Jeff Steinmann: Welcome to the How To Quit Working show, the first episode of 2014. Now, we ended 2013 with a bang and I promised you we would start out 2014 with a bang, and I am delivering on that promise today. Because today we have one of the most exciting guests that we’ve ever had on the show.
Now this guy is just like all of us. He wanted to leave his job. He wanted to do something that he really cared about. He wanted to do it in his own terms. And not only did he do it, he did it in a very fun, cool, interesting and public way. He submitted his resignation letter on a cake, and it went viral all over social media. It was picked up by dozens of news outlets. And Chris Holmes, Mr. Cake, is here to tell us exactly how he did it today on the How To Quit Working show. Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris Holmes: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Jeff: I am so excited to have you here because a while back, I guess it was maybe in the spring, there was a story that kind of went viral on social media and got picked up by a number of media outlets. I see the BBC as well as Huffington Post, Fox News here in the U.S. A bunch of folks picked it up, and they picked it up because you had resigned from your job and instead of writing a normal resignation letter, like everybody else would do, you wrote it on a cake. And I thought that was so fun and when I saw that news article, I said, I have got to have this guy on the How To Quit Working show. And after a couple of months of back and forth, we finally have managed to make it happen. So thank you so much for being here.
Chris: Oh, thank you. It’s great to be here.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Well, the thing that I am so excited about is that my two favorite things in the world are number one, following your dream, and number two, cake.
Chris: It’s a winning combination.
Jeff: (laughs) It’s a wonderful combination. So, well Chris, tell us a little bit about what you were doing before you submitted your resignation?
Chris: I was working as an immigration officer. I think you probably have the same job title in the States. But the person who checks your passport as you come into the country basically at an airport just outside London. And it was a job I kind of fell into. I wasn’t particularly passionate about it. It was quite interesting for a while, but it wasn’t what I set out to do. It was just a way of paying the bills.
Jeff: Okay. So you’re doing that but you also said you didn’t have much passion for that job but you did have passion for something, right?
Chris: Yeah. I mean, before I did that, I actually worked as a chef for quite a few years. And again, that was a job I fell into initially but then really got excited about it and discovered I loved working with and around food very quickly. But I was just put off by the anti-social hours really of it, and the pressure and intensity of the job was just a bit too much. I found either you were working at such a high level that you couldn’t have any social life. You work from seven in the morning until one in the morning and just go, I don’t have enough time to sleep and washing.
The other end of this scale, you could work as an agency chef but then you’d be just deep-frying chips all day and it wasn’t what I was interested in to do that kind of stuff. I thought if I want to do it, I want to at least do it to—could stand it. But I just couldn’t find a way of making that balance with having a life outside as well.
Jeff: Oh, okay. So the working as a full time chef wasn’t working for you. It wasn’t giving you the lifestyle that you wanted, so you took this job in the airport.
Chris: Yeah. I worked for the civil service, where the home office, and a similar role for a few years before that, I worked in the airport. So by the time I transferred to the airport, I was already getting a little bit jaded with the job, and I felt like I knew what it was about. I’d done that, I’d experienced that, and I was ready to move on.
And it was on my honeymoon that I actually had the idea of setting up a business and becoming self-employed because I felt like up until that point, I don’t need kind of have myself to worry about but once I was married, I thought I’ve got to swing the balance back towards my family more and just do something that makes me really happy for the benefit of people around me as well as myself. So that’s when the idea came to me. It was another three years from setting up the business and applying for the local council to be allowed to do that to then becoming fully self-employed.
Jeff: Oh, okay. So when you did all the logistical stuff to set up your business, did you do that while you were still working?
Chris: Yeah, yeah. I started the business in July 2010 and I resigned from my airport job in April this year, 2013. So it’s been long, it’s kind of slow. It seemed very slow. But the reason for that, I think I could have just jumped in at the deep end and quit my job and put all my energy into doing this, but I didn’t want to take out a huge bank loan to get it started and I didn’t want to take those risks. I thought I’ll test the market a bit first and see if it’s viable. So, that’s why I deliberately grew it quite slowly just to be sure that I was doing the right thing.
