"How I Got Started..." with Jennifer Furet Gorsline, CEO/Founder of Cakes by Jen
We had the opportunity to chat with Jen about her path from working in the fashion industry to starting her own business.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and spent most of my childhood there. I also lived in the Dominican Republic, and then spent my high school years in Caracas, Venezuela. My father was Latin American and his banking career was the reason for our adventures as a family.
Q: What are you passionate about in your personal life?
A: Time with my family and friends is so important to me. Personal relationships really are the tapestry that make for a rich and fulfilling life.
Q: What college did you attend and what did you study?
A: I attended Wellesley College right outside of Boston and graduated with a double major in Political Science and Sociology.
Q: Tell me about your early career.
A: Even as a young girl, I knew that I wanted to live and work in New York City. Graduation day, I headed for the Big Apple with the original plan of a banking career…but I soon realized that was not the right path for me. I ended up going into fashion and joined Macy’s in their training program. That led me to one of my true loves…performance management. Two highlights of my career were my roles as the Training Director for Saks Fifth Avenue and then for Bergdorf Goodman, both in New York. A lot of the joy in my career has come from helping people reach their potential in their work.
Before leaving New York to raise a family in Richmond I started a consulting firm and joined forces with a talented team as the luxury brand specialist and worked with some of the most iconic brands in the world. My favorites were Hermès, Bvlgari, and Salvatore Ferragamo. I have been very fortunate.
The travel required of a consultant got complicated at the point in my life when my three of my sons were in middle school and my fourth was in lower school. Luckily, Saks Fifth Avenue came calling as they were opening a store in Richmond. The role of Assistant General Manager was one of my all-time favorites – I was able to hire and train a team of colleagues that built that business one client at a time and we had a lot of fun doing it. Event planning, development work for non-profits and marketing consulting have been other full and part time endeavors in the last few years.
Q: In your words, what is Cakes by Jen?
A: Cakes by Jen is my next adventure. It's a complete departure from what I have done in the past, which is what makes it so much fun! The cake that launched this brand is complete self-indulgence. It's decadent. It's nostalgia. The packaging is pure whimsy. Try it! You’ll buy it!
Q: How long have you been in business?
A: I've been baking these cakes as gifts for 15 years, and what started out as a cottage thing out of my kitchen has taken on a life of its own and grown by leaps and bounds.
Q: What was the transition from your career to entrepreneurship like? What sparked you to start your company?
A: Once my sons were grown and out in the world I spent some time in reflection. I'm kind of obsessed with the idea of a” second act”. Why not challenge myself to take this business as far as it can go? Who knows? I’m learning each and every day. That’s important to me.
Q: What was the biggest surprise as a business owner from working as an employee?
A: I am free to create the company culture that I want. I am building the kind of business that I’d like to work for. Having the ability to use my past professional experiences to surround myself with people who have the same values is energizing.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges in growing the business? What have you done differently as a result?
A: It takes courage to put yourself out there at any stage of your career. I asked myself “am I willing to be ‘all in’ to make this work?” I answered honestly “yes”. Game on.
Q: As a successful business owner, do you have work / life balance? How have you managed to improve the joy and fulfillment in your life?
A: When you’re on the runway rolling toward building a business, I am not sure it’s possible to have work/life balance. I guess I’ll revisit that when I hit a run rate that I am happy with. I have high expectations for myself!
Q: What can we and others in the community do to help your business grow and be more successful?
A: Try the cake! It’s to die for! Then tell your friends! Think of Cakes by Jen for your employees…for your Momma…as a gift to yourself! Shop local!
Q: What advice would you give other entrepreneurs / small business owners?
A: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Kick all naysayers to the curb and trust your gut. Surround yourself with positive, “can do” types. Get solid advice from people who know what they are doing – and then take it!
“How I Got Started...” is a blog series that spotlights the entrepreneurial and life journeys of various small business owners and professionals. The content of this blog was curated by members of the CreativeMktGroup team.