This is part of the Successful Businesses Interview Series, where I feature successful businesses that are making a difference in others’ lives.
The second interview in the series features Delcie’s Desserts, a vegan bakery that produces vegan brownies, tea cakes, cup cakes and cakes that are egg-free and dairy-free. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan living in Singapore, you would most definitely have heard of them.
I first knew about Delcie’s from my vegan friends several years ago, but never paid much attention. I subsequently came across their desserts while dining at a restaurant a couple of months ago, and immediately became a fan.
To date, I’ve tried Delcie’s brownies and cakes, and they’re absolutely delicious. What I’m most amazed is how Delcie is able to create cakes and desserts with no egg, diary nor butter.
Even though their desserts are vegan, a number of their customers are non-vegetarians and non-vegans, because it’s that good. Also, Delcie’s desserts is a healthier option. They use organic ingredients, and the cakes can be made sugar-free and gluten-free as well.
I bought a Mud Fudge cake, one of Delcie’s most popular cakes, for my mom for Mother’s Day.
One of Delcie’s main cake selections. This one is the “Deulce De Luche Banana Cake”.
They offer tea cakes too. This is the Banana Walnut Loaf. I haven’t tried it yet but it looks really great.
They do customized cakes as well and are able to produce some extremely creative cake designs.
More customized cakes
I think Udders will love the one on the left. 😆 Check out more of their customized cake designs here: Customized Cake Orders
Delcie’s was started by Delcie Lam in 2008, so it’s been 3 years since it was launched. It wasn’t an overnight success – There were many obstacles faced. For example, when Delcie decided to pursue her passion in baking in ’08, she faced resistance from her parents, who felt a business lacked stability compared to a salaried job. Her mom fell sick with cancer not long after Delcie started her business, and Delcie had to deal with the loss of her mom several months later. Business did not do well in the first year, even after throwing in all her life’s savings, and she made losses, month after month.
Yet, Delcie persisted with her business, and never gave up. She assessed her obstacles and addressed them one by one. She listened to her customers and took their feedback. She found a need for vegetarian/vegan desserts and changed her business focus to target the vegetarian/vegans. She changed her menu to 100% vegetarian and introduced new options. It’s been less than 3 years, and Delcie’s is now a thriving vegan bakery in Singapore. Today, Delcie’s touches the lives of others, day after day, with her cakes.
Throughout the interview, I found Delcie’s replies to be very heartfelt and earnest, a special touch compared to the other interviews in the series. Like me, her business is more than just a business – it’s a passion and her life.
I hope that you’ll find this interview helpful – I definitely did. I now bring to you Delcie Lam, owner of Delcie’s Desserts:
Q1) Tell us more about you, Delcie – Who are you and what are your passions in life?
From an early age, my passion for confectionary artistry was ignited when I won a cake mixer from a lucky draw. Since then, I became obsessed with baking while experimenting in the kitchen – cracking eggs, measuring flour and whisking batter.
Q2) What is Delcie’s Desserts?
Delcie’s Desserts is a vegan bakery and the only bakery in Singapore that bakes so healthily. The philosophy of Delcie’s is to bake organic, egg-free, dairy-free and sugar-free cakes and desserts that taste great and yet are nutritious and guilt-free, through the art of healthy baking with healthy methods and ingredients.
Q3) Who do you target?
My primary target audience are the Vegetarians, Vegans, Diabetic Patients, Cancer Patients, Expats, Adults and Children with food allergy problems and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). My secondary target audience are health conscious ladies aged between 25-55.
Being the pioneer in Organic, Diabetic and Vegan Friendly, Eggs, Dairy & Gluten Free baking, I’m a strong advocate to healthy eating ever since my mother passed away due to stomach and intestine cancer. I believe that food could either be your medicine or your poison. Through my cakes, I aspire to spread healthy eating choices so everyone can enjoy cakes without guilt.
Listening to my customers’ feedback has always played a very important role in my products’ development. If it’s not for my customers, I would not have pushed myself to develop all these “impossible” recipes that could fully cater to these groups of people who need them.
Q4) When did you first start your business?
[Before I started Delcie’s,] I was an art director in Doyle Dane and Bernbach (DDB) Singapore. As I was so committed to my day job, I hardly found time to bake anymore. Encouraged to follow my heart and share my love for food with others, I quit my job after 2 years (in 2008) to pursue my childhood desire. That was how Delcie’s Desserts and Cakes came about.
Q5) How did you first come up with the idea?
When I first started Delcie’s Desserts, it was because I believe desserts and cakes can be healthy too. With this motive in mind, the direction that I approached became more distinctive after I changed my menu. Initially, the desserts were made only using organic ingredients with low sugar formular. Now, they are not just organic, but trans-fat free, cholesterol free, low in calories and we can even make it sugar-free too.
Q6) After you came up with the idea, how did you get started? Please walk us through what the first 1 year of your journey was like.
Delcie: When I first started, I threw in my entire 24 years of hard savings, part of which included all the scholarship and bursary money into the business. My parents were not convinced in me setting up my business as compared to getting a regular paid salary from my day job in advertising. It was an irony as they were running their own business too, yet they dismissed the idea of me setting up my own business. I guess, I took their dismissal as a challenge for me to prove to them otherwise.
In 2008, I began my business in a humble shop at a quiet neighborhood, co-sharing my shop with bubble-tea shop owners. [One day,] they abandoned the shop, fled to Malaysia and left me with only a chiller and my cake mixer.
Since then, I took over the entire shop space and started my little baking haven quietly. Many bakers would have started their baking business from home but I strongly believe in being responsible in my baking and to provide an assurance for all my customers by baking in a NEA approved shop and not from home. (Celes: NEA = National Environment Agency. It’s a local statutory board that maintains public health standards.)