Jeff: Okay. Well now, those were a pretty hectic couple of years for you, I bet.
Chris: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, the title of your show, How to Quit Working, I thought it was kind of ironic because I think it was the last thing I’ve done. At two or three years, I’ve worked harder than any other time in my life. But I totally understand where you’re coming from. I quit working for the man as it were. And now, it doesn’t feel so much like working when it’s something that you enjoy doing that much, something you’re passionate about. So it’s been hard work, but I have no regrets whatsoever.
Jeff: Awesome. Awesome. You said that during those two years of overlap between starting your cake business and still working at the airport, you said that you were testing the waters. So you were going out there to figure out if what you had to offer, if people really wanted that and really were willing to pay for it, well now, in retrospect, we know the answer is yes but you didn’t really know that at the time. So how did you go about figuring out if this idea that you had was something that was going to work?
Chris: I suppose I was quite lucky, in a way, the job I was in offered quite a lot of flexibility. So as things progressed and as the cake business started so things got more busy, I was able to become part time at the airport to drop one day a week at the time so every six to eight months or so, I’d make an application to drop another day. So over the course of the three years, I reduced it gradually how much I was working there.
And I think unfortunately, that’s not a position that a lot of people are able to be in with their existing job. I think, in general, people’s employees will demand full time or nothing. I was lucky to be able to do that. But yeah, like I say, I was just testing the waters to begin with, telling friends and family what I was doing and just very gradually and organically letting the words spread as it were, I mean, for the same reasons I didn’t want to take out huge bank loan to get started. I haven’t spent much at all on advertising, budget and things. I haven’t advertised in any national magazines or newspapers or anything like that. So yeah, it had just been, like I say, very organic.
Jeff: Yeah. Well you actually probably got millions of advertising for free. (laughs) And you got those millions of dollars of advertising for free because you didn’t just write a regular old resignation letter like everybody else does. You wrote it on a cake. Tell us about how did that idea come to you, and why did you decide to do it in such a cool, creative, and fun way?
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Chris: Well, there’s really not much behind it. I’ve always had a… I suppose a slightly twisted sense of humor in a way in terms of just like doing silly stuff for the sake of it. I think that came to me in a dream. One time, I just thought that would be a fun thing to do and these things just pop into your head sometimes. Yeah, I mean, I just… obviously it seemed appropriate in a way. I thought it’s appropriate from a law employment point of view or whether it’s the right thing to do technically. But I was leaving to set up a cake business, I thought all they ask for is written notice so I’ll take a broad interpretation of that and just have a bit of fun. That was really all there was to it.
I mean, people often ask me if I planned for it to go viral and for millions of people to see it on Twitter and people from all over the world to want to do interviews and ask me about it. Of course, I had no idea that’s what would happen. I think you probably have to be a pretty much deranged megalomaniac to set out thinking that you could achieve that with a plan. But somehow, it’s just some magical combination of factors and it just worked out like that.
Jeff: Yeah. Well, I think that’s interesting that you say it wasn’t some big plan. And it wasn’t something that you laid awake at night thinking how can I resign in a really interesting creative way. You just said, I’m starting a cake business. I like to do fun, corky things. I think I’m going to resign on a cake.
Chris: Yeah. I think that’s possibly what was part of the appeal of it was that it was a very natural unforced thing to do. It just was something my personality came up with and said, do this thing. And I thought it would just be for the benefit of ex-colleagues and friends and family and stuff like that. And obviously there was a kind of… if you’ve seen the wording on the cake, it says, if you’ve enjoyed this cake, then you can go to my website to order another one.
Jeff: That was hilarious.
Chris: There was a couple of tongue-and-cheek nod towards the fact that it might serve as a bit of an advert, but we had no idea of the reach that it would get.
Jeff: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. So, when you were going along and building your business on the side while still working, how did you know when the time was right to actually make the shift?
