1. What residence were you both in and how did you guys get involved during your time at Laurier?
Matt: I was in Willison Hall and had a great first year. To enrich my experience at the school and get to know as many people as possible, I chose to get involved in a ton of stuff including: co-founding the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, WLUSU Board of Directors, Radio Laurier DJ, Ice Breaker and Foot Patrol.
Adam: I lived in University Place… before they had dons there. It was an amazing year. I met lots of great people at Laurier through different organizations like Water Buffaloes, LSFL, ACE and TA’ing.
2. What are some of the best memories you both have from Laurier?
Matt: The whole experience was amazing. Meeting so many great people and growing as a person. Some things do stand out in particular like St Patty’s Day (used to be huge at Wilfs), Pikecoming (1500 people), and just hanging out casually with friends in res or in our apartments in later years.
Adam: My main memory is just being surrounded by great people for 4 years. St Patty’s Day, Homecoming, and the Year End Party stand out, so I guess you can tell that I like to have fun. The nerd side of me remembers ICE Week fondly.
3. Tell us a bit about your product, and how you came up with the idea.
AWAKE merges the great taste of chocolate with the pick-me-up of a cup of coffee (aka Red Bull meets Hershey). Our delicious taste, performance and attractive packaging have helped it become one of the best selling bars across thousands of colleges and offices in North America. Beyond that, AWAKE is sold on our website and in retailers like Shoppers Drug Mart, Real Canadian Superstore, Walgreens and 7-Eleven USA.
Adam (Laurier grad too!), Dan (not a Laurier grad – boo!) and I all worked for major food companies like Pepsi and Kraft. When we decided to launch our own product, we looked to solve a problem that was previously not addressed. We knew that there were lots of products that could wake you up but none that tasted great, particularly in a convenient bar form. That revelation led quickly to us cooking up the first ever samples in Dan’s kitchen and later launching our product in the market five years ago.
4. So does Awake Chocolate give someone more energy than a cup of coffee would..?
AWAKE provides a similar pick-me-up to a cup of coffee but without the bitter aftertaste, coffee breath or burnt mouth. We also sell AWAKE in bite sized pieces that are equivalent to a half of a cup of coffee. Perfect for night classes!
5. What was the hardest part about starting your own business, and how did you build awareness for Awake Chocolate at the start?
Starting a business is super tough. In particular though, there were a few things that stand out including:
a) Selling – Persuading retailers to replace an established brand with one they have never heard of.
b) Cash flow – When starting a business like this, it’s not about what you “want to do”, it’s about “what you can afford to do”. Burning too much cash too quickly will spell the end to your entrepreneurial dreams.
c) Financing – We needed to raise money to do our first production run and get our product from concept to reality. It’s not easy to persuade someone to invest their own money in three guys they don’t know looking to launch a product and category that doesn’t exist.
We were very fortunate in these early days to get invited to pitch on Dragons Den. Our pitch went extremely well resulting in a bidding war and eventually a successful investment from David Chilton “The Wealthy Barber” (Laurier grad too!). This gave us some momentum that definitely helped peak the interest of retailers, investors and spreading some much needed awareness for the brand.
6. What opportunities have arisen for you guys because of this product?
Beyond learning how to start and scale a business, we have met many wonderful new friends, employees and students. The experience of visiting a retail store or university across the continent and hearing how much people love your product is hard to replace!
7. If you both were not running Awake Chocolate, where do you think you would be in terms of your career paths?
Who knows! Both Adam and I were on great career paths to senior management at our previous employer. The entrepreneurial bug was too much to ignore so if we hadn’t started AWAKE, it likely would have been another venture of some sort.
8. If you could give any advice to someone who is interested in entrepreneurship, what are three things you would tell them?
a) Solve a problem – Every entrepreneurial business needs to solve a previously unmet need.
b) Build a great team – Whether your team starts like ours did with three friends with complementary experiences or you hire a team to work for you, generally you can’t do everything yourself. Do a skills assessment and look for team members that will help you grow your business.
c) Manage your cash flow carefully! Hopefully self explanatory but you can’t spend money you don’t have. Spending needs to be carefully considered in relationship to what you have available at that time.