CandyBar Merchant Stories uncovers the reasons why people start small businesses, and all their triumphs and failures along the way.
David felt like his civil service job was turning him into a cog in the machine. He took a risk and joined his partner’s bakery; and that gave him the chance to discover and become who he really was.
David (left) started CakeFlix with Paul
David had a prestigious civil service career
At 40, David was at the peak of his powers. He was a senior civil servant in the Scottish Government, working closely with a Minister. But he wasn’t happy.
There was much to be proud of. He joined the army at 16, and never went to university for his degree. But he worked his way up the ranks, joined the civil service, and won his promotions.
He had a well-paid job, career prospects, and a generous pension waiting for when he retired. He lived happily with his partner Paul, who baked beautiful custom cakes. Friends and family admired David’s success.
But David knew there was a problem. One cold, wet day, on a miserable commute to work, David saw a man selling fruit on the street. He thought to himself, “I’d rather have his job.” That was when he could no longer deny that his job made him miserable.
His job made him feel like a machine
Whenever David walked through the metal doors of his office building, he felt like he was being turned into a robot. His job had rules: how to behave, how to write emails, what type of suit to wear. David felt crushed by all these expectations. His job was turning him into a whole different person.
He felt like a cog in the machine. If he did well, the credit would go to his boss. If he did poorly, he got the blame. He wrote speeches that came back to him with plenty of edits and red lines. David was frustrated at the lack of recognition and autonomy in his work. And because he never got his degree, he felt like he hit a career ceiling.
The big trigger came when a colleague hit 65 and retired. David was thinking about what he wanted to do, at 40. He saw a horrible future: slogging away at this thankless job for another 25 years, only to retire. He refused to succumb to this fate.
David handed in his notice. He announced he was going to join his partner Paul’s tiny bakery. Everyone thought he was making a mistake, giving up his career. His boss even gave him a six-month sabbatical, thinking David would come back to the job.
Instead, David took his work suit and set fire to it. He was never going back.
David reinvented himself as a bakery business manager
At the time, Paul ran a modest bakery with just 4 staff. Paul was a skillful baker, but had a lot to do. He was grateful when David stepped in to manage the business.
David had to learn quickly. There was a lot to do, from sorting out the day-to-day of payroll to complying with fire safety restrictions and taxes. He took over managing the staff so Paul could focus on baking. To justify paying himself, David rolled up his sleeves and worked as a junior baker. From a suit-wearing official, David reinvented himself in the bakery.
One day, his boss happened to come to the bakery to collect a cake and saw David in his apron, covered in flour. That was when he realized David was not returning to his job.
Paul and David made a great team. David running the business let Paul focus on his creative side. Paul’s cakes started winning awards and he was invited to teach his baking skills.
Meanwhile, David discovered a knack for business management. From a single outlet with just four staff, David expanded their business to seven outlets with 35 staff in total.
David’s hard work was being rewarded with personal success. David felt proud of what he had accomplished – but then, things took a turn for the worst.
The threat of bankruptcy
In 2008, business began to decline. With so many outlets, it was hard to control the quality of the cakes. Then the financial crisis hit, and revenues suffered even more as events were canceled. Things got worse when a landlord demanded more cash.
Their business went from profitable to losing money. For the first time, David needed to put money into the business. In 2009, Paul and David sold their house and moved into one of their locations. It still wasn’t enough.
They consulted a lawyer, who advised them to declare bankruptcy.
It was the closest David got to giving up. He remembers every moment of the trip back home. He and Paul were completely silent the entire way. The bankruptcy declaration was between them, waiting to be signed. It was a huge blow to David: he had made a huge mistake, lost his house and his business. He had failed.
The next day, David had to drive four hours to deliver a cake to a customer. Something changed on that drive. He went from utter defeat to deciding to fight his way up. He made a decision: he would not sign it, he would work his way out of debt.
Getting out of debt and selling the business
The hardest moment for David was when he had to stand in front of all the staff and fire twelve of them. It was a tough decision, and a tough moment. David had hired most of them.
What followed was nine months of hard work. Paul and David worked 100-hour weeks to get the businesses back in shape and out of debt. One by one they paid off the debts, and David sold off each of the outlets they had expanded to.
In the middle of this, there was a brutal winter in 2010. Everything was shut, all business stopped, Paul couldn’t even give workshops. David had the idea to record video tutorials for cake decoration and sugarcraft and put it online. This would later become CakeFlix.
It took until 2011 for them to work their way out of debt and sell off all their outlets. Paul was back to baking custom cakes by himself. And then it was time for David to reinvent himself once again, working as a video producer, editor and digital marketer.
David reinvents himself as a digital marketer
David and Paul launched The Paul Bradford Sugarcraft School in November 2011, and later rebranded as CakeFlix. They launched to great success. It was David who spotted the opportunity: Paul’s workshops were always in high demand. Putting it online meant that they would reach a bigger audience.
It was a big hit, and grew from strength to strength. Paul did the teaching and baking. David wore many hats: videographer, video producer and editor, digital marketing guru. He even modified their kitchen into a recording studio, where they still record videos today.
Behind the Scenes: Paul & David’s early home-recording studio. (CakeFlix FB)
CakeFlix grew from just 30 videos at launch to over 1,100 video tutorials, and an active Facebook community of over 14,000 active members.
But David has had to keep reinventing the business. The popularity of YouTube and iPhones meant that there were a lot more baking videos online, most of it free. David figured out how to keep CakeFlix growing by speaking to CakeFlix subscribers and understanding their wants.
David recorded a series of video lectures about how to run a bakery business, based on his own experience. He added a Pro membership tier, which gave access to their Facebook community of other baking enthusiasts and pro bakers. He created a mobile app and partnered with Roku and Amazon to allow CakeFlix to be streamed to hundreds of thousands of viewers. David is constantly coming up with new ways to grow the business, and he is loving it.
From civil servant to bakery businessman to digital entrepreneur, David has never been happier.
David & Paul winning Cake Masters’ Best Learning Experience. CakeFlix won for the fifth time in 2019 (CakeFlix IG)
David loves his job now
David loves his job. He feels an enormous emotional connection to his work, every day. During the Covid-19 Lockdown, he set up Caking Over the World, a series of live-streams featuring celebrity bakers around the world. Fans from all around the world wrote warm letters of appreciation. David felt appreciation and gratitude.
David no longer feels like a cog in the machine, not since he burned his suit. He is not bound to his job; instead, CakeFlix is his baby, and David is excited to see how it can grow.
“So many people are held back by limiting beliefs. Their fear of failure outweighs their goal of achieving.” David does not regret diving into the baking business one bit. He left the security and comfort of a cushy career and discovered who he could become.
It hasn’t always been easy, but David has never been happier.
Paul at work for CakeFlix – with David behind the Camera.