Sunday, November 17, 2013

Crowdfunding article Posted!- Part 2 (of 3)

Check out the crowdfunding page.

I have finally added Part 2 that discusses the nuts and bolts of crowdfunding Campaigns.  The article talks about the description, video, value to the investor, online presence, fulfillment and more.

Part 3 is coming soon - Caveats.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Inspiration Found Here - Three Ring Ranch Exotic Animal Sanctuary

Three Ring Ranch Exotic Animal Sanctuary
Inspiration found here

This entry strays a bit away from the theme of young companies.  However, it is such an incredible story that I have to tell you about it. 

Three Ring Ranch Exotic Animal Sanctuary was started in 1998 by Ann and Norm Goody.  Before starting the sanctuary, Ann was an emergency room nurse and administrator at a home health agency.  Norm was an anesthesiologist.  They met in 1997 while Ann was working on her doctorate health care administration.  That June, the couple married.  The next day, Ann was struck by lightning.  


Recovery wasn’t easy and part of Ann’s temporal lobe was removed.  After relearning to walk and talk, Ann amazingly returned to work in health care.  Always the animal lover, Ann joked that she would like a zebra to help her recover.  In 1998, the Moloka‘i Ranch Safari Park closed its doors. Norm contacted the Safari Park and since the couple was licensed to care for wild animals, they were invited to choose among the animals that were about to be abandoned.  They found Oreo and Zoe, her new foal. Zoe is a brilliant blonde zebra, one of two known to exist in captivity in the world.  With Zoe, Oreo, and a few other rescuees, Three Ring Ranch Exotic Animal Sanctuary was born.  The Goody’s turned their 5-acre lot on the Big Island into what is today Hawai‘i’s sole federally accredited nonprofit exotic animal sanctuary, one of only thirty-three in the country.

Ann and Norm continued to work their health care for several years to support themselves and the Sanctuary.  Ann decided to focus on the Sanctuary full time after another health scare prompted her to change her life.  Norm followed a few years later.  Now they run the Sanctuary full time and support themselves with their savings.  And by run, I mean care, feed, and rehabilitate hundreds of animals.  Ann and Norm (and others) spend years rehabilitating animals. They know the personal story of each of the residents and are genuinely concerned with their well-being.  And not only do they have the knowledge to care for these animals, Ann is especially adept at understanding animal behavior. Our conversations gave me more insight into animal behavior than any book I have read or tv show I have watched. 

Over the last 15 years, the Goody’s have cared for over 100 types of animals, with more than 50 types in residence at any one time.  Many roads lead animals to the Sanctuary; often tragic.  For example the Sanctuary has rescued animals from failed zoos and directly from owners who can no longer care for them.  Several abandon or abused animals and injured wild animals have also been placed there.  If at all possible, wild animals are rehabilitated and returned to their natural habitat.  Otherwise, the Sanctuary provides a life that is similar to their natural environment.  Each is researched extensively and cared for with acute attention to distress and mental harmony. Animals are often paired with other seemingly dissimilar animals according to behavioral needs.  For example a North American bison was recently paired with a feral donkey who became best friends.  Turtles and tortoises calm distrusting birds around the grounds.  One of the goals is to create an environment in which each animal can live closely to how they would in the wild.

Also impressive are the Sanctuary’s educational endeavors.  The facility is a role model for education and animal care. They work with UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and Oregon State University providing pre-vet internships to undergraduate university students.  So far, each of their interns has been successfully placed in a competitive veterinary program.  Second-year vet students can visit as part of summer programs.  The Sanctuary also provides an after school mentoring program for younger students in local schools, focusing on children between 12 and 13.  They offer various classes to students between 8 and 11.  Community lectures have been provided as well.  The Sanctuary is a non-profit organization, supported only by donations.  It is run by volunteers and no salaries are provided for anyone.

