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Cakepop Wisdom: ‘Your Business Is a Reflection of You’

The high school students we invite on the Wharton Global Youth Future of the Business World podcast come to us from many onramps, including our Leadership in the Business World, Innovation and Startup Culture, and Essentials of Entrepreneurship summer programs. We also recognize that innovative thinking often starts in the high school classroom. Today’s guest, Danielle Buchanan, first embraced her enterprising spirit through her Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship class in school. Today, she has a vibrant cake-pop brand and aspires to study product marketing after graduation. Just in time for a sweet treat in this Valentine’s Day season, we learn how Danielle’s business Cakepopulis has been a source of inspiration for her and a testament to never minimizing an opportunity. 

Be sure to click on the arrow above to listen to our podcast conversation! An edited transcript appears below. 

Wharton Global Youth Program: Hello and welcome to Future of the Business World. I’m Diana Drake with the Wharton Global Youth Program at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. As Wharton Global Youth introduces high school students to the full scope of business education, through our programs, courses, competitions and content, we also encourage them to embrace business opportunities, and prepare for successful futures.

Today’s guest has been doing just that, through her involvement with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship. Arriving on our podcast in the Valentine’s Day season, Danielle Buchanan is here to talk about her sweet innovation and passion for her product, cakepops.

Danielle, welcome to Future of the Business World.

Danielle Buchanan: Thank you for having me, Diana.

Danielle Buchanan.

Wharton Global Youth: You live in the state of Georgia in the U.S. Tell us about your life there. Where do you go to school? And what do you enjoy doing?

Danielle: Well, again, I’m Danielle Buchanan, I attend McNair High School in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m 18 years old, and I am a senior there. A little bit about what I love to do for fun is, I love to bake, which led me to my business Cakepopulis. And, along with baking, I also love to plan events for one of my clubs, which is the Future Business Leaders of America chapter at my school. And I love just again, planning events for my club, helping my members and helping them be prepared for competitions. I’m also a big reader. So, I love reading books in my free time.

Wharton Global Youth: We’re going to talk about one of my favorite topics today, which is food and of course sweet treats, something that is on our minds and hearts right now in the season of Valentine’s Day. Your business Cakepopulis sells cakepops, which I definitely want to hear more about. We’re going to go deep on product development today. But first, I’ve heard baking is a family tradition for you. How did that influence your entrepreneurship journey?

Danielle: I come from a line of bakers. There are a lot of members in my family who love to bake. And each individual has their own little niche — one item that they really love to bake. And my niche is cakepops. Growing up, I remember always being in the kitchen with my mother and being her little assistant and helping her bake. As I grew up, I developed that love for baking. And as I stated before, my little niche was cakepops. This prompted me to want to have a business related to something that I’m great at doing. So, I paired my passion for baking, which comes from my family, and a problem and created Cakepopulis.

Wharton Global Youth: Let’s talk more about those cakepops. Can you describe your product for us? What do they look like? What flavors do you sell? How do you make them? Is there a trick to making a cakepop?

Danielle: I sell a variety of different flavors. We have Oreo, we have red velvet, we have vanilla, we have chocolate, we have carrot, we have confetti, just a multitude of different flavors that I can provide for my customers. So, a little bit about the cakepop itself. We start off with baking a cake. And then I pair that cake with frosting and I create little balls of cake and frosting. And then I take those balls and dip them in chocolate on sticks. And then that kind of creates a cakepop. So essentially, you can think of a cakepop as cake on a stick.

Wharton Global Youth. I love it. And what do they look like? Are they brightly colored? Are there sprinkles?

Danielle: Yes, there can be. I can do any different designs that my clients want. So, if they want sprinkles, they get sprinkles. If they want bright pops of colors, bright pinks and blues and yellows, we can do that as well. Or if they want toppings on top like with my Oreo cakepops. I top them with little Oreo crumbles on top. I can just do whatever fits my clients’ desires.

Wharton Global Youth: What is the most popular cakepop flavor? Is there one?

Danielle: Yes, there are actually two. We have Oreo. My clients really love that flavor for some reason. And they also love red velvet. I would say those two flavors are definitely my most popular. Whenever I’m getting orders, a lot of my clients usually ask me, okay, what are your most popular flavors? Because a lot of the times they’re undecided and they really want a good mix of cake-pop flavors for the events. And I always tell them Oreo and red velvet are fan favorites.

