Katrina Markoff, founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat and one of Fast Company‘s Most Creative People in Business 2015, was the last of the three entrepreneurs who were interviewed by Angela Jia Kim at Rock the World 2015. Two main themes stood out as Katrina shared about building her 30 million-dollar chocolate business – creativity and intuition in business.
Katrina launched Vosges 17 years ago after mixing a variety of unique ingredients with chocolates. She didn’t want to do weird flavors “just to be doing” weird flavors. Rather, it needed to be something that was really authentic to her. She traveled and studied food around the world and then used that travel experience as an inspiration regarding what to put into the chocolates. It was the authentic stories and meanings that she fell in love with. Her 5 tips:
- Fall in love.
- Get inspired.
- Connect to your medium.
- Take action. (This is probably the hardest part because there are many fires in your way every day.)
- Ultimately, the goal is to create an experience so that the product is deep if the consumer wants to go deep.
Katrina does #5 by names, stories, sharing pairing ideas and such. She really wants experiential qualities in everything that she makes – even a simple chocolate bar. She believes that having that experience helps to form deeper, more emotional connections with people.
Katrina noted that she doesn’t really look at competition in her industry for inspiration or worry that she has to do what others are doing. Rather, she looks more to other industries (fashion, cosmetics, traveling and architecture) to find inspiration. It can be the smallest things (i.e. mosaic work in a cathedral) or a suggestion (i.e. an employee asked her to make something with cacoa). She loves to create and is still the creative director for the look and feel of the Vosges brand. Katrina always wanted things to be “just so” – even as a little kid. It drives a lot of her inspiration. She “can’t stop creating/manifesting something that people will eat, enjoy and experience”.
For Katrina, chocolate is a vehicle for storytelling of all sorts. For instance, she recently started something that informs about taking away the shame surrounding miscarriage. The topic is based on her personal experience and that of many of her friends. As such, she is working on chocolate collection which integrates a lot of related Chinese medicinal herbs.
Intuition in Business
After being in business together for four years, Katrina (“the creative one”) split with her partner (“the business one”). Once the partnership ended, their banker and accountant didn’t know what to do with the business. Melissa had $68,000 left on a line of credit, so she decided to rent and build out a 700 square foot shop that she found in SoHo for $18,000/month. She didn’t tell anyone. She just did it anyway. While she did experience some adversity because there wasn’t a lot of support from her accountant or banker, this risky decision marked a big shift in her business. She received a lot of great press from the New York media due to the unique flavor profiles that Vosges was offering and for creating innovation in the chocolate space. For the first time since being in business, she made a profit that year. That sequence of events reminds her to go with her gut when it comes to making decisions. As she said,
There’s an inner voice that you know what to do. Whether you can articulate it to the people who don’t believe is another story. When you know, you know.
Now that the business is maturing (there are several divisions to Vosges) and Katrina has two kids, Katrina can’t be as “crazy” as she was at the beginning. Defining her role and the things that only she can do and finding the leadership that she needs around her are really important right now. It’s hard for her though because she’s a “doer” and not naturally good at delegating and trusting. She believes that defining her vision clearly enough and making sure that the right processes and systems are set in place helps her let go of controlling everything.
In addition to creativity and intuition being important in business, there were a couple of other helpful gems that Katrina shared.
Although Katrina was sad when she initially lost her friend/business partner, she eventually saw that it was a good thing. Her partner was risk-averse while she is very risky/doesn’t have a lot of fear. She isn’t afraid to take massive risks. If she really believes in something and sees her vision, then she doesn’t see how she can possibly fail. (That’s impressive!)
I only feel fear if there is a constriction in my ability to communicate something to somebody else.
Katrina noted that the thing that can block us is if we’re not connected to our spiritual selves/our personal voices. She encouraged us to shed off that lack of love for ourselves or intimacy with ourselves or time for ourselves. As a little girl, Katina was alone with her imagination a lot and was very connected to her inner voice. Spending time with herself, doing good things for herself and giving a lot of love to herself have been really powerful practices in her life. Doing those things breeds confidence and gives her a lot of love to give to other people.
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After you take care of yourself, you can take care of other people and you can hear your intuition.