Justin Ellen found himself at a difficult crossroads at age 17 – should he pursue his passion for baking full-time, or go to college to further his education?
At the time, the youngest contestant on Netflix’s most popular baking show was making custom cakes as a side hustle at home while juggling school.
He takes home at least $5,000 a month, but he can’t help comparing himself to his peers.
“To my disappointment, I saw all my friends [apply for colleges]. “
Still, the young celebrity baker stands by his side, believing that “everyone has their own way.”
Just two years later, the full-time entrepreneur and owner of the cake business, Everything Just Baked, is making over $100,000 a year — and he hasn’t looked back.
In March, he made his debut on Netflix’s Is It Cake?. — A baking competition where cake artists create edible replicas of everyday objects such as bowling pins and sewing machines.
The show premiered on the streaming service on March 18, in America’s Top 10 Most Watched Lists four weeks. It also attracted over 100 million hours of views from around the world.
But the road to success is not without failure, Allen told CNBC’s success. Sheer hard work and wise words from loved ones also helped inspire him.
As a digital native, Ellen knew from the start that having a social media presence was critical to building her business. But it takes a lot of practice and courage to make yourself known.
“In the beginning, my social media wasn’t great…not great photos, they were very blurry. But as I progressed, I realized they had to be very clean.”
Ellen also saw that Instagram was “really pushing” video content on the platform, so he decided to turn the camera on himself, sharing a snippet of his life as a young baker.
“I was definitely shy at first because it was embarrassing to me…but the more you do it, it’s like, oh, honestly, no one cares if your hair is a little frizzy today,” he shared.
“Honestly, it makes you more relatable. People want to know the people behind the brand, and if they like you, they want to spend money with you.”
Even so, Allen said posting on social media was something he “didn’t take seriously” at first.
“I’m just posting for fun. Ultimately, [through] Word of mouth…people keep asking ‘Can I order cake? ‘”
Allen has also slowly built up his following and clients, baking whenever the opportunity arises, even for family events.
“It doesn’t even have to be a huge cake…just make something small because you don’t know who’s going to be there. Someone’s going to eat it and ask, ‘Who made this cake?'”
Before he knew it, he had more than 50,000 followers on Instagram and earned about $5,000 to $9,000 a month in high school.
“I realized, wow, this could be a serious thing.”
When he saw his high school hustle gain momentum, Allen started thinking about baking as a career. But not everyone agrees.
“My dad is like, a baker? I think there’s a connotation [with baking] Like, ‘Oh, you can’t make a lot of money’ or ‘You have to do a lot of work,'” he said.
But Allen has bigger plans for himself.
“I realized I didn’t have to think about the little things. There’s a lot you can do on the field … think about every lane you can get into.”
“I looked at other bakers who have created businesses – they have product lines and I didn’t know you could even do that.”
Around this time, Allen, like his friends around him, had to think about what his next steps would be after high school.
“Probably in my junior year, everyone likes to look for colleges…I was debating [about] Go to culinary school. [But] I realized it wasn’t for me,” he said.
“I just don’t think it’s worth it, and it costs a lot of money. And in a sense, you can’t really teach how to do art, it’s really just practice — the more you practice, the more accessible it is.”
That was a pivotal moment for Allen, realizing that he was no longer just a high school baker.
“[I’m an] First the entrepreneur, then the baker. If you want to be a baker, go work for someone else. “
Social media may already be “totally free” as a form of marketing, but Allen needs help getting initial funding to get his business up and running.
“In the beginning, I was selling cookies that I shipped out…I asked my parents for $500 for boxes and other materials.”
That was the first and last time he asked his parents for money to do business, he said.
Despite his parents’ early misgivings about his business, Allen attributes his success to their wise words: Always reinvest your income.
“I was able to reinvest my previous money [I got from] People buy, go back to my business.I didn’t buy Jordans,” he said with a laugh, referring to Nike’s popular Air Jordan sneakers It will cost at least $200.
Allen said that mentality was instilled in him by his parents, who run their own real estate company.