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“The customer is the star of the show.” with Rosaria Giorgi

The customer is the star of the show, not you or your product! Once the product is made, it may be tempting to want to tell the whole world how great you and your product are. However, by putting customers center stage, you create an emotional impact that turns them into genuine brand advocates. XAUXA […]

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The customer is the star of the show, not you or your product! Once the product is made, it may be tempting to want to tell the whole world how great you and your product are. However, by putting customers center stage, you create an emotional impact that turns them into genuine brand advocates. XAUXA “Chocolate That Loves You Back” tagline is a direct result of this strategy.

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 Rosaria Giorgi, CEO and Founder of XAUXA — Chocolate That Loves You Back.

By combining the advances of Artificial Intelligence with a rare cold-crafting technique, Rosaria and her team at XAUXA have succeeded in preserving cacao beans’ potent nutrients and antioxidants, while saving over 430 aromas mostly lost during typical manufacturing. The result is fabulously unconventional chocolate.

Rosaria grew up in Italy, moved to Denmark for university, and majored in Scandinavian Literature. She co-founded a digitized fashion agency in Ireland before moving to Toronto, Canada, where she currently resides.

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 Tuscany, Italy, literally on a hill at the end of a winding road surrounded by cypress trees. I was a tomboy and took really advantage of my rural surroundings, befriending wild cats, crossing rivers, climbing trees, and skipping homework for raids to the vineyards at harvest time. My mum was very unusual for an Italian when it came to food. She did not like cooking and did not approve of showing an appetite. I, on the other hand, just loved to eat and as a result, I spent a lot of time visiting my grandmothers, who did cook! Granny Rosa was also an entrepreneur and a bit of a rebel. Unusually for a woman of her time, she started several food-related businesses and to me she was an inspiration. My dad was also an entrepreneur and I always had the dream of someday taking over the family business. Dad had however different plans and wanted my brother in charge. I was nonetheless dead set on starting my own company and when I moved abroad for university, I was exposed to the benefits of collaborative innovation and novel business practices. My first company, which became Ireland’s first digitized fashion agency, was a direct result of the cross-pollination between traditional commerce and open innovation, a practice I have carried on to XAUXA by applying Artificial Intelligence to the craft of chocolate making.

Can you share with us the story of the “ah ha” moment that led to the creation of the food brand you are leading?

One night in late 2017 I was having dinner with my niece and nephew, both nearly 20. I remember always fighting with them over their love of junk food and Nutella. Well, that evening there was no fight.… We had some “premium” chocolate on the table, but I noticed that instead of taking a bite, they were busy reading the ingredient list! Not only reading it, but even commenting on how long it was. I will never forget my niece saying: “There is even artificial coloring, who needs that in chocolate?” At that moment all I could think of was how much consumers had changed in the past few years; I could also only but agree with them. After all cacao is considered the ultimate superfood — a fact even imprinted in its scientific name of Theobroma Cacao, the “food of the gods.” But as my niece and nephew rightly pointed out, there is nothing of the food of the gods left in the conventional chocolate we eat today because of the way it is made. After that dinner I kept asking myself “What if”: What if I could make a better chocolate and what if it turned out to make business sense as well? And that’s what I set out to do at XAUXA.

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?

Last year we commissioned an artistic piece to illustrate the company origin story and vision. It depicts a scene in the jungles of South America from where our cacao is sourced. It is a gorgeous celebration of Mother Nature with all creatures living in harmony; a cacao tree stands in the middle surrounded by three animals representing XAUXA: Jaguar (Fearless), Monkey (Ingenuity), and Bird (Love). A year later we often joke that we left out the animal that most symbolizes our journey, i.e. the turtle. Lesson learned? Arm yourself with patience, move slowly but steadily … and always commission great artwork.

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?

Sacrificing taste and flavor for trendy ingredients and features. When it comes to food, it should taste good.

Not enough accountancy. Keeping a close eye on the bottom line and the ROI for every dollar spent can determine the success or failure of the business — you will probably need a lot more time (aka money) than originally thought before breaking even.

Avoiding idea-sharing and constructive dissent. Too many food founders fear that others may steal their ideas. While you do not need to print out your recipes for strangers, you definitely need to make connections in the industry. You might then decide not to take on board all the feedback you get, but it is paramount that you hear it before going too far with prototyping or production.

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?

I would suggest joining a good business incubator. Personally, I have received invaluable help from such organizations. They have also given me the opportunity to meet in a safe environment with other entrepreneurs. Most have become friends, some even partners.

I would also like to make a personal plea to those who decide to become food entrepreneurs: As we live in an era of unsustainable and damaging agriculture practices, chemical farming, industrial livestock production, and massive food waste, choose to make a difference, not just a product.

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?

Firstly, do not consider these hurdles as personal flaws. They are more frequent than one might think. I experienced them myself when starting XAUXA, and it was not even my first company.