Chris: It was like a combination of factors. All these kind of possibly three things coincided at. And one was, obviously, I had to be sure that I could pay the bills. And looking at the accounts, it became evident that I was pretty much guaranteed enough to cover the mortgage and bills every month. I never set out to do this to get rich. And I’m not rich now even with the publicity and stuff. It’s not like I’m now a millionaire or anything. But all I want, all I ever asked from it was that it was enough to support me and the family. I mean, obviously, my wife works as well. It got to the point where I was bringing in a reasonable amount of money basically on a regular basis and I thought I could be confident about that.
Secondly, my son was born in March. So that was another spur like I mentioned earlier about being married and having a family made me think about refocusing or reprioritizing along those lines. So having a child really… I suppose, one way of looking at it, you say, if you’ve got a new baby, then you need to be in a secure employment situation and earning as much as you can. But I took another view of it which was that again, I need to be enjoying what I’m doing because that will reflect on my family. Working from home, I could actually be around them a bit more and stuff like that.
Finally, quite simply, it was my birthday in April and having ran a cake company for three years, I thought, well I got to make myself a birthday cake. I just thought, what can I do? Well, I’ve had this idea. I had the idea about six months before I actually resigned to do it on a cake as it were. And I just thought that maybe now is the moment, and that’s it. I just took the plunge, really.
Jeff: Awesome. Awesome. Now the one thing that you said I thought was so interesting is you took a very different view about having a baby and you said you took the view of you wanted to not be having a lot of money and being really financially secure. You wanted to be really happy for that baby, right?
And I think so many parents, I think, end up using children as excuses to not follow their own dreams. And what happens then is that they teach the kids that that’s the way that you should do it. And that’s why we’re in a society where we have—at least in the U.S. here, we have 80 percent of the workforce that doesn’t even like what they do.
Chris: Yeah, I mean it’s difficult. It’s sad when you’re doing a job that you don’t like regardless of whether you have a family or not. I think possibly having a family does put people off from taking risks like this. But like you say, what you do I think is probably a direct source that your children look to and learn from. And I remember thinking at the time, it would be nice if when my son’s older, he looks back and sees what I’ve done and hopefully has the confidence to try the same thing himself and to pursue what he enjoys doing because I think it’s so important in life.
Jeff: Absolutely. What else is there, right?
Chris: Well, yeah. I mean, there’s money but what’s the use of money if you’re not happy?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Definitely, definitely. So tell us a little bit about your cake business. What does that look like? You said you do it out of your home, right?
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t have a shop, still working from home. That was always part of the plan, to be around the family a bit more. I’ve known people that set up businesses and worked for people, ran shops before and to do that from scratch, just helping your business is very time consuming and expensive and energy-consuming. So I would be… from the frying pan into the fire if I did that, I would probably not see the family again for a good few years.
So yeah, just focusing on doing bespoke wedding cakes and birthday cakes and things like that. This coming year, I’m starting up a new aspect to the business which is a broader wedding catering side of things, so doing a little bit of savory food but on the theme of an English traditional afternoon tea. So yeah, I mean I’m still all one-off individual customized orders. There’s no temptation to franchise. I’ve had quite a few invitations, believe it or not, since April. I don’t think I get any enjoyment from making a mass-produce product.
Jeff: Sure, sure. Yeah, well that sounds cool. So tell us a little bit what is your life like on a day-to-day basis? You get up and you got the freedom to move about and do things the way you want. Tell us a little bit what’s that like.
Chris: Initially, I think it’s kind of scary in a way. I mean, it’s the first time I’ve been self-employed. So although I was quite experienced in the cooking trade, I really have to learn how to be self-employed from scratch and learn business from scratch. So, yeah. You have to be quite disciplined about it. And I share the child care responsibilities with my wife. As I say, she works as well. She’s just started working four days a week so it’s pretty much a 50-50 split. I tend to look after the baby in the first half of the week while she’s at work. And then towards the second half of the week which is typically when a lot of people get married Friday, Saturday, Sunday, that’s when I do my work so yeah, I mean, a typical day there.
