Wednesday 7 July 2021 10:15am
Since graduating with an LLB and BA from Otago in 2010, Grace Kreft has been on a mission. Her desire to follow her instincts and forge a career from the things she loves most has seen her make the leap from law to baking, to business, and now into marketing - with a dusting of bringing people together on the side.
In the following Q&A, Grace talks about creating her unique career path, and how her alumni scholarship has helped her on her journey:
What was your plan after graduating from Otago?
I went straight from studying to working at law firm DLA Piper in Wellington and worked in managed funds and superannuation for two years. I always said I wanted to study law but didn’t want to be a lawyer, that is what quite a few law students think and then kind of get swept up in graduate recruitment and end up being a lawyer! But I said I’d do it for two years, I’d give it a good shot just to find out if it’s for me or not. I think it was exactly two years to the day that I resigned! I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t really my calling, my passion.
How did you make the move from law into cupcakes?
We (my partner, now husband, Brad and I) went on our OE to London and that’s when I ended up having a crack at decorating cupcakes and baking. It’s a bit of a plot twist, but not really if you know me, because you’d know how much I love baking, it’s my true passion. I figured it was a chance while I was on my OE, I could give it a shot and if it didn’t work out I could always come back and go back to law.
I worked at a bakery called Crumbs and Doilies which is a really amazing cupcake bakery in London. I did that for a year, then we came back here and that was when I started my own cupcake bakery, because I loved my work in London and really wanted to do it for myself. I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial streak right from when I was little. So we started up Sweet Bakery when I got back.
You say you’ve always been a bit of an entrepreneur?
I was always cooking up little schemes. We actually used to have a charity angle to most of our schemes - me and my sister - we’d have little market days in our garden and raise money for the local animal shelter and things like that. I’ve always loved bringing people together and making things happen, and I even liked building websites when I was younger. Of course in retrospect, it all makes sense looking back that business and marketing was my true calling!
How did you go about starting Sweet Bakery?
When we got back from London, we knew nothing about starting a business, we just dived in and winged it. We Googled a lot stuff! It took off very quickly, of course I was working very hard but we also got some lucky PR, some stories in the newspapers and so on, because it was quite a good story of a lawyer turned cupcake maker, one of those dreamy headlines! So that was really a great start and it just grew and grew – we opened a first cake shop, and then a second cake shop, and we took on staff. It was a very, very busy five years!
You decided to move on, why was that?
It was a very hard decision. We ran the business for five years and then our little girl Demi came along. Having a business is kind of like having a baby, it takes all your time and emotional energy and enthusiasm. I just found once I had a human child I was sort of torn between my two babies and obviously my real baby had to come first, so that was part of the decision. It just felt like the right time, and I always trust my gut feeling on things like that.
What was your next career move?
After we sold the business, I spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out which parts of it I really loved and were my passion. So I focussed in on the marketing and brand side of things because that was the part that got me truly excited, along with business strategy.
So I looked around for brands in Wellington that I would love to work with and contribute some of that brand and marketing passion. That was how I ended up working at Six Barrel Soda Co., which is a Wellington craft soda company. I spent two years or so there as the Marketing Manager and that was really great as my first real job in marketing, having done it for myself but never anyone else. I had a wonderful time working there and now I’ve just recently started at Angel Delivery as a next step in my marketing career. I’m a little bit behind as I didn’t study or start working in marketing, so I’m kind of catching up and trying to hone in on my career in that now.
What is Angel Delivery and what is your role?
It’s all about sending care packages to people when they’re sick or maybe they’ve had a bereavement or a new baby. It’s about those times in life where if you lived nearby you would turn up on the doorstep with a lasagne. But, at the moment especially, we can’t always be just around the corner from our loved ones. It’s being able to send a box full of home-cooked meals like chicken pie and soup and lasagne and lovely apple crumbles fresh overnight to someone you love elsewhere in the country. Most days we’re sending up to 80 care packages and some days up to 150. So it’s a very bustling and busy little business to be working in.