Wharton Global Youth: Do you have a favorite?

Danielle: I actually don’t have a favorite. I think I like them all.

Wharton Global Youth: Good answer. I want to talk more about the product. How did you arrive at your product assortment? Do you do a lot of testing in your kitchen? Were there any flavors that you developed that didn’t make the final cut?

Danielle: When creating cakepops, there’s definitely a lot of testing that goes on, because creating cakepops is not necessarily a universal process. Each baker has their own way of baking cakepops. And there’s a lot of different methods that you can use to make the cakepop. So, it depends on what works best for the baker and what works best for me. In the beginning, I tested out a lot of methods on how to make cakepops and just choosing the right method for me. So, definitely have people taste test and try out different designs and gathering inspiration online and seeing, ‘okay, what do I want my products in specific to look like?’

Wharton Global Youth: That sounds like a bit of an iterative process that you developed over time. Was there anything that didn’t quite work? A flavor that maybe you were like, oh, no, this isn’t going to make the final cut.

Danielle: Not necessarily flavors, per se, but I will definitely say methods. There have been a couple batches where cakepops are too heavy, the batter itself is too wet. So, it falls off the stick. Or it’s too dry, so it doesn’t stay up on the stick. Or maybe the chocolate doesn’t melt right. And it just really takes a lot of trial and error for you to learn what works for you and what you’re more comfortable with. And after many trials in the beginning stages, I finally found a method that works for me and that I’m comfortable with. And this is essentially the best recipe from what my customers have told me.

Cakepopulis treats.

Wharton Global Youth: Your entrepreneurship journey actually began in the classroom. We’d love to hear more about that. How did your high school help to inspire innovation for you? And what were some of the ways you turned your idea into an enterprise?

Danielle: Cakepopulis started in the classroom, as you said. So I attend McNair High School and I created Cakepopulis from my NFTE [Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship] entrepreneurship class. And my entrepreneurship teacher was Linus Coleman. So, shoutout to him and his support and helping me to create Cakepopulis.

In our entrepreneurship class, we had a challenge. We had to find a problem that maybe we see in our local community, maybe in our school, maybe at home, or on a broader scale that we want to solve or take part in. So, my challenge was, kids get hungry during the day, sometimes they’re craving a little snack or a sweet treat and they don’t always have access to it, or they get hungry before lunchtime. So, the question for me when thinking internally is: how can I pair something that I’m great at — a skill that I know I can do very well — with the problem that I face in my community?

When talking with my advisor, he was like, ‘Well, Danielle, what’s something that you do really well, that you’re passionate about?’ And I was like, ‘I love baking.’ And he was like, ‘Well, you love baking. I know you know how to make cakepops. Why don’t you do a cakepop shop?’ And I remember thinking, can it really be that simple? How can a cakepop shop really solve that kind of a big problem? But essentially, it’s not always about having what seems like a big solution to solve a big problem. Sometimes, it’s the smaller solutions to make just a little bit of a difference in your community. So, I [said], let me make a cakepop shop to help solve this problem within my community.

And I really think having Mr. Coleman as well as NFTE helped me along that journey. NFTE is so important because it helps you to learn by doing. So, you’re not just learning about the different elements of solving a problem, but you’re actually going through them. I went through those different steps in order to create a business and to create a business that solves a problem. And I think that’s important. I’m grateful to Mr. Coleman and NFTE that I was able to go through that process to create Cakepopulis.

Wharton Global Youth: It sounds like you had a lot of support. And just to note, when you say NFTE, you’re talking about the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, for those who don’t know that acronym. I’d love to know when you decided in the classroom that this project could be an entrepreneurial venture, was there a moment where you thought, hey, this could really be a business?

Danielle: There was an “aha” moment. That aha moment happened a couple of times. When I was brainstorming with Mr. Coleman about [the project and solving a problem]. What is something I know how to do very well that I can [use to] create a business? I remember saying, ‘you love to bake.’ What is something you can bake? Essentially, you are feeding the students if they get hungry in the day, and I remember [thinking] Okay, cakepops! Is it really as simple as creating a sweet treat to solve this problem? So that was my first aha moment. And then being in the kitchen and baking and then selling off my first batch and [thinking] wow, this is really a business. Those are my top aha moments of Cakepopulis [becoming] an actual business.

