Venus Chi launched Hong Kong’s first app-based self-service bakery, Bakebe, in 2018, serving up delicious recipes and the ultimate baking guide! The food entrepreneur and self-taught baker chats with Hive Life on her experiences and aspirations for the local baking scene, and introduces us to the unique concept behind her studio.
Having had a series of unfortunate experiences while baking, Venus Chi was inspired to take the initiative and introduce Hong Kong to its first co-baking studio, Bakebe. Teaching delicious recipes through its proprietary application, Venus wanted to share the joy of baking with the city. The app functions as a personal step-by-step guide for bakers to craft aesthetically pleasing and deliciously sweet treats from scratch.
Bakebe’s original concept serves Hong Kongers with everything sweet, from fresh bakes and appetising treats, to Instagram-worthy aesthetics, and more. The co-baking studio’s self-catering bakery runs mostly at a full occupancy, and is adored by both novice bakers and pro-bakers alike.
Bakebe has since successfully scaled beyond Hong Kong, having opened locations in Manilla and Kuala Lumpur. Venus is passionate about catering to the region’s insatiable appetite for freshly baked goods and shares more on her journey in the baking space, as well as her vision for Bakebe’s bright future.
How did you start your career in baking?
I started baking in 2018, when I first opened this business. People always assume that I am a passionate baker and I wanted to open a baking shop, but that was not the case. I wanted to learn how to bake, but I could not find a good spot.
How did your childhood play a role in developing your entrepreneurial skills?
My mom is a businesswoman, and when I first started my little business, I was in primary three. I did not have pocket money at the time, and decided to earn myself. I started to draw Sailor Moon, and sold black and white ones for $5 each, while the coloured ones were $10, and business was good until my teacher found out and told my mother.
My mom was quite impressed and [shared a great piece of advice], that, before I learn how to do business, I need to learn about life perspective, have a correct moral, and deal with the right people, and this is what will make me successful.
What was the inspiration behind Bakebe?
I went to a one-on-one baking class, yet it was so expensive. Later I tried to bake a fondant cake and it was so hard. I then booked a class for baking, but the teacher cancelled on me at the last minute. This got me thinking about why there isn’t a flexible, stress-free space, where you can walk in any time and bake goods, like a flexible coworking space.
I did some research online and [found a similar concept] of a self service baking studio in Taiwan. So I flew to Taiwan immediately and went to all 30 stores. For me, businesswise, it was pretty good money, but the experience was not as good, since it is marketed as self-service, there is no one there to help, so if you fail, it is your own problem. The customers had to wash the dishes by themselves- the whole experience was exhausting. While this was a good business model, I had to find ways to integrate and make it more people-friendly, and more Instagrammable. Personally, having a photo space for me to take photos [was essential], because I want to share with the world that I can bake, and it is such a successful feeling.”
Sometimes you have to thank your competitor- because of them, your brand is able to stand out and you better comprehend how to target your market and audience more specifically.
What other markets are you in other than Hong Kong?
We have one shop in Manila, one in Kuala Lumpur, and two in Hong Kong. My vision is to bake the world a sweeter place, so Hong Kong is not the stop for me, I want to make this an international brand. That’s why we opened [our] Manila and Kuala Lumpur locations in 2019, and it took me only one year to franchise the brand out. It was a magical moment for me.
Who is your target market at Bakebe?
This is the fourth year since we have opened, and every year I am targeting a different audience. At first. it was always the Instagram lovers, and millennials, and then in phase two, I targeted more couples. This year, I am targeting more families, parents, and kids. My recipe expands based on our different phases of target customers, and there is always a reason to come back and bake!
While many visit the shop to bake delicious delights for their friends and family, others come with a different purpose in mind. Venus mentioned how many have sought their self-service baking counters as their personal “mediation de-stress space,” where they get to escape from everyday stress and worries.
“They are the ones who mould my brand and help it become more valuable,” she concluded.
What makes it different from other baking studios in Hong Kong?
Bakebe is the only brand that teaches with an app. Second of all, for our products, we offer a wide range of variety here. Third, is the service- we are the only ones to guarantee that customers will walk out with a real end product, whereas with other brands, since it’s self-service, [customers] may fail, or you may need to pay extra. However, we prepare extra cake bases just in case. If the customer fails, we will always have a fresh cake base ready.