The mission of the Sanctuary is not to be a petting zoo.  In fact, it is not open to the public, but they will provide small private educational tours.  She teaches visitors that animals have their own unique ways of communicating.  She shows you how we often misinterpret their behaviors because we do not understand their language.  If you are lucky enough to visit and learn from Ann, you might make friends with an alpaca by pressing noses, shake hands with a monkey, or be greeted by a 1500 pound bison licking your hand.  No matter what, it is an experience that you will never forget. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Building Product and Infrastructure from Scratch

Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory

Pam and Bob Cooper moved to the Big Island of Hawaii in 1997 after Bob left a career in country club management in North Carolina.  Their philosophy was that bad things happen everywhere in life.  Where is a better place to experience the good and bad than in Hawaii?  Terrific point.  What happened next was a little less obvious.  With little experience in agriculture, the couple bought a small farm with coffee, macadamia nut and cacao trees in Keauhou, Hawaii (near Kona).  Originally, they had planned to cultivate the existing macadamia nuts and build a business; however a family member’s allergy to the product dampened the enthusiasm.  They turned to the cacao trees and in 1999 founded the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory.  Their first batch of chocolate was sold in 2000.    

In the last 14 years, the Coopers have grown OHCF to sell over 10,000 pounds of chocolate a year.  That is 5 tons of chocolate all made in small batches on site!  When they opened, few companies made chocolate in Hawaii and most used cacao from around the world.  The infrastructure for the chocolate industry did not exist in Hawaii. Attempts had been made, but there was little success. In fact, no testing facilities existed nearby to rate the beans, so the Coopers sent them to Spain.  They brought in the processing equipment from around the world.

As a specialty item, no retailers carried 100% Hawaiian chocolate.  (The only other company was Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate founded by Jim Walsh in 1986.)  The Coopers set up their distribution and retail sales network from scratch.  Several plantations grow cacao in Hawaii, but they do not process or manufacture the chocolate themselves.  In addition to their six acres of cacao, OHCF purchases cacao from over 30 local farms. The closest competitor is the Dole Plantation that grows 20 acres of cacao in Waialua, Hawaii (Oahu), which is processed and sold by Guittard Chocolate Company.  Currently, no other company has the entire chocolate making process from growing the beans to sales (“tree to bar”) in the country.  This was not by design, but necessity.  The process did not exist, so the Coopers had to make it.  Also, the company did not have a pool of experienced industry mentors on the island.  They worked with farmers and retailers to create a viable value chain in one place.  Thus, a lot of their initial work wasn't just making prototypes of a sellable product, but also included building the market.

The company is a family affair.  Much of the harvesting and processing is still done by the Coopers.  Currently, OHCF sells only single-origin chocolate and cacao nibs.  They do not produce truffles or other chocolate items and do not sell wholesale. Unlike Dandelion Chocolate, OHCF does add cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla powder and/or milk powder to their cacao for taste and stability.  The final product is a smooth and consistent chocolate.

Friday, September 13, 2013

New crowdfunding page here

Crowdfunding is one of the latest buzzwords to hit mainstream America.  In the broadest sense, crowdfunding is a process by which people with ideas can get money (funding) from others (the crowd) to pursue those ideas.  More subtly, crowdfunding can a unique mechanism for sophisticated entrepreneurs to market their products.  However, crowdfunding is not for everyone. 

The new Crowdfunding page (tab above) of this blog is a three part article detailing the ins and outs of this phenomenon.  Part 1 of this article defines crowdfunding and discusses the participants involved.  Part 2 describes campaigns and their components used by innovators to solicit funding.  Part 3 discusses the advantages and disadvantages of crowdfunding and potential pitfalls. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

From Technology to Tea

Onomea Tea

Rob Nunally and Mike Longo started Onomea Tea Company in 2003.  This was a second, if not third career for both of them.  Rob and Mike started Onomea Tea after realizing that their initial crop of choice, daylilies, would not grow as consistently as needed for cultivation.   Considering their options while drinking tea, they thought – “Why not grow tea?”  Having green thumbs and plenty of available property on Hawaii’s Big Island, they jumped in.  A new career was born.