Secondly, surround yourself with a supportive circle of family, friends, and peers. They will give you a gentle push at the right moment and provide a more objective perspective than yours.

Finally, while doubt is normal and even healthy, the quest for perfection is not. Only practice makes perfect — and nothing gets you there faster than the practice of learning from the mistakes you make along the way!

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?

Cognitive diversity always fosters a better framework for inventive ideas, so an external expert can contribute their own experience and offer a novel perspective. In my experience though, at the earliest stage you can pool an equally powerful collective intelligence from within your social networks, friends, peers, family, and even strangers. Just remember that it is on you to bring the discussion up. I am always amazed at how fun and enlightening these free exchanges turn out to be!

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

If you have a VC knocking on your door, do answer! However, the most likely scenario is that you will have to bootstrap until reaching the point when VCs start paying attention.

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 very recent experience for us has been searching for a US-based chocolate co-manufacturer to be closer to our main markets. We started our research on Google and got interesting results, especially from lists compiled not by people in the industry, but by true craft chocolate lovers who had spent lots of time trying the various offers from manufacturers covering all States. In this way we got credible data. From those lists, an average of 30% had gone out of business and another 30% did not fit our requirements. We got in touch with the rest and set up video calls with each one. Talking and meeting even if only virtually gave us a good understanding of those that shared our values, had the in-depth knowledge we expected, and was open to new ideas. After a month of daily meetings, just 2 candidates remained. So, give yourself time to research, do not delegate the search to a third party, and do not settle until you find the right match.

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.)

1. In-depth market research. Do not fall too much in love with your idea before having established that it has enough suitors beside yourself!

In our case, before even incorporating, we used AI-assisted data mining to gather and process millions of publicly available data pulled from social media posts, articles, peer reviews, etc. on the topic of chocolate, and ultimately identified the major trends for the following 5 to 10 years. This not only broadened our business perspective, but also forced us to reimagine both the process of chocolate making and the redesign of our packaging.

2. Gather collective intelligence during product development. Once you have established that your idea makes business sense and you start developing the product, get wildly diverse groups to taste your prototypes. This will help you understand what variation/iteration works best and possibly provide a glimpse into your target consumer as well.

At XAUXA, for instance, we started off testing 18 chocolate variations with several different focus groups covering 4 age brackets and over 10 diverse backgrounds. After several months of testing and tasting, we were able to select the 4 final products for production.

3. Own the execution. Once you have gone through the above exercises, have the unwavering will and courage to get the product made amid many uncertainties and unavoidable criticisms.

At a pre-launch tasting event, a food journalist was heavily critical of our illustrations and packaging and predicted doom. I did not change my mind. In fact, our packaging has been a major contributor to our success. After all, it had gone through a vigorous data-backed process (see point 1 and 2)!

4. The customer is the star of the show, not you or your product! Once the product is made, it may be tempting to want to tell the whole world how great you and your product are. However, by putting customers center stage, you create an emotional impact that turns them into genuine brand advocates. XAUXA “Chocolate That Loves You Back” tagline is a direct result of this strategy.

5. Partner with brands that share the same vision. During the COVID-19 lockdown, we collaborated with other purpose-driven female entrepreneurs to create limited-edition subscription boxes. It dramatically increased both sales and reach.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a product that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

One of my favorite anecdotes is the story of how Apple was born. Back in the 70s, Silicon Valley had few spots and clubs where people would turn up to drink, socialize, and talk technology. If Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs had not socialized, they would not have met at one of those clubs and probably Apple would not exist today. So, paraphrasing Joseph Henrich, the Harvard anthropologist: If you want to have a cool product, it is better to be social than smart!

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We are immensely proud of our fully transparent supply chain, our ethical sourcing, and the absence of any animal-based ingredient in our chocolate. We also avoid ingredients with a high impact on the environment and support small-farms associations and cooperatives that guarantee farmers are paid above market prices.

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.

Behind the ultimate sweet pleasure of biting into a chocolate bar, there often hide bitter stories of exploitation, child labor, modern slavery, deforestation, displacement of native fauna, the burning of ancestral land, and greed. The big chocolate companies have normalized a supply chain so opaque and labyrinthine, that — by their own admission — it has become virtually impossible for them to guarantee a truly ethical product. My dream is to create so much awareness, unleash such an unquenchable passion, and drive enough purpose in people to inspire a movement that says “NO” to this scandalous norm. And with that, ultimately achieve real change.

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.

I think that it would be fabulous to sit down for breakfast with Patrick Schwarzenegger because he has shown vision and an open mind supporting startups other more seasoned investors had dismissed; Snoop Dogg, because I know he would go nuts for our chocolate; and Mary J Blige, as I would absolutely love to hear about her experience making wine in Italy.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Thank you!

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