Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Doug Bouton, Founder of GATSBY Chocolate, located in Chicago, IL, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Hi, I'm Doug, the Founder & CEO of Gatsby Chocolate. My background is actually in ice cream, not chocolate, as the co-founder of Halo Top, which was one of the first brands to combine "low cal" with "great taste" in ice cream and even became the #1 best-selling ice cream in the US. In fact, Halo Top went from $2 million in retail sales in 2015 to more than $350 million in retail sales in 2017. It was a wild ride, to say the least.
We ended up selling Halo Top in 2019, after which a bunch of other original Halo Top team members and I started to think about what we could do next. We landed on chocolate because there were no low-calorie chocolate products – literally none; surprisingly, even the low-sugar options were still almost as many calories as regular chocolate. So we got to work and spent over a year creating the patent-pending recipe for the first-ever low-calorie chocolate that – most importantly – still tastes just like any other premium, decadent, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. It's truly no compromise, and even low-sugar chocolates are DOUBLE the calories compared to Gatsby Chocolate.
Our biggest demographic is what we like to call "Power Women," who are most often in their mid to late 20s to early to mid-30s. "Power Women" spans a wide spectrum of boss ladies: from (1) single women a few years into their careers who are navigating a hectic work and social life to (2) young moms who always are on the go, trying to balance kids, career, family, and other responsibilities and (3) everything in between. We hope that Gatsby Chocolate can give these superhero "Power Women" something that makes their life a bit easier and happier: melt-in-your-mouth chocolate that satisfies all their sweet-tooth cravings without any of the calories or guilt.
Tell us about yourself
Before joining Halo Top, I went to law school and was a lawyer (for all of one year…). So from practicing law…to making ice cream…to making chocolate…a straight line, right? I knew I didn't want to be a lawyer and am maniacally independent, so naturally was drawn to entrepreneurship and the prospect of being my own boss. I quit my law firm job to join Halo Top in 2013 with about $30,000 in my savings account and more than $200,000 in student loan debt, and I never looked back. There is nothing more fulfilling than entrepreneurship, and I love everything about the grind and camaraderie. My lowest days as an entrepreneur – of which there have been many – still are ten times better than my best days doing anything else.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
From the outside looking in, most people probably would point to the fact that we successfully exited the Halo Top US business for 9 figures. But "success" – defined by that result – is thin as a razor's edge, and we just as easily could've fallen on the other side of it, "failing" with no exit. Without a doubt, my biggest accomplishment – which very much is a collective accomplishment – is the team & culture that we've built together at Gatsby Chocolate. Although our team has many original Halo Top people, we formed a new company, set a new foundation, and spent the last couple of years creating and fostering a company culture and collective mindsight that's unparalleled and just so damn fun to be a part of. With any luck, our love & passion for each other and what we do will manifest itself in the quality of Gatsby Chocolate's products and brand.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Without a doubt, the hardest thing that comes with being a business owner is the responsibility you have for the rest of the team. You're responsible for ensuring that there's money to support payroll each pay period. You're responsible for people's livelihoods, for ensuring that your team members can put food on the table for themselves or their families and can pay rent or make mortgage payments. You're responsible for creating an environment that should be as fulfilling as any other part of their life. Heavy is the head who wears the crown, right? I relish this responsibility and try to keep it top of mind at all times.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
First, you should take the leap. The hardest part always is making the jump. You can find every reason not to do it if you think about it long enough. But that's just noise. If you believe that you have something that's worth pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into, JUMP. Take the leap! You'll never regret it, and the sheer amount you will learn – about yourself, about business, about everything – will be more than worth any real or perceived risk.
Second, quality matters. If your business is a product, have you created a product that retains virtually everyone who tries it? Do you have a path to manufacturing your product at a quantity that scales, a quality that retains, and a cost that's profitable? If not, keep working at it until you reach that threshold. If your business is a service, can you provide it at a better quality, for less cost, and in less time than your competitors? If not, keep working at it until you reach that threshold.
Third, it's really hard. Manage your expectations, and I highly recommend surrounding yourself with people who can support you: co-founders, employees, advisors, family, etc. It's lonely at the top, and if misery loves company, happiness loves community.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn! I'm always happy to chat and love helping other entrepreneurs (https://www.linkedin.com/in/doug-bouton-b1205a59/)
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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