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I don’t think there is a typical day, that’s the fun of it. You really can be in charge of it. There’s no… or you say cake business and you imagine certain things going on. But you really—there’s no rules. You can take the business in any direction you want. You can advertise however you want. You can connect with different businesses and think of different ideas so it’s really liberating and fun.
Jeff: Awesome, awesome stuff. Now if you had to do it over again, would you have started this… would you have pursued this route sooner?
Chris: No, I don’t think so because, I mean, hindsight is a wonderful thing. But as I say, you can’t predict what happened and the publicity that I got starting in April has been a brilliant bedrock for becoming self-employed. It has kind of showed up the order books several months in advance. Yeah. Without that hindsight, I don’t think I—I’m not a huge taker. I didn’t want to be sure that things were going to pan out financially. I think yeah, I mean, I couldn’t have played it better in a way.
Jeff: Sure, sure. So much of the press around entrepreneurship is all about like, jumping out of a plane and hoping that everything goes well. And when it does go well, then those people get in the news, right? So people like Richard Branson and the big risk-takers like that who accomplished really big things.
But I think that the element of society that the media forgets about largely is people like you. People like you who have reasonable expectations of being able to support themselves. You have responsibilities that you want to make sure are covered and you take a slow, calculated path to make that transition and to successfully make that transition from working for somebody else to doing your own thing.
Chris: Yup, yup. I think there’s a huge emphasis placed on a kind of celebrity idolization. And along with that, expecting a kind of… I don’t know, a kind of all-or-nothing approach and thinking that if you don’t do something big or immediately become the most successful company in your field, then you failed. And it’s like—I don’t know if you have the program Dragons’ Den in the States but these kinds of business hopefuls pitch their ideas to investors. Ten of them out of the room and the tenth one gets a million pound investment.
I think it promotes a kind of unrealistic expectation in people that you either basically win the lottery or you fail and I think for the majority of people, the reality is that you have to just work really hard. And it’s unavoidable. But if you’re prepared to do that, then you can make a go of things, make a success of it. It doesn’t have to be a big risk. You don’t have to jump in at the deep end.
Jeff: Definitely, and I’m so glad that people like you are out there sharing their stories so that we can see that there’s another way. You raised a good point about the Dragons’ Den and the other things like that that are out there that paint this picture of win or lose. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Chris: No. The thing to remember about what happened with me, although I got this fantastic media exposure like you say, kind of money can buy this advertising marketing opportunity, this all happened after I’d made that decision to become self-employed then after I made sure that I could pay the bills. There’s a lot of history behind that. It wasn’t like one day, I just woke up and thought, all right, I’m quitting my job and then the next day I was in the news.
Jeff: Yeah. Now, that’s a really good point. It was a lot of hard work that got up to that point and as you said, there’s no guarantee that would have happened.
Chris: No, no absolutely. I would have become self-employed whether or not that happened. I mean, it was obviously a fantastic bonus that it so happened but not something I was relying on from the onset.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. So how far in advance are you booked up as of right now?
Chris: I’ve got some availability from March but most of the weekend dates for the rest of this year are taken. I think the winter months are a bit quieter for weddings. But yeah, I’m kind of looking at a fairly full 2014 at the moment. I’ve tried to hold back some spaces in the hopes that I can promote this afternoon tea catering service a bit because I’m quite excited about the idea. I want to do a few of those and see how that goes as a new aspect to the business. But yeah, it’s a great position to be in for a new business in quite a difficult, economic climate. I can’t complain it, too.
Jeff: Now, are you outside of London?
Chris: Yeah, about 50 miles north of London, just south of the city of Cambridge.
Jeff: Okay. I believe we have some listeners in that region. Most of our listeners are in the U.S. but we do have quite a few listeners internationally as well. Well, Mr. Cake, what is the biggest piece of advice that you would give somebody who wants to do this same sort of thing for themselves?
