“This is real life for them. This is make or break.”

Stevens School of Business team helped CAKES Body develop its strategy for expanding its online community.

The marketer, the economist, the information systems specialist, the data analyst, the finance expert and the designer. It’s not the cast of the sequel to the ‘80s classic The Breakfast Club, but it is a group of individuals who came from different backgrounds to do something special.

The group is one of 19 consulting teams that will represent the Stevens School of Business at the annual Innovation Expo on April 26. SSB will also showcase 10 research teams and four entrepreneurial teams.

Seniors Chris Dos Santos (Business & Technology), PJ Brendel (Marketing & Analytics), Allesandra Espinoza (Business & Technology), Benjamin Fuentes (Business & Technology), Donovan Sanchez (Business & Technology) and Will Pyo (Business & Technology) will present their consulting work with CAKES Body, an e-commerce company that specializes in selling undergarments.

“We didn't really know each other at the start,” Chris, the team lead, said. “It started with only two or three of us. Some people didn't have a team yet, and we just formed together like that. But something else that we took into account was our different concentrations. We complement each other very well, and that's something that I wanted to make sure our team had. If we all had a marketing concentration, when there were more technical aspects that we had to focus on, we probably wouldn't have done as well on that. When we had to focus on designing something, we needed more creative minds. We have a good blend of all of that.”

CAKES grew rapidly through their viral videos on TikTok and an investment from one of the "sharks" on the hit television show Shark Tank (the episode aired midway through the project). The company’s project proposal indicated the company was looking for “a team of creative & tech-savvy students to partner with us to create CAKES' version of NIKE run club to further engage and add value to our budding community.”

The team worked closely with one of the co-founders, Taylor Capuano, during the process to research and develop a new CAKES Body online customer community forum that would help improve customer brand loyalty. This included two customer surveys that reached more than 400 customers, benchmarking of other brand-based apps and a series of conversations with company leaders to identify important must-have features for the forum.

“Taylor was very motivated to grow the company,” Alessandra said. “She was eager to teach us and incorporate us into what she's doing. She's very hands-on. Taking her time to help us and talk to us showed a different aspect of who she is as a person, and who she is as an entrepreneur because not a lot of people do that. That is what we were hoping for. She is always on top of what she's doing, and she's always active in the brand that she's creating, and she showed us that character throughout this whole project.”

Taylor wasn’t the only one who demonstrated character and integrity during the process. Despite not knowing each other well at the onset, each individual quickly showed they were in it for each other.

Professor Ann Murphy faces the camera while having a discussion with a woman in a purple blazer and Stevens president Nariman Farvardin.CAKES team faculty advisor Ann Murphy“We had a very good experience, and all the team members valued each other's effort,” Will said.

I tried to bring some takeaways from classes and meetings with professors to help my teammates move forward with the products, and they all appreciated my efforts.”

“Everybody took this project seriously as if there was like a real job,” Ben said. “I think that is the most important part, being able to get used to working with people that you don't know and might have a different way of working. I think it was great being able to adjust to everybody, come together as one, and present one great project at the end.”

“With a team like this, it was cool getting to know everyone and seeing everyone’s unique skills,” PJ continued. “Just learning more about people through their work was a great experience.”

Working with the leaders of a fast-growing, national company can be intimidating, but whether it was analyzing survey results or focusing on community building, the team felt the SSB curriculum had them well positioned to meet the demands of the CAKE Body executive team.

“When we did surveys, we tried to formulate data in a way where we can separate them by area and by age and different demographics,” Donovan said. “Being able to have had classes like data analytics helped me a lot with being able to complete this for the company.”

“We had to list our top five choices, and we had CAKES first because of what courses we took and the type of knowledge we had,” she said. “In my case, it wasn't so much analytics. I was mainly focusing on marketing, so I feel like my education at Stevens was very well incorporated into the project.”

Classroom lectures and lessons are vital to success and provide the building blocks for professional success, but sometimes there is no substitute for that first dose of reality.

“We had a presentation where we had to build a bunch of graphs, and it took us a pretty long time,” Donovan said. “When we sent it to them, she (Taylor) told us she didn't like the background of the slides so we had a couple of hours to completely redo the entire thing and send it to her by that night. Maybe we should have asked how she would have liked it displayed from the beginning. It was a time crunch for us to redo it the same day, but looking at it now, it was helpful to teach us that we have to do our due diligence to make sure that we know exactly what a client wants before starting it.”

The project team’s work included investigating different approaches to building the new customer forum. Should it be housed on an existing social media platform? Should CAKES develop a mobile app? Should it be a combination of both? And if the answer included an app, should it be created in-house or with the help of a third-party vendor?

Through months of research and collaboration with the CAKES Body corporate team that included analysis of standouts in the community app space, a prototype design, identifying two app development firms, and demos with those builders, the Stevens team helped CAKES body leaders select a vendor to build their community mobile app. They also helped drive the decision to start the community in a Facebook group of the team’s design while the mobile app is in development. That group will be migrated to the app when it is completed.

This type of real-world project not only benefits the company but gives the Stevens students concrete examples of their work to put on their resumes and talk about during job interviews.

“I always want to have as many points of emphasis as possible to sell myself, and this is definitely one that I've brought up when I’ve been asked about being able to work with clients,” PJ said. “Being able to have that one-on-one interaction or group interactions with clients and get to find out what they need and then deliver that on a timetable, is great experience that you can talk about in an interview Experience like this is super valuable. This is actual consulting work that we've done.”

The symbiotic nature of the consulting projects was always top of mind for the students. While the task at hand was great resume material and a chance to showcase what they learned in class, for the CAKES leadership, it was their livelihood.

“It was challenging to juggle the responsibilities of meeting with the client every week and having our deliverables ready every single week, but we had to remember, to them this is not just a project,” Chris said. “This is real life for them. It's make or break. Some of the work that we provide to them could genuinely provide a lot of value to them and help their business.”