So a guy named Jeff walks in to a bar… he says to the women sitting at the table, “Hey! Do you like chocolate and coconut?” and gives her a taste of his homemade chocolatey-coconutty creation. She tries it, loves it (and him!) and they get married six weeks later. While it didn’t go quite like this, it also kinda did.
Cocacao was started in a home kitchen by Jeff Davis over a decade ago after a search for an anti-inflammatory treat that actually tasted good. Made using only three ingredients (coconut oil, coconut nectar and cacao), their chocolate bars are vegan, gluten free and paleo-friendly. Truly living up to the company’s motto of So Much From So Little™.
After he and Michele (the women above!) married, the two joined forces to bring twelve magical bites of paradise to kitchens across the country… the company just celebrated five years of business!
We spoke with Michele to talk about her entrepreneurial start, having a spouse as a cofounder, launching at the farmer’s market, and her advice for other early-stage food founders.
What were you doing before starting Cocacao?
I worked as an accountant and my husband, Jeff, works still in drafting. He still has his day job but hopefully soon he will be able to join me full-time.
What was your experience like starting at the Farmers’ Markets?
Our first farmers’ market was at Cedar Mill in Beaverton, Oregon. I was so nervous I thought I would throw up. I actually asked Jeff to write a script for me of what to say to customers. That market was a perfect starting point for us. It was pretty small so I was able to learn and feel confident. Within a couple of months we outgrew that market and moved to a larger one. This time I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. Starting in a farmers market gives you a chance to test your product with the public, get feedback from them, and make friends with other vendors. If you are thinking of starting a food business, go to the farmers’ markets and start talking to other businesses. Begin making those connections.
Start talking to other businesses. Begin making those connections.
What is it like having a husband as a co-founder?
He is the right brain and I am the left. It was him who came up with the recipe and idea, and I turned it into a business. When working with a co-founder it is important to define your lane. What responsibilities will each of you have? We work great together!
How have you prepared for scaling the business?
Before we even began, Jeff started researching this. He spent time figuring out if this was something that could scale. We have planned out what equipment we will need as we grow and get funding. We also made sure our suppliers would be able to grow with us.
What inspires you? Who in the industry do you turn to for inspiration?
I am lucky enough to be part of a great food and beverage network here in Oregon. We reach out to each other for questions and help with things. I have also been able to be part of a couple of great organizations, such as Xxcelerate and StarveUps, they are groups of entrepreneurs that may not be in food and beverage, but are there to support me however they can.
Any other brands in the industry that you think are killing it in the biz?
There are so many great brands out there. Some have a lot of funding behind them so it is easier to grow quickly. It is the ones that don’t have deep pockets that I am most impressed with. A few that come to mind are:
As a founder, what do you do to take care of your health, “turn off” work?
I wish I could say I do this but I am struggling with this. Since we are a husband and wife team there is never a “turn off” time. Cocacao is like another child (we already have 9 human children) who needs care. I am working on setting “work hours” so we will see how that works. We like to make runs to the coast and just relax and watch the waves to reset once in a while.
You have to make the leap at some time but have a support group there for the jump.
What advice do you have for early-stage entrepreneurs?
Find a mentor to talk to. It doesn’t have to be a professional person, just someone who is a few years ahead in business. Meet a founder at a farmers market and ask questions. Find out what they wish they had known when they started. Find your community of people and start asking questions. You have to make the leap at some time but have a support group there for the jump.
What food and beverage trends are over-hyped and which are here to stay?
I think organic, plant based and keto are here to stay. More and more people are wanting to know what they are putting in their bodies.
What can we expect next from you guys?
With our win to be part of KeHE Elevate program, we are focusing on expansion. We will be working on getting Twelve Chocolatey Bites of Paradise to customers across the country!