Doing Good with Good Chocolate
Published: Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 14:11
SEA was honored to welcome Tim McCollum, co-founder of Madécasse Chocolate, to Stern on Tuesday afternoon. Tim arrived with delicious chocolate for the masses and brimming with enthusiasm to share how his company is transforming the chocolate business and improving communities in Madagascar. Tim's interest in social enterprise started when he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar for three years post-college. It was during his time in Sales and Marketing with American Express that Tim couldn't get his experience in Madagascar out of his head and most importantly, this statistic: "Currently, 85% of the world's cocoa is grown in Africa, but less than 1% of the chocolate is made there." Together with a business partner, Tim developed Madécasse Chocolate in an attempt to shift chocolate production to the source in order to bridge the gap between poverty and potential in Madagascar. Since winning the 2008 Social Venture Competition, Madécasse has experienced triple digit sales growth, expanded into international markets, and been critically acclaimed by the New York Times and Food and Wine Magazine. SEA's Kyle Ashley had the opportunity to sit down with Tim and pick his brain about running a socially responsible business, his mistakes and challenges along the way and even capture his advice for Sternies interested in entrepreneurship.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced starting and growing the company?
TM: The biggest challenges we've faced have been raising capital to grow the business and differentiating ourselves in the crowded chocolate market.
Describe some of the positive impacts Madécasse has made on lives of people in Madagascar?
TM: One impact is that the villagers now have electricity. With the income they have earned working with Madécasse the villagers purchased a generator to produce electricity, which is not available otherwise. Another impact has been to teach basic financial literacy like opening up a bank account. A high percentage of people in Madagascar are illiterate so teaching them how to manage money is a huge help. Last, we believe we are helping children stay in school longer. By providing families enough financial resources, kids can stay in school longer rather than having to drop out and work to support the family.
What have been some of the best decisions you have made to grow the company?
TM: The best decision we made was to stick to our overall principle of manufacturing the entire product in Madagascar. We used to think daily about how much easier it would be to simply make the chocolate and the packaging in the United States, but we resisted because we had faith that our business model would succeed.
What missteps have you made and learned from along the way?
TM: One mistake we made was that our first round of packaging was very poor. Second, we underfunded store promotions because we didn't know what it would take to sell the chocolate. Last, we didn't do a good job allocating our time. It took us a while to figure out which activities would pay off more than others.
What did you take away from your experience competing in the Stern social venture competition?
TM: The best thing the competition gave us was confidence. We had an idea that we thought was good, but it was very beneficial to get the idea pressure-tested by professors and other successful entrepreneurs. Winning the $25,000 grant also gave me the confidence and financial means to leave my job at American Express to pursue the business full time.
What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs?
TM: You have no idea what you are capable of until you actually try it.
For more information on Madécasse including internship opportunities, upcoming speakers and materials from past events, visit https://nyustern-sea.campusgroups.com or email Kyle Ashley (ka916) or Sheldon Maye (sm3443), VPs of Speaker Series.