Not long after [I started my business], my mother fell sick with cancer. I battled between opening the shop to sustain the operation vs. visiting her at the hospital as she was at her last stage. I’m glad I made a choice to spend more time with her as that was the last few months of interaction I had with her before she passed away.
During that first year, Delcie’s was selling normal pastries and desserts and didn’t do well. I made losses every month during the first year and was unable to break even. During 2009 December, I had the intention to give up.
It was until a calling to turn vegetarian initiated by my fiance for health reasons, that I started introducing vegetarian into my diet. Plus, I have vegetarian followers who also encourage me to add more vegetarian desserts into my menu. I decided to listen to them because it is either a make it or break it situation for me.
I went ahead to change my entire menu into 100% vegetarian and it was slowly over the years that I started developing diabetic friendly and gluten free versions to suit my customers’ strict diet. Luckily for me, this worked out. It has been a good one year ever since I change my menu and I am glad that the customers who tasted my cakes really enjoyed it too.
It wasn’t easy but if not for my mother’s experience with cancer, I would not have been exposed to organic food. If not for my fiance, I would not have venture into vegetarian diet myself. If not for my customers, I would not have taken the steps to change my menu. So I have all these wonderful people in my life to thank for.
Celes: Delcie didn’t start out her business targeting vegetarians and vegans – it sold regular pastries and desserts, and didn’t do well. It was after she saw the market demand for vegetarian/vegan desserts that she switched her business focus. Always be sensitive to market needs – What is the market in demand for now? What do the customers need? Then adapt accordingly and address their needs with a superior product/service.
Q7) How long did it take (after starting) before you experienced the first signs of success? What were those signs of success?
I guess it was when one customer called me tell me that she had tried my cakes at her friend’s party and loved our cakes that I knew my cakes are good. A common person [would] normally assume a healthy cake to be “tasteless and hard” when my cakes are tasty and moist.
Q8) At which point did you know with certainty that it had taken off?
When I start getting more and more customers coming to me with positive feedbacks and referrals.
Q9) What would you say are the biggest drivers of your success today?
- My Mother. She was the one that taught me to save for raining days and that day came when I decided I wanted to step out of my comfort zone. She was also the one that taught me to eat healthily, thereafter introducing me to organic food when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer 5 years ago. She also taught me to be generous in giving as she was also a very charitable person.
- My Fiance. He was with me when I started my business, always giving me encouragement when I’m unhappy or felt like giving up. I remember when I first started and was making losses in the business, he told me that he would support me by paying all my meals if we were to eat out and he really did that for 1 whole year until i finally get to pay myself salary for the first time. Thereafter, every time, I get a mental block and run of ideas, he would come in with a different perspective to enlighten me. At times, given myself as a person who is irrational in making decisions, he would be the equilibrium to balance this side of me.
- My customers. If not for all their continual support and feedback, I would have never gotten the chance to improve myself and my recipes. Many businesses fail because they did not listen to their customers. Hence I would not repeat this mistake.
Q10) Looking back, what were the biggest obstacles you faced in your entrepreneurship journey to date? How did you overcome them?
It was the cash flow and knowing that my initial menu did not work. Stepping out of the box and looking at what my customers really want is how I overcame it.
Q11) What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned in this journey?
Perseverance and willingness to change to improve oneself.
Celes: Persistence is required for the success of any goal, especially if you want to run a successful business – there will be all kinds of obstacles that stand in your way. You have to be ready to do whatever it takes to overcome all obstacles, and willing to commit yourself 110% to truly make it.
On willingness to change, always review your methods and check if they’re bringing in results. Discard what’s not working, and keep the things that are working. Be loyal to your vision and end goal and don’t get attached to methods, approaches, or beliefs.
Q12) If you are to start all over again, what are the top 3 things you’d do as you start your business?
I would change nothing. Every single experiences I had have groom me into what I am today. If without all my past experience even though some are nasty, I would not have the chance to learn from it to become better.
If I can have, it would be having more capital to do more marketing for my brand.
Q13) How would you advise someone who is just starting his/her business and wants to bring it to the million-dollar mark and beyond?
[While] I have not reached there myself, I do believe it is a matter of time. When I first started, I was ambitious and unrealistic thinking all it takes is one step, and you shall receive the gold. But it is not that simple as I had encountered multiple setbacks and hitting myself into the wall before I realised that it is not that easy.
To reach that million dollar mark and beyond, think about your long-term goals and then decide if your current business be able to bring you there. If not, perhaps you would like to ask your customers, what would they like to see you change for the better.
Many times, especially for business owners, we are often trapped in our own circle and unable to see from the third party point of view. We really need to ask the people who are not involve in your business to give you their views and listen to them. I know as owners, we can be too proud to admit we are wrong sometimes. I commit that mistake too even until today but I always remind myself to be aware of my behavior and change it.
Last but not least, be willing to change and innovate your products to suit the current trend.
Q14) What’s next in your plans?
I am currently under going the Health Promotion Board, healthier choice program to get Delcie’s Desserts certified as the healthier choice bakery. It is almost coming to the final stage after so long with their strict criteria but I do hope I could get it as this will allow consumer to make the right choice which I have been advocating – allowing everyone to enjoy their cakes without feeling guilty.
Also, on the side, I am shopping for an ideal retail unit that could show case Delcie’s Desserts as its first flag-ship retail store. With this, we hope to attract both local and south east asia franchisee with similar health vision to put Delcie’s Desserts on the map.
Delcie Lam is the founder and Managing Director of Delcie’s Dessert, a vegan bakery in Singapore that produces organic, egg-free, dairy-free and sugar-free cakes and desserts. Check out Delcie’s at their website: www.DelciesDesserts.com
This is part of the Successful Businesses Interview Series, where I feature successful businesses that are making a difference in others’ lives.