For Good Measure

Interview by Caitlin de Laure
Photography by Jovian Lim

Often regarded as the one who revived the interest in cupcakes in Singapore, Vanessa’s prowess in both baking and business is evident with three outlets and a huge following to show for it. Recently, she teamed up with fellow trailblazers IGC to set up her latest branch, Café by Plain Vanilla, within IGC’s first stand-alone store in ION Orchard. Nevertheless, just a quick browse through the Plain Vanilla website or a visit to one of their stores will alert one to the fact that this establishment is more than a mere profit-making endeavour—it simply emanates purpose and heart. She shares more about her life, her drive to ‘get it right’, and what this unpredictable journey has taught her.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not baking?

I think it would be spending time with my family. To be honest, the past four years have been devoted to the business, so there isn’t much time for the pursuit of other things.

I do like watching tennis because of the technique and the spirit of the sport. It is really interesting to see the amount of control a player can exert over his or her performance as opposed to other sports where external factors can have a bigger influence on the outcome of the match. With tennis, at a professional level, everyone’s personal fitness is almost on par, so the player has to really have a certain amount of tenacity, and a lot of it is really a personal battle, mind over matter. And, I love tie-breaks that go on forever because that’s a true show of skill and what it takes to be an athlete. Apart from that, I also like running but there doesn’t seem to be much time for that now.

Congratulations on having your first child; we know that one of the factors leading to your career switch was the anticipation of starting a family. However, we also know that despite being self-employed, you are constantly on the ground, working alongside your staff. How are you coping?

Having a child really forced a paradigm shift in the rhythm with which I work; for example, learning to be equally effective with less hours and recognising the value of a team.

From being a one-man show to having a team; learning how to manage that team; then, using that team to the best result of the company has been a real learning curve for me, especially since I can be quite a control freak about certain things.

The timing of the pregnancy made a lot of sense for me too because it came to a point where I was working for three years non-stop and was starting to question the sustainability of running at that pace in the long-term.

In terms of the growth that has been going on this year, including Café by Plain Vanilla and launching the new savoury menu, none of that would have happened if I hadn’t been pushed by circumstances to put together a team. Although I had a really great team of part-timers whom I was dependent on, it was important for me to put together a full-time team PV with people who will be rooted and grow with the company. How I juggle it? I think it continues to be an evolving lesson and journey for me; it is never a static thing, it’s always dynamic because my son’s needs change constantly, the needs of the business evolve, and what I want for my life and what’s possible at that stage are changing as well.

Read more in The X Press N˚1.