Robert Bowden is known as a pursuer of passions. Founder of bespoke fine chocolate brand Cocoa Viveré and former professional horse trainer, he can often be found teaching people how to find the profitability in personal interests.
In this Startup Savant interview, Robert shares some of the things he's learned throughout his career that have made the success of his chocolate pursuits even sweeter. We are all in the relationship business, so to learn even more and connect with Robert, follow him on Twitter.
What do you typically tell people when they ask you what you do?
I'm entrepreneur currently in the fine chocolate industry.
Have you encountered troubles or mishaps when starting Viveré Chocolates? How did you fix them?
I spent 6 months studying my intended target market before launch. Developed branding, marketing message and media around said market. Half way through our first year, I observed that of all the customers we had, not a single one was from our targeted market.
Somehow we managed to grow a business doing it all wrong. I immediately began surveying our repeat buyers and studying their traits and habits. This allowed us to literally rebrand, not only the look but the services we offered and products we produced, right in the middle of the season. This experience totally shifted how we approach the business and our customers.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? Is there something you are most proud of?
What I enjoy most is being a problem solver as opposed to just trying to market a product. How I am able to address their needs with what we have to offer. I use that same direct interaction to develop our growth plans into new areas. I most proud of my teams ability to adapt. I run a lean crew and we are all aware that everything we do is tailored around our client's problem not our newest product.
What is the most exciting moment of your entrepreneurial journey?
The day our very first corporate client called wanting to use our chocolates for their customer gifts. It came during the 3rd quarter of our first year in business it also happened to be our largest order of the year and took our brand global. I will never forget that day.
What is the toughest decision you’ve ever made when starting a business? How did it make you better at the end of the day?
I don't really have a toughest decision when starting a business. I've created enough to realize that obstacles are all part of the process and change is constant. If anything the hardest decision to accept was closing my horse training business after moving from Tennessee to New Jersey, and realizing the market wasn't there for it after being a professional horse trainer for over 17 years.
What does your day-in, day-out look like? Is there any specific habit that has helped you become a better person?
6am - Wake Up
7am - Go for a walk (3mi), Brainstorm
8am-12pm - Marketing & Product Photoshoot
12pm-2pm - Answer Emails, Return Calls
2pm-3pm - NAP TIME
3pm-5pm - Misc Biz
5pm - Testing new chocolate ideas with the team or Networking
10pm - Brainstorming part #2
11pm - Yoga and Bed Time
Key to my success - Walking, Naps, and Yoga! Really.
Who has been your greatest influencer along your entrepreneurial journey? How did they shape Viveré Chocolates?
David Landrum, former employer. He built a multi -million dollar Show Horse stable. Trained us to focus our attention on our top clients' needs. Consistently be the best in the business at delivering quality, service, and results, then charge accordingly. This created a brand that really only attracted potential clients who immediately saw the value in what we offered.
Knowing our value removed the urge to waste time and resources trying to close clients that may not be a good fit. I have definitely applied this when developing my brand. We sell a luxury product to a very select clientele. We don't compete on price or volume, we compete on value.
How do you balance life and work to remain connected and available for your loved ones? Any advice for me?
I'm pretty lucky my partner is a composer so we are able to spend at least some portion of our workday in close proximity. I get free music while I'm working on proposals and market strategy or sometimes he becomes a new product tester.
My advice to you is to schedule a regular date night with your significant other and give it the same focus you would a new client meeting. Undivided attention even if it's for just an hour or two. Also minimize guilt trips, you want more from life and there's no reason to feel bad when you aren't as free as some would like you to be because you don't have a standard 9-5.
Do you think being an entrepreneur has turned you into a better person? If so, how?
I think being an entrepreneur has giving me the opportunity to improve some life skills. In particular, it has honed my ability to listen and understand. Strengthened my resolve, as the startup world is full of uncertainty. I have to calmly and strategically lead my team even when the end isn't clear. Overall, I manage my personal life much better being an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in New Jersey today? Where should they start?
Specialists always make more money than generalists. Pick a niche, learn it, and then bring the best of that to the industry. A talk with your local Small Business Administration director is a good place to start.
Do your homework there are lots of resources that are available you just have to look for them. I recommend www.bizignite.co its a great start up tool for entrepreneurs creating strategic plans. Build a team, you can't do it (well) alone.
New Jersey is a pretty awesome place to launch a business. International ports and close enough to Manhattan to capitalize on the activity without the overhead.