My title is Director of Brand and Growth. It’s a very varied - it’s a small business, so it’s an all hands-on-deck vibe, but for most part my focus is on the product, all of the day-to-day marketing and brand work, and also some work around culture and our team and making sure that everyone is loved and valued. And finally the growth aspect, which is what we’re going to be diving into in the next couple of years. We have some big plans for Angel Delivery!
Back to Otago, do you have any particular highlights of your time at university?
It was an amazing time, of course it’s a very fun place to be and a very cool community. I had some amazing opportunities while I was there, especially with the Law School - being on the SOULS Committee and travelling to Taiwan to compete in International Trade Law Mooting are two that really stand out. Plus of course my husband Brad (who studied media and film) and I met at the Captain Cook Tavern when I was 19!
I studied a bit of Philosophy when I was there as part of my BA. I majored in PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics), which is a major that not many people know about but I really rate it and would recommend it. That was a special thing for me and I still think about that weekly, some of the things we learned in Philosophy, it was such a unique experience.
In terms of lecturers, if I thought of anyone that stood out in my time there it would be Professor Jessica Palmer (formerly Dean of Otago's Faculty of Law, now Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Humanities) in that she showed a different way of communicating law and engaging people, in a way that I could relate to as a young female.
You received an alumni scholarship in your first year, what do you value most about that?
Obviously there’s the financial contribution which is very valuable, but I think more than that it kind of felt like a vote of confidence from people who have been in your footsteps ahead of you. Feeling like the alumni network had put their mana behind you to say ‘we have faith in you and we think you’re going to do great things while you’re here’ really gave me confidence arriving in Otago, which is obviously quite a daunting experience. It just kind of gives you a little ‘oomph’ into your time there, like ‘yep I’m on the right path and I’m in the right place’.
How did the scholarship help you at Otago?
It was really great in that first year to have the pressure taken off what you were studying. Like I said I studied PPE and I got to do Philosophy and pick papers based on my interests and passions rather than that pressure to think about the financial reward of what I was studying. That’s a more practical way that it helps, you can follow your interests and your passions and explore that a little bit.
Plus we got to meet people as well which was really cool. I still remember, it must have been the first week we were there, we had a photo shoot in front of the Clocktower. It was quite a small group and I still remember the people that were there in the group, we got to meet them and had drinks with the alumni network.
Did the scholarship help you launch into your career?
It’s a bit of a funny one for me because my career has ended up being different from what I studied. But I do think it’s maybe even more meaningful in how it helped, because having that financial aid and a smaller student loan - which when you study for five years and two degrees can add up quite a lot - meant that when I launched my business only three years after leaving Otago, it put me in a much better position to start my own business. It’s a financially challenging time in a start-up, so not having the pressure of a bigger student loan hanging over me helped me feel more confident to put money into the business. I was very lucky as I was able to get my student loan paid off quite early, in the scheme of things, and having the scholarship definitely added into that.
I’m really excited to be in this role with Angel Delivery so I’m going to be throwing myself into this for a good while. But the other thing that I started during COVID - and have been doing on the side of my work - is a passion project, a podcast called Pep Talk. It’s currently on pause because I’ve had this transition to my new job, so I’m not 100 per cent sure what that looks like going forward, but it was amazing for me during lockdown, to have that positive angle on COVID to focus on. It was all about supporting small business during lockdown and sharing their stories, how it’s affected them and how we can help them. I interviewed different entrepreneurs every week, sometimes twice a week. I would have an online recording with a different business owner around the country and hear their story and just chat to them. And I would do the editing and technical side of things too, so I learned a lot about podcasting that I did not know before!
(All of Grace’s 50 Pep Talks - some featuring other Otago alumni including Roman Jewell, founder of Fix and Fogg - are online and you can listen to them here: www.peptalk.co.nz)