Charlotte Walter shares stories through truffles. Her company Charlotte Truffles celebrates something beautiful, something that goes beyond truffles. Her story and career transition are nothing short of fascinating. Her business is just entering its second year, and she’s really on her game. As incredible as she may sound throughout our conversation for the podcast, Charlotte is not without her moments of self-doubt.
This is a great episode to hear if you’re thinking of starting a business, but it will also serve you if you already have a business. The leanings and lessons herein are as prevalent as Charlotte’s passion for chocolate.
Celebrating Diversity Through Flavors
Celebrating diversity through flavors is Charlotte Truffle’s tag line. It origins go back to Charlotte’s childhood. She and her family moved to the San Francisco bay area when she was just eight. She could barely speak English. She says it was a time of just trying to survive her first year at a new school. Some of the kids at Charlotte’s school picked on her, because she was a little different. But there was one girl that Charlotte remembers to this day. That girl stood up for Charlotte. In the process, the girl taught Charlotte that being different was cool. She also taught Charlotte that she should be proud of her unique nature and culture.
As an adult, Charlotte became interested in the culture of others, their food, and their stories. This interest and her childhood experiences factored into her the development of her mission as a chocolatier. What a great way to celebrate diversity!
Engineer Gone Chocolatier
A fun fact about Charlotte is that she has a background in bio medical engineering. Connecting the dots, Charlotte says that there are many similarities between engineering and chocolatiering. She says that an engineer has to be observant and driven. Engineers have to appreciate root cause and how to resolve problems. As an engineer, Charlotte gained expertise in manufacturing, processes and operations. She also learned how to take an idea that’s been proven, then mass produce that idea for public use or consumption. The transferable skills are remarkably perfect for making chocolate. The biggest difference in her new career? Now she can eat her product.
Positive Press and PR
Charlotte Truffles has received several awards. Because I’d recently learned from an article on positive press and PR that one can apply for awards, I had to ask if she found these opportunities deliberately. The answer was yes. What she specifically sought out and found were competitions. Great tip, right? For Charlotte Truffles, it didn’t hurt to win several awards in these competitions. She says this type of accomplishment builds confidence. It also lends street cred.
Beautiful Product, Beautiful Brand
I have a personal fascination with packaging, and commented on the packaging and branding of Charlotte’s product. She worked with a graphic designer, but to my surprise, the packaging is off-the-shelf. Charlotte explains that as a small startup, she couldn’t spend thousands on packaging design, so she went with off-the-shelf packaging and focused on a personal design that relates to the brand she wanted. She has packaging background from her medical devices past, and knows how labor intensive it can be. Charlotte also knows that the investment required to match her ultimate vision isn’t small. She expects this part of her brand to evolve as Charlotte Truffles grows.
The business was started in Dec 2016. Charlotte says there have been changes in terms of what she thought she’d be doing on the sales and marketing front, and where she actually is. Her vision has also evolved. She wasn’t initially sure how big she wanted to be. People gave Charlotte the typical advise of thinking about where she wanted to be in 3 to 5 years. But Charlotte says she’s cautious. She wants to see data. She also wanted to see if the business could even survive for the first year. Charlotte ultimately wanted to find out if her mission and product resonated with her customers. Moving into year-two, she’ll likely expand and seek wholesale partnerships.
Pop-ups, Farmers Markets
She loves pop-ups and farmers markets, seeing them as a valuable channel for selling and gaining useful feedback. But she knows these aren’t a sustainable activity. Pop-ups and farmers markets will continue to be part of her week-to-week. Nothing beats the feedback and reviews she gets from people at her booth. Customer reactions sell the product for her. It’s also where stories emerge and where they’re shared. Charlotte truly enjoys meeting people, and seeing their reactions. It’s here at her booth where experience mix with flavors to become story telling. She loves this part of her business.
Charlotte’s not ready for employees yet, but she’s already thinking about them. She very much appreciates the fact that employees take time to educate on things like company culture and branding. If she can sustain the business long enough, she’ll look at hiring.
Charlotte has always had affinity for food and flavors. Food science, she says, really comes into play with flavors. But more than food science, it’s personal life experience that brought Charlotte Truffles to life. As an example, she reflects that mango and jack fruits are common in Indonesia, where she and her family have roots. Next came dessert experiences in the homes of friends. Ultimately, Charlotte wants to connect flavor, culture, and stories.
Coping with Self-doubt
Charlotte confesses that coping with self-doubt is a challenge. She’s a perfectionist, which makes it more personally challenging. She always wants data, which is something she realizes she can’t always have as an entrepreneur. To counter this, Charlotte surrounds herself with lots of other entrepreneurs. Across industries, she finds that challenges are similar, that all entrepreneurs struggle with self doubt. As an entrepreneur, she says, you most likely work for yourself and by yourself. Demons will be magnified. The gym and CrossFit provide Charlotte with rejuvenation. CrossFit has taught Charlotte that she doesn’t have to conquer the world everyday. Instead she tries to accomplish one little thing each day. CrossFit presents self-challenge. Charlotte is competitive by nature, and CrossFit inspires and motivates her to do the day-to-day work.
Charlotte’s Biggest Challenge
Charlotte says her biggest challenge is being a sales person. She wants more wholesale business, but realizes that she has to go out there and get it. She says this challenge stems from an engineering stigma that she fights daily. So she puts herself out there each day, whether she wants to or not. This breaks the conversation in her head. This is what helps her create new flavors and new stories.