Editor’s Note: Welcome to From a Founder, a monthly entrepreneur profile about the highs, lows, and plateaus of building a successful brand or business.
In just seven years, husband-and-wife duo Matt and Ish Broadbent have gone from making chocolate in the back of their apartment and selling at a local farmers market to operating out of a micro-factory, selling in stores worldwide, and managing a successful ecommerce business — all under the name Ocelot Chocolate.
Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, Ocelot Chocolate is a hands-on venture that merges ethical business practices with unique branding — from the compostable inner film of its chocolate wrappings, to the packaging and artwork that the couple designs themselves. Matt and Ish recently recounted their entrepreneurial journey, from originally leaving their salaried jobs to pursue careers as chefs, to navigating the ups and downs of small business ownership, and their vision for Ocelot’s future as an interactive brand that connects customers more closely with the creation of their favorite chocolates.
SQSP: What inspired you to launch your business?
Matt and Ish: To shape our own futures, to do something that we could be proud of, and to bring happiness to others through something we created. We also wanted to combine our love of design with our love of food. Between us we have a mixed bag of talents and we felt confident we could create something special.
SQSP: What was the first step you took to make it a reality?
M + I: We left our salaried jobs and moved to Italy to be chefs. A lot of people thought we were crazy, but we were young and in love so we didn't look back. Along the way there have definitely been bad decisions, tough times and tears and frustrations, but we don't believe in regrets — it all makes sense in the end.
SQSP: In every entrepreneurial endeavor, there are unexpected risks and challenges. What was the biggest risk you took?
M+ I: When we started the business our only sales outlet was a local farmers market where along with our chocolate we also sold a variety of organic homemade foods like dips and salad dressings. It made us just enough money to pay our rent and get by, but we had no time to progress the business, and we knew we wanted to focus on chocolate. So we gave up our place at the market, and for two or three months we had nothing and it was hard, but we put all our energy into honing our ideas and creating our brand and all of a sudden the business started to fly and we never looked back. Now it doesn't seem like a huge risk to take — just giving up a market stall — but back then it was all we had, so it took a lot of courage.
SQSP: What surprised you the most?
M + I: How quickly our brand gathered momentum online, and also how many people were willing to take a risk on us — just a couple of small time unknown producers, flying by the seat of our pants. We still feel very grateful to the stores who supported us right from the start.
SQSP: After a challenging day, week, or month, what keeps you motivated?
M + I: That we’ve worked this hard and got this far, giving up now is not an option. Also the knowledge that whenever we hit a low, there is almost always a high just around the corner. In business there is so much of that — you can go from rock bottom to top of the world with one email. Optimism and relentless tenacity will get you through.
SQSP: How has your online presence contributed to your business success?
M + I: Our business would not be what it is without our website and our online presence. A good, clean, effective website is everything - and more now than ever. We try to approach our online presence from our own personal perspective as end users — what annoys us or stresses us out when we’re shopping online, what pleases us or encourages brand loyalty, what are our own expectations when we visit a website or a social media platform? A brand like ours is not only about selling, it's about creating a comfortable, beautiful place that sums up who we are. Then hopefully that imprints on our visitors and they in turn like us, trust us, and ultimately buy from us.
SQSP: How do you see your online presence evolving in the future?
M + I: The world is shifting its buying habits to online, so we need to capitalize on that and be ready. We also make a lot more money when we sell through our own store at retail price, so driving more customers to our site and encouraging through-sales is going to be a priority. Also getting our customers more involved with our processes is a must-do for us in the future — everyone loves to see stuff getting made, real life happening, so we’re aiming for lots more visuals… and some thoughtful blogging is always something we aspire to.
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