Start-Up Stories – Push Chocolate
In this chapter of Start-Up Stories Tom chatted with Ant Wilson about his awesome business Push Chocolate! See what he had to say on his awesome products and the challenges that come with founding a business. Check out the full podcast here.
Welcome to episode 4 of the Start-Up Stories podcast! I’m Tom Cokill your host and today I’m with Ant Wilson who is the founder and MD of Push Chocolate, the vegan heavily proteined chocolate buttons that are new to the market. How’s it going Ant?
Very good, yourself?
So, the first question I’d like to ask to start us off is what is your story? What’s your background?
Sure! I don’t really come from an entrepreneurship background.
“I wasn’t like a 5-year-old trying to sell all my chocolate at school, trying to be the Alan Sugar of the playground.”
It was something I kind of fell in to. After graduation I started my career, became a management consultant and then a few years later I felt like I wasn’t really in control and wanted something more that I own and it’s for me. I started coming up with different ideas and then fell in to chocolate. I love chocolate, I’ve always loved chocolate. I’d get into a really bad habit at 3pm when I got the slump, I would just go to the vending machine and buy the mainstream chocolates which is just loaded with sugar, loaded with everything else bar cocoa and all the good stuff.
A big sell on this chocolate is that it’s vegan. It’s on the package, it’s clear and evident. Were you trying to create a vegan chocolate to start with or did it just happen by chance that the best product you made happened to be vegan?
There was a bit of that, and a bit of it tasting better. Because I tried whey proteins before which is all dried from milk and that always made me feel a bit dodgy. Which is what a lot of other people say when they’ve had whey. It’s got quite a distinctive taste which I struggle to cover up with the chocolate. So, I was trying different vegan proteins. I started with rice but it tasted very chalky. I took off a bit of the rice protein eventually and put more pea in which is not as strong a flavour. Then it means I get a complete protein from using pea and rice which you also get when you take whey.
I’m not a protein person, I do a lot of running but I don’t take any supplements at all. Are they functional do they have the same outcome? Does the protein from a pea give you the same muscle building results as the protein from whey?
So, if you just took pea and whey: pea has got a lot of the amino acid but it doesn’t have all of them which whey does. You get two thirds basically. Then the ones in rice they have the ones that pea don’t. So, if you blend it, I think it’s about 70-30 pea to rice you will get what you would get if you had whey.
So, this product covers all those bases. You’ve made a product that essentially covers the whey protein deficiencies in both by combining them together.
Exactly! I decided to focus on the vegan side especially as I want more vegan foods and plants in my diet. It also meant that I wasn’t shutting off any of the market. It was something which was available for everyone. Because I also made it free from as well. So, it’s free from all 14 major allergens so there’s no nuts there’s no soy or any of the other major allergens.
It’s completely dairy free as well isn’t it?
Exactly, there’s no lactose or any dairy products and it’s not even made in a factory which contains it.
Is it gluten-free?
So, you have covered all the bases! Just going back to your story…I understand that you still work full time, and this is just you at the moment. How are you managing that? Because I think for a lot of the people who listen to this are people thinking of starting something and want to do it and probably thinking “I can’t afford to quit my job”. So can you talk to us a bit about that and how you manage the stresses of a successful career alongside being a founder as well.
“I think the main thing is focusing on one thing at a time.”
It’s very tempting to do both things. I’d have both laptops out for example could be really tempting so I do a bit of work on my day job and I’m also kind of doing a bit of work on the chocolate and realise that just will never work because I need to focus basically on one thing at a time.
Is your day job related, is it in the industry?
No, I work as a data analytics consultant.
Is that a flexible job? Can you open your laptop and do your job any time of the day?
Yes, and that’s why I’m quite fortunate because it’s very output driven. As long as you’re getting everything done when people say they want it, you attend the meetings which are already in the diary. Then as long as it’s done it’s not like I have to be at work at say 8:30 in the morning and leave at 17:30 on a night, it’s a bit more flexible than that.
Flexible working, for jobs that it should work for is the hottest topic at the moment. It affords people the opportunity to pursue other things but not sacrifice the output and quality of work that they do for their employer. It sounds like you’ve got a good employer there to start with, that’s the right type of situation you need to be in if you’re going to combine the two together
Exactly. I’ve got friends who work in very stressful corporate finance jobs and they have to be on the phones a lot of the time. It’s very client facing, which means they’re quite restrictied on what else they can do during that period.
Where did the name come from, what’s the brand all about, what’s the message you’re trying to get over to the consumer?
It took 6 months. Initially I was going to have almost like balls, and I was going to call it Ball Z Then I realised some had already called it Ball Z in America which would cause issues and the manufacturing process to create balls like that is quite difficult and it was really problematic. So, I scrapped that. I wanted something that was short and snappy. Basically, pushing yourself which is one of the reasons I put protein in.
Is it a confectionary brand or a functional brand? Where do you want it to sit? Do you want it to sit with Grenade or compete with Yorkie?
I’d rather go down the confectionery route.
“For a lot of the protein bars it gives your jaw quite a good workout, which I wanted to stay away from.”
I wanted to relate back to my childhood, which was eating a bag of dairy milk buttons until basically I fell ill!
In terms of flavours then we’ve got plain chocolate, we’ve got mint chocolate, orange chocolate and honeycomb. What’s your strategy in terms of developing that out? To add on to that, where do you see this range sitting in store and who do you think is going to be your target consumer?
