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.