The Taste of Giving: Chocolate Cork
Keri Lauderdale Olson | Lee’s Summit, Mo. | Startup
Chocolate and wine. Two great things that go great together. And no one wants you to know that better than Keri Lauderdale Olson, founder of Chocolate Cork.
Launched in 2015, Chocolate Cork offers custom-designed chocolate and wine pairing classes and events. Classes are typically 90 minutes long and include five perfectly paired wines and premium chocolates. Chocolate Cork tasters have fun learning about the history of chocolate, how to taste chocolate (there is actually a “right way”) and get to experience, firsthand, a transformative culinary taste sensation when the right wine is perfectly paired with the right chocolate. Because, you know, wine. And chocolate.
We cornered the chocowine maven and asked her to give us the scoop on how she started her business and how entrepreneurial resources like Betablox (now accepting applications until Dec. 15, by the way) helped her conceive, launch and grow her KC startup.
What inspired you to start your business?
My lifelong love of chocolate began when my mom started her own small, chocolate business. At a young age, I learned to temper chocolate and create chocolate houses, suckers and even stained glass chocolate eggs. My first entrepreneurial endeavor was selling chocolate suckers that I had made to all of the students and teachers at my grade school. In later years, on a trip to Sonoma wine country, I experienced my first perfect chocolate and wine pairing. I knew in that moment that these two passions—chocolate and wine—were something I wanted to explore and share.
Over the years, I have taught gourmet chocolate tasting classes at a local community college as well as in-home wine tasting parties. While many people have attended a wine tasting, few have ever been to a chocolate tasting. Chocolate Cork is a lifelong dream and passion for me, and I am excited to share the “party in your mouth” that a perfect chocolate and wine pairing creates.
How did you find out about BetaBlox? How did they help your company?
I found out about BetaBlox through a Facebook ad. My company was just a concept at that point. While I have more than 16 years of marketing and product development experience in the corporate world, an entrepreneurial mindset is much different than a corporate one. BetaBlox helped me shift my mindset.
If I had launched Chocolate Cork on my own, I would probably still be fine-tuning a business plan and researching every aspect before I took any action. Through the classes and mentorship at BetaBlox, I learned to “go fast and break things.” I started holding my first classes before I had all the answers, and I found out what worked and didn’t work as I moved forward. I am now growing my company with actual data on what my customers want and what they will pay for. I found the program so beneficial, I encouraged my son to apply, and he made it into BetaBlox with his own concept.
Any other resources have you worked with?
I am a graduate of the Kaufmann FastTrac program through the Enterprise Center in Johnson County. I took the class many years ago for another concept.
What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur requires perseverance, passion and flexibility. There truly are no “overnight successes.” It isn’t easy and I haven’t talked to one successful entrepreneur who didn’t have to adapt to more than one thing that they didn’t expect along the way. You have to have the passion and drive to push through whatever adversities you face in order to make your dream a reality.
How did you finance it?
I am financing it on my own. I sold my house and moved to an apartment, so that I could have a little bit of capital and be able to work on it full-time. It is scary but also incredibly motivating. My success (or failure) depends entirely on me.
When times get tough, what inspires you to keep going?
I was a single mother that raised three incredible sons on my own. They have always been my biggest motivation and biggest supporters. I want to be an example for them and encourage them to chase their dreams.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
My biggest challenge has been around gaining awareness about my business. I have a limited budget and most of my customers have come from either word of mouth or social media.
Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire.
Mary Kay Ash – she started Mary Kay, Inc. with her life savings of $5,000 and a dream. She inspired and helped countless women worldwide by providing them with an opportunity to start their own businesses. She built her company around the principle of the Golden Rule and with sales of approximately $4 billion. Today, the company still operates on that guiding principle.
J. C. Hall – Growing up in Kansas City, it is hard not to know J. C. Hall’s story. I was always inspired by his drive and vision for the future of both his company and Kansas City. He started with just two shoeboxes of postcards at 18 years old and built Hallmark into one of the top brands in the world. He built a legacy that will forever be a part of this city.
Gary Vaynerchuk – Upon graduating college, Gary grew his family’s wine business from $3MM to $60MM in five years. He utilized a video blog called Wine Library TV and became “the first wine guru of the YouTube era.” He is an entrepreneur, angel investor and expert in social media and startups. He has made both Fortune and Crane’s 40 under 40 lists in the past two years. He built a loyal following on his social media channels and personally interacts with his followers daily.
What sacrifices in your personal life did you have to make to become a business owner?
I spent the last year getting my house ready to sell so that I could get the most money I could out of it. Between my “day job,” house renovations, BetaBlox and launching Chocolate Cork, I didn’t have much of a social life. Everyone close to me heard “I can’t” frequently over the past year. I had to focus all of my financial and personal resources on getting me to the place where I could work on my startup full-time.
What is your favorite quote?
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein
What has been your biggest triumph so far?
Chocolate Cork was selected to be the December program for KCMPI (Kansas City Chapter – Meeting Professionals International). This will be a great opportunity to gain exposure for Chocolate Cork in the Kansas City metro area for memorable corporate events.
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