How These Two Entrepreneurs Built a Marketplace Out of Their Sweet-Tooth Dreams
When two Nanyang Technological University students with the same sweet tooth and bullish entrepreneurial spirit came together, they buttered and baked their ideas into perfection and established their own online marketplace for decadent home-baked goods — BakersFirst — in 2016. The marketplace has since seen significant traction, with a growing fan base of over 2,000 on Facebook.
With a mission to empower home bakers, Wei Qiang and Chongxian look to traditional housewives who have not realized the earning potential from their baking skills. BakersFirst offers the most authentic of Singapore’s freshly-made cakes, desserts, and sweet treats at an affordable price. There are plenty of options for any occasion, ranging from favorites such as Nutella tarts and black forest cake, to more daring creations like the durian mille crepe cake, pineapple macarons, and matcha tart. There are even vegan treats listed on the marketplace!
In this exclusive interview, Arcadier chats with BakersFirst co-founders Wei Qiang and Chongxian about how they built their minimum viable platform (MVP), their marketing and acquisition strategy, long-term plans, and their love for sweet treats.
Photo credit: BakersFirst.
Arcadier: Hi Wei Qiang and Chongxian! Can you tell us about your professional background and what inspired you partner to start BakersFirst?
Wei Qiang: I graduated from NTU Bachelor of Business (Marketing) with a Minor in Entrepreneurship. We have done a smaller business with other friends previously, and decided to embark on another venture together. I am inspired by my Mother-in-law who is a housewife and a very good home baker. Knowing that there are many people like her, we want to empower them to be able to earn money from their skills, and share their delicious goodies with more people besides their circle of family and friends. Often times, they can bake better things than commercial shops.
Chongxian: I graduated from NTU School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (Mathematics) with a Minor in Entrepreneurship. We met in the Entrepreneurship course in NTU doing a final module together. I liked the idea which Wei Qiang suggested as I felt that it was a good opportunity for home bakers to share their home bakes. I thought that it was a good way to encourage homemakers to earn an extra income doing something that they loved.
A: Why did you choose to adopt a marketplace approach for your business? Have your business model always been the same, or did you make changes along the way?
WQ: A marketplace model is the most suitable for us, since our main intention is to connect more bakers to more customers and we can focus on growing the platform and focus on the marketing aspect of it which we are better at.
Of course, it hasn’t been as straightforward as it seems. Often times, we double up as helping the bakers who may not be as IT savvy to start their store on the website, and also handling customers and corporate enquiries along the way.
A: BakersFirst announced a change of platform in early January this year. Why did you decide to choose Arcadier to build your ecommerce marketplace platform?
WQ: Initially we started out on the WordPress platform but we received feedback that it was too slow, it didn’t work properly on mobile view and hosting it ourselves was just a major drawback basically. Nevertheless, we were encouraged by the positive responses we received.
We searched around for a new platform and after reading quite a number of reviews on the platforms, we thought Arcadier would be best suited for our needs. We gave it a trial run and were very satisfied, coupled with the fact that we didn’t have to handle any of the backend aspect. This meant we could concentrate on growing the platform through reaching out to more bakers and promoting the site.
WeiQiang & Chongxian show off their marketplace platform. Photo credit: BakersFirst.
A: From BakersFirst’s About page, we gather that traditional housewives are your main target market for vendors/sellers. What is your strategy in acquiring them and getting them to adopt the technology required to list their goods?
WQ: There are quite a number of ways we reach out to bakers. Initially we messaged them directly on their Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as joining a number of Facebook baking groups to reach out to this community of people. Nowadays, we do less of that as we are starting to get more referrals through word of mouth from people who have heard of us who believe in and are excited by what we are doing.
C: Most housewives that we have reached out to are excited to join our community. Some of them who are not so technologically savvy may require a little extra help setting up their store and listing their bakes on our site, which we are more than happy to help them with. We also have a manual on our site which sets out in detail how bakers can list their goods and manage their inventory. We also help suggest delivery methods and pick up locations and help with the logistical aspects of the sale. It is important to us that our bakers focus first on their baking and never lose their passion.
A: So far, who are your customers, and through what marketing channels have you successfully acquired them?
WQ: Our customers cover a wide range of people, almost anyone who buys desserts and cakes or brownies etc. They can be people who are celebrating parties, birthdays and events.