Wharton Global Youth: From there, did you develop your own company logo and website?

Danielle: Of course. So, before I created Cakepopulis, I did make cakepops on the side, and I would sell them here and there. And I did sell them at a pop-up shop I had a couple months before Cakepopulis was a brand. But after completing the entrepreneurship course, it was during that course where I created a logo for Cakepopulis and worked on that brand, that logo that would be on my product. And then a while after that, I would say a couple months, is when I started working on my website, and what I would want to put on there, how did I want it to look – designing for my website.

Wharton Global Youth: How would you describe your brand?

Danielle: I would describe my brand as colorful. My logo has hot pink on it. So, whenever I’m representing Cakepopulis, or I’m going out to talk about my business, or going to different events, you’re often going to see me in some pink. I’m definitely going to have some pink on. I might have pink pants on. I might have a pink suit on…because I like pink. So definitely, pink is a large part of Cakepopulis’s brand, but just a lot of bright colors. And pink!

Wharton Global Youth: You’ve talked a lot about your customer service and what your clients want. Share some customer stories with us. Have you sold cakepops at events, birthday parties? What was it like to fulfill those orders? Tell us about the customer experience.

Danielle: I have catered events. A couple months back I catered an event in November. I have catered birthday parties, as well. And people, even regular customers, have told me that they’re not usually a fan of sweets, but my cakepops are a good balance — because of course it is a dessert it is a sweet treat — but it’s not an overpowering amount. So, it’s something they can consume one two or three, even though they’re not a fan of sugar, or they might be health conscious. I definitely take that into account when baking as well, to make sure that there’s a balance and it’s not overpowering. And people also talk about my great customer service. Before I created my website, I would have to communicate with my customers through email. And they told me [that I was] always replying to them in a timely manner. I’m respectful. And I’m just there to help them, any questions they have. They don’t feel like I’m dismissing them when I’m talking back to them. I will answer any and all of the questions that they have. Overall, they say it’s a great treat.

Wharton Global Youth: Do you have an example of one client you’ve worked with?

Danielle: I have worked with the mother of one of my good friends. She wanted me to cater her event. And she was the one who told me she’s not a fan of sweets, but tasting my cakepops, she realized it’s a sweet treat, but it’s really not so sugary; it’s not [cloying].

Wharton Global Youth: You mentioned your teacher before. And you’ve also mentioned NFTE. I’m wondering if you’ve had mentors along the way and how they’ve helped you?

Danielle: I definitely have mentors. In the school building, I would say, my business teacher, Linus Coleman, has helped me a lot and not just in cake-pop endeavors, but even in my personal endeavors, as well. [He] just keeps me motivated and is always there. If I want to bounce ideas off him or just need to talk, he’s there. I have NFTE mentors, as well. One of those mentors would be Victor Martinez. Just being able to work with Victor this past year or two has been a great experience. Even though he’s a very busy person, and even after I completed the NFTE Challenge, I still feel a part of NFTE. I’m able to talk to him and get his help on certain things. And even through the process of creating Cakepopulis, he’s been there as a helping hand.

Wharton Global Youth: The NFTE challenge. Was that a competition? And did you have to advance through different rounds of the competition?

Danielle: At the end of my entrepreneurship class, one of us got submitted into the NFTE Business Plan Challenge, which is where you had to present your business plan that you were working on throughout the course. My teachers selected me, and I competed in NFTE’s programs. You compete locally, then you move on to regionals, then you move on to nationals. I moved on through the different stages and I competed, and through these competitions, I was just able to meet all these amazing people, as well. I was able to show off Cakepopulis, as well as get feedback from business professionals in the business world who were working at these companies, [giving me] their feedback on how to make my business better and how to help make it more marketable. Recently, I competed in the national business challenge competition, as well. That was a great experience.

Wharton Global Youth: Was there one piece of advice that really stuck with you from the business professionals?

Danielle: One piece of advice that really stuck with me I would say is to be yourself — and that your company is a part of you; your company is a reflection of you. You should be proud of that. And you should want to show it off and, in a sense, brag about your company because in a way it’s an extension of you. When you’re marketing your product or your business to other business professionals or judges, just remember that it is a part of you, and show a little bit of personality when you’re doing it as well. They’re not just buying the business; they’re in a way buying you too. If they decide to work with you in the future, it’s not just your business, but it’s you as a person, as an individual.

