Hello and good day!
A couple days back, a mother came into our shop to buy chocolate for her 14-year-old son. She took advantage of the visit to enjoy a cone of our chocolate soft serve as well.
I was outside walking around and I found her sitting on a bench.
"Are you the owner of Fortunato Chocolate?" she asked. "I sure am. Actually, me, my dad, and my brother are the three owners," I said.
"I want to compliment you on the young man you have working in there, he did a great job," said the mother. She was talking about our team member Jalen Varas, who really does do a great job.
We shot the breeze for a few, making small talk, and I sensed she was working her way towards discussing a more substantive topic.
"Can I show you a picture?" she asked. "Please do," said I. She showed me a picture of her 14-year-old son standing behind a countertop dough mixer.
"He's got a baking business. His specialty is banana bread," she said. "Does he like cooking? Or is it just a way to make some walking around money?" I asked. "He LOVES baking," she said.
"That's a beautiful thing. Finding something you love at such a young age is a real blessing," I said. "Can I ask you something?" said the mother. "Of course, please do," said I.
"What business advice would you give to a 14-year-old? I'm doing the best I can. We found some information online and I'm helping him calculate his unit costs, but I don't know much about business," said the mother.
"How much time do you have?" I asked. "Not much. I have an appointment in a few minutes," responded the mother.
"Well, if I could give him just one piece of advice, I'd tell him to never sacrifice quality. Every single loaf he makes should be a work of art. He is young and he has all the time in the world to grow a business. Focusing on quality will solve a lot. There is more of course, and if your son wants to send me an email, I will write it all up for him. But that is the most important thing in my opinion."
I asked if she had a pen and a piece of paper. She did. I gave her my email address and yesterday her son wrote me. He told me that he liked and appreciated my initial advice and asked if I would send him additional thoughts. Obviously, this is a very good kid who is taking his enterprise seriously, and that is something you don't see very often.
I'll be giving him just one perspective. He has many avenues available to him and our approach is just one of many. If he is looking to take on investors someday and build a scaled-out brand, I am not the one to ask. I've never done that before and I couldn't rightfully advise on that.
On the other hand, if he is looking to build a business that he can be deeply proud of and that is his life's work, I can get him going down that road. Since he is starting so early, he can realistically do both. He can build a lucrative business that could make him rich while he is still relatively young, while also building an organization that enriches his soul.
To give you a bit of perspective about where I'm coming from, I saw my dad lose our family business and declare bankruptcy when I was just 11 years old. My father built a beautiful hotel in downtown San Diego in 1986.
The hotel was stolen from us by a low-down business investors. I won't go into the details, but my dad sued this guy dozens of times and won every time. The law was clearly and unarguably on our side.
But the man had deep pockets and kept appealing. Finally, our lawyers refused to keep working on contingency and we had to walk away. Today that property is worth about $50 million, and we should still own it. My dad fell into a deep depression, but managed to pull himself out of it and went on to establish our family chocolate company. All's well that ends well and things have turned out great for us despite the hardships.
However, I have a deep-seated aversion to bringing on investors.
I'd much rather build slow, reinvesting savings and profits to fund moderate growth, than take on capital with the explicit goal of juicing expansion.
The downside to this is that we have customers all over the country who might want a Fortunato Chocolate location in their city, and we'd love to be able to do that. But not at the risk of being kicked out of our own company.
That's where we're coming from, and that's why I have no choice but to advise slow to moderate, organic growth.
Therefore, after making a philosophical dedication to high quality, I'd advise this young man to make sure that he chooses a product he can be obsessed with for the next 10 to 20 years.
We are fifteen years into our chocolate business, and I am still a dyed in the wool chocoholic. From the first time I ever tasted our 68% dark chocolate up until this very moment, my enthusiasm for our products has never waned.
To persist, you need this.
Over the years, there have been many days when I was so down that I felt I could barely breathe. Money problems. Watching my brother leave his family over and over to go out to the jungle. Bad early cacao harvests that customers complained about.
Shipping containers holding hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of cacao, lost at ports for weeks just when we couldn't afford any delays. During those moments when I was dizzy with worry, the only thing that could lift my spirits was eating our chocolate.
It reminded me why we had to endure all this stress. I couldn't bear the thought of our chocolate not being in the world. And since nobody could make that happen but us, we had no choice but to keep going.
My young friend needs to do a self-analysis and ask himself an important question. It is a hard question to ask yourself when you are only 14, but this kid seems to have his head screwed on tighter than most 14-year-olds.
He needs to close his eyes and try to imagine the next ten years of his life. Can he imagine himself putting his desire to become a great baker in front of most other pursuits?
Because to build a real business will take him ten years of hard, focused work. The upside is that if he starts now, he will have achieved an excellent life goal before the age of 25.
The downside is that he will almost certainly miss out on many of the milestones associated with coming of age. If he is going to make that sacrifice, he better darn well be sure he doesn't quit at age 22. Because then it will all have been in vain. He must be so geeked out on it that he feels confident it can sustain his interest for a long time.
I'm running out of space for today.
More to come tomorrow.
Thank you so much for your time today.
I hope that you have a truly blessed day!
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