Chris: The biggest piece of advice would be to do it, plain and simple. Life is too short to spend doing something you don’t enjoy. And if you don’t try, then you’ll never know what might have happened. I’m not saying it will be easy or that you’ll immediately be a runaway success or anything like that. But just one way or another, take the plunge. It doesn’t have to be in a rich way but yeah, plan how you’re going to do it. Work out what you’re going to do and go for it, really.
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Jeff: Awesome. What’s the biggest mistake that you made on this journey?
Chris: I don’t know if it’s a mistake or not but I felt… I have felt I’ve been in a tricky situation after it, after it happened, after all this publicity came about. I had pre-existing orders over the summer. It happened in April leading into the busiest period of the year. I felt really torn between using the opportunity to publicize the business and to the customers who’d already placed orders. So that was a difficult time. But yeah, I mean, in a way, three years is a long time to spend building up a business but I can’t honestly say I regret that because for me, there was no other way to do it. But for other people, maybe that would be… that would test their patience too much.
Jeff: Well, and I think when it comes down to successful people like yourself, don’t view anything as a mistake.
Chris: Yeah, I mean, there’s always something positive to be found in any situation.
Jeff: Absolutely, absolutely. It obviously worked out really well for you. Where can folks go to get more information about you and perhaps book you to do their wedding cake or their tea, their afternoon tea for the wedding?
Chris: Well, our home is at mistercake.co.uk. And I can also be found on Facebook under Mr Cake and Twitter at mistercakeuk. Yeah.
Jeff: Awesome. Well, we will put a link to that below the show, mistercake.co.uk. Also Facebook and Twitter and we’ll put a link below. Reach out to Mr. Cake if you want some cake or some afternoon tea for your wedding in the London area.
Thank you so much, Chris, for being on the show. Your story has been so fun and so inspirational. And I hope lots of people do exactly what you’re doing and I wish you the best of luck. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if there’s ever anything I can do to help you.
Chris: Brilliant. Thank you very much for having me.
Jeff: Thank you.
That was Chris Holmes, Mister Cake. What an awesome, awesome story. Started out doing what he loved and then the way he was doing, it wasn’t giving him the lifestyle that he wanted when he was originally a chef so he actually abandoned that, got a job at the airport doing border patrol. And then, was able to really use that time to step back and look at, okay, how could I just really take what I love and structure it and make it work in a way that would be completely compatible with what I want out of life? And he’s done it beautifully. And because he was so fun and creative in the way that he resigned, he actually got himself probably millions of dollars worth of media exposure because of that resignation on the cake.
But what a fun story. What a great guy. And I know everybody here really is obsessed. Let’s just be honest. We’re a bunch of folks who are obsessed with doing what we want to do and doing it all of the time and doing it on our own terms and in our way. Just like all of the guests on the How To Quit Working show. And gosh, we’re coming up on a year. I can’t wait until the 12-month anniversary when I’ve got some really, really crazy fun stuff, fun, cool stuff, exciting stuff planned for the How To Quit Working show.
But we’re coming up in a year and that means it’s been almost 52 people that we have talked to here on the How To Quit Working show who have explained to us exactly how they have gone from this situation of going into a job they don’t like every single day to having this amazing life of freedom that just lets them do what they want to do all the time, loving every second of their life. And I hope that these stories inspire you but I also know that you might be thinking, gosh, these are great stories, Jeff. This is great stuff. But I’m just not quite sure how to get started to do this kind of thing for myself. I’m just not sure what foot to put in front of the other, what to do first.
Well, if you’re one of those people, I’ve put together a training series. It’s a free video series that you can get. It’s over at howtoquitworking.com/program. Again, that’s howtoquitworking.com/program. There’s also the link below. You can click on that link and go over there. Enter your email address and you’ll get a three-part training series on how to quit your job and go do something that you love and care about, starting a business, launching a life of freedom through entrepreneurship. So I highly encourage you to check it out. It’s a great video series. I’ve gotten great feedback so far. So again, howtoquitworking.com/program. Go and check that out. Learn step by step how to leave your job, create an amazing life of freedom just like all of my guests on the How To Quit Working show do. And until next time.