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“I would have to say if you want to start a business just to start a business, you may want to rethink that.”

The Smart Baker was officially founded in 2009 by Daniel and Stephanie Rensing, but it was years in the making. The young couple has been spending time in the kitchen together and baking up goodies for their families since they started dating as high school sweethearts. Every time they entered the kitchen, they would search for an easier, smarter and more efficient way of doing things.

One challenge they always had was finding a recipe that yielded just the right amount. When they baked for themselves, they’d scale recipes down considerably. When they were making treats for their large families, they’d have to scale the recipes up. In the process, Daniel and Stephanie would always need to convert measurements for an easier and faster way to measure out their ingredients. One day, Daniel made Stephanie an apron with the measurement conversions printed upside down for easy reading. And thus, The Smart Baker was born.

MO: Can you talk about the development process behind taking a simple idea and turning it into a manufacturing and e-commerce business servicing all different type of industries?

Daniel: Our situation may be different than most since we didn’t plan on or expect to start a business. I made a simple apron I made for my wife Stephanie and we put it online on a popular marketplace to see if we could make some money on the side. Little did we know that we would soon be contacted by Food Network Magazine wanting to feature our Cheat Sheet Apron in their holiday issue. We were now put in the position to decide if we wanted to take this little side project and make something out of it. When trying to source ready made aprons, we realized they didn’t fit the bill for us, so we decided to source them ourselves thru globalsources.com. Once we found the company we needed, we quickly put together a simple 1 page, PayPal only type website to direct the readers to make a purchase. It was a huge success! Our initial investment was recouped right away and now we had the opportunity to update our site and think about what’s next for our new brand The Smart Baker.

MO: What was a challenge that you faced in the early days of development and how did you overcome it?

Daniel: The biggest challenge was deciding on how we were going to get our products made. When sourcing companies in the US, we were getting lead times that told us they would be getting them from overseas and just marking it up. I thought to myself, if they are just going to get it from China, why can’t I cut out the middle man and get them myself? I may have been a bit naive to think it was that simple, but by using globalsources.com and skype, the process wasn’t as intimidating. There are tons of factories that are looking for work, the tough part is deciding who to trust and who can actually produce the product the way we wanted. There were a lot of emails, skype conversations and samples through a variety of different companies. We then took a leap of faith with one and it turned out to be a great choice.

MO: What did your initial marketing strategy look like? How did your strategy evolve as you understood the huge potential for your product and beyond?

Daniel: After having the Cheat Sheet Apron featured in Food Network Magazine, we initially thought we needed to continue with that marketing strategy and get our apron included in as many magazines and gifts guides as possible. As we continued to add new products like our Cupcake and Treat Towers, Cake Pop Stands and Perfect Parchment, we realized that the ROI for print was far less than targeting online traffic. We found ourselves frequently increasing our online market budget for Google Adwords, Blog Sponsorships and SEO. With these advertising outlets we saw an immediate return on the investment and have been using that as our #1 way to advertise. With the exposure that we have had in the online space, we now work with many resellers and are happy to announce we will have our products on retail shelves very soon.

MO: What tips or insights would you pass onto a couple who are contemplating launching a business together?

Daniel: I would have to say if you want to start a business just to start a business, you may want to rethink that. We were lucky to be able to start a company around a passion. Stephanie’s baking lead to use having the ability to see a problem and make something to solve it. We bake all of the time, so it’s something we enjoy doing. Having a business built around one of our joys is key since we are already heavily involved in it. Secondly, running a business takes a lot of patience and nerves. Everyone wants to be an overnight success, but it usually doesn’t pan out that way. The Smart Baker is still very young and even though we’ve seen success with our products, we are just beginning. Lastly, you’ll need to take risks. Stephanie and I risked $7500 to get aprons made when we didn’t even know if they would sell. We also took a risk and applied for ABC’s Shark Tank and through a combination of passion and luck we were able to get in front of millions of viewers when our episode aired in March 2012. It goes back to the old saying, no risk, no reward.

MO: How important has social media been to your brand awareness strategy?

Daniel: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are our main channels and we like to keep it genuine and meaningful. Although there is always more we could do with social media, it has definitely helped us connect with our target audiences. Social media provides us with a platform where customers can share photos and tips for how they are using our products and allows us to get a sense of what’s happening in the baking and party planning world. We engage with our followers by asking them questions, creating surveys and offering opportunities for our customer base to offer immediate feedback. One of our most recent posts of a funny-or-gross toilet cake we made for a family member showed how something as simple as a cake can start a conversation. These attention- grabbing posts really help our brand get in front of more people as others share and tag friends and family members because it is something so relatable.

MO: If you had to start over again is there anything that you would do differently?

Daniel: Every that has happened along the way, whether good or bad, has been a learning experience which helps me grow on a personal level as well as the business. Running a business is exhausting, time confusing, frustrating but so rewarding. Every time someone uses one of our products, it makes it all worth it and we wouldn’t want to change any of that. So the simple answer is no, I would not want to redo anything.


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