrofoam with real fondant. And then we decorate it with either fresh flowers or handmade sugar flowers.
So it's exactly the same that you're getting from your baker. Probably even better because it's perfection is perfect because we have so much time. We're not in a rush. So then I ship 'em to you ship 'em right to your door and they use 'em at weddings in place of a real cake.
Alex Bond: It's amazing. How did you come up with that idea?
Kimberly Aya: Well, I'd like to say that I was the genius, but I was not. So I was working on getting a bakery and I had to get, you know, permission to make it certified with a triple sink and a stove and an oven in the overhead woods. And so a bridal show was coming up in my town in Michigan.
So I went and set up at the bridal show with fake cakes because that's whatever bakery does. They go with fake cakes to show their work. And so I came back home from setting up and the realtor called me and started cussing at me like, when are you gonna sign the beat beat links? And what the beep are you waiting for?
And it's like, this is called Fun Cakes. It's not called like piss off cake or cursing cakes. Like, so when he stopped and took a breath, I'm like, I'm no longer interested in your building. So now I had to go to the bridal show with no location. I believe it was God's intervention because 95, 98% of the brides asked if they could just use my fake cakes that were on display.
And I'm like, why would you do that? Like, what do you serve dear guests? How do you cut the cake and feed each other? And they taught me everything I needed to know. So I figured, you know what? The customer's right. The customer knows what they want. And my husband was stuck in a commercial building with offices for like two years and he is like, go for it. Do it there.
So that's how I started and then six months later I was like on the Today Show. And on CNN, successful small business. And so I guess it was just the plan that had to go.
Alex Bond: No, that's amazing. And I want to talk about some of the television programs that you've been a part of, but before that, I wanna kind of peel back the layer on this idea, how it kind of grew a little bit. So from your experience, this was, how long ago was this? About 11, 12 years ago?
Kimberly Aya: It'll be 16 years in March. The bridal show will be 16 years ago in March.
Alex Bond: Okay. So interestingly enough, do you think that the Fun Cakes Brand's success predicated on an uptick in market interest?
So for example, like these extravagant baking shows and other social media influencers who will like, make these really wild looking cakes or, or even the TV show, is it cake? Which is pretty serendipitous. Did you come up with this idea prior to that broader interest and you happen to get kinda lucky in the process of just the audience loved take in the last 16 years?
Kimberly Aya: I personally, my gut feeling is because I've been a cake decorator my whole life. And I owned a bakery in Europe. I think that the designs have gotten more detailed and more detailed, and everybody wants, the bigger the better. The bigger the better. Well, the cost comes with that then. It is what it is, you know, the bakers have to earn money.
Not only is it their product, but it's all the hours of making that. So I actually opened in 2007. 2007 was when we had that huge decline. The whole economy declined, and here's an alternative, finally, an alternative to a wedding cake. There was never an alternative. Your only alternative was cupcakes. Well, I'm sorry, but cupcakes belong at a birthday party.
They don't belong at your wedding, they just don't. Having people peel the wrapper off at a wedding. No, absolutely not. So I think there was the timing that the economy was going down, the cake styles were going up, and I came along with this different alternative.
Initial pitch process
Alex Bond: Was it initially, I don't mean this to sound any certain way, but was was it difficult to get people to kind of take this idea in this model seriously when you were first starting up? I mean, what was that initial pitch process like? Were people like the realtor who were kind of like, you know, this isn't what I was asking for. How did that process look?
Kimberly Aya: Well, I have to say, the very, very first problem was me. Okay, what? I'm not gonna bake a cake, like I'm gonna be a baker and I'm gonna do wedding cakes, but I'm not gonna bake 'em. I had to work a lot in my own head on that. So I finally said, okay, I'm gonna try it for a year. I'll just try it for a year.
We'll see where we are in a year, and then I'll decide if I wanna continue because to me, I was the worst customer. I just couldn't believe were for, and then part of the way that I got such incredible media was I just wrote my local newspaper and I'm, you have a business section, I'm a new business. You need to cover me.
So they didn't really answer back and I kept bugging them like, it is your job to cover me. I'm a new business. So then she finally like, after two weeks, did the most boring interview ever. And I'm like, okay, you're not getting it. Why don't you come see the cakes? Come to the shop, see the cakes and see how beautiful they are.
