Danira Cancinos' story is the stuff of Hollywood, filled with harrowing pitfalls and ending with an inspired win. Her parents immigrated to the States from Guatemala; Cancinos, 32, grew up in the San Fernando Valley, California. Her mother worked as a housekeeper and her father was in and out of jobs.
Cancinos got pregnant at 15, dropping out of high school and getting a minimum-wage job at an arcade to provide for her son. By 24, she'd had two more daughters, and she and her kids were living with her parents, sister, and her nephew in a three-bedroom house in the Sylmar neighborhood of Los Angeles.
In 2012, Cancinos launched a local baking business featuring cupcakes and cake pops, among other goodies. Years later, she succumbed to customer requests and started teaching people how to bake online. In 2019, she gave a Facebook Live course teaching people how to make her signature caramel apples.
Running the course just twice grossed her more than $126,000.
"I never imagined being able to make this type of money," she says. "Creating an online business can change your life."
Cancinos started baking with her kids because she couldn't afford to buy them the baked goods she wanted. She posted the results on Facebook and friends began to ask if she could bake for them as well. Within a year, she was taking paid orders from the general public.
Cancinos made two mistakes early on in her career, she says: undercharging and not setting boundaries for how much work she truly could, and wanted to, take on.
"When we first start," she says of small-time bakers, "we don't have the self confidence to charge what we're supposed to because we're like, 'We're just beginners, our work doesn't look the same as a bakery."' Cancinos charged just $40 per order, though sometimes orders were as large as five batches of 12 cupcakes each. Today she charges a minimum of $100 per order.
She also took on up to eight orders per weekend, working nonstop to fill them and going back to her regular job at the arcade on Monday on little-to-no sleep. At some point she realized, "I can't do it anymore," she says. "I can't take on more orders or else I'm gonna be a very unhappy person."
Although these business lessons were hard-learned, they gave her an opportunity to expand her notoriety and to hone her craft. Having started with just making cupcakes, Cancinos ultimately expanded to making cake pops, cheesecake, and one of her favorite treats of all time: caramel apples.
"I love caramel apples," she says. "Everywhere I go, if I see a caramel apple shop … I would always buy them."
Bakers and hobbyists alike began asking her to make tutorials online about how to make her signature confections. In 2017, she started teaching $10 and $20 classes over Facebook Live explaining how to make her treats. She found that she "loved it."
When it came to teaching how to make her caramel apples, though, Cancinos knew her recipe was one-of-a-kind, and she was hesitant. In most of the caramel apples she'd tried, the caramel was tough and chewy. Having experimented with different recipes, Cancinos figured out a way to make the caramel smooth, creamy, and much easier to use. This time, she knew not to undervalue her talent.
In January 2019, Cancinos took Amy Porterfield's Digital Course Academy class, a step-by-step guide teaching students how to turn their expertise into an online course.
She paid $1,500 for the course. "It was a very hard investment for me," she says. "I've never invested that amount of money into a class." As one of the only minority business owners in the class, she felt self-conscious and out of place.
Still, Cancios persisted, connecting with Porterfield as an instructor and ultimately deciding that when she offered her caramel apple making course, she'd charge $200 per person. The course would be taught over Facebook Live and consist of nine, hour-long sessions over a three-week period. Cancinos would teach everything from which tools to use to how to package the apples.
When she announced that her course would start in May 2019, Cancinos hoped 100 people would join. By the time the course was set to start, 315 people had signed up to take it. She grossed $62,600 during the two-week enrollment for that class alone.
She offered the course again in September 2019, assuming far fewer people would show up this time. Instead, 318 signed up, and she grossed another $63,800.
These days, Cancinos, whose business is now officially called Dani's Dulce Confections, has scaled back on taking baking orders and is focusing her energy on online courses. She's added several titles to her repertoire, including a stuffed churro course and a mini Oreo cheesecake course.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Cancinos was set to teach a cookie-making course but got sick one week into giving it and postponed the rest of the classes. Enrollment, however, was still open. Cancinos remembers one week in which, despite not being able to get out of bed, she still made $5,000.
"I just remember thanking God because my mom wasn't working, my sister wasn't working, because they might have been exposed to the virus because of me," she says, "and we still have bills to pay."
Ultimately, 320 people took the cookie course, paying $185 each. Cancinos grossed more than $61,000.
Seeing the results from her growing online audience has given Cancinos proof that she can succeed. "I didn't believe in myself enough," she says, "and it kept me small for a long time."
If she could give budding entrepreneurs one piece of advice it would be to "believe in yourself," she says. "We were all made to do great things."
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