Posted: Wed 31st May 2023
Congratulations to our Member of the Month for May, chocolatier Ruby Willow. We caught up with Ruby, who is just over a month into the launch of her latest business venture, Femme Cacao – a drinking chocolate designed to alleviate PMS symptoms.
The 26-year-old was one of the grant winners of a recent StartUp Saturday event in York. StartUp Saturday is part of the nationwide StartUp UK initiative, a partnership between Enterprise Nation and Monzo Business.
In this interview, Ruby explains how stepping out of her comfort zone and pitching her idea at the Enterprise Nation event not only boosted her confidence but also helped her place the order for her first batch of the product. She advises:
"Don't be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. It's actually a good thing when you get those butterflies in your stomach.
"So many women, especially young people, fear being laughed at and failing. But what's the worst that can happen? The pros far outweigh the cons. It's just so worth putting yourself out there and being brave because the rewards are potentially so high."
When did your fascination with chocolate start?
Baking has everything to do with my earliest memories. When I left school, I studied professional cookery and hospitality and then patisserie and confectionery. I ended up getting a job as a chocolatier, where I learnt more about good-quality chocolate, how it helps with period cramps, and its impact on the world.
Did you always want to start a business?
I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and do my own thing. I’ve always had ideas and wanted to see where I could take them and push myself.
Femme Cacao isn't my first business. I have another chocolate business with my partner, Readcacao, a chocolate magazine we started together a few years ago. That was my first "toe in the water" when it came to entrepreneurship, and I loved the experience of putting something of my own out into the world. So, when I had this idea, I felt more ready to dive in.
What lessons did you learn from your first business that helped you with setting up Femme Cacao?
We obviously made a lot of mistakes with the first business. But it was also exciting and a whirlwind. I struggled with getting out of my comfort zone with my first business as I was younger.
This time around I’m more open and what's the worst that can happen? It all works out in the end. You don't need to stress about every little detail – try new things and say yes to more opportunities. That's more of the attitude that I've got this time around.
How did the idea for the business come about?
It’s one of those business ideas that come from having your own problem. I was waiting for my diagnosis for endometriosis as I was really struggling with period pain. Every single month all I craved was chocolate.
Given my experience in the chocolate industry, I knew that the chocolate in supermarkets did not contain the best ingredients. In fact, it made some of those PMS symptoms worse. So, I started to drink really good-quality hot chocolate instead. That comforting feeling of having a hot chocolate on your period is just bliss!
This got me thinking that there isn't a hot chocolate that exists specifically for PMS. I knew that my sister, my friends, a lot of us all talk about craving chocolate on our periods, but we don't have one made specifically for us. So why not create something that has some of the ingredients that you'd find in a PMS tea which already exists? For example, raspberry leaf, but put that into a delicious hot chocolate which ticks all the boxes.
How did winning the StartUp UK grant help with launching your business?
I had the idea and research done but didn't have the savings. I found this amazing chocolate company to source the product and the packaging but didn't know how on earth I was going to pay for it all.
From my experiences, I found that it's important to have a network when you're trying something like this. I stumbled across an advert from Enterprise Nation for the StartUp Saturday event. It was out of my comfort zone to apply but I pushed myself as it was a good opportunity.
I've learnt so much from it, even just going to the event and meeting the different entrepreneurs. I was lucky enough to win the grant which funded the launch, and I am super grateful to Enterprise Nation for it.
Something unexpected that it helped with was the confidence aspect. It was a little baby idea that nobody really knew about yet. But being able to talk about it with people at the event and hearing that they believed in the idea enough to want to award me the grant was a real confidence boost.
On the practical side, the money helped me completely order my first batch. I've got the physical product ready to be shipped out. The grant got the ball rolling. If it wasn't for that money, I’d still be saving and keeping the idea to myself rather than it already being out in the world.
This shows how important the grant was as I had the idea a year ago and had done all the research, but I just didn't have the money or confidence. I started to push forward earlier this year. As soon as the money hit my bank account, I put in the order and officially launched sales on the website a month ago.
How do you source the chocolate for The Goddess Blend?
We work with a chocolate company in Bristol that I knew was a good-quality small-batch producer. I first met them at a London trade show last year and we collaborated on the exact recipe I wanted for The Goddess Blend, which is our first product. They pay a good living wage to farmers, and the chocolate is ethical and sustainably produced, which is very important to me.
What are your sustainable goals for the brand?
It's difficult when you're first starting out because you must weigh up the cost and the product has to be food-safe. My main goal with the packaging was that it wasn't single-use plastic.
We had all these prototypes and what we ended up with for the first batch was these simple, biodegradable pouches that can be heat-sealed. It doesn't use any plastic so you can put it directly into your compost afterwards. Even the stickers and information papers that go inside are made from recycled paper.
That's important to me because chocolate can make a good or a bad impact, depending on how you package and source it.
Long term, I’d love to be able to do more but starting out, we thought this was the bare minimum we could do.
Since the StartUp Saturday event, how has Enterprise Nation played a part in your entrepreneurial journey?
Enterprise Nation was completely new to me when I first came across the advert and is still relatively new. I wish I’d known about it when I first started a business. It’s a goldmine for entrepreneurs.
There are so many free resources about things that I didn't even know existed. For instance, I did an amazing free photography webinar on there. I know that if I need help with anything, Enterprise Nation will have the support. Through the StartUp Saturday event, I’ve met people who I’m still in touch with and we're supporting each other online too.
What's next for Femme Cacao?
I'm quite ambitious and my main goal is to help as many women as possible with their PMS. I'm starting to get messages from customers saying that they're looking forward to their period for the first time because that means they can have a cup of The Goddess Blend hot chocolate and can't image their periods without it. The more women I can spread that message to, the better.
Eventually, I see us expanding the product range and there is something in the pipeline, but for now, it's just getting the word out.
I'd love to have it in retail eventually. It's also a subscription-based product so my main key performance indicator (KPI) is growing the subscriber base to have recurring sales. Given that it deals with PMS, it makes sense for it to be a subscription product. I like the idea that you don't have to think about it or go to the shop as it comes to you.
We’re also looking at collaborating with other brands – for instance, yoga instructors are creating PMS Mornings where they organise a special yoga retreat to relieve PMS symptoms and then have a Goddess Blend hot chocolate with it.
I’d ultimately love to build the products with our customers once we have a bigger base.