So she came to the shop like again, two weeks after that. Now we're like a month later than I had started, and she still didn't seem super interested and I just kept nailing her. And I'm like, okay, so when's it gonna go in the paper? When's it gonna go? And they, so they're like, Okay. Monday or Wednesday of next week.
Okay. It wasn't there. The next week. It wasn't there. And finally the third week I called like, what the hell? Where is the article? And they're like, well, current business keeps happening. What does that mean? Current business keeps happening. I'm current, but looking back, they waited till June. They waited till a June story, and they put me on the front page in full color. So, that was worth waiting for.
Alex Bond: Yeah. Patience is a bit of a virtue. And and that's probably pretty good for wedding season too. You know? I know people playing weddings before then, but I think having that premier spot in June is like, okay, now I know what I wanna do for my wedding, this this August, or whatever.
Kimberly Aya: So from my local newspaper, then it spread to the AP and it went worldwide. And it was six weeks to six months of craziness.
Alex Bond: I want to talk about that process too. We'll go in that direction and I'll follow you down that thread. So you essentially got on the front page of your local paper. The AP picked that up, and then you were getting pulled in a million directions, so you didn't really ever have to reach out to anyone else after that first local paper.
Kimberly Aya: Nope. And then we just started getting orders and orders and orders and orders. Cause everybody's paper carried it. Every news talk was talking about it. It was talked on Kelly and, what is it, Regis? It just went crazy.
How Kimberly sustained her fast growing company
Alex Bond: Yeah. And I wanna follow up on that a little bit. So with that, I mean that sounded like it happened very quickly. How were you able to sustain that sort of growth over time with such premier marketing status and notoriety.
I mean, other people would be paying a lot of money and throwing a lot of lines out to get that sort of marketing that you got with some gumption and, and one phone call essentially, it sounds like. So how were you able to sustain that growth that happened so quickly?
Kimberly Aya: At that time it was Craigslist. Okay. So Craigslist, you could put post a job there. So I posted it under artists. And I said, give me four hours a day, minimum. Choose any day you wanna work. I'm gonna teach you the medium. And all these people showed up.
I just taught them like, this is how we do it. And then of course, local cake decorators started hearing that time they were teaching cake decorating classes, like at Hobby Lobby and Michael's. So all those instructors came to me. So they helped me teach. And then I had, you know, two motto in my shop.
One is, we're fun cakes. We're not bitchy cakes. So leave all your problems at the door. Just come in and have fun. And when you leave, you can pick up your problems. And then my second rule was if you are really good, you make that other person really good, don't you be like, ooh, look at me. Aren't I wonderful as the other person sucks? Nope. You make them just as good. So we had an amazing team and we did every single order. It was crazy.
Alex Bond: So you didn't mess a single order. That's so cool. That is amazing. I mean, that's like a pretty traditional, like American grassroots business story. And I appreciate your passion with it.
And you know, one of the things that I hear that I really appreciate is when you're talking about that first year where you said, You had to almost like emotionally disconnect from it. Like you, you had to let the idea be bigger than you.
And I think I've talked with a couple people on this show about it, and that's something that I think people struggle with initially with a business is this is my brainchild and I wanna do everything to make it the best version that it can be, but it turns into a bit of micromanagement and helicopter parenting of molding this idea to be what I want it to be instead of what it's supposed to be.
And let it kind of be itself. So what was that process like? Did you have to kind of like try some things out that didn't really work or did it kind of go in its own little direction? I mean, was your first idea, for example, to call people on Craigslist and it happened to work or were there some other things that you had to try that didn't really work successfully and take yourself out of the equation a little bit?
Kimberly Aya: Well, when I came home, the bridal show was a three day bridal show, which is kind of unusual. They don't have them that long anymore. So it was like Saturday, Friday evening, all day Saturday, all day Sunday. So when I came home from that show and told my husband that they all wanna use my cakes, And I don't know what that means, and I don't even know how I would do that. Well, he's an engineer, so he is like, well, we can ship them.
And I'm like, you gotta be kidding me. Like we can ship these. And he goes, oh yeah. So he showed me exactly how we were gonna put it all together and ship them. Well, thank goodness because six weeks later, you know, it had blown up, but I was able to ship 'em. So I think really the only thing we changed, like we started with a wooden box thinking, you know, it's gotta be perfect and locked in and like, don't mess up my cake.