Wharton Global Youth: That is a great segue into my next question, which is what value has Cakepopulis given to you these past couple of years? What have you learned and how have you grown?

Danielle: I’ve grown. I would say that Cakepopulis has [taught] me: don’t minimize an opportunity. I’m definitely a shy person. There are certain things that I shy away from or opportunities that I’m scared to grasp onto because I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s just gonna be this small thing. It’s not going to really do much for me.’ But even the small thing — like going through an entrepreneurship class and creating a business presentation, a business plan – [is valuable]. [Before this experience], I would never have known that, okay, it’s going to turn into this legitimate business and I’m going to be having all these different opportunities, like presenting my business plan to judges and competing for investment money, or even doing this podcast with you. I never would have known that. So, Cakepopulis and being on the journey of creating a business has taught me to never minimize an opportunity. And always try to grasp onto anything that you can. Also, never be afraid to get help. I want to suffer in silence sometimes because I don’t always like to talk to people. So, creating a business and being an entrepreneur has helped me to open myself up a little bit and ask for help, because there’s going be someone out there who has the potential and the ability and they want to help you. All you have to do is ask.

Wharton Global Youth: Will that innovative spirit be part of your life after high school? What’s next for you after you graduate?

Danielle: After high school, I would like to pursue a degree in business marketing, specifically product marketing, which came from this whole process of creating a business. I really just fell in love with the process. And that’s something that I’d like to do after completing my education. So, I would like to continue Cakepopulis, and I want it to grow. Recently, I have started not limiting myself to just people in my area, but I’ve started to ship products to customers all across the United States. I want to continue to expand. As I go through college and gain my degree, I would like to start expanding my customer base and start shipping to customers all over the United States, and really help Cakepopulis grow, because it does have that potential. I believe that after a couple years of working to expand my business, it can become something great. I’d like to see that happen in the future.

Wharton Global Youth: I would too. May Cakepopulis rule the world!

Let’s wrap up with our lightning round. Try to answer these questions as quickly as you can.

Other than cakepops, what is your favorite homemade baked treat?

Danielle: Ooh, my favorite homemade baked treat would be cupcakes. I love making cupcakes.

Wharton Global Youth: What is the most exotic food you have ever tried?

Danielle: Ooh, most exotic food. I don’t really try new things that often, but I would say the most exotic thing would probably be seaweed chips.

Wharton Global Youth: Something about you that would surprise us?

Danielle: Well, a lot of people don’t know this, but I’m a traveler. I love to travel. I love to see new places and do road trips and things like that. I’ve visited 26 Or probably 27 states in the United States.

Wharton Global Youth: In a few words, what does entrepreneurship mean to you?

Danielle: Creativity. It means innovation. It means grit. It means taking initiative.

Wharton Global Youth: A brand that you have long been devoted to or that you admire?

Danielle: Probably Oreo. I love Oreos. Their brand – yes.

Wharton Global Youth: Something you don’t yet know that you hope to learn?

Danielle: As I want to go into marketing, I want to learn more about SEO [Search Engine Optimization] marketing and Google Analytics.

Wharton Global Youth: What would you be caught binge-watching at midnight?

Danielle: Oh, I would be caught watching a medical show, like Chicago Med or Grey’s Anatomy.

Wharton Global Youth: If you could take one businessperson out to lunch, who would it be? And why?

Danielle: I would take out the CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, J.D. LaRock. In the future, I want to create my own non-profit organization. I’d want to talk to him more about his motivations and why he did it and more importantly, how he did it as well.

Wharton Global Youth: Danielle, thank you for joining us on Future of the Business World.

Danielle: Thank you for having me.

Conversation Starters

How has Danielle’s entrepreneurship journey helped her to grow? What specifically has she learned about life and her own interests?

Have you developed a product like Danielle’s cakepops? Share your product development story in the comment section of this article.

What question would you ask Danielle if you could? Share it in the comment section and she just may answer you!

Rizwan Ahmed
Rizwan Ahmed
AuditStudent.com, founded by Rizwan Ahmed, is an educational platform dedicated to empowering students and professionals in the all fields of life. Discover comprehensive resources and expert guidance to excel in the dynamic education industry.


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