Before Onomea, Rob lived in California.  He attended CA State University and received a BA in Business with an emphasis in Information System. This was perfect for Silicon Valley and he started in with a software support job and ultimately his own technology business. Since most of the technology was sold internationally, this business could be run from most anywhere.  In 2010 the political climate for the business changed and the business income dropped substantially, since that time he has been more focused on tea.

Mike was born and raised on the East Coast.  He grew up working in his father’s nursery and garden business and studied Biology and Chemistry at Marquette University.  After teaching high school biology, Mike’s path led him to the National College of Chiropractic and a career as a Chiropractic Physician and Natural Health Practitioner.  Mike lived in Fiji for a short time and eventually moved to Hawaii Island in 1977. He began hybridizing daylilies in the late 80's. In the mid 90's he moved to California and owned a retail nursery and a daylilies garden.  His interest in daylilies led to the creation of an online auction website for daylilies, which he still runs.

After a few years in California Mike began to feel the pull back to Hawaii. He convinced Rob to accompany him on a trip there. Rob became attached to the big island overnight. They began to look for a residence there in 1999. In a short time they discovered available land overlooking Onomea Bay that was breathtaking. They both packed up and moved to Hawaii in 2000 and began building their house. Their first tea plants were planted in 2003.

It has only been 10 years, but Rob and Mike are tea experts.  They have certifications galore and have trained with world renowned authorities.  Set on a nine acre plantation above Onomea Bay, Onomea Tea grows, cultivates, and processes some of the finest tea available.  Impressively, Onomea Tea is completely organic.  As Mike pointed out, tea isn’t washed before it is processed, so whatever is on when it is picked is on it when you drink it.  Pesticides – out, sea spray and Hawaiian sunshine – in.  Beautiful. 

The tea is picked and processed by hand on site.  They have been cultivating new hybrids of their tea plants after painstakingly selecting the best from their existing stock.  Currently, they produce and sell white, green, oolong, and black tea. Onomea does not add flavors and uses only their own crops. Recently, they produced an aged black tea “Koko Ki” that had subtle hints of cocoa.  (Yes – with no additives or flavorings they brought tea and chocolate together in one luscious cup.) Unfortunately, the demand is so high that they often sell out quickly. 

This second career seems to be working out quite nicely. 

If you are on the Big Island, contact them for a tour of the plantation and afternoon tea tasting!  You won’t regret it.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Second or Third Career as an Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship often occurs when someone is dissatisfied, and people are not satisfied with a lot of things.  Noticeably, we use products that don’t do what we need them to do, we work at jobs that are not fulfilling, we endure poor service both at home and work.  In my recent adventures talking with entrepreneurs and small business owners, I have talked with many people who started their companies after leaving other, often successful, careers.  The next series of entries focuses on these companies. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What Not to Wear

There seems to be a few interesting myths floating around about start-up styles.  I was reminded of this at a pitchfest recently.  Pitchfests are short events, usually a couple of hours, at which about a dozen companies have three to ten minutes each to convince the audience and sometimes judges that their companies are wonderful businesses and that they should be funded.  Pitchfests can be terrific for refining your story or connecting with potential investors, mentors, and customers.  There are very few opportunities where a company founder can talk to a room full of people who actually want to hear about the idea.  However, before a word comes out, you better believe that an impression has already been made.  Many people forget that clothing and body language speak volumes.  No, you don’t have to be the best dressed or have the perfect stage presence, but you do have to look like you care.  Here are a few tips about what not to wear.

1.   Backwards baseball hat, or any hat for that matter.  Even in Silicon Valley, a backwards baseball hat is sure to make audience members snicker and roll their eyes.  It doesn’t matter if it has the company’s name on it, it doesn’t look good.  It is very difficult to listen to a CEO when you are wondering if they just woke up.  And if someone can’t wake up in time for a mid-afternoon presentation, how do they run a company?