We're now, we just ship them in cardboard boxes and we bought a machine that does like those pillows so we can put those pillows all the way around it. So if FedEx turns it upside down, sideways. Nothing happened. It was really scary. The shipping part in the beginning, and I remember the first cake we shipped was to California and I was in Michigan and so, but the couple was really cool and I told them like, I don't really know what I'm doing.
You are my Guinea pig. And they're like, love to be your Guinea pigs. It all worked out. I mean, as I say, I truly believe God intervention because I couldn't have put all those pieces together. I couldn't have, they just fell together.
Alex Bond: And I really think I'm sorry if I'm cutting you off. I really think that people are more willing to work with you, Kimberly, because one they see you on TV. Two, they then hear you on the phone and it's the exact same person. You know, your audio matches your video is a quote I've heard in the past. It's a sincere authenticity.
And I can imagine you do some marketing, but it's you, so it's like you are the brand versus a lot of brands have to cater their entire identity around a marketing team that's conscientiously cured and cultured and. It sounds like in this scenario you are that team and people really respond to that well. Is that something that kind of went through your head with this process or that's just, you know, another great fortune that you fell into?
Kimberly Aya: Well, I'm definitely a people person. Definitely a people person. I cannot live alone up on a mountain in the country, like shoot me. No, I'm a people person. I love people and I love people that are different. Like as different from me as possible because you can teach me something. I don't know. I think the only problem I really had was I was always, I mean I owned a bakery in Europe.
Like, what do you mean I'm not gonna like mix cake batter and bake it. And I had the hardest time with me, but I thought the customers right. You know, if 95% of the brides at a bridal show ask for that, then you need to give them that. So we'll figure it out as we go, and I do sort of most of my life as we'll, figure it out as we go because for instance, I thought this meeting was tomorrow. So welcome to my life. So we winged this at the last minute.
Her Shark Tank experience
Alex Bond: Well, you made it. And again, that keeps it more authentic. It keeps it moving. Keeps your answers honest. So I want to kind of talk about continue on your television experience.
Another enviable experience that you got to have is being on Shark Tank, right? So what was that process like? How was that experience? Are there any notable insights that you gained from that?
Kimberly Aya: It is a long process. I highly recommend to somebody if you don't have six months of your life to devote to Shark Tank, don't do it. It's tons and tons of work. So I love Shark Tank. I love the idea of Shark Tank.
I knew they weren't our people that we were going into grocery stores. There's no grocery store shark, so unless somebody wants to hop on board a grocery store chain, I didn't see us ever getting a deal. But what I liked about going on was, if you say that I do cakes, they're like, oh, that's nice.
And you're like, no, no, no, no. Like I'm a real business. I do cakes. And they're like in that queue. Sure. Like, okay, I'm not Betty Crocker here, folks, even though Betty Crocker did really well, you know, like I have been on Shark Tank. And then they're like, oh, so you're a real business.
So that's what it did for me. It gave me that validation that I'm a real company and that's why we went. Plus it would be a lot of fun. So everything I had read about Shark Tank was getting your product noticed is the hardest thing, getting through that first step of what you have. So I just made a cake.
I made a cake with all sharp fins on it and waves on it, and I put all the judges who has a bigger than the judges sitting on a cake. They're thrilled. So I filled out the paperwork that was online. I sent the cake. I saw it was delivered, and then two hours later I get a phone call and they're like, so how did you get this address?
How did you know to send it here? And I'm like, it's online. I go to abc.com. It's online. And they're like, okay, well you made it, so who are you working with? And I'm like, you tell me. I just started. So I instantly, I got on as soon as that cake was delivered. Because who does this? Who does fake cakes? Like nobody.
Alex Bond: And a little bit of gorilla marketing can go a long way too.
Kimberly Aya: Yeah. They love their cake and it was on the show, of course it was. Unfortunately I didn't get a deal, but I think, like I said, they weren't grocery store sharks. I think that was the biggest problem. Also, it's a huge different idea. You have to teach the people what you do. It's not just like one cool thing and everybody gets it, you know, they don't get it.
