Learning from powerhouse women in business

What used to be a man’s ballgame is now being infiltrated by women. Females now take the helm of companies and run their own playbook. The climb is still steep and the challenges are endless, but many women have shown that they, too, can take the steering wheel when it comes to driving a business to success.


Sheryl Thai began her career in the IT&T industry before she founded Cupcake Central. Sheryl won the Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2013 at the Australian Start Up Awards and was also a finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards 2016, Entrepreneur category. These days, Sheryl spends the majority of her days fulfilling the role as CEO of the League of Extraordinary Women, an organisation she co-founded in 2011.

Emma Welsh is the founder of Emma & Toms. Emma and her childhood friend, Tom Griffith, identified that Australians wanted more super-premium, super-tasting juices with nothing added apart from the goodness. As a result, Emma & Tom’s Life Juice was born.

In this day and age when gender equality is openly discussed, let us zoom our lens on women who get to the top of the business world and shape their own path towards entrepreneurial wins. WeTeachMe sought the help of Cupcake Central founder Sheryl Thai and Emma & Toms founder Emma Welsh to share how they did it for their respective ventures through the Masters Series talk, Powerhouse Women In Business.

Discrimination against women is a thing of the past, but the remnants of that mindset and culture are not yet totally wiped out. It is up to you if you will let that cower you from taking your place under the sun. For Sheryl and Emma, this has not stopped them from creating successful businesses. How did they do it? If you want to know how to get from point A to point Z, learn how Sheryl grew Cupcake Central from less than $2000 to now 5 stores with over 85 staff members.

Find your passion

The first step to having a successful business is taking a look at the starting line. Ask yourself, what drives you to found your company?

Building a business and growing it to become a rising enterprise is not an easy feat. Taking a look at Sheryl’s story, it was only when she was into the business that she discovered how difficult and challenging it can be. “Now I understand why everyone says you have to be passionate about what you do because you can just actually give up easily. I guess you will have to be driven with this desire and burning passion to have no other choice but to make it work,” Sheryl realised.

Finding your passion is easier said than done. It is not something where you’ll just close your eyes and the answer will come. You may find interest in a thousand things, but which among these pursuits merit your dedication to build a business around it? It takes a little bit of soul-searching for you to determine which among your passions will drive you to work day and night, beyond your comfort zone, for it to take shape and fly to heights you haven’t imagined. Based on what Sheryl shared, here are some simple tips you can consider:

Know where your interest lies and experience it yourself.

Sometimes, you want to achieve what others have attained or yearn to do what others have done. While it is good to have some basis for your interest, you have to find it out yourself and not just look at other people’s successes. There are certain things that, unless you actually experience it, you will never find out if it is really what you want.

Sheryl once believed that working in information technology (IT) was a dream job because she saw her uncle, an IT consultant, earning heaps of money and spending about six months a year traveling. As a result, she studied business information systems and eventually landed an IT job in a global company. But when she was already in the corporate world, she quickly fathomed that she wasn’t cut for it. What she had in mind about her dream job did not reconcile with the realities of her work. “I would wake up every morning thinking what excuse do I have so I could get out of work,” she revealed.

If you have an interest or an idea of what you really want to do, expose yourself to that industry. Learn the ins and outs by being hands on. Talk to people who are into it. Doing a bit of research on anything and everything related to your business is essential because once you commit to it, you have to be there for the long haul.

Open your mind and heart to many possibilities.

There are instances wherein you get to discover where your passion lies only when you have a close encounter to it. It is important that you expand your boundaries and keep yourself perceptive of things around you. You’ll never know, a simple circumstance can open tons of ideas and blossom to new discoveries.

In Sheryl’s case, she was on a globalisation study tour in New York when she saw people waiting for hours for cupcakes. “We went to a bakery called Magnolia Bakery and people were lining up for cupcakes. It was ridiculous and I thought they were crazy, but I did the same thing. I walked in there, got a cupcake and I then thought, I’m obsessed with cupcakes.”

There are some interests that appear in an instant while some develop over time. Be curious, walk around your neighbourhood, travel, interact with people, read a lot, enrol in a class. You’ll be surprised what you’ll stumble upon. It might be a hobby you’ve abandoned years ago or it might be a new skill you are just about to acquire.

Indulge yourself with your hobby.

Sheryl didn’t just satisfy her cravings by consuming cupcakes. She taught herself how to bake cupcakes, tried her hand on it, and made cupcakes for her others. She brought some to her workmates and found that they loved her baked goodies.

Once you’ve gotten your hand on your passion, hone your skills and learn about the technical side of doing it. Then, allow others to see the result by letting them test your product or service.

Hatch your dream

It took an unlikely situation for Sheryl to go after her dream of running a business of her own. She walked into work one day and found out she no longer had a job. Although she cried over it, she thought, “It was time to follow my dream and hatch that dream and so, I decided to bake cupcakes for a living.”

