Deliciousness. Unless there is some other benefit (health,etc.), the product has to be delicious, period.
Beauty. The old adage, “People eat with their eyes first” holds true. The product should be beautiful by itself.
Tasters. Never miss an opportunity to let someone know how delicious a product is. They can’t possibly know this unless they have tasted for themselves. Budget for samples.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Busch.
The name, Lift Chocolate, is a nod to owner and Chocolatier Brandon Busch’s background as a heavy-lift helicopter pilot in the United States Marine Corps. Major Busch spent 10 years and served two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Brandon continues to serve as a Forward Air Controller in the Marine Corps Reserve, where his fellow Marines have nicknamed him “The Candy Man.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Igrew up in Loveland, Colorado. I played baseball and was also interested in cooking from an early age. I watched Justin Wilson, Martin Yan, Jacques Pepin, and others on PBS, and was really fascinated. After college (with a degree totally unrelated to anything I would ever pursue,) I joined the Marine Corps. I flew CH-53s, a heavy lift helicopter, and did deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. While on deployment, I read all of the Culinary Institute of America textbooks cover to cover. I decided that I couldn’t “teach” myself pastry, because of the difficult mediums like sugar and chocolate. Likewise, I went to pastry school upon leaving active duty, and was absolutely terrible at chocolate…After a mild obsession, I got a little bit better….
Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?
A: On a flight home from a vacation in Mexico, I watched a woman eat a piece of chocolate and her reaction was over-the-top and unmistakable. I had already thought about a chocolate business, but it was this moment that made me realize chocolate evokes a reaction like no other food.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A: Before I started the chocolate business, I was making wedding cakes and event desserts out of my house. Ignorantly, I made a beautiful wedding cake with the wrong type of buttercream — one that isn’t very stable, especially with warmer temperatures. Of course, the summer wedding was taking place outside, and we had the “frosting landslide.” I learned a couple of things. First, pay attention to details, as they can make or break success. Second, while I regret the mistake, I don’t regret taking a risk and learning from a failure.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a food line? What can be done to avoid those errors?
A: First and foremost, underestimating capital requirements. There are always unforeseen costs, and they always add up. Round up when estimating start-up costs for everything, and then multiply by three. Factor in the time it will take to generate positive cash flow. Second, setting the price for a valuable product too low. Rather than setting a price at what the entrepreneur believes a customer will pay, set prices according to the value of the product, and educate the customer on why the product is worth it — Build perceived value! Last, test, test, test. Make different size batches, use different types of packaging, and do tests that stretch the product from creation to consumption, to identify issues ahead of time. Finally, ensure familiarity with regulations governing the industry.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to produce. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
A: Talk to friends and family, and legitimize the idea. Is there a need for this product? Does it solve a particular problem? How is it different from other similar products, if they exist? I would answer these questions before spending any money, or large amounts of time and effort. After that, I would do an honest assessment on what amount of money, time, and effort it would take to make this product successful. The final question is, do I believe in this product/idea enough to dedicate myself to its success? Once these questions have been answered, write the business plan.
Many people have good ideas all the time. But some people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How would you encourage someone to overcome this hurdle?
A: Starting a business can be totally overwhelming. Instead of viewing the project in its entirety, break it down into manageable chunks, and set realistic deadlines. Discipline and adherence to a plan result in “small wins,” that can be motivating and keep you on track.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
A: I fully support independence. Consultants are very expensive, and I believe that research and elbow grease can achieve the same result. Further, a person’s idea is their intellectual property and vision and should stay that way.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
A: I think it’s important to define the vision first. If the idea is a small, local business, then bootstrapping is a great way to go, and keeps total control with the entrepreneur. If the vision is bigger than that, most of us will need someone else’s money at some point in time. Then the question becomes, when do I borrow or sell a piece of my business? And the follow on question has to be, in order to achieve my vision, what percentage of my business and amount of control am I willing to give up to get funded?
Can you share thoughts from your experience about how to file a patent, how to source good raw ingredients, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer or distributor?
A: How to find a retailer — Find a retailer where your product will add value to the retailer’s business, and the placement adds value to your business. It should be a “perfect match” where the brands are aligned, and they make each other more successful.
Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create a Successful Food Line or Specialty Food” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Deliciousness. Unless there is some other benefit (health,etc.), the product has to be delicious, period.
- Beauty. The old adage, “People eat with their eyes first” holds true. The product should be beautiful by itself.
- Creativity. Products that are like others are disadvantaged from the get-go. Originality gives space in the market, and hopefully creates name recognition.
- Branding. The packaging should speak to the quality of the product, and vice versa. Branding also illustrates perceived value, and therefore, what someone will pay for a product.
- Tasters. Never miss an opportunity to let someone know how delicious a product is. They can’t possibly know this unless they have tasted for themselves. Budget for samples.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
A: Quality is step one, meaning the product is delicious and beautifully presented. Products that tell a story are “next level.” Lift carries a Cherry Cordial that is based on my great-grandmother’s chocolate making in her small South Bend, Indiana basement. We took her product, added high quality couverture and a fantastic cherry, and it’s one of our most successful products.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
A: Lift prides itself on generosity. We donate regularly to several local Colorado charities and to the Texas-based Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. I am particularly passionate about this one, because it supports military and first responder marriages. While I was on active duty, I saw first hand the strains that a high operational tempo places on marriages and families.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
A: Anonymous gifting and generosity — Doing something for someone else with nothing expected in return. I am always impressed with the stories at Christmas time, where an unknown individual pays off all of the layaway gifts for others. It’s fantastic.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
A: Tiger Woods, because I am in awe of his greatness, work ethic, and determination. Oprah Winfrey, because I am amazed at the obstacles she overcame and the distance she traveled for success. Mark Cuban, because of his talents for business and habits that have made constant success inevitable.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.