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Pioneer of the Week: Pip of Real Hot Chocolate

Thought Leader

Pioneer of the Week: Pip of Real Hot Chocolate

Tell us 3 important things we should know about you.

  • On a social visit to Fruit Towers, one of the Innocent founders passed me by and congratulated my amazing hair.
  • I left a job as a credit report analyst to try and pioneer amazing real hot chocolate.  Mostly because I don’t like coffee.
  • I originally trained as a lighting designer and technician for theatre and TV.  I still do that part time for an opera company.

Tell us about your business. How did it start? Did you set it up alone or with a team?

About ten years ago I started making my own hot chocolate by literally grating chocolate into milk and heating it up…  A few years after that I was making for friends and family as well, and in 2013 I decided that I needed to do some market research.  Six months later I finally figured out how to package it nicely and I signed up to Cardiff Christmas Market to see how things went….  With just a handful of flavours, selling to take home and serving fresh, it was far better than I expected!

Pioneer of the Weeek Pip.jpg

For a further six months I continued at my office job, but it got to the point I couldn’t be held at a desk any more.  I knew what I needed to do to take my business where I wanted it to go, but I couldn’t do it part-time so my last day at work was 31st July 2015.  It’s been up and down – especially with an unfortunate bout of vertigo that started in December and is still lingering – but in whole it’s working!  I’ve been able to rely on various people to help me – from friends and family who help me test flavours and have been able to give occasional financial support whilst off my feet, to the professionals at Cardiff Met Uni in FabLab where I hand make my own moulds and experiment with various other things, and the Food Science department who gave advice and opinions just as I started full time.  They’re amazing, and I can’t speak more highly of them and their willingness to help a new local small business.


What do you love most about running your own business?

I love talking to people.  Smelling of chocolate all day and experimenting with flavours is amazing, but it’s the people who drink and sell my product sharing their feedback that I love most.  I can make what I do better by listening and reacting properly, and having have made those changes I do see positive outcomes within the business!


Tell us about a challenging experience you’ve faced in the process of starting up your business and how you overcame it.

The biggest issue I’ve had to deal with was coming down with vertigo in December 2015.  I’m finally on my own, making my living with this business, and in the middle of my peak season I am literally put on my back for more than a month.  I’m lucky I was able to take advantage of my pre-Christmas sales that I wasn’t in trouble at the time, as I’d also recently had a push from being on Radio 2 which gave my sales a big leg-up days before I went down.  However, it meant that I wasn’t able to pick up enough repeat customers such as cafés and gift shops to last me through the slow summer.  If I wasn’t able to rely on friends and family my money would have dried up and I’d be in trouble.  If I was to make the decision again I’d probably retain a couple of days at the office job to ensure a sickness income, or get some kind of insurance, but hopefully that’ll not be an issue again!


What advice could you give to other startups about starting up in your industry?

Be nice.  Be amenable.  Be creative.  Artisan goes a long way, so stay handmade rather than using a third party factory to mannufacure your product.  Don’t put all your eggs in one chain basket!  It means more legwork, but if someone pulls out you don’t lose all your business at once, and you’re able to form proper personal relationships with your customers.  Nobody has properly broken the Real Hot Chocolate barrier yet, and I intend to be that person.  Oh yes, and be original.  If they’ve seen it they’ve already made an opinion on it.


Can you share an experience that really helped you take your business forward? 

I think getting stocked by Cardiff & Vale College was quite a coup for me near the beginning.  The manager there was really proactive and was shouting my praises around the people he knew within the industry, which directly led to more meetings and more quality outlets in the area.  On a more personal level, the realisation with my vegan friends that most of my products were good for them was amazing because that sector was crying out for a decent hot chocolate – and mine was real!  Not specifically made for them, but a good quality, well-priced product that was good for everyone.


Many people start their businesses at home, where do you work? What do you love about it? 

Because I have to comply with food regulations, I wanted to work outside my home.  I have registered food preparation premises an easy walk away, which allows me to step into an area which takes me away from home life and keeps the professionalism.  I still do anything that needs the computer at home – website, marketing, packaging design – but I like to break away with the food.  It’s also far easier to stop other things encroaching in a purely food-dedicated space.


What are three things you know now, that you wish someone had told you when you first started?

1. Get income insurance.  Make sure it’s budgeted in from day one.


2. Keep a healthy backup of product at all times – you don’t know when you won’t be able to make some.  It also means if it’s slow you can dedicate time to going out and getting new custom without worrying about making up stock for them all as it’s already there.  If you run low, just build it back up again.


3. Social media networking is incredibly powerful.  Facebook groups are amazing communities to be part of – you should find as many as you can that fit what you do, become well-known and friendly within them, and then people will want what you do without you trying to push it.  Most of my web sales come from Facebook groups nowadays, and I even pick up new wholesale customers that way without leaving my house!


Is there anything specific you’d like to ask or share with the Virgin Media Pioneers community?

Obviously I’d like to ask if anyone wants to buy some amazing hot chocolate!  Especially wholesale – if there are coffee shop pioneers here then talk to me!!  As far as sharing goes…  Do what you can for charity raffles! Donate a prize, buy a ticket, tell your friends…  It’s nice, firstly, but again on a business note allying yourself with a charity can also help your business as Britons love to give.  5% of your profit (when you’re making profit – remember that probably won’t happen in the first couple of years) is little to you but everything to them.


Finish the sentence: To be an entrepreneur… you need to KEEP THINKING!  Never stop moving, because as soon as you do you stagnate and somebody else is there aiming to overtake you.  Innovation is key.  And of course, love what you do or you’ll never see it through.