2. Sweatpants.  ‘nough said.

3. The hoodie.  That is so 2007.  Do you really expect us to believe that you are the next Facebook?  Even if you are, we don’t care. 

4. Sunglasses.  See hat.

5. College paraphernalia.  I love my alma mater, but wearing my favorite college sweatshirt to talk with investors is a flag of insecurity.  “Really, I went to this school and you should be impressed.”  Or not.  Save this one for grocery shopping. 

6. Haute couture or expensive designer wear.  If you are talking to potential investors you are asking for money.  You are asking for money to pay your salary.  Why should they pay you to wear better clothing than most actors unless you are starting a fashion company? 

7. Gum.  Warning.  Don’t sit in the first row. You may get hit by projectile gum during the presentation.  It happens. 

8. Shorts or skinny jeans.  Whoa nelly.  This distraction just makes one wonder which season it is. Is this pitch for a resort?  Leg hair removal?  Liposuction?  Plus, not many people can wear these and look professional. 

9. Gimmicks. It is one thing to dress in clothes that reflect the nature of the market in which you do business.  There is a fine line between looking cute and looking stupid.  Even if your app is the must have for skateboarders, dressing like Hawk or White mid-tre flip is not going to show others that you can run a company.  Just don’t go there. 

10. Goggles – No, I am not kidding.  And it wasn’t even a gimmick. 

11. Dirt.  Unconsciously, people connect cleanliness and competence.  This means, don’t eat spaghetti before talking with others.  Since I am prone to spills, I shy away from wearing white.  It is sure to end poorly. 

12. Like any teenager you know, even if you are a teenager.  You are not, nor will you ever be, the coolest person in the room.  Stop trying to be.   

And last, but certainly not least…

13. Smug smile.  Why are you here?

As in any situation, it is your job to convince the audience of your story.  Part of this is how you dress. If you were trusting a stranger with thousands, if not millions, of dollars, how would you want them to look?  Be respectful.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On the road again

This last week, my husband and I took a road trip from San Jose to San Diego for a business meeting.  Before we left, I researched several young companies for consideration in this blog. A list of young companies (less than five years old) was created using web searches and local press.  My plan was to visit the companies during the road trip, meet with owners and managers, and gather information about their strategies for success.  This time, since a girl has to eat on the road, the list focused on bakeries.  All in the name of research.

What surprised me most wasn’t the fantastic companies that will be discussed in future entries.  It was actually the companies that were taken off the list.  Let me clarify something here. I don’t get paid to visit companies or write about them.  The products sampled are usually purchased by me, unless I happen to be on the factory floor and sampling is part of a tour or something.  Objectivity is paramount.  What you get here are my observations on what makes start-ups succeed and examples of potential weaknesses.   

For example, a bakery near San Diego has a recipe for success with a perfect location and a lot of foot traffic.  However, the product that I had was, quite honestly, inedible. (I am not one to throw away food, but I couldn’t finish that cupcake to save my life.)  Additionally, the menu was remarkably limited with very limited product on display, and the hours were short. On the one hand, just because a company exists doesn’t mean that it is successful.  On the other hand, there are many factors that I did not observe.   

Another bakery had a decent amount of press and a great website - two items in the plus column.  In contrast with the other bakery, the central coast had a huge range of products, um… if you like donuts.  Fun donuts of all flavors from traditional old fashioned to maple bacon logs - three items in the plus column.  But in no way, shape, or form does one appreciate flies on food.  Nope.  My co-pilot almost ran for the door.  Undaunted, I got a couple of things that looked the least likely to have been visited by airborne insects.  After missing lunch, I tried one of the donuts.  Unremarkable.  Ok – I liked the chocolate frosting, but the donut itself was just there.  We tried the other one.  Not even unremarkable.  As hungry as I was, I put away the pastries.  (In the end, they ended up in the trash.  Don’t tell my mom.)    
Just like our judgment of food, success is subjective.  The customers of the donut shop may love the crazy flavors and maybe I was there on an off day.  To the locals, this place may be hugely successful if it is revitalizing a neglected neighborhood or building community by bringing people together.  To the owners, it may be a success if it is not losing money.  To others, they may expect the next Dunkin or Krispie.  It is all relative.  So – your question for the week…  

