Chelsweets founder on turning a baking hobby into a full-time gig

Chelsey White has built an audience on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube for her baking videos.
Chelsey White has built an audience on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube for her baking videos. Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

Chelsey White knows when numbers add up. So when the CPA realized she was able to make her side baking gig a full-time reality, she made the leap.

This month, the Manhattanite behind Chelsweets quit her corporate accounting  job to devote herself to making her creative cakes and tutorials, with her most popular videos (typically mesmerizing, time-lapsed takes of her layering, molding, icing and decorating a cake on a spinning cake stand) garnering up to 1 million views on Instagram.

In a blog post sharing the news, White noted that she wanted to reach several lofty goals before taking the plunge, including making double her corporate salary for a full year doing Chelsweets and paying off a mortgage on a condo in her hometown of Seattle. When she hit all of her goals in 2018, some six years after first picking up a spatula, she didn’t turn back.

amNewYork spoke with White, 28, about baking, her top cakes and what her next goals are.

How did you get into baking?

I didn’t really grow up baking. I would definitely make cupcakes out of a box mix. I always liked having creative outlets of some sort. When I moved to New York, I made a batch of cookies for my team from a recipe on Pinterest. I had so much fun doing it, that led me to experiment. I made a birthday cake for my co-worker from scratch. It was terrible — lopsided, the frosting wasn’t smooth, I tried to do a caramel drip, it was a mess.  But it tasted really good. I kept going with it and things developed from there.

What resources did you use to learn?

I really just watched YouTube tutorials and honestly just learned by practicing. I tried different techniques and would see which worked best for me. Even my tools in the beginning — I didn’t have a spinning cake stand at first. I treated myself to a $20 plastic spinning cake stand and things got easier from there.    

What was the impulse behind doing videos?

I was so into Instagram at that time. I would see other people posting cake videos — you could tell they were just people in their kitchen. At that time, I was taking cake orders on the side. I thought, "Why don’t I try to record something? I think I could do that." The third of July in 2016, I went on Amazon and ordered two lights and a tripod. I already had a camera, a super basic DSLR. If you see my first videos on Instagram, they’re kind of out of focus, they’re not amazing. But you know what, you have to just try something; even if you’re not amazing at it in the beginning, you can get better over time. I learned over the course of doing it.

White learned how to make her ornate cakes primarily from YouTube tutorials.
White learned how to make her ornate cakes primarily from YouTube tutorials. Photo Credit: Courtesy Chelsey White

You used to make more cupcakes and cookies, but now mostly focus on cakes. Was that a conscious choice?

I think it was a combination of a few different things. No. 1, I was taking cake orders. People aren’t as likely to order cupcakes as they are cakes. And I feel like cake videos perform better than cupcakes. It’s really more of a process — it’s a story. You’re seeing this whole thing come together before you. Cupcakes, I don’t find it as satisfying to watch those videos. I’ll probably experiment more with some things that aren’t cakes going forward now, that I have more time.

Was there a moment when you realized this was a thing?

Even my first terrible video, I got way more views than I had followers at that time — about 80,000 views and 40,000 followers. That’s what fueled me to keep making videos and keep getting better.

When did you stop doing cake orders?

The end of 2016. I felt like I was working a lot at my day job and I wasn’t sleeping. It was just too much, I was super burned out. Also at that point, livestreams were starting to become a thing. A lot of different magazines and networks were trying to find people to do livestreams. I had this opportunity in this new content space to try these things out. It was super nerve-wracking, but it was a way in for me with opportunities with a lot of different companies, including the Food Network. It set me up for ongoing content partnerships. It was a great way to have a more predictable schedule. And it was a much more profitable route per cake to go the content route than to sell a cake.

How do you make money now?

There’s a bunch of different ways, which I think is important because when you are going this route things are always going to fluctuate. Your blog might be doing well because a post went viral on Pinterest, or you had a big partnership with a brand. I have ongoing partnerships with media companies to contribute content. I also monetize YouTube, so I make money from my YouTube channel. I monetize my videos on Facebook. I also monetize my blog. I just started doing private cake lessons, which is kind of a fun way to connect with people. That’s another thing I’m exploring right now. Also one-off partnerships. That comes around, too, but is much less predictable.

What have been your most popular creations?

I did this Bob Ross-inspired fall foliage cake. I created a fall mountain scenery that did really well. I really loved that cake, too. I literally looked at a picture that Bob Ross painted to make my cake. I think people were highly entertained by that as well. I just made a baby penguin cake.  People lost their minds over that one; they really seemed to like it.

Is there one you’re most proud of?

One that was more challenging was I got this dress that had blue flowers on it, and I was like, "OK, I’m going to try to paint this on a cake." I was literally taking a paintbrush and using gel food coloring with vodka. It took so long to do. I was really happy with the finished product.

Where do you get your ideas?

All over the place. I love Pinterest, obviously. I think that’s such a great place for inspiration. It can really be anything from a friend’s suggestion to lots of times on Instagram, I’ll ask, "What cake should I make next?" Some are flavor ideas. I did an animal cake series in the beginning of 2017. The animals were mediocre; I’d like to revisit that and make more animal cakes this year to bolster that playlist. I feel there are so many more animals I want to make. That’s why I made the baby penguin.

What do you do with the cakes that you make?

That is the million-dollar question. I started dropping off cakes at my friends’ offices. Their co-workers seem happy about it. I’m still exploring — I’m hoping I can drop them off at my local fire station. There’s also a police station right across the street from them.

What are you next goals?

I’m still figuring out what my big-picture goal is. A lot of the less-specific, more intangible goals I have are to get better at recipe testing and recipe developing, improving my photography, improving my videography skills. Everything that I do now, I know how to do adequately, but I feel I can do so much better. I also want to learn how to make other things besides cakes. I have made macarons three times in my life and I failed twice. I’d like to learn how to do things like that because I do finally have time to experiment.

Given the unpredictability of this field, what made you confident to pursue it?

It definitely is scary. I don’t know if I’ll be doing this in five years or not. But that’s kind of the fun of it — what if you do even better than you thought you would do? I have enough different types of revenue coming in, and I have existing partnerships, that I can see this year is sustainable enough. I don’t feel extremely confident knowing what will happen in the future, but I do feel like in my gut it feels like the right decision right now. That’s what I’m really going off of.