headshot of co-founders of georgetown cupcake
Katherine Berman and Sophie LaMontagne, sisters and co-founders of Georgetown Cupcake. — Georgetown Cupcake

During the Great Recession of the late 2000s, most professionals did whatever they could to cling to their stable corporate jobs. Sisters Katherine Berman and Sophie LaMontagne walked away from theirs to follow their dream of opening a bakery together.

Berman and LaMontagne inherited their love of baking from their grandmother, whom they credit with inspiring them to launch their brand, Georgetown Cupcake. They always talked about turning their passion into a business, but both sisters took the traditional path of a college degree and a steady, salaried job.

In the summer of 2007, Berman and LaMontagne had a frank conversation about finally opening the bakery. They didn't want to spend the rest of their lives wondering "what if," so in 2008, they decided to take the plunge into business ownership.

"There's a million reasons why you should not [start a business] because of all the risk," said Berman, who noted that they funded the business with a small bank loan and credit card debt. "[But] as an entrepreneur, you have this spark inside you. It's just a matter of time before you act."

"You just know," added LaMontagne. "It was just time."

[Read: We Ask: What's Your Biggest Challenge? Entrepreneurs Say: It's Financing]

Just embrace the uncertainty and go for it. Every day [there] is going to be something that challenges you, and that's a good thing.

Katherine Berman, co-founder, Georgetown Cupcake

Take the leap

The sisters and co-founders behind Georgetown Cupcake adopted their grandmother's love of baking and plunged into entrepreneurship. Read on for more business inspiration.


Cheers,
CO—

Family and business: The perfect mix

For Berman and LaMontagne, their close relationship as sisters has given way to a unique dynamic as business partners — one that they believe gives them an edge in business. Both of them agree that they can be more candid and honest with each other, "in ways [they] can't with any other colleagues."

"If I don't like an idea Katherine is putting forth, there's no tiptoeing — I will be straightforward," said LaMontagne. "It allows us to make the best decisions for the business."

The sisters admit it can be challenging to work with family because there's no clear line between the personal and the professional. On the flip side, having a partner who knows you inside and out alleviates the loneliness that many solopreneurs experience.

"It's hard for other people to understand intensity of what's in your head," said Berman. "We're on the same team — we balance each other out."

Growth requires an open mind and adaptability

In the decade-plus since they opened Georgetown Cupcake, Berman and LaMontagne have opened multiple bakeries in cities across the country, and expanded their brand through cookbooks, Williams Sonoma retail products, e-commerce and even television shows (they're the stars of TLC's "DC Cupcakes.").

They've learned a few important lessons along the way, but the biggest one is to keep an open mind about business opportunities in a fast-changing market. It's all about adapting to meet your customers' evolving needs.

"How we did business 10 years ago is different from today, and we look forward to how we'll do it 10 years from now," said Berman. "We're always looking ahead. We didn't do [nationwide shipping] at first, but we had enough people asking, [so] we needed to figure out how to do it. Now our shipping business is the fastest-growing [income stream]."

 co-founders of georgetown cupcake frosting cupcakes
The co-founders of Georgetown Cupcake took the entrepreneurial plunge in 2008, opening up the bakery that has since expanded across the country, into cookbooks and on television. — Georgetown Cupcake

'Embrace the uncertainty and go for it'

One of the most rewarding side effects of the sisters' appearance on "DC Cupcakes" was being able to reach and connect with other current and aspiring entrepreneurs and reassure them that they're not alone in their challenges.

"We showed that it is scary and there are going to be mess-ups, [but] you're not alone," said LaMontagne. "There's comfort in knowing that everyone is going through it."

Berman agreed, noting that there's never going to be a perfect day in business where everything goes right. There will be challenges every day, she said, and as an entrepreneur, you have to accept that there will always be some level of discomfort and uncertainty. However, that discomfort is what ultimately helps you grow.

"Just embrace the uncertainty and go for it," Berman told CO—. "Every day [there] is going to be something that challenges you, and that's a good thing."

"It's not easy, but we enjoy it," added LaMontagne. "Building something from scratch is … so worth it."

[Read: The Step-by-Step Startup Guide: How to Start a Business]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published October 03, 2019