Wong Jie Hui didn’t expect to be a full-time baker, but her passion and sweet tooth won out. Having grown her baking business through social media, she took naturally to mobile payment with DBS PayLah!
I feel happy when I put something in the oven and it turns out well, when people eat it and say good things about it. I feel happy bringing joy to people through my food.
More than 100,000 - that’s how many followers Wong Jie Hui has on Instagram. But no, she isn’t a pop idol or a celebrity – not in the conventional sense anyway.
Jie Hui is the owner and baker of Goobycakes, a bakery specialising in custom baked goods, from cookies and macarons to tiered cakes and cupcakes. Her cakes, designed and baked according to customers’ wishes, are often frosted with pastel-coloured floral swirls or topped with whimsical characters in vivid hues.
“We put a lot of artistry into our creations,” says Jie Hui, who posts pictures of her baked goods on social media like Instagram and Facebook. “If they appeal visually, customers will try them out and spread the word.”
Born into a food-loving family, 25-year-old Jie Hui has been baking since she was 17, with her first attempt being an apple crumble pie. Her induction to the kitchen was earlier, when her mum roped her and her sisters in to bake traditional goodies such as pineapple tarts and ‘love letters’ for Chinese New Year.
Shared meals have always been the focus of her family’s gatherings. Her late maternal grandfather, who had been a hawker and a hotel chef, would cook up feasts with dishes like chilli crabs. Now, catching up with friends and family on weekends and special occasions often means a slow and cosy ‘steamboat’, or hot pot, meal.
To Jie Hui, food is more than just sustenance. It has always been the glue that bonds family and friends. It’s no wonder then that she sees her creations doing the same. “Completing an occasion, being part of a special moment whether it’s a birthday or wedding – it’s very satisfying to be involved in people’s lives through my cakes,” she says.
Growing up with Goobycakes
I thought ‘Goobycakes’ is a good name because the business is something I want to be responsible for, just like I am responsible for my dog Gooby.
Jie Hui started Goobycakes as a home-based business in 2012. Her friends had told her that her cupcakes were good enough for sale. When she began posting pictures of her cupcakes online, people loved the designs and wanted to know if she was selling the cupcakes.
“Setting up a cake business was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. I realised from the encouragement from my friends and in online comments that there might be a demand for what I was making.”
Jie Hui also knew she wouldn’t be happy working in a corporate job, even though she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing. Her decision didn’t sit well with her naval engineer dad and accounts assistant mum. When she was baking at home, they thought she was just indulging in her hobby. Her dad talked to her incessantly about getting a ‘real’ job. Give me a year to do this, pleaded Jie Hui.
“I told myself if I didn’t make money, I would accept that it wasn’t going to work,” she says. But the orders did ring in. Eventually, her parents had a change of heart. As the orders increased, so did the space needed for the business. The kitchen counter and dining table at home were spilling over with cake boxes and baking tools. The oven kept breaking down.
To budding entrepreneurs, I would say this:
Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams, but be realistic at the same time. Set a comfortable timeframe for yourself and do whatever you can to make it work.
Goobycakes moved into a 50-square-metre space in Bukit Timah Shopping Centre in 2013. Now, her family members are the biggest supporters. Her mum helps around the shop and her dad delivers the orders, in their free time. Her sister Jie Ling has come on board to manage sales and customer service.
On most days, the sisters are in the shop from 7am to 7pm. Jie Hui devotes her mornings to baking, and then decorates the cakes. Her sister is usually on Whatsapp and email, communicating with customers about the details of their orders. On busy days, they could be working until midnight.
“I feel motivated when my customers and online followers say that my work is inspiring,” the self-taught baker says. “At first I would be afraid of trying new designs and recipes. But my customers’ trust in me pushes me. I’ve learnt to be willing to challenge myself.”
The baker who is also a friend
If you buy a cake from any other bakery, chances are you don’t know who baked it. I like that my customers know who bakes their cakes and know who I am. It’s more personal, more human.
Jie Hui represents the new breed of young entrepreneurs who use their tech savvy to reach out to their customers. Goobycakes’s customers are mainly students, young adults, and parents with young children. “Our sales are proportional to our social media posts. If we don’t post for a while, there will be fewer orders coming in,” she says.
Cake pictures are not the only things Miss Goob – Jie Hui’s handle on the internet – posts. She uploads pictures of anything from her family and pet to new hairdos and baking failures, and writes about them like a friend chatting about her day.
She has also been fast to catch on to new apps such as DBS PayLah! - a mobile solution that lets her customers transfer their payments instantly by using the shop’s mobile number.
Jie Hui’s dream is to eventually run a café with her family, serving her baked creations. She says her parents have always talked about running their own business in their retirement years. “In a way, I am partly fulfilling their dream,” she says.
But for now, success means fulfilling orders and satisfying her customers every day. “I have found something I want to be responsible for, makes me happy and supports me financially. It is a good thing to do for as long as I can,” she adds.