Initially this is going to be my range to start with as basically covers a lot of the common chocolate flavours already out in the market. I want it sitting with near where the energy balls are and those kind of protein balls. It’s targeting people who are into fitness and they’re quite active and they want a bit more of a protein ‘pick me up’. It’s also for people who are vegan and they are wanting a really good tasting milk texture chocolate. Vegan chocolate is quite dark. Or it’s for people who have food allergies. There’s 2 million people in the UK who have a diagnosis of a food allergy. Being free from all 14 major allergens means they can buy it and they’re not worried that it may contain nuts if they’ve got a peanut allergy as it doesn’t contain any nuts. There’s no trace of nuts either.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
I think getting it going and scheduling. You need to do it and not get overwhelmed with a huge to-do list and thinking “I’m never going to get this done”. I’ve got limited-time myself to do everything, I found that a big challenge. It’s very much of just testing the market, not rushing, getting help where I can and getting a food mentor to come in and discuss helping me make sure I’m not making too many errors.
What’s your medium and long-term plans? Do you intend to make this your full-time job? Or do you think it’s always going to be something you do on the side?
I do plan to have it as my full-time job. Once the sales have picked up, if I’m sold in a retailer then I need to focus all my time on the chocolate. I don’t want to be working on the client side and having a retailer ring up and say “where’s the chocolate?” and I have to drop everything which could cause a lot of trouble
At that point if you get the big deals you would have to go full time and you’d need the staff. Are you thinking about funding or are you going to try and do this organically?
At the moment I’ve just funded through debt. I don’t really have enough sales and assets to really go down the Equity route to really value the company. It’s got to be proven first at a resource scale otherwise I would just lose too much of the business for no money to make it viable.
In terms of route to market is it just on your website at the moment? Have you got any listings anywhere, are there any independents selling it?
At the moment it is just on the website. I get the order online, I then fill it myself, write a handwritten note saying thank you very much and then post it. At the moment that’s working and then as more orders are coming in start scaling it up so it’s not jumping the gun too soon.
What is the website address, where can we buy these products?
From a marketing point of view money is limited when you’re a start-up, what are you doing about your marketing? What are you going to do differently that’s going to grab the attention of the consumer?
At the moment I’m using social media and Instagram raising awareness on that side. I’m planning to do a weekly email that goes to subscribers and it’s something which is quite short it’s called: “Eat, Think, Do Something New”. In that is: here’s a recipe I like this week. It would be vegan focused or could be something involving Push Chocolate and making a recipe with that. Then something for ‘Think’ which could be like a blog post or it could be a book or video I’ve just seen which I’d really like to share. Or it could be ‘Do’. For the first one I’m thinking having like a happiness jar. So, for 2019 writing down anything which made you happy for that year. Then open it at the end of the year and just reflect on how good the year it. It’s having this weekly email that people receive which just brings a bit more value to their lives and hopefully it’s something they then share with other people.
It’s quite refreshing you haven’t gone down the gym route of putting a load of protein in to a product and then trying to say it’s all things to all men. “If you eat this product you’re going to end up with massive muscles” you see it with so many brands out there now. They put a load of protein in something and claim you’re going to be the next Arnold Schwarzenegger if you eat it every day. It sounds like you’re going down a completely different tangent really.
Thank you very much! So, I’m going to be at Balance Festival which is a fitness festival to attract people’s attention. I’m going to get a light up reaction board with different buttons and when they light up you got to push it.
I’ve done one of those, they’re good fun!
It will be about 15 seconds and the number of buttons you push, that will be your discount which you then use to buy the chocolate. So, if you got 17 points in those 15 seconds you’d get 17% off your order at the stand.
Just going back to that manufacturing process then, you don’t make the products. You must outsource it?
Correct, one of the first things I did was find a factory who could do what I was looking for. It’s also got an allergen free section so it’s another part of the factory There’s no cross contamination, they’ve done an amazing job especially with making the product look amazing. Like the honeycomb having the pieces on top which is eye catching. It’s been very helpful for when I’ve been at shows and consumer events and I’ve had it there for people to sample and people say they look amazing. I’ve had really good feedback as a result.
You’re in really early days and this is new but, what advice would you have for anybody else who’s sat there thinking “I’ve got an idea, I’d love to do it but I don’t know where to start”. What advice would you have for them?
I think starting small. I was reading your article on Primal Pantry and talked about Coca-Cola only producing like 25 bottles in the first year.
“I think start really small, just get it out there. See what people think, see what some strangers think.”
I took my chocolates to my local gym because then they’re very friendly to me but it’s not like we’re best friends who were going to be really bias.
You’re going to get an actual honest opinion
Exactly and it means it doesn’t cost too much of anything. If you want to do it and I recommend doing it and not having the regret of ‘I wish I did it’. Look at mitigating your risk as much as possible. For me I’m still working full-time, I never wanted to go into the problem of ‘I’m going to quit my job and try and get as much sells as I can straight away so I can pay the rent’ which just put too much stress and too much pressure on yourself. Working out how much you think it’s going to cost, scheduling time that you can really concentrate on it if it’s in the evening if it’s at the weekend, but it means you get quality time and distractions to work on it. Then get it out there and see what people think and just take it take it from there.
See everything as an opportunity to talk to people about it and take on the feedback. Not everybody is going to tell you it’s great and don’t ignore that, but sometimes do. If you think you’ve got it and you’ve got the right product it’s important to go ahead with it. When it’s quality based feedback I think that’s always really important to take that on board.