And then the sharks themselves are super rich. They don't understand where $3,000 for a wedding cake is expensive. They just dumbfounded did not understand that like, you're getting married, so what a wedding cake's $3,000. And I'm like, but most people can't afford $3,000, so they didn't get that part of it.
Advice to struggling entrepreneurs
Alex Bond: And because in your business model, there's kind of like, I see it as an equation. You know, a lot of people say, what sort of problem is my product solving? And yours is, it's saving you money at the end of the day. And that's like the real product. That's the real solution, is it saves you money.
And I think getting to that via cakes, people have a hard time calculating that equation. So I wanna ask you what, what sort of advice you would give to someone who struggles with finding the right way to pitch? Their product or idea. I mean, you had to do it on national television. You probably had to do it plenty of other times outside of that. So what sort of advice could you give to our listeners who might struggle with pitching their idea?
Kimberly Aya: Well, it has to be more than price. I mean, you can't just say, you should buy my product because it's less money. Well, no, especially when you're getting married. When you're getting married, usually whatever their budget is, they blow it anyways.
Like, you know, you have to give them the advantages. Why, so I save money, but what's the advantages? So for me, like if you're getting married in Florida, your cake is gonna melt, isn't it? So with mine, it's not gonna melt. A tier's not gonna slip over. A tier's not gonna fall off. Most of the people now they want 6, 7, 8 tiered cakes.
Well, you don't have enough guest for 6, 7, 8 tiered cake. So why would you spend all that money on a real cake that could all fall and crash and whatever, when I'm gonna give you the same thing and then you're gonna have fresh sheet cakes in the back. You'll serve fresh cakes. A wedding cake, people don't understand this, but a wedding cake is about five days old by the time it gets to the wedding.
Alex Bond: Wow. No, I didn't know that.
Kimberly Aya: Well, it's baked on Wednesday. It's crumb coated on Thursday and now Friday we're gonna start decorating it and Saturday we're gonna deliver it. So where's that cake been sitting all that time. Plus it has to be a heavy cake. It has to be. Cause you know it's notorious that wedding cakes taste terrible.
Well, because they have to be a heavy pound cake to hold the weight of the fondant. Now I'm gonna let you serve fresh buttercream cheesecakes from your Costco or grocery store. So you have to explain more than just cost, but also where I really explain it is that we're gonna spend hours on your cake.
We don't have one day to flip it out. We've got five, six days to flip it out. We're gonna take the time to make sure it's absolutely perfect. And you're not gonna get that with a real baker cuz they have how many cakes going out.
Fake cake vs. real cake
Alex Bond: So you primarily do wedding cakes, but you also do plenty of other events, I imagine. So what's kind of the coolest venue that your, cake has been in?
Kimberly Aya: So if you had asked me this question like last fall, right? I would tell you the coolest thing, event that I was, was at the plaza in New York City. That was pretty cool, and that was a really awesome cake that I made. But in December, I did Mar-a-Lago and I never really thought one of my cakes would go to Mar-a-Lago.
So I was like, and I'm in Florida, so I'm like, I'll deliver it cuz it's like I wanna see Mar-a-Lago and see all that gold and the marble. And see my cake there. I mean those are the two coolest locations I've done. But besides like our cake was in the Hangover movie. We just did a cake for Netflix were really awesome for Hollywood because they can put all the lights on it and they can. Film and film and film for three days and nothing happens to our cake.
Yeah, we're a real cake. They can't do that. But I'd have to say, looking back, besides the hangover, I would say we did a, a launch for Mac Cosmetics. So Mac Cosmetics came out with a makeup line called Baking Beauty. And they wanted cakes. And so they first emailed me like, can you make us one cake and we're gonna make a mold of it?
I'm like, okay, why are you gonna make a mold of it? And they're like, we don't know. We were just told, find a fondant cake and we'll make a mold of it. So I'm like, so what are you gonna do with a mold? And they're like, well, we need 350 cakes. I'm like, okay. So why don't you just order 350 cakes? And they're like, can you do that?
And I'm like, of course we can. So then they come back and they're like, okay, how long would that take you? So I calculate it all and I'm like, we need like six weeks to two months to do that're like, you got three weeks and I'm, no problem. And we got 'em all done. Again, I back to Craigslist. Went back to artists on Craigslist and if the people showed up, they were hired. They just needed to show up.
