Pia Cato

Pia Cato is the Founder and Owner of the Vanilla Pod Bakery, a luxury cake business based in Cheltenham, that specialises in creating luxurious wedding cakes and show stopping birthday cakes. 

What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative. 

My childhood was wonderful, I lived in a town called Lewes, in a beautiful house and remember so many happy times there. 

While in primary school I remember my ambitions were to be an actress, then a fashion designer and then to have my own business. But in between that I always loved to bake and make things out of clay, paper and anything I could get my hands on. I liked designing, making and then showcasing things. 

I had family members who were in the performing arts world, and came from a long line of family who ran their own business. So I always thought a career as an actress or a business owner was completely possible. If they could do it, so could I. 

I went on to study Performing Arts at college and then completed a degree in Marketing Management at University.  

Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it. 

When I was 12 I got ill with M.E. and was bedridden for a few years. That definitely shaped who I am today, but it didn’t stop me. It just made me more determined to create something with my life and to never give up. It has definitely shaped my belief that things are always achievable. Maybe not in the way you originally hoped, but there is always a way to get to the end goal. Even if you have to change a few things along the way. 

Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea that made you start this brand? How did such a unique idea strike you, and what motivated you to “YES, go for it?”

While I was at university, I realised I could merge my love of designing, performing arts and running my own business. I decided to enter a business plan competition, with my ideas for a Cupcake Tea Rooms. A beautiful English tea room that served delicious cupcakes, cups of tea and glasses of champagne. 

Somehow I managed to win the competition and that gave me the confidence and funds to go ahead and start my idea for real. 

Tell us something about your initiative or current role. What is it about, and what impact are you trying to make?

I would love to create more employment opportunities for women, initially in the town where I live and then who knows where it could go. Women are such an available asset in the workplace,  and I want to create a work culture that has fun, cares for each other, cares for our customers, appreciates each other and our customers. As we can’t be a business without customers, and we can’t be a business without a team. ❤️

Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?

I have had so many challenges over the years, and I think there are three things that have always kept me going:

  1. Determination 
  2. There is always a solution 
  3. Showing up

I have had challenges with stuff, cashflow, premises, orders, illnesses, the pandemic, recessions. You name it, I have had some sort of challenge. But I have got through them all, and I know there will be more to come. But they get easier as you go through life because you can lean on past experiences. 

While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level? 

The pandemic was initially horrible for my business, wedding cakes were canceled and postponed overnight. However,  as the pandemic went on, I realised we could pivot and turn this into an opportunity. While helping out wedding clients with moving their wedding cakes to new dates, I started taking on birthday cake and cupcake orders. This new line of luxury cakes went from strength to strength. I also moved out of a premises we couldn’t really afford, into a much bigger, better and cheaper premises that was awesome. The pandemic started off horrifically but we ended it on a high, with a new product range, more customers, a new team and a fabulous studio space. 

Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention? 

I am very proud of my journey so far and of all the amazing celebrations we have been part of over the years. We have recently been named as one of the Top 100 Small Businesses in the UK by Elite Magazine. We tend to win 1 or 2 awards a year which is always the icing on the cake. 

Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?

I would like more women to realise they can work for themselves and that they can achieve their interpretation of greatness to them. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life? 

I have learnt that there is always a way to do things. There is always a solution. I think I tend to live with that day to day. 

Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?

I believe women are equal to men anyway. I don’t think one sex is better than the other. Women in leadership roles are excellent. We may do it in a different way to men, but there is nothing wrong with that. I think we should own that we do things differently and continue smashing through the glass ceilings until that is a figure of speech from the past. 

With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?

Keep going, keep achieving, but do it on your own terms – you can do this 🤍.