What do you consider success?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Upside of Managed Growth for a Start-Up

The upside of managed growth for a start-up

In a world where fast business growth is applauded, it is easy to forget that it is not the norm. Not that there is anything wrong with fast growth, but what about everyone else?  How many times have you seen companies that grow really fast and then fall flat?  I sometimes save magazine articles, add them to my stack of things to reread, only to find them years later when I am cleaning off my desk. (I know that I am not alone.) What is interesting is the number of companies mentioned that are no longer around. They had a great idea, but couldn’t survive.  There are many reasons for that, but business cessation is a whole other topic that could go on for some time. The obvious tortoise-hare analogy aside, there is something to be applauded about managed growth.  

You may have noticed that the previous blog posts here discuss entrepreneurs who have carefully managed the growth of their companies. Oscar from Landau Confections emphasizes innovation in both product and production, ensuring that the results are truly hand-crafted and original. Cristina from Kika’s Treats was given the opportunity to accelerate growth by mass producing her products, but didn’t want to compromise the quality.  Dandelion Chocolate’s business model specifically focuses on small batch chocolate, isolating the sources to bring out the individual flavors hidden in each harvest.  Robin at Bequet Caramels described her strategy as focusing, “on one niche and make the best product we possibly can in that niche.  We were often asked why we don’t make chocolates, too.  The answer has always been that our goal is to make the best caramel anyone has ever had (period).” 

These companies were chosen not because it is interesting to try new candy, but because each demonstrates a dedication to high-quality products.  Also, each company was given the opportunity to grow quickly, but the owners concentrated on the quality of the product, staying true to their existing customers, and continuing the practices that had succeeded for them. These owners decided early on what mattered to them in the creation and development of their companies.  Individually, they chose a strategy and stayed true to the course. 

Entrepreneurs are often faced with two extreme scenarios – too few options (such as early financing) and too many options (like an overwhelming number of potential suppliers).  Knowing ahead of time what you want your company to represent helps with both situations.  When you don’t have many options, your dedication to your strategy can help spur you to innovate new solutions.  When too many options exist, your knowledge of yourself and the company can help eliminate those choices that don’t align with your long term goals. This is not to say that sometimes compromises aren’t necessary.  However, knowing what you stand for makes decision making during these situations much easier.   

On a side note - Public companies often don’t have the option to manage growth in these ways when shareholders and the SEC require the optimization of shareholder wealth (aka stock prices).  When your business centers on driving down costs to increase profit, it is hard to choose the more expensive route.  Some companies are expected to make compromises that detract from the initial goal since higher quality raw materials, labor intensive production, and higher ethical standards for sourcing often cost more.  When a company targets the mass market who is increasingly concerned about price, executives often believe that they do not have the option to increase prices to off-set higher production costs.  Few companies have been able to do this.  In fact, one of the critiques of the Western business environment is just that, too much emphasis on meeting the quarterly expectations so that the stock price doesn’t drop. 

In turn, costs are minimized to help maximize profit. 
And we buy it.

So, what is the right formula?  You decide.  Every dollar that you spend is your vote.

Get to know the products that you buy and who makes them.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bequet Caramel – All natural, gluten-free, nut-free, and delicious

Bequet Confections 

On my recent adventures traveling, I decided to continue my search for great small businesses.  And my my my.  Montana did not disappoint. This company is not a start-up, but exemplifies managed growth as a core component of a company's strategy.  On the recommendation of Bozeman residents, I visited Bequet Caramel.  This was not my first trip to Bequet, so it was not a surprise that the locals kept acclaiming their products. The Food Network visited in 2010 and raved.  It won’t be my last visit; that is for sure.  These things are fantastic.  Each time I visit, pounds of caramel are loaded into my luggage.  Pounds. 

