Finding a Sweet Spot in a Sour Economy

Eric Heinbockel had an ivy-league education but when he went looking for a finance job in 2008, not even top-notch schooling could get him in the door.

“It was tough. I had interviews on the days Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns collapsed,” said 25-year-old Heinbockel.

After a year of searching, he along with friends Fabian Kaempher and Nick LaCava, decided to turn their unemployment into an opportunity. In 2009, the trio started Chocomize, a high-end chocolate company that allows patrons to customize their sweets with add-ons like Junior Mints, Sour Patch Kids and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

“Becoming an entrepreneur is really all about risk taking and weighing the pros and cons, and the cons were diminishing as it became more difficult to find a job,” said Heinbockel. “And I don’t think at any point we really doubted the concept would be popular, it was just a matter of fulfilling the need.”

With $70,000 in initial funding from friends and family, the Web-based company turned a profit in its first six months--a big feat for a small business. Within a year, the business raked in $400,000 in revenue and this year, Chocomize will at least double that.

“The idea is really supposed to just be a fun, chocolate product,” explained Kaempfer. “We realized there was nothing in the chocolate market that was an equivalent to what Ben and Jerry’s is to the ice cream market, so we wanted to do a high-end product that has a modern touch to it.”

Six Shooter with Eric Heinbockel and Fabian Kaempfer

1. Who is your biggest source of inspiration?

Heinbockel: My biggest source of inspiration is other young entrepreneurs. Seeing and meeting other young entrepreneurs who are innovating and succeeding always re-invigorates me and pushes me to double my efforts.

Kaempfer: Hands down our customers. We get dozens of suggestions every day and most of them are really helpful. If you really listen to your customers and also implement their suggestions you know you are on the right track while building a loyal customer base.

2. What is your favorite quote and why?

Heinbockel: It is very difficult to count one quote as my favorite, but I recently read a description of John D. Rockefeller in Ron Chernow’s Titan that stuck with me as critical for young entrepreneurs. Chernow describes Rockefeller as “daring in design, cautious in execution.” I think this really sums up the basic qualities it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. One has to be willing to be a risk taker and think outside the box, yet business is too complex to be cavalier.

Kaempfer: “Pain is temporary, glory is forever.”

It just applies to what is going on in a startup and reminds you that the success and recognition are worth the temporary problems and frustrations.

3. What are you plans for expansion?

Heinbockel: We are currently working on moving to a new factory, which will help us keep up with the growing demand for our product. We are also beginning to diversify our product offerings to make our site more of a chocolate shop than just a custom chocolate bar building station. We also constantly receive requests to ship to other countries so perhaps we will continue to expand geographically.

Kaempfer: We will expand geographically as well as vertically. New products are already in the pipeline and we will continue to establish our brand nationally as well as internationally.

4. Where do you think your business will be in five years?

Heinbockel: In five years I think the idea of creating your own custom products online will be something that everyone is familiar with and uses. I think that Chocomize will continue to be a leader in the co-creation industry and will be a recognizable brand. I think that Chocomize’s product offerings will be diverse enough that the brand will be perceived as fun, innovative and premium much like Ben & Jerry’s.

Kaempfer: I think in five  years Chocomize will be a household name for high-end chocolate with a modern and fun twist. We will have strengthened our online store as well as opened a few physical retail stores where people can walk in and make their own chocolate bars.

5. What’s harder: Living up to your own expectations or living up to those others have for you?

Heinbockel: I would say it is harder to live up to my own expectations. Most people know that startups and small businesses fail more often than they succeed, so I think many people’s expectations are fairly low for entrepreneurs. I on the other hand, know the details of what we are working on and can see what is really possible and expect that we can achieve our various goals.

Kaempfer: Definitely living up to my own expectations. Everyone else is very impressed with our progress but I can never lean back and be happy with the status quo.

6. What are three words that describe you and why?

Heinbockel: Observant, calm and driven. I feel I am observant because I have been able to keep up with customer interests; I also place a great value on picking up nuances in people’s communication. I feel as though we have faced many unsettling crisis and I have always been able to work on a solution rather than lose my head. I feel as though anyone who has turned an idea into a reality, raised capital, written a business plan is driven.

Kaempfer: Determined, energetic, self-disciplined. Starting a business certainly influences your character and behavior. These characteristics didn’t necessarily hold true when I was in college because I was expected to study things that I really had no interest in. I am really passionate about Chocomize and now that I’m doing what I like best it is a lot easier for me to focus on my goals and do everything to get me there.

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