Jessica Lee of Hello Baked knows more than anyone that the quickest way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach — including clients. Maker of exquisite sugar cookies in any shape, size or color for all of life’s events and celebrations, Jessica freshly bakes every order using premium ingredients, and carefully decorates each cookie by hand with sophisticated designs. And yes, as she assures, they taste just as good as they look.
Today, Jessica is joining us to chat more about her edible art, why quality and quantity are vital, what it means to commit to the entrepreneur lifestyle, and sacrifice. –Sabrina
Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?
My business came about in a very organic way. I started decorating cookies as a hobby – it was very much a creative outlet from my day job, but I grew to love it and saw the potential to make it into something bigger.
In the months before leaving my full-time job, I knew that I was meant for a different path and kept thinking, “what would it take to build something of my own?” and “what more could I accomplish in 8-10 hours if I wasn’t at this desk?” I wanted to see what I could achieve if given the opportunity to sink or swim.
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was, and how did you know it was what you wanted to do?
A few years ago, I signed up for a cake decorating class with a friend, just for fun. We practiced on plain sugar cookies before decorating on the cakes, and it was that moment that sparked my interest in this craft. I’ve always thought that edible event favors are the best kind of take-home gift, and I loved the idea of creating small, edible pieces of art that you could customize and give as gifts.
Once I started, I immediately fell in love with the craft and found any excuse to practice and develop my design skills. I’m pretty sure all of my friends got sugar cookies for their birthdays that year! It’s labor-intensive work, so I’d often come home from my full-time job and be up until 2 am making cookies for different occasions, but I really enjoyed the process so it didn’t seem like a chore to me. My favorite part was (and still is!) seeing the look on someone’s face when they receive my cookies, customized just for them. It’s very personal. I realized that I’d found something I love to do, that challenged me in new ways, and that I saw a growing demand for — so I took the leap!
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Develop a strong brand. Figuring out your distinctive style and voice from the get-go will set you apart from others, and help attract likeminded clientele and collaborators.
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
I’d love to think I’d spend it with friends, Netflixing, or learning to cook (I can bake, but I’m a terrible cook!), but I’m sure I would find some way to add more things to my to-do list! Running my own business means my mind is never off the clock – there’s always more I feel like I can and should be doing. But if I could somehow bank that time over a few weeks (this is an imaginary scenario, so I’ll dream big!), I’d take a couple weeks off, unplug, and travel somewhere fabulous.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
I think that “starting your own business” may be synonymous with the word “sacrifice.” I knew that I’d have to give up some luxuries at the onset, but it’s hard to really imagine what that means until you’re in the thick of it. I’ve cut back in literally every corner of my life — from free time (what are hobbies?), to my social life, to disposable income (goodbye, purse addiction!) and even sleep. Weekends are nonexistent and there is always more to be done. I have never been one to shy away from hard work — in fact, I thrive on it — but starting my own business has really tested my ability to prioritize.
While many of my friends are investing in their lives in more traditional ways — buying houses, traveling the world, starting families — I’ve made a commitment to a very different type of lifestyle. I’ve sacrificed a certain level of comfort and security in my life to follow my ambitions. I will never, ever regret that decision, but if I could find some way to have it all, that would be the dream!
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
I still have “pinch me” moments thinking that this is actually my job and that my work resonates with people. It’s really gratifying to know that any level of success I see in my business is a direct reflection of the time and effort I’ve put into it. Collaborating with brands that I’ve long admired has been a dream. It’s tough to pinpoint one thing, but ultimately knowing that I’ve built something out of nothing is a really cool feeling.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
I always love reading about successful entrepreneurs: learning where they’ve come from, how they think and how they overcome challenges fascinates me. Delivering Happiness by Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh is an interesting read – he takes risks, thinks creatively and does things a little differently, but that’s what has really set his business apart.
#GIRLBOSS by Nasty Gal’s CEO Sophia Amoruso is also a great one. Her journey is such a strong example of what you can achieve by working hard and channeling your creativity, while also maintaining a distinctive style. I love that she self-identifies as an introvert and talks about using that trait to her advantage, rather than letting her insecurities overcome her. I think a lot of women can find inspiration in her story.
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
A couple years ago, I quit my job to pursue my current work. I was working with a team that I had grown to love and we were lean — we had few resources and there weren’t many people to pick up the slack if one of us left. It was really tough making the decision to leave; I felt like I was failing both my team and my career, but my heart wasn’t in it. Even though I was still excelling in my role, I knew I wasn’t doing my best work there and that someone else would be better for the job.
Taking that time off really gave me a chance to grow my business. I knew I was passionate about it and jumped in headfirst – I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t fully dedicated myself from the start. Building something of my own, setting my own goals, and holding myself accountable for my achievements became my new version of success.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
Instagram! I’m a bit addicted. When I first started using Instagram, it was a way to chronicle my (then) hobby, but it’s turned into an amazing resource and has opened me up to an artistic, creative, entrepreneurial community. I also have a lot of fun with the photography and styling — I love it!