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Humility & Iron Wood

Humility & Iron Wood


Hello and good day!

Please take a look at the photo above.

We took this photo during the construction of our third cacao processing facility.

We rented an abandoned rice mill out in the jungle of northern Peru and built our center in it from the ground up. In particular, I'd like to draw your attention to the wooden beams that span the roof.

You might as well take a moment to gander at the roof itself while you're at it. This type of construction is common for roofs out in campo, wooden cross beams that support aluminum sheeting.

A lot of times when there are terrible storms out in the jungle, aluminum sheets bend inwards from wind and hard rain, and sometimes, with the poorer houses, the roofs blow away altogether.

When we send disaster relief money down to our cacao farm partners, for example with the funds generated from our word-of-mouth program, one of the major uses of funds is buying and distributing aluminum sheeting to fix roofs.

Now about the wood.

The locals call the wood used to build this roof "Michino".

Over the years, we've tried to figure out the English equivalent name but have been unsuccessful.

It is a nearly impenetrable iron wood that is highly prized. It is so hard that in order to cut it you have to bring in tools made with diamonds. Cutting down a Michino tree requires diamond chained chain saws. Drilling into it requires diamond drill bits.

Don Fortunato, the fellow our company is named after, has three humongous Michino trees on his farm. He believes that they are at least a thousand years old.

His opinion is based on having counted rings on other Michino trees of a similar size that he helped cut down. We've asked Fortunato if he would ever consider cutting down his iron wood trees for the lumber value.

But he says no. He has a mystical attachment to the trees.

He believes that the energy from those old trees contributes to the success of his farm.

I'd like to put a pin in that for a second.

I will come back and tie it all together, I promise.

We have more than 5,000 five-star reviews on our website now.

This is a source of never ending astoundment for us.

I read every single posted review and every good review, which thankfully most reviews are, warms my heart to a fever pitch.

They never get old, and we don't take a single one of them for granted.

The idea that somebody might hate our chocolate, or feel they didn't get their money's worth, still scares the daylights out of me, even though we have plenty of evidence that this happens very infrequently.

We proactively reach out to the rare bad review and offer to refund their money.

I find it very difficult to grow cocky, or complacent, or to feel that we may as well go ahead and rest on our laurels.

Here is something that sounds like the set up to a joke but isn't.

A 69-year-old man coming off a bankruptcy, a kid who flunked twelfth grade, and a kid who was kicked out of college for his drinking problem, walk into a chocolate shop.

It's not a joke.It's the truth about the owners of our company.

Back to Michino wood.

When you've done business out in campo, meaning out in the country, for as long as we have, nature humbles you in many ways.

And chocolate is only fancy at the very end when it is finally put into colorful packaging.

99% of chocolate production is straight up physical, blue-collar work.

One day my brother Brian, who was the boss of dozens of employees working in our processing facility, was trying to hang lights on an iron wood roof beam.

We do a couple hours of cacao processing work in the evening every night during the harvest and the room was becoming too dark to see in.

He was up on a ladder with a power drill.

Just before he commenced drilling, one of our team members, Edilson, came walking in.

"What are you doing up there Brian?" asked Edilson.

"I'm hanging lights so we can see at night," said Brian.

"It's never going to work."

"What do you mean?"

"You are going to break the drill. That is Michino."

Brian knocked on the wood with his knuckles. It felt like regular wood to him.

At this point in Brian's life, he had never managed a big team. The biggest team he had ever managed was five people. Now he was in charge of a 30-40 person team.

Not only that, but he had also overseen the construction of three different cacao processing facilities out in the jungle.

He had developed perhaps an overinflated sense of his own judgement and ability.

"I think it will be fine."

'Edilson didn't argue.

"Ok. Go ahead," said Edilson.

Brian drilled and drilled and pushed with all his might.

He accomplished nothing more than pushing in a 1/8 of an inch indenture before the drill began to smoke and finally became completely incapacitated.

Now would he accept Edilson's input? No, he would not.

He went to the hardware store and bought a second drill and tried again. The new drill sputtered and smoked as well.

By now, Edilson had called over many people from the team to watch.

They did not implore Brian to reconsider because they were enjoying the show.

Finally, Brian humbled himself and asked those under his charge what he ought to do.

I could cite many, many examples of times when we failed hard.

It would be difficult to choose the most heartbreaking.

The 2014 harvest stands out.

We were on Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain back in 2013. You can check out the Peru episode if you are interested.

Also, our 2013 cacao harvest was lauded throughout the industry as some of the best cacao that anybody had ever seen.

Lots of momentum. Lots of patting ourselves on the back.

Then in 2014, due to weather conditions, environmental yeast levels fell off a cliff.

But we didn't realize it. The quality of our fermentation was subpar.

Many of the new customers we'd picked up during our celebratory 2013 campaign began to complain and request refunds.

It was a very sad time.

Thankfully, there is great value in being humbled. It keeps you focused on finding the right answer.

It doesn't have to be your answer.

It doesn't matter who finds the answer or thinks it up.

It just has to be the right answer.

All that matters is the success of the mission, which to us means delicious chocolate and happy customers.

Let's none of us drill into iron wood when somebody in the know warns us not to.

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


Click here for wonderful chocolate made with pure Nacional cacao.

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To learn more about our word-of-mouth program, click here.