Alex Bond: Yeah. Have you been able to retain these people from Craigslist? I mean, do they keep coming back, I assume?
Kimberly Aya: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, because their artists themselves, like I had a lady that was a welder. But she wants, and she only welds like recyclable metal things, so she needs to go out and buy all that stuff.
So I was perfect. Come to me, work four hours, go search for your metal the other four hours. So, and we're all still friends on Facebook, so I can always call them up. They'll always come back. Plus I think a lot of, for me, where I feel the most, the closest to is the stay-at-home moms.
You know, stay-at-home moms do the most important job ever, but they do have a couple hours every day. You know, where the house has been cleaned, the laundry's done, the dinner's ready, the kids are off to school. So to pull them in and be able to use them for four hours a day, they're so thrilled that they have a job, but yet they can leave and go pick up the kids from school.
Or if the kids are sick, they don't need to come. So that's always been the type of person I've pushed myself to the most. Because I think it is important, their job, but they wanna do more. I get it.
Alex Bond: That's amazing. That's really cool. I wanna know specifically, maybe peel back the layer know, sort of pun intended, how much money a person can save when, when purchasing a fun cake.
And we'll say also a, a sheet cake at the same time to serve at a, at a wedding or event as opposed to a decadent real cake. So what's essentially, you know, my savings if I decided to go with fun cakes versus, you know, some other decadent real cake company?
Kimberly Aya: Cakes are priced by slice. Okay? So you go to a baker. We got 200 people at our wedding. So she figures out how many tiers you need to serve 200 people. A normal baker, especially with I don't know exactly current because eggs have gone like crazy, but I would say between $3 and $4 a slice for a buttercream cake and between $5 and $7 a slice for a fondant cake.
Okay, so let's look at fondant cakes, because that's all I really pretty much do is fondant cakes. So they're looking between $5 and $7 a slice. Now that's, I mean, in New York City you can get $25 a slice. But I'm like, you know, nationwide average, and I'm like $3 a slice, so I'm less than half. So you save a lot.
Then I encourage everybody to go to Costco to get their sheet cakes. Costco has delicious cakes. It's a two-tiered cake, like with filling in the middle versus like just a flat sheet cake with buttercream on top. It's got the layer in the middle. I highly recommend it.
Alex Bond: Yeah, as long as it tastes good at that point, right? I mean, it doesn't need to look good anymore.
Kimberly Aya: So from seven $5 to $7 to $3, I'm saving them half. 50% minimum.
Alex Bond: Oh, that's amazing. So do you find that clients appreciate kind of the novelty of a cake and they actually tell their guests about the reality of their cake? Or does that kind of defeat the purpose a little bit.
Kimberly Aya: So I've done other interviews like this one, and they wanna hear from the brides. And so I'll start going to the brides and it's pretty much 50 50. 50% are like, no way anyone at that wedding is gonna know that that cake is fake. There's no way. And then the other 50% are like, well, yeah, look at all the money I saved. I'm like a genius. I'll tell everybody.
So it's too completely different mindframes. But what I have found this year, because you know, with Covid, we really, really hurt. I mean, there was barely any parties in any weddings, in any birthdays or kins or anything. So I just hung in there because I absolutely love what I do.
And we had to downsize our location and we had to do a lot of things to cope with covid. But now I'm getting brides calling me, going, the venue told me to get a fake cake. And I'm like, really? Wow. So in 16 years we've gone from what? Why would you do that to now venues saying, yeah, I think you should get a fake cake, because it's so much easier for the venue.
They don't have to worry. The temperature's absolutely perfect in that room. Nobody bumps that table. We have to have a talented person that knows how to take all those tiers off, cut all those, you know, cake slices. Now they're charging to plate them. They're charging like a dollar 25 just to cut it and put it on a plate. So you have that cost on top.
Alex Bond: Well, and it's more time consuming too. I can imagine having to go through and cut every single slice, stand handout, every single slice versus kind of like, someone during can cut Costco cake and then by the time cake's ready, they just deliver it.
Kimberly Aya: Exactly. So now that's where I have noticed since January. They're all calling, going, my venue told me to get a fake cake. We think it's a great idea. I'm like, so do I. So business, I would say, yeah. I'm glad we made it through Covid.