Hailey Shuster looks like your typical college student — she goes to classes, participates in extracurricular activities on campus, and works as a barista at Lucky Lab Coffee. However, what most people don’t know is that she also runs a custom bakery on the side and is the 'grammer behind the drool-worthy Instagram, @cakesbyhayshu. I was able to sit down with this entrepreneur and ask her how she balances it all and what her plans are for the future.

How did you get started?

My mom is a wonderful cook, so when I was little I would be in the kitchen with her all the time. She never really baked, though, so I was always in charge of dessert. But I learned everything that there was to learn about operating a kitchen from her.

Growing up, I loved to experiment and put my own stuff together. When I was a freshman in high school, my mom had a Groupon for a cake-decorating class and had to convince me to go because I didn’t want to do it. Ever since that class, however, I've been hooked. I watch YouTube videos to learn new skills and have been baking and decorating cakes for the past 7 years now.

Did you take any classes or have formal experience?

That Groupon class was the only class I took. Since then, it has just been me obsessing over cake decorating, watching videos, and practicing with a lot of trial and error. I see pictures of my earliest cakes and I think, “Wow, I tried to sell that.” The first cake I sold was actually pretty good, though. It was a full-size, completely decorated cake that I only asked $15 for because I was so nervous it would turn out badly.

Where do you get your creative inspiration?

Sprinkles are everything to me and I like putting them on everything. My personal style is simple, calm, and monochrome — so when it gets to cake, I just want to deviate from that and pile everything on. Basically, my creative inspiration is opposite of my personal style. And since I’ve been doing this for so long, my cake decorating has morphed into a distinct style that people recognize. It wasn’t my intention, but I think it’s cool that I have essentially created my own brand. And who doesn’t want to eat something insane and fun? It makes people smile.

What’s the most innovative thing you’ve made?

I started getting really into meringue and using torches. I know that’s not super crazy, but I like putting meringue on tiered cakes and then torching it since it creates such a pretty effect. Learning how to decorate my cakes with faces and Bitmojis has been interesting as well. Finally, I’ve been innovating in the kitchen to find ways to make my cakes vegan or gluten-free so more people can enjoy them. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

Learning how to say no. I had a big problem with that in high school, and I would be so exhausted because I was staying up all the time making cakes. I’m a big people-pleaser, so it was tough to learn that I can’t do it all.

Also, another thing I learned is how to deal with a customer and getting a feel for what they want before they even ask. A lot of people don’t have cake experience so it is important to be patient and be an effective communicator.

How do you balance it all?

I will admit that I do tend to do all my baking in the middle of the night. School is always first and I’m also a barista during the day, so those are my priorities. Baking is also important to me and it will get done — but if that means getting it done at 2AM in the morning, that’s when it’s getting done. That’s common for me. I probably don’t get as much sleep as I should, but I consider that balanced because I know I love what I'm doing and that it will pay off in the end. Baking brings me joy right now but ultimately the portfolio, clients, and experience will pay off in the future. 

Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who are starting out? Especially college level ones?

1. Be smart — and this advice varies depending on the industry. For me, it’s making sure that, for example, if you are making a cake for a kid’s birthday party, you don’t get peanuts anywhere near that cake, or you always ask what the allergies are to cover yourself.

2. Always do business with people you have a mutual connection with. You're still so young that you don’t need to be farming out your business to complete strangers. I think it’s important to keep it small first so that you're in control of your business at that point.

3. Make sure your business is worth your while. Around three and a half years ago, I realized I wasn’t making any profits off my cakes. I would put in seven hours of work on a cake and make nothing. Basically, I realized that costs matter and you need to allocate labor and costs. You need to make sure your pricing is generating a return or it won’t be sustainable and you'll just grow resentful.

4. Lastly, know what you're worth. Just because you aren't the most established business on the block doesn’t mean what you are selling isn’t valuable. People will try to undervalue you and your capabilities because you are young. Remember your value.

You’re about to go into your senior year. What do you hope is next for you?

I’ve always worked with small businesses — which I love — but I’m also interested in corporate life and want to see what it's like and whether it’s suited for me. However, in the further future, at least 5 years down the road, I'd love to open a bakery with my twin sister. She's super talented at graphic design and can pick up skills very quickly. If she comes back to Texas after graduation, I hope we would capitalize on opening a business togh

What do you do outside of your business?

I love to cook, which I got from my mom. I like going to the grocery store and picking up fresh ingredients and finding ways for them to complement one another. My family is all here in Austin (but my twin is in Boston), so I hang out with them a lot. I like exploring the Austin restaurant scene and I love to run and work out, which helps me alleviate stress. On campus, I’m also in a spirit group called Texas Darlins, and do marketing for Spoon University.