Chocolate. Naked. Yes.
*adult language, names have been changed. This story has a Part One.
As an entrepreneur, there comes a time to package your creation. It doesn’t matter if you have a product or you yourself are the offering. You are going to need a logo, a website, marketing materials, wrappers, case boxes…the list goes on and on. A brand must be born.
As I rang in 2007 I found myself excited to move to Maui. Eleven years in Portland rain was enough for this Leo, even if it is the coolest city with the greatest people. Yet I was broke and had another housesitting opportunity. Just a little longer, I told myself. My waitressing job welcomed me back with open arms but I still needed an outlet for my chocolate passion. Naturally, that would be grass roots Health Food Stores. I always shopped at The Daily Grind and People’s Coop. Surely they would sell my delightful jars of bliss!
Of course this demanded that I had to label my product. This was the first of many “waves of overwhelm.” An unfortunate pattern I’ve always carried is that when it’s time to do something I have no clue about, I get extremely anxious. Overwhelm creeps in like a dark cloud and smothers out the light until I feel like quitting. My fight or flight gets activated and I forget to breathe. I’d love to tell you this never happens to me anymore but it sure does…all the time. I haven’t figured out how to stop it yet but what I have learned is how to change my reaction. These days it goes more like this…I breathe deeply and pray: “Dear Curiosity, I need you to inspire me right now, to excite me about the journey towards a solution. Fear, I honor you, but you are not the Captain. I’ve gotten this far and there is no stopping now. We got this.” Then I picture how it actually feels on the other side, having handled it all like the Goddess Ninja I am. This is a constant practice and my saving grace on this entrepreneurial path has been that my passion overwhelms my fear.
Why the oyster?
I stared at the blank amber jar hoping it would enlighten me as to the next step. I had no computer and graphic design was a foreign language. Luckily my friend Elliot was willing to help in exchange for chocolate. I wanted my label to reflect my love of raw cacao pods, so we made the logo pictured here. I took the print file to Kinko’s and the sweet clerk nodded in understanding as I explained that I had no clue what I was doing. He came up with a plan. After he printed pages of my labels I cut them, then laminated them using sticky back laminate sheets. (Hello sticker labels? Of course, I was clueless to this modern day luxury back then.) As if this wasn’t tedious enough, the jars had to be warmed in the oven for the labels to stick properly. There I sat at someone else’s kitchen table, sticking the labels on one at a time. This became my exciting nightlife as I wasn’t about to give up my day job. It was a lot of work but voila, I was ready to go to market. Both stores stocked their fridges with my chocolate and I spent a day each week doing in store demos. I also spent the day hearing the same question from the folks who eyed my label…”why is there an oyster on it?”
It's all about the heart
Word to the wise…be prepared to educate your audience. Don’t assume that folks know anything about what you are offering. Yes, a sense of mystery in packaging can be alluring, but you better also be clear about what exactly it is that you are selling. More on all this in my upcoming “Practical Business Advice” blog. Turns out most people have never seen a raw cacao pod. I needed a logo that made sense. Suddenly it was beyond obvious to me that my logo was a heart. Chocolate had stolen my heart and my passion was to share it with the world. Elliot and I rebranded the jars. They were selling. My amazement and excitement held me in Portland even as my soul longed for Maui. The house I was staying in had a cat so I couldn’t make the chocolate there. For each production run I’d borrow a friend’s certified home kitchen and trade chocolate for help. Everything I owned, including chocolate supplies, lived in my hippy van. I guess in a way the chocolate business was homeless. I was tired but inspired. I was always looking for an event to sell the jars at. I wasn’t very savvy, but I sure had some heart.
We all start somewhere
A couple days ago I remembered that back in January of 2007 I started a blog called Chocolate. Naked. Yes. and made a couple posts on my friends computer. I was laughing so hard to read my copy…”It’s better than cocaine. It makes you happy, healthy, and horny. Who doesn’t like that?” Thank heavens I’m a better writer now…at least I hope so…are you still reading this? My profile statement was “I am a Raw Chocolate Alchemist… I am out to enhance the way the world experiences Chocolate.” My mission hasn’t changed but now I’ve come up with a slightly classier tagline: “Bridging the gap between gourmet and truly healthy chocolate.” I remember my sister taking this photo of me wearing only chocolate and rose petals. It was not done with the attitude of “I’m 28, I’m cute and sex sells.” My intention was to get across that chocolate should be pure and naked, as nature intended. I didn’t know anything about branding. In fact, I’m just now about to purchase my first branding book. I won’t be offended if you call me daft. I would never recommend folks do things the way I did but I am a true example that success doesn’t have to follow a formula.
Thankfully my product was only in two stores when I got the call that a customer returned a jar due to mold. I wanted to cry. Overwhelm hit like a motherfucker. Someone was talking me through it and a light bulb came on inside when they simply said “just make it without the water.” I did my first product recall, threw it all away and tried the same recipe without any water. Needless to say, it was much better. And the product got to move from the fridges to the raw section shelves. It was an embarrassing lesson to learn but of course one can only move forward. The next light bulb was when my friend Doug told me I should screenprint on my jars, like Rogue Beer does. It would cost more but I could save hours of time. Thus, the next rebrand, including an updated logo that Doug designed. I wasn’t on FB but everyone and their dog let me know I should be. I actually was a bit of a technology hater, with the thinking that I’d rather do just about anything than waste my life staring into a screen. Needless to say I’ve changed my tune quite a bit on all that. Anyway, I hired someone to make the chocolate a FB page and Doug built me a little website. I expanded my market to more stores in Oregon but small scale wholesale doesn’t put much in your pocket so I decided selling at festivals was the way to go. I fell in love with an artist from Seattle who built me a chocolate cart (pictured at top of page) from a baby carriage we bought at Goodwill.
The best party drug.
The festivals were seriously some of the most fun I’ve ever had. Even though most sales were made from pushing that cart around I’d share a booth with a friend in order to create cacao ceremonies at sunset. I’d make and pour a thick chocolate potion into 4oz cups for anyone who showed up. Once every hand had a cup in it I would speak a few words and we would all begin sipping. I wish I could find words to express how the energy elevated in those circles. This may sound woo woo but I swear that we all rose to an altered, unified state of ecstasy and bliss. We had the giddiest times laughing, crying, singing, loving. Hearts burst open and breakthroughs were had. This was the magic of cacao and in these moments I rode the “Coco Dragon” with such delight that I was momentarily able to forget about my longing for Maui. I can’t take credit for what folks experienced on those wondrous nights, but I did bask in the glow of their gratitude as they told me the stories. I was also grateful, realizing how alive I felt at seeing an extra twinkle in the eye of another. Was I really, truly on to something here? Should I really walk away from it all to return to Maui? Do I dare dream of giving up my “real job” and committing myself 100% to my passion for chocolate?
Well, you know the answer but of course there is much more to the story, which will continue next week. I am beyond thrilled to be sharing with you here. If you like what you read, please comment and let me know what you want more of. I have a million blog seeds in my head, ripe for the sharing. I’d be honored if you share this with a friend and help me get the word out. This week I leave you with a wonderful quote from Judy Garland…”Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” Cheers! xo