Lyndsey Althans (left) and I discuss the many flavors of Bequet. 

Bequet Caramels are hand crafted with the highest quality all natural ingredients.  I personally watched them make the caramels with local ingredients that I would want to use at home (if I lived there).  Actually, anyone can watch the processes.  The front room of their flagship factory had huge windows that look right into the kitchen.  It was so clean and organized!  And production was not hidden in some big machine, but in relatively small copper pots.  Each batch is handmade by a team of dedicated, and rather busy, chefs.  Since the founder, Robin Bequet, was out of town, I met with Lyndsey Althans.  She explained that each batch is 41 pounds, or about 1600 pieces.  On average, they go through almost a half-ton of caramels a Day.  Unless it is around the holidays at which time production doubles.  And they check EACH piece for quality control.  A recent batch was too chewy to be considered their “soft” caramels, but too soft to be considered a “chewy” caramel.  This batch was immediately pulled. 

Bequet specializes in caramels and only caramels.  Robin takes pride in making one product very well.  There are 10 flavors including Celtic Sea Salt, Chipotle, and Butterscotch.  These three are the most popular and have won numerous awards. (Celtic Sea Salt is easily the best I have ever tasted, and I am a caramel nut.)  Other flavors include espresso, chocolate, and cinnamon swirl.  Each year they experiment with new flavors, introducing one or two, usually replacing one of the existing flavors.  This year is special though because Bequet is introducing an 11th secret flavor soon.  It was determined that none of the current flavors could be eliminated (without creating havoc), but Robin wanted to continue innovating with new flavors.  The chefs played with several contenders this spring, introducing them to customers of their flagship factory/store in taste tests.  The final decision was influenced greatly by actual customers voicing their opinion of real products.  They are hush hush on the verdict, but indications are that it will be amazing. 

Most of their products are sold as individually wrapped pieces at over 900 retail establishments in the US and Canada.  (On a recent trip to the East Coast, I found them at a small specialty grocery store in North Carolina.)   Some establishments carry gift bags and boxes.  Local chefs are lucky to be able to work with Bequet Caramel Sauce, which is not available for retail purchase (!).  The rest of us can purchase individually wrapped pieces in gift boxes or by the pound at their factory or online store.  Factory visitors can also buy quarter pound end pieces that are the last of a batch that didn’t fit through the wrapping machine.   

In addition to extremely high standards, Bequet does not allow any nut products in the production facility.  They are very strict about this.  So if you are allergic to nuts, but like caramel, this is the product for you.  The caramels are also gluten-free and all natural. Bequet has eliminated GMO ingredients from all products, with the exception of one ingredient that is particularly hard to find of the right quality.  But they are working on this and expect to convert to a new ingredient soon.

Since Bequet doesn’t allow any nuts near the caramel, and I am fond of nuts with my caramel, I found a solution - make your own.  Their end pieces are perfect for this since I can’t duplicate their caramels at home and no other producer comes close.  Take raw pecans (or your favorite nut) and lightly toast them in your oven.  Let these cool and gently warm the end pieces in a skillet over low heat.  When it is just a little malleable, stir in the nuts.  Be quick because you don’t want to cook the caramel or it will become hard and toffee like.  Pour the caramel-nut mix onto a greased glass pan.  (You might not need the “grease”.)  When cool, cut up and enjoy.  Earlier I mentioned that I take pounds of the stuff home with me and this is the reason. 

