It’s a 12-year-old’s birthday party, and she eagerly awaits cutting the cake and opening presents.
She hopes this year will be the year she gets her very first cell phone, but little does she know the surprise to come. As her family and friends sing happy birthday, she blows out her candles and begins to cut into her cake. But suddenly, the cake begins to ring — her new cell phone is in the cake!
Her mother pulls a ring attachment at the base of the cake stand, a hidden cylinder with the present pops out of the cake’s center, et voilà — another Surprise Cake is born.
In July 2018, Liz Charm, and her son, Jordan Long, B.S. ISE ’18, co-founded the Woburn, Massachusetts-based company, Surprise Cake — a cake stand company that surprises people with gifts as they pop out of the cake.
The mother-and-son duo invented and patented the spring-based Popping Cake Stand, that allows people to safely and hide and reveal gifts in a cake.
“We created a really fun way to hide gifts inside of a spring-loaded cake stand,” Long said. “It gives the illusion that the gift is popping through the cake when really it is popping through the cake stand.”
Surprise Cake has received national attention. The “Today Show” called the product one of “6 Insta-famous inventions you should have on your radar“. Surprise Cake also popped up on “Good Morning America” and in the Boston Globe. Cofounders Charm and Long recently appeared on “Shark Tank”, an entrepreneurial themed reality show where businesses look for investors.
Surprise Cake expects to surpass $1 million in sales by the end of 2020.
Surprise Cake in Action
Once the popping stand arrives at the customer’s home, all they have to do is assemble it in a three-step process. Customers can use a homemade or store-bought cake, hollow out the center, place the filled cylinder, called a gift pod, inside and decorate the top of the cake to hide it. The gift pod pops out of the layers of cake and frosting with the pull of a ring at the base of the stand.
The cake stand has proven especially popular for birthday parties, Long said. However, customers have used them for gender and pregnancy reveals. Some creative types have even used the product to hide elves in cake before Christmas, chocolate coins for Hanukkah, or to pop the question for marriage.
“We like to say our market is anyone who celebrates anything!” Long said. “The list goes on. It wouldn’t be a party without cake and gifts, so it could be used for any and all celebrations.”
They even have add-on features to the cake stand such as a Jack-in-the-box musical trigger, a cupcake kit and a cake carrier that allows you to modify the existing stand.
Long worked on this cake stand during his junior and senior years at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, eventually creating a prototype.
“As an industrial engineer, I learned how to run a company in a ‘lean’ way. For an online business that is growing extremely fast, proper inventory planning is essential. USC Viterbi taught me the skills to keep my business operating efficiently and also taught me how to approach and solve difficult problems,” he said. “I designed an early prototype, a mini version of the popping stand, using the school’s 3-D printers. It was really cool to see the popping stand finally come to life, and today, I still use a lot of the lessons I learned during my years at USC.”
Long works full-time at Surprise Cake alongside with his mother. In addition to the engineering know-how he brings to the company, Long works in product development, marketing, branding, sales, as well as some customer service.
Surprise Cake on “Shark Tank”
Of the 40,000 companies that apply each year to “Shark Tank,” only 100 make the cut; Surprise Cake was one of them. This past September, Long and Charm made their Surprise Cake pitch before five moguls in the business realm: Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary,
The Sharks complimented Surprise Cake but passed on investing in the business.
Still, Long said that his and his mother’s confidence remains strong.
“Our goal was to show America how fun Surprise Cake is, and we definitely feel that was accomplished,” Long added. “Appearing on Shark Tank was literally a dream come true. As far as marketing, 10 minutes of primetime television is every business’s dream. It took a lot of hard work, time, and effort to get to air, but we did it and we are so grateful for the opportunity.”
The mother-son duo have big plans for their future and hope to expand their business.
“We are going to do everything it takes to create a one-stop shop for Surprise Cake, which will include the cakes, gifts, and of course the Popping Cake Stand,” Long said.