Alden Boon

Superbloom Founder Sylvia Ramlal on Making Dreamy Jelly Cakes, Handling Burnout and Finding Satisfaction



Sylvia Superbloom Jelly Cake Singapore Home-based Business-1174

Do you think you would have started Superbloom if you still had the safety net of a full-time job?

Definitely not. The first few months were rough — my revenue was only about two to three hundred dollars. I started the business with an exit strategy: I gave it about three years before I would shut it down. But now it has become a part of me that I cannot bear to let go. In fact, there was an opening at a big social media company that an ex-colleague said I was perfect for. I did think about it: perhaps I could hold down the full-time job, and make the jelly cakes over the weekends. But it would feel like I’m betraying Superbloom. I wouldn’t be able to give it my fullest attention. Furthermore, I don’t really see myself going back to the rat race — my mood will be gloomy on Sunday nights, and I’m all sad that the weekend is over. I don’t get Monday blues now; I don’t have to attend sales meetings (laugh). I wake up on Mondays feeling excited that I get to teach a class.

Sometimes hardships are exactly what we need to overcome inertia, and they can unexpectedly flower into something amazing. But in the early days, your revenue was barely enough to cover one bill — did you think about giving up?

I have this competitive streak in me, but due to my disorder I have to pull myself back. I cannot go all out. So my success has not come as quickly as I have hoped for. My family and friends have made well-meaning comments such as ‘find something more practical or realistic’. Honestly, I don’t know what qualifies as ‘practical’ or ‘realistic’. The only thing about starting your own business is that the revenue is unstable. It’s certainly not easy, but if you can find a way to create and sustain a steady stream of revenue, you’re set.

I think the vicissitudes of COVID-19 have taught us that having a full-time job is no longer the ‘practical’ choice — no one is indispensable; you can get laid off in a moment’s notice. What were and are the challenges of running your own business?

It took me some time to get used to the process of batch cooking. I’d get all scared and flustered. ‘Did I forget the sugar?’ Or worse: ‘Did I forget an order?’ I once received a negative review on Facebook claiming that my jelly cake was ugly and bland. But when I checked my orders, I couldn’t find the name of the reviewer. I wanted to follow up with her to see if I had really made a mistake. But despite my repeated reaching out, she never replied to me. I got so angry over this incident that I deleted my page entirely.

While being your own boss means you don’t have to answer to anyone, you have to make and own all your decisions. I don’t know if a decision is a right one — if I do this, would I gain from it or would I lose it all? Take something as simple (and necessary) such as spending money on advertisements — you don’t really know if the statistics are authentic, or whom your advertisements will reach. I spent only thirty dollars on advertisements, and thankfully, the response was good. And my business continued to bloom thanks to word of mouth as well as media exposure.

I just want to point out the funny irony that you were an erstwhile account director in media production sales yet you’re so sceptical when it comes to spending on advertisements for your own business. Any tips on advertising that you can share?

Test the waters. You can be aggressive the days leading up to the holiday season, then take it slow afterwards. You shouldn’t lose too much money while trying to increase your brand exposure. And try different strategies to find one that works best for you.

What other woes do you grapple with now?

The world of jelly art can be competitive. People get into fights over their designs (laughs). I think in this era, it’s hard to come up with an original idea. Sometimes, I come up with an artwork that I think is wholly original, but it turns out someone else has already done it before. Making a jelly cake is taxing on the eyes, as I have to concentrate really hard on what I’m doing. I’m also standing for long hours several days a week. For over a year now, I’ve been living with plantar fasciitis — the inflammation goes from the heel all the way up to my calf. And I’m not spared from burnout, which is something every entrepreneur will inevitably face at some point of his or her journey.

What were the symptoms of burnout?

I was extremely sluggish. Even after a good night’s sleep, I was still very tired and I didn’t want to get out of bed. There was this overwhelming urge to sleep more. Making a jelly cake, a skill that has become second nature, suddenly became a struggle. And when you’re tired, you’re prone to making completely avoidable mistakes. That is compounded by my dizzy spells caused by my autoimmune disorder. I’d scalded my hands so many times. I also found myself not wanting to interact with anyone.

It’s during these moments that my mind strays back to the thought of finding a job. At least with a full-time job, even if you work long hours, you do get to rest or switch off during the weekends or annual leave. But entrepreneurs don’t get a break. The day blurs into night. If I go for a dinner with friends, I’ll have to compensate by working late well into the wee hours. I spend my off days thinking about my social media content and fussing over the preparation work for the next day.

While I know I have to take a break, there’s also this haunting thought: ‘What if the next order doesn’t come in until the following month?’ So, even when my slots are full, I push myself to accept a new order that comes in. Sometimes it’s a last-minute birthday request for someone’s grandmother, and I don’t want to disappoint the family, so I accept the order. During holidays such as Mother’s Day or Christmas, I have to wake up at four in the morning, and I work more than fourteen hours a day. I know I have to work full blast and persevere because after the holidays comes an immediate lull period where sales will drop. In trying to make celebrations memorable for other families, I miss the celebrations with my own family and friends. I’m not a part of their memories. Even though they understand, I do feel guilty.

How do you work around this problem then?

I worked on my speed. I’ve cut the time I need to complete one cake — when I first began, I took four hours to create one cake. Then, I worked on precision: ensuring that the petals are of the same length even when I’m working faster. So now, once my deliveries go out, I’m free for the rest of the day. I can give, for example, my fiancé a definite timing that I can meet him, whereas in the past I had to keep pushing the timing to a later one. And due to the nature of his job, he’s accustomed to sleeping early, so the time we have is limited. But of course, old habits die hard. Now that I’ve mastered the speed, a part of me thinks I should accept more orders since I can complete them in a shorter amount of time. But as long as my friends or family can plan their gatherings early, I will make time for them. Spending moments with your family or friends is so important — you don’t get them back. I rather forgo a day of sales. I cannot do spontaneous meetups; that is the compromise.

Read: Ceramication Founder Rayn Leow Talks the Art and Science of Pottery Making, Coming Out and Privilege

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Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.