Recipe for success: High standards and managed growth
During the preceding week, I had exchanged emails with the founder and owner, Robin Bequet.  She started the company in 2001 after the telecom crash at the turn of the century.  She started at home and increased production as friends and family started getting the word out.  During the early days, her family helped with production, including her father and husband.  It wasn’t long before they needed a stand-alone facility.  Now, they are running out of room and are planning an expansion that may double the factory’s size.  Robin manages growth closely.  Since the caramels have a 3 month shelf-life, inventory is meticulously controlled.  This means that the company works directly with most retailing partners to ensure that products are fresh and up to company standards.  They only accept new clients when they know that they and their suppliers can handle an increase in production without compromise.  The result is a product to believe in.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Cocoa + Sugar = Heaven (aka Dandelion Chocolate)

Cocoa + Sugar = Heaven (aka Dandelion Chocolate)
Simplicity really is best.

Dandelion Chocolate combines cocoa beans and sugar to produce bars of extraordinary character and complexity.

Simple and Pure.

And when I write cocoa beans and sugar, I mean ONLY cocoa beans and sugar.  No preservatives, stabilizers, or other unpronounceable additives.  That is what makes it so great.  I love the fact that their chocolate is so simple.  The founders, Todd and Cam, go old school on this recipe and it pays off.  In fact, in less than three years they have moved from their personal garage shop to their Mission District Factory and Café.  And just walking into their new café in the Mission District of San Francisco is ethereal.  You are hit with a wave of chocolate air that carries you past the chairs and tables to a small counter filled with rich pastries and luxurious beverages.  Three types of hot cocoa can’t be bad.

Let’s start with the chocolate.
Everything about Dandelion Chocolate says quality and care.  The company purchases the raw cocoa beans directly from the farmer.  In many cases, team members have visited the farm and met the workers. They ensure that the farmers are getting a fair price for their beans and that the farms are up to Dandelion’s quality standards. Once back at the factory, they keep the beans from different farms separated because the flavor of the beans varies widely.  Todd explained that chocolate can differ for many reasons even within one farm. 
The beans are cleaned, roasted, and sorted in-house. Dandelion Chocolates are made in small batches, variant on the location and farm from which the beans originated. The labels reflect specific information about the origin and flavor of the chocolate, which is unique to each batch. Each bar is made by hand.

Just like wine, if you find a harvest that you love, buy a lot.  Unfortunately, the shelf-life of chocolate is not as long as wine, so you will just have to enjoy it.  (Darn.)

Recipe for success: perseverance
Obviously, this labor intensive process in difficult and expensive. As such, Dandelion Chocolate is one of the few bean-to-bar chocolate companies in the Bay Area.  The company was created by two friends, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring, who founded and sold Plaxo, a personal online address book and forerunner to social networking in 2008. Afterwards, they decided to explore the world of chocolate.  They started by experimenting in a garage and building their own equipment when off-the-shelf wouldn’t work (so Silicon Valley).  A year later, they decided to make a company out of their experimentation.  Growth has been steady and they have learned a lot along the way.  When they opened their café last year, the incredibly fast growth was difficult to manage.  The owners did not have experience running a café.  When the WSJ ran an article near the holidays in 2012, sales skyrocketed.  They had just launched their café and basically sold out. 

The founders now balance economies of scale and their small product line.  For instance, large quantities of pre-printed labels are not feasible since batch sizes vary depending on the raw materials provided directly from the farmers.  Thus, they buy in bulk when feasible and then move production and finishing in house.  They also try to use sustainable materials from high quality sources.  For example, Dandelion has the wrappers made in India from recycled shirts!  The simple, elegant designs are perfectly fitting for the products. 

A recent development: the café invites local guest pastry chefs to transform the chocolate into decadent desserts.

Dandelion Chocolate  740 Valencia Street SF CA 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hey Honey Cakes... Kika's Treats

Kika’s Treats are yummy goodies that you won’t find anywhere else.  Seriously.  I had never heard of honey cakes before finding Kika’s, let alone chocolate covered Brazilian honey cakes.  For those of you still in the dark, Brazilian honey cakes are small, dense, slightly sweet pastries with a brownie-like consistency.  They are similar to a blondie, but without the chocolate chips.  Ok – now Kika’s covers these in chocolate. Viola.

