“If you really want to start a business, just do it. Don’t over think it because you’ll talk yourself out of it. Just figure things out as you go. Mistakes made are lessons learned. Your business plan will be obsolete the minute it leaves your printer so don’t let it be an excuse for not getting started,” said Malena Lopez-Maggi, a senior at Mills.
She does not socialize much outside of school and work because there is not enough time, but she is okay with that. She was raised as an only child and prefers solitude, and is cautious of how she uses her body because her work and art are both very physical.
She and her partner, Clive Brown, were looking for a creative way to change their careers as artists and found that chocolate would be a fun industry to dive into. She began by taking free and low cost business courses and rented a commercial kitchen to test out her recipes.
Soon after, Lopez-Maggi realized that she needed a foundation in the “science of chocolate-making,” so she enrolled in a professional course at Richardson Researches Inc. which is a leading organization in chocolate, confectionary and candy making classes.
She could not find a bank to that would fund her business so she and her partner worked together to string a “pathetic budget on credit cards and Prosper loans.” They also did craft fairs and expos for a couple of years and were finally able to open up their shop in 2008.
For Lopez-Maggi, being a woman has not been the biggest challenge in the business world.
“The glass ceilings I have encountered have not been about gender, but about net worth,” she said. “It’s hard to expand without significant investment, but I’d rather stay small anyway. I’m not out to become a star chef, I just want to pay my bills and have enough time leftover to do art.”
In the world of chocolate, Lopez-Maggi said men and women have been successful.
“If I were more bent on market domination, the male dominance thing might get to me. That being said, there are many high powered women chocolatiers in the game too.”
Most of the female chocolatiers that she knows are successful at what they do. They all have their own unique spins on chocolate which distinguishes them from one another and removes them from the sense of competition.
She has gathered together with a number of of her friends and colleagues for moral support and advice. At one point they called themselves “Sweet Chicks.” They spoke together on a panel called “Women and Chocolate: A Natural Combination” at the Commonwealth Club about women chocolatiers.
“Jewelry has been a hobby and obsession that spiraled out of control,” said Lopez-Maggi.
Because her partner has been vending jewelry at concerts and festivals for 15 years, she was lucky enough to have an avenue through him to sell her designs as well as on Etsy. Although Etsy has been a great portfolio for her jewelry, most of her sales come from the earring racks at her chocolate shop.
The business world is not without its obstacles. Lopez-Maggi said she’s felt exhausted and has had troubles with money and balancing work and her personal life.
“It’s all been a learning experience and thankfully I’ve arrived at a good place now.”
Juggling being a full-time student as well as running a chocolate shop and online jewelry shop can be challenging, but Lopez-Maggi is working hard and enjoying all of it. She loves studying art at Mills “so much that it feels like play time for the most part.”
She has a hard working partner and group of friends who help her keep her shop running successfully. She strives for maximum efficiency in her work and rarely wastes time.
Her advice for her fellow Mills students who want to start up a business is, “Don’t let lack of money stop you – there are cheap and free resources everywhere if you just dig a little. My motto is ‘Ready, Fire, Aim.’ Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
If you are interested in checking out her chocolate shop, it’s located at 1709 Solano Avenue in Berkeley, California. The shop is open Thursday through Sunday from 12-6pm. You can also visit the shop online at http://TheXocolateBar.com, or look at her jewelry at, http://www.MalenaMaggi.com or http://MalenaJewels.etsy.com.
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Malena Lopez-Maggi and Work It, Berk blog