Chris Heavener is the General Manager and Co-founder of Videri Chocolate Factory, located in North Carolina.
In this entrepreneur interview, Chris shares his role at Videri Chocolate, their competitive advantage and what they did to find ideal customers at zero cost! He also explains his greatest fear as an entrepreneur as well as provides solution on how to overcome it.
For everyone starting a business in North Carolina, his advice:
You can learn a lot by doing but you’ll save yourself a lot of time if you get some insider perspective. Make sure you’ve got a handle on what the market wants and how you’ll be able to deliver it better than anyone else.
My business partner, Sam, was/is a chocolate maker, so it was his idea to start a chocolate company. I’ve always been more interested in how to make organizations that benefit all parties involved, from clients to business owners to employees.
I’m concerned mainly with making a positive economic engine more than I am making chocolate. But the chocolate sure makes things a lot happier around the office.
We see a disconnect between craft chocolate and consumers. It’s like fine wine, there’s an intellectual barrier for entry. We seek to bridge that gap by welcoming people into our factory to check the whole place out and learn how chocolate without being made to feel inadequate if you can’t taste the earthy tones of a Dominican single origin 90% chocolate.
Market research always helps. We’ve done all kinds of market research about who our target demographic is and what they want. Although the most low-cost way we’ve ever done, it is when we partnered with NC State University’s Marketing department.
We gave the students a problem in terms of what we were looking for (who’s our demo, how do we get them to buy our products, etc.), then they went off and built a strategy for us at no cost. They worked with a real business so they got some real world experience and we got some fresh eyes on what we were doing so it’s a win-win.
Unforeseen circumstances, black swan events, things you basically can’t prepare for. We make as comprehensive plans as we can but sometimes (a lot of times) things happen out of scope of those plans and we have to react quickly.
By their nature, these events are unpredictable. The best way we’ve found to navigate through them is to be flexible and to be able to make quick decisions and execute just as quickly.
We read Yvon Chouinard’s book a lot, he built Patagonia around something he loved and he made the company work for the employees, the environment and the customer. That’s what we try to do. And there’s a handful of chocolate companies that we collaborate with/get inspired by.
Possibility, opportunity, potential for this company to do great things.
Most things we do fail. We’re probably at a 1:5 or 1:8 success-to-failure ratio in all facets of the business from production to sales. But that’s just the startup lifestyle. It’s all trial and error until you find what works.
Once you figure out what works, do more of it. It’s that simple. When it comes to enduring the failure, then I usually lean on my answer to the above question
We’re always developing new products. People’s tastes never stop changing and evolving, so we have to evolve as well. In terms of the next five years: We want to have pretty thorough distribution in the culinary hot spots all over the east coast, as well as some west coast coverage. We want our employees to continue to love working here, we want to continue to offer them ways to become a part of the company.
I forget where I heard it, maybe one of those sayings that’s in the air, ‘If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.’ Also, ‘If you don’t take any risks, you’ll never see any rewards.’
See if you can find someone doing something similar. Ask if you can shadow them for a day or at least see if they’ll let you buy them a cup of coffee. You can learn a lot by doing but you’ll save yourself a lot of time if you get some insider perspective.
Know your market. Make sure you’ve got a handle on what the market wants and how you’ll be able to deliver it better than anyone else. Get plugged in at a co-working space where other start-ups/ entrepreneurs are doing interesting things, there’s lots of those all over the Triangle.