As a caramel addict, I was skeptical at first, but my favorite Treats are the Crunchy Caramels.  They start with a traditional caramel recipe, but use coconut palm sugar and add puffed brown rice. Brown rice? Again – I was skeptical.  They are so good that they don’t even need the chocolate coating, (what am I saying – there is a definite cocoa protocol followed here). If that doesn’t intrigue you, then try the Caramelized Graham Crackers, also covered in chocolate.  They are made by hand in small batches and baked in a small oven in the shop.  

Recipe for Success: High Standards
Kika’s Treats was started by Cristina Arantes 2006.  Since then Cristina has grown the business organically in the Bay Area through specialty shops, gourmet stores, and online.  Although she has been approached to supply large chain stores, Cristina has been careful to manage growth without compromising quality.  This is incredibly important to her.  For a lot of companies, this is just PR, but she means it.  How do I know? While visiting her factory, I saw the defective products being set aside.  (And then I ate one. For the sake of research of course.)  I could not see or taste anything wrong. I was told that they are lopsided.  Who says quality control is dead? 

What is even more impressive is that the company donates 5% of proceeds to La Cocina – the non-profit San Francisco incubator specializing in the food industry.   

Find Kika’s Treats at Bi-Rite, Village Market, and other retailers.  Or go to

Monday, June 3, 2013

Innovation at Landru Chocolates

Landru Chocolates
Edible artistry.  Landru Chocolates masterfully creates beautiful collections of truffles, caramels, and pates de fruit that taste as good as they look.  A lot of chocolate out there is either beautiful or delicious.  Landru is both.  Founder Oscar Baile takes pride in making high quality confections that stand up against well-known competitors.  In fact, they have earned dozens of awards including the 2013 Best Flavored Chocolate Award at the SF International Chocolate Salon.  All of Landru products are hand-crafted in small batches, without rush.  As the rest of the world races to automate manufacturing, this company would rather take more time to ensure that their customers get the best products. 

Landru Chocolates continues to innovate with over 50 products including Cointreau chocolates, Salt-N-Pepper Toffee, and Balsamic-Rum Caramel Sauce!  And recently, they launched the Wine Pates de Fruits in Chardonnay, Merlot, White Zin, and Cabernet.  Adventure is here.

Started by Mr. Baile in 2004, Landru Chocolates is a small artisan chocolate company in Newark, California.  After spending fifteen years working as a civil and structural engineer in South America, Mr. Baile decided to start a company closer to home that would allow him to spend more time with his family.  He trained with Chocolatier Carlos Colmenares from Choco-Arte, C.A., Confectioner Terry Richardson, Chef Ewald Notter and Chef Webber Hitz.  The results – chocolates that you just have to try.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Little known secrets - local entrepreneurs

What happened to all of the non-tech start-ups?

Recently, I wanted to create a new exercise for my Intro to Entrepreneurship class (Santa Clara University) that would explore local entrepreneurship in a similar space, but not the same firms seen over and over in the news.  With the bulk of entrepreneurship news focusing on tech start-ups and venture capital, I thought that this blog should take a look at the unsung heroes of the economy: the small, local entrepreneurs who are not developing the next app or software package.  Here, I bring you news of other ventures in interesting spaces.

Like chocolate.

As you may know, there has been a proliferation of chocolate shops in the last decades.  Many companies have entered the space and competition is hot.  

In the Bay Area, chocolate flows freely, but the quality range is huge.

First up - Dandelion Chocolate.  Started by the Plaxo founders in 2010.  Single-origin bars (70%) with two ingredients: cocoa and sugar.  As someone who is highly sensitive to the additives in mass produced chocolate, Dandelion is a treasure.

Next up ...

Friday, May 3, 2013

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Welcome to my blog.  Here you will find information about interesting and exciting developments regarding entrepreneurship, start-ups, funding, venture capital, pitching, etc.  I am based in Silicon Valley, but will include news from around the world.  Stay posted.