Instead of developing their careers in multinational corporations, two high school friends decided to start their own business. They chose to launch a chocolate factory
by Kamila Wajszczuk
In Łomianki, a suburb of Warsaw, there is a unique chocolate shop. Not only can you buy chocolate in various forms there, but you can also see it made. You are also likely to meet Tomasz Sienkiewicz and Krzysztof Stypułkowski, the founders and owners of Manufaktura Czekolady Chocolate Story, bustling about the place and making sure everything is going right.
The two men have been friends since high school. They had been pursuing careers at large corporations when they both decided it was time to move on. They decided to start doing business together over a bonfire at a class reunion.
Sienkiewicz and Stypułkowski may have started a trend in Poland, being possibly the first well-know example of young professionals quitting high-profile jobs at multinational corporations to start their own company.
“We wanted to do something cool, something we could show to others, have them try it out, something good, something real. It was an ambition of ours, however grandiloquent it may sound, to leave something behind when the time comes,” Stypułkowski said.
“We wanted something real and we wanted to have something of our own,” Sienkiewicz added, explaining that earlier he had worked for a sector that mostly produces virtual goods, telecommunications and IT. “Even if the boss came every now and then, patted you on the back and said ‘good job,’ the work itself was seldom satisfying. Especially if you compare it with a chocolate factory.”
“It was a moment when I felt that if I went one step higher up the corporate ladder, I would find myself with the golden handcuffs on and I would never leave,” Stypułkowski said of the moment when he and Sienkiewicz decided to start a business. He saw what happened to many people, who had earlier said they would only work in a big firm for three or four years. So the two men had to act.
Many people find reasons not to go it alone, Stypułkowski said, be it a bad economic climate, lack of funds or any other risk. Doing business is all about risk, he said, though he did stress the value of having a reliable partner to do it with.
Learning and learning
Chocolate was not an obvious choice. When they met to decide what their company would do, a number of ideas appeared during this brainstorming session. The strangest ideas came about, Stypułkowski said, and so did one of establishing a chocolate factory.
“Right away we proceeded to find out how to do just that,” Stypułkowski said. “If chocolate production from cocoa grains was
already done in Europe two centuries ago, then we felt it had to be possible.” They did succeed, though some still do not believe that the full chocolate-making process can be done on a small scale.
Both had to start learning even before the company was actually established. They carried out a feasibility study to figure out if they could succeed. It was helpful that many books have been published about the chocolate manufacturing process.
They made the risky decision to go into chocolate production full-time in 2009. At first, the business did not bring any noticeable revenue and it was financed from the two friends’ savings. The initial stage was a time to learn. “Over the first year, I learned more than during five years of work at the corporation,” Sienkiewicz said, “and that continued throughout the next years.”
The business of chocolate
“We knew from the beginning that we would not build a big factory, as we would not have the funds for it. So we started with something small. We made some of the machines ourselves,” Sienkiewicz explained. “This involved a lot of fun, but also many hoops to jump through.” From purchasing cocoa beans to finding the right premises, they had to figure everything out themselves.
As the company developed, Sienkiewicz and Stypułkowski also managed to find a minority stake investor who provided a capital injection about a year and a half ago. The money allowed for new ventures such as increasing the product range, Sienkiewicz said, pointing to a dish with pralines.
Before the investor, a private individual who does not wish to disclose any details, showed up at the company, the two founders were solely reliant on their own funds. “The company was consistently profitable” Sienkiewicz stressed, “otherwise the investor would not decide to buy shares.” They broke even after about a year of activity.
Manufaktura Czekolady moved to Łomianki after two years of operating at another location, further away from Warsaw. The suburban town has the major advantage of being close to the capital, where a vast majority of the company’s clients are based. Łomianki also turned out to be a local business hub. “There are really a lot of companies here that cooperate with us,” Sienkiewicz said.
Manufaktura Czekolady Chocolate Story is Poland’s only bean-to-bar chocolate producer. What the company aims to do is underline the taste of cocoa varieties coming from different regions, Sienkiewicz said. No additives are included in their chocolate, he stressed. A sample tablet may include cocoa, cocoa butter, powdered milk, sugar and natural flavoring. Sienkiewicz and Stypułkowski want to bring Polish chocolate back to the place where it used to belong. “In earlier days, chocolate was something special, something brought from faraway lands and only the royal family, or the aristocracy, could afford it,” Sienkiewicz said. “But later it became a mass product, accessible to all and it became important to make it as cheap as possible.”
“There was no chance for us to compete in terms of price. So we had to try to win with quality and we focused on it from the beginning,” Sienkiewicz said.
The premium chocolate segment has been steadily growing for a number of years now, but it still remains relatively small.
This, however, is aimed … at a very engaged group of consumers – people who want to know how their chocolate is made.
Over five years of the company’s existence, it has made a mark and gained itself a number of fans. People are even for or against specific cocoa varieties. Some like the Ghana variety, others prefer the ones from Ecuador and so on.
The range of products has expanded from chocolate bars to muffins, pralines, drinking chocolate and others. The company is flexible in looking for ingredient suppliers. It also pays attention to what customers have to say. “We listen to our customers because that is the only way we can develop the firm,” Sienkiewicz stressed.
Any person wishing to buy their chocolate may choose the cocoa grain and the topping. Some clients are also looking for unusual shapes – a good example is a brain-shaped chocolate for a pharmaceutical company.
Their products are available in Poland, in stores that attract connoisseurs. Also, shops that sell premium coffee, tea, wine or traditionally made food carry the Manufaktura Czekolady line.
Trips to trade fairs convinced Stypułkowski and Sienkiewicz that their product has potential for export sales. Countries they are targeting now include Lithuania, Latvia, Germany and the United Kingdom. The company is in talks with possible future trade partners in a number of countries.
Manufaktura Czekolady is still a microenterprise and it will continue to be one for the time being. “If growth is too fast, it’s easy to make mistakes, overlook things and lose quality,” Sienkiewicz said. “Plus, it’s impossible to produce a million chocolate bars a month and put your heart into each of them,” Stypułkowski added.
When asked about their personal goals and plans, the two men simply said “chocolate.”