I meet up with Jare Fola-Bolumole on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the Foodco restaurant along the Bodija-UI road. I find him right there in the eatery waiting for me. His hair is a well groomed afro and his glasses bespoke. He’s fondling his phone. I settle in and we get the pleasantries done with, then I ask the questions right away.
How did you get into the chocolate business?
“The chocolate business thing started in 2010. My friend, Lamide, was visiting the US and myself and my girlfriend teased her to return with chocolates, lots of them. In that instant, it struck me that I could buy chocolates in large quantities and sell to friends and whosoever cared for chocolates. While she was in the US, I told Lamide to buy chocolates worth $100. It was the first semester of my fourth year in the university, studying Mechanical engineering.”
“The plan for the chocolates was to sell them during the valentine period but they came in early and I stored them up. My wonderful sisters then created a BBM group ahead of Valentine’s Day and publicized the chocolates on the group.
LOL. Why your sisters and not you?
Jare chuckles before he replies. “I could not have done that because I had no smartphone at the time but they did.” He wraps his arms around himself and continues: “My sisters were hugely instrumental to the sale of those chocolates. They bought fanciful baskets and we packaged the baskets of chocolates in various sizes. We sold the cheapest for N300/basket. Business was good.”
“In my final year in the University, I sold imported chocolates for the Valentine season again. This time, we made so much sales so that the only request I made from people who travelled out of the country was to buy more chocolates. Soon, people stopped telling me that they’d be travelling for the fear that my chocolate demand would give them extra luggage.”
So, how did you transition from a campus business to the large societal market?
“As my graduation from the university drew near, I realized the need to be able to translate my success on campus to the world outside campus. It was tough. I brainstormed on possible ways of making chocolates an acceptable item to a people defined as conservative. But as you know, great ideas always come when you are in the toilet. One day while I was in the toilet, I figured out that I could convene a gathering of people whose intentions are to eat chocolates and have fun. That was how the idea of ChocParty came about.”
We laugh at the idea of ideas and toilets. Winning ideas, eureka moments happen in absurd and unbelievable places. Jare flails his arms, his wristwatch flashes a glint in the sunshine of the ripe steamy afternoon.
“The idea of a Chocolate party was unwelcomed by many folks I shared it with. They laughed and said ‘A Chocolate party in Ibadan? Who in Ibadan cares about a party where all