We had the good fortune of connecting with Elizabeth Gentry and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elizabeth, what role has risk played in your life or career?
My husband (Matt) and I have been working in fine dining restaurants for a majority of our life. It’s been our responsibility to ensure the business is running which has allowed us to see a lot.
Over the years, we have seen a majority of people wanting to build a thriving business end up failing because they take on too much risk by trying to do too much, too quickly, or borrowing more money than they need right up front.
They think they need a big business plan and a bank loan, yet never realize spending their time on these projects is what often times ends up holding them back. Where they should be spending their time is: finding their first customers and using that revenue to test and grow the business. To be honest, it took us quite a while from watching other people struggle to learn this lesson too.
Here are some of the ways we’ve kept the risk of not succeeding low:
Customers First: The first and most important problem to solve for when starting a business is to find your first paying customer. The number one reason businesses fail is because they don’t have enough money coming in. Start generating some revenue and build the business around those first customers.
Grow When Absolutely Necessary: Listen to your customers. They will tell you what they want. Grow when the pain becomes big enough that you can’t ignore it anymore. This becomes your business case for growth and reduces your risk of getting it wrong.
Confidence in Investing in Yourself: The best investment you can make is in yourself. Do only what you are comfortable with and if it doesn’t work out that’s ok. You learn for the next time
Overcoming failure is a crucial part of succeeding, moving forward, and making actionable progress. Experience reduces future risk.
But don’t worry: we’ve all been there!
What should our readers know about your business?
We’re Harvest Chocolate, bean-to-bar chocolate makers who handcraft seasonal chocolate bars and Snacking Chocolate for everyday moments. We use simple, organic ingredients and source fresh cacao seasonally, using local fruits from the season to add unique flavors to our chocolate. Harvest Chocolate creates chocolate that anyone can enjoy, regardless of allergies or dietary restrictions.
Our story starts well before Harvest Chocolate ever came to be. We’re Elizabeth and Matt, a wife and husband who spent years working in the fine-dining restaurant industry, from San Francisco and Napa Valley, to Chicago and New York City. We both worked in some of the top Michelin-star restaurants in the country, myself, on the pastry side, and Matt on the savory side of the kitchen. Together, we made a great duo in the kitchen. But something was missing, and after spending years moving around, we went back to our roots and moved home to Michigan.
My husband and I have been talking about a business for as long as we’ve known each other. There have been so many ideas over the years but chocolate is the one that felt right. Chocolate has such a a long and rich history and story behind it. It’s an agricultural product that starts as a fruit and is harvested and produced by farmers in beautiful locations across the world. I love being able to work with such a wonderful product and show people a new experience to something so familiar.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m from Michigan and we’re very proud of our beautiful state. I would go to my favorite place in Michigan, a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan called Saugatuck. To start the day, we’d begin with coffee from Uncommon Coffee Roasters, sit on their front patio for a while along with our dog. Next, we’d stroll through the downtown area which is along the water, and shop. A staple in trips to this area is always visiting The Farmhouse Deli which is the perfect place to pick up picnic supplies (sandwiches, deli items, bakery goodies, etc) and head to the beach at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. After a day at the beach we would go for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants either Pennyroyal Cafe or The Southerner followed by a stay at a lovely bed and breakfast, Twin Oaks Inn. These are the types of places you can easily visit over and over throughout your trip, and never quite get enough!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Our success is because of tons of support and mentorship we’ve received along the way. There are so many people and experiences that have had a big impact on me so it’s difficult to give each enough credit. Everyone who I have had conversations with have helped me become who I am. To name a few: My husband Matt, who is co-owner to our business, Nathan Huntington, who is a friend and Chef who was the first to hire me in the fine dining restaurant industry, and Mackenzie Rivers, a mentor to so many bean to bar makers across the world, and founder of The Next Batch Craft Chocolate School. So thank you 🙂