Lately, we are starting to get more corporate enquiries for big events and functions and we try to work with them to get quotes. However, the prices our bakers are selling at is actually very competitive already!
Most of our marketing efforts come from our two main social media channels of our Facebook and Instagram pages, and most certainly word of mouth marketing. We believe that by doing this well, SEO will naturally bring more visitors to us. Search Engine Marketing and fairs are something that we have definitely thought of and will be looking at when we have the hands to do it.
Matcha Tart by Delia.v on BakersFirst. Photo credit: BakersFirst.
A: Trust is important in a marketplace, and one way of doing that is through regulating the quality of the baked goods sold on the marketplace. What are some of the things that you are doing (or plan to do) to foster trust between the buyers, sellers, and BakersFirst itself?
WQ: Many bakers still do not post nice pictures of their products! We have to reach out to them and encourage them to post better photos to stand out, and also to post multiple pictures as that usually gets the customers salivating literally!
On any marketplace, customers’ feedback is one of the crucial aspects to gaining trust of other would-be customers. Therefore, the feedback/review feature is crucial to the bakers to get more orders, repeated orders.
C: We have noticed that when a baker has good reviews in terms of the service provided, taste and quality of the baked good, she will often get more orders as new customers will be more assured by the authentic reviews left by past customers.
We therefore encourage customers who use our site to leave reviews for bakers whose products they have purchased as this gives us a better sense of the quality of bakes on our site. It really helps everyone, the baker to improve, and other visitors who rely on such reviews to make a decision.
WQ: Lastly, we also encourage our bakers to give a background of who they are and what they sell in the profile. Customers buy products, but more than that, they buy the story behind the product. If you can touch their hearts, you have gained a loyal customer who is a fan of you.
A: BakersFirst has more than 2,200 followers on Facebook! What’s your recipe to growing the brand’s Facebook following?
WQ: We simply share and promote our bakers’ products on our Facebook page. This gets the page going, and people love to see beautiful bakes and creations. It definitely catches the eye!
On certain occasions, we have special promotions for customers which we will advertise on Facebook. This really helps to get more eyeballs to our page and people who like what we do will follow us on Facebook.
C: We also encourage customers of BakersFirst to leave reviews on our Facebook page and share the page and their experience with their friends and family.
Nutella tarts by Souledout Bakes on BakersFirst. Photo credit: BakersFirst.
A: At this stage, what is your long term goal for BakersFirst and what do you consider the most important aspect of the business you’re working on right now?
WQ: Our goal is really to get more customers to our site so that the number of transactions can support our bakers, even if it’s just a part-time job to most of them who have family or other commitments.
Over time, we want to help the bakers by giving more feedback to them so that they can improve themselves whether it’s in terms of reviews of their products, having more products in their product line or even simple things like taking better pictures of what they are selling.
We are just focusing on what we have done, and to do it better. This means reaching out to more customers, working on feedback from customers and bakers to improve the site etc. We want to get this right first before we move on to our next stage which we have drafted out at the start.
C: In the future, we may consider further helping bakers with their deliveries by engaging third party delivery services who would be able to deliver fresh baked goods from door to door. Doing roadshows with the support of our bakers is also a possibility we have considered.
A: How would you describe your own relationship with sweet treats?
WQ: For myself, I’m definitely a dessert and cake person. I try not to overindulge in it, at the same time, I can’t say no to a good chocolate cake.
I just came back from Italy recently and of course, they are famous for their Tiramisus. Nearby Austria, you have to try an Apple Strudel. These are just some bakes that we hope we can have a good range on BakersFirst too. That said, we are really proud of our Asian desserts. Cakes, brownies and festive goodies like pineapple tarts or Tapak Kuda (a roll cake popular within the Malay Community) are really good sellers on our platform!
C: I have a serious sweet tooth, I have a hard time controlling myself when it comes to desserts. I especially love cheesecakes and fruit tarts.
I very much wish that I knew how to bake well so that I could have a never ending supply of desserts at my disposal! While I myself may not be a talented baker, being able to purchase delicious desserts off BakersFirst at any time, night or day, is definitely the next best thing!
Freshly baked pineapple tarts by Sue on BakersFirst. Photo credit: BakersFirst.