It is not every day that you encounter situations like this. In fact, don’t wait to be pushed against a wall before you consider springing into action and turning your dream into a reality. Just go forward with your passion and skills in order for your goals to take shape.

Even when you have decided to take that bold step, there can be oppositions along the way. You just have to be steadfast as Sheryl was. The moment she announced that she was to follow her dream of building a business out of cupcakes, it was questioned by some people around her. Unfazed, Sheryl went ahead to whip up a plan for her venture. These are what she did and learned along the way.

Lay the groundwork for your business.

To hatch your dream, you have to do specific steps to bring you closer to it. It won’t magically appear on your doorstep, so you have to do something to let it happen. For Sheryl, she did the following plan of action that laid the foundation of Cupcake Central.

  1. Scribbled out a business plan
  2. Registered the business name
  3. Became a solo trader
  4. Registered home kitchen
  5. Launched an online business
  6. Started with less than $2000
Ask the right people.

“Before I went into establishing Cupcake Central, I didn’t know how to start a business so, I just asked my friends. The people I knew, they didn’t have business either, but I still asked some of them how to register a home kitchen and they said ‘I think it costs ten thousand dollars and you have to build a whole different kitchen from your normal kitchen where you’re cooking.’ I thought, I don’t have tens of thousands of dollars and I don’t want to build another kitchen as my parents won’t probably let me,” Sheryl recounted.

But upon checking with the council, Sheryl learned that she only needed to modify her kitchen and put a hand sink, which cost her about $500 only. Had she listened to her friends, she could have ended up spending thousands of dollars that wouldn’t be necessary to the business. It was a lesson learned: never take advice from people who have never done it before.

Get the right team.

When Sheryl built Cupcake Central she wanted to create a good working environment for her staff. That time when she was employed, she hated going to work so, in effect, she didn’t want her people to feel the same in their work environment. However, getting a good mix of people can be quite tricky.

Emma pointed out that they select people to be part of their team based on one’s character, to which Sheryl agrees, since Cupcake Central does not only hire based on skills and experiences, but also on the attitude of the person, which is the pinnacle to being a good team member. Your staff must be able to imbibe the company’s vision and values and work well with the other staff members. Sheryl often had to put their new recruit in their van with someone else for a week as a trial period for that person.

Another tricky scenario for both Emma and Sheryl is that they have to work with persons with whom they have a personal relationship – Emma’s husband has joined Emma & Toms, while Sheryl’s business partner is her former boyfriend. They had to establish trust, respect and professionalism to keep the business going and to shield it from personal complications.

Be resourceful in growing your business.

Sheryl launched the online component of Central Cupcake at minimal cost. All she did was ask a friend to make a website for her business. Since that friend was getting married during that time, she offered to bake his wedding cupcake in return for his services.

You don’t need to shell out money in everything you do for your business. Sometimes, you can do an exchange of products, services or favors.

Stick to your values

Once you have established your business, remain true to your brand. Always use your vision as a guide in every decision-making process and stick to the values you have set for your company.

For Cupcake Central, it is defined by its three features:

  • Quality – they only have freshly-baked cupcakes every day.
  • Experience – they make the whole experience delightful, to the extent of teaching people how to bake cupcakes, as they run Master classes using the WeTeachMe platform.
  • Aspiration – they create products that make people feel good being associated with their brand.

Growing the business

Becoming a powerhouse woman in business meant making your business a powerhouse in itself. The most important aspect once you launch your business is to propel it upwards to reach many milestones and victories. Sheryl lists three ways to do this:


Cupcake Central continues to grow, not just with its number of stores or quantity of products but also in the quality of their food offerings and services. They create cupcakes with doughnuts on top. They make a variety of flavours and designs that would continually attract people to the brand.

Now, they not only bake cupcakes but they also offer classes, which have brought in quarter million dollars into the business. They have also come up with resources like books. There are many ways on how you can expand your business. See where you can innovate and make it grow.


The brand has collaborated with Cake Boss, a popular program in America, and other known brands that could add value to its enterprise. Collaborations create great business relationships and potentials that could help grow your business. Approach brands and companies that are aligned to your vision, mission and values. Put a few slides and make presentations on how they can gain out of the partnership.

Utilise social media

Sheryl recognises the immense power of social media nowadays. It is where she gets to connect with customers and build a community for her business. At present, Cupcake Central has over 55,000 followers on Instagram and they utilise this social media platform in getting people to share their experiences and create interest for their products and services. Sheryl notes that when you post something on social media, make sure that you educate, entertain, or enlighten your readers to be able to generate engagement.

As a side note, you can also check our previous post on Social media marketing for startups to learn more about his topic.

Start Now

With all these insights right at the tip of your hands, you can now put into action the learnings you have accumulated here. So, get those pens and notebooks ready, scribble your business plan with your vision in mind, hatch that dream, stir yourself into action, and make your way towards becoming a powerhouse in business.


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