And of course, our venue and the vibes, our store has a romantic theme and is decorated heavily in pink, as well our staff- everyone is bubbly and welcoming here! Our marketing positioning is affordable luxury, so customers can enjoy a luxurious baking experience at a reasonable price.
From Raspberry Meringue Croissants, to Black Truffle and Cheese Palmiers, your recipe catalogue is impressive! What inspires them?
First, is customer feedback. We send our customers a feedback form after their experience with us, asking them how they feel, what can we improve, and what other recipes would they like for us to R&D. We always get some good feedback, [someone suggested] black truffle and cheese which they had in some Michelin star restaurant, I tried it and it was delicious, so we launched it immediately.
We [launch] new recipes every month, for example for Father’s day, we introduced two new ones. It is perfect for kids and daddies too!
What is your signature recipe?
The first product that made us “Instagramable” is called Baby on the Cloud, topped with a balloon.
I was talking to my chef to design something that customers could personalise, pick their own colours, and decorate however they want. It was the first personalised cake designed for our customers. I was quite frustrated with the look and was thinking how we could decorate this. I then stuck the balloon on the cake, and it looked fantastic, and added some meringue on the side. We then posted it on Instagram and it surprisingly got over 2,000 views.
We launched the product immediately, and went on to market it, and it really got our brand famous. We then went on to do some more balloon inspired cakes, such as the Unicorn Balloon Cake!
Are any of the recipes family friendly?
We have unicorn cupcakes, and some vegan cookies and cakes made using soy milk.These are perfect for kids. Then we have some cupcakes, and also puff pastries, which are quite fun to bake as well.
Can you walk us through a typical baking session at the space?
You can walk in anytime, although it is preferred you book it online first, as you might need to wait outside. After you pay, you simply pick the product, each of those products have a different time slot, most are one hour [while] the maximum [we offer] is three hours.
What are some other activities guests can enjoy while at Bakebe?
They can enjoy some tea, and can make some candles in the meantime. [Customers can] try the perfumes available at our stores- we have collaborated with LAN. They can also try on their makeup, and since we have mirrors outside, customers love to take selfies!
Is there a recipe that you find particularly challenging to prepare?
The magic of this app is that everyone can bake like a pro, and it is all baby steps.”
I first start by writing a recipe to make it easy for everyone to learn. I break it down to 200 steps, making it as kid friendly as possible. If I can write a recipe or cookbook for myself, that means anyone can follow those steps and can bake like a pro.
How do you accommodate dietary restrictions with your recipes?
We offer all the breakdowns for customers on our website, as well as our locations, and so if they have any dietary restrictions, they can know ahead of purchasing the project.
You have also recently started a candle making station at Bakebe! How did this idea come about?
We launched candles and flower arrangement projects as our [recent] product extension. Since Bakebe offers a place for customers to de-stress, I focus on [bringing out] the five senses, and while baking [incorporates] all of those, I am always on the look for other products that will go through each one of those sensations. Candles were a perfect way to start, and we now have five scents in two different looks.
What does a day in your life look like?
I’m always running around, and as a mother of a two and a half year old, I need to balance my work and my time for my baby, my husband, as well as my home.
I personally feel more laser=focused after I had a child. I want to avoid passing on the stress to my baby, and would pull myself out of work and check back again later.
There is no certain routine for me, [unlike most] entrepreneurs who wake up at 5am, go workout for two hours, and then go to the office, I am always multitasking and on-the-go, so it is important for me to stay alert.
What advice do you have for others looking to go down a similar path?
First of all, ask for advice. If you think people will copy your idea, [remember] you are the core of your business, so do not be afraid to ask different people. You will encounter plenty of comments and criticism, and when you do try to solve those problems, because criticism is always good.
When running a business, your IQ can make it last longer, but your EQ is how you succeed. EQ is about people and emotional skills, that will make your team grow and [determine] how well you handle your customer feedback.
Do you have anything exciting coming up?
We have a popup coming up in Dubai around Q4. We have some franchisees returning back, so hopefully this time we can open more locations in other countries within a year or so, [which] is quite exciting!