Justin Ellen, a young baker of cakes-marvels
Justin Ellen is a successful young entrepreneur and owner of the cake business Everything Just Baked.
In March 2022, he made his debut on Netflix’s “Is It Cake?”
“Is It Cake” is a baking contest where cake artists create edible replicas of everyday objects, such as bowling pins, sewing machines.
The show, which premiered on the streaming service on March 18, was in the Top 10 most-watched list in the U.S. for four weeks. It also raked in more than 100 million hours of views from around the world.
Is baking the passion of your life?
Justin Ellen: Yes, exactly. When I was 17, I found myself at a difficult crossroad — should I pursue my passion for baking full-time, or go to college to further my education?
At that time, you were the youngest contestant of Netflix’s popular baking show.
Ellen: I was making custom cakes from home as a side-hustle, while also juggling with school.
I was bringing home at least $5,000 a month. But I couldn’t help but compare myself to my peers.
The thing that got me down was like, I was seeing all my friends apply for colleges.
But your desire to follow your passion won out?
Ellen: Yes, I think everyone has their own path.
What can you say about your path to success?
Ellen: I’m sure that if you strive for success you should be ready for hard work and possible failures. Fine if your loved ones help prod you along.
What was crucial in building your business?
Ellen: Well, I knew from the start that having a social media presence is crucial to my business success.
So you had to make yourself known? Was it difficult for you?
Ellen: Yes. It took a lot of practice and … courage. In the beginning, my social media wasn’t great … not great photos, they were very blurry. But as I kept on progressing, I realized they have to be super clean.
Why did you decide to turn the camera on yourself?
Ellen: You see, people want to know the person behind the brand and if they enjoy you, they’re gonna want to spend money with you. So I decided to share snippets of my life as a young baker. Honestly, it makes you more relatable.
Did you have to overcome any other difficulties besides technical ones?
Ellen: Certainly. I was definitely shy in the beginning because it was just awkward for me … but the more you do it, it’s like, oh well and honestly no one cares if your hair’s a little frizzy today.
How did you build your clientele?
Ellen: I posted videos of my cakes on social media and baked whenever I had the chance, even if it was for family events.
Interestingly, at the start I didn’t take posting on social media seriously. I just posted for fun. But eventually, through word of mouth … people kept asking “Can I order a cake?”
That’s great you bake for family events. Your people are sure to be delighted with your cakes.
Ellen: I hope they are. You see, it doesn’t even have to be a huge cake … just make something small because you don’t know who’s going to be there. Someone’s going to eat it and ask, ‘Who made this cake?’”
People are buying designer purses for thousands of dollars. You have got to make your customers understand the worth in your brand and what you’re providing them.
Ellen: I realized, wow, baking could be a serious business. But before I knew it, I had over 50,000 followers on social media and was earning about $5,000 to $9,000 a month in high school.
You started thinking about pursuing baking as a career when you saw that your side hustle gained momentum in high school?
Ellen: Yes. But not everyone approved. My dad was like, a baker? I feel like there’s a connotation with baking like, ‘Oh, you don’t make a lot of money’ or ‘You have to do a lot of work.’
Did you have bigger plans for yourself?
Ellen: I realized that I didn’t have to think small. There’s so much you could do in the field … think about every lane you could go into.
I looked at other bakers who created their business — they have product lines, which I had no idea that that’s something you can even do.
It was around this time that you had to think about what’s next after high school?
Ellen: That’s it. Probably around junior year, when everyone’s like searching for colleges … I was debating about going to culinary school. But I realized it wasn’t for me.
I just felt like it wasn’t worth it and it was a lot of money. And you can’t really teach how to do art in a sense, it’s really just practice — and the more you practice, the easier it’s going to get.
That was the pivotal moment for you, when you realized you were not just a baker in high school anymore.
Ellen: Yes, I’ve understood I’m an entrepreneur first, then a baker. If you want to be a baker, then go work for someone else, I thought.
What is at the core of your success, besides persistent hard work?
Ellen: I attribute my success to my parents’ wise words. “Always reinvest what you earn”, they say. This mindset is something that my parents — who run their own real estate company — instilled in me.
I was able to reinvest the money that I got from people purchasing, back into my business. I didn’t go buy Jordans, I mean Nike’s popular Air Jordan sneakers that can cost at least $200.
My parents would always share with us that when their business was doing really well, they would not just spend the money recklessly. It’s super important, especially when you’re first starting out … so your business can grow into something even bigger.
Running a business is expensive. You don’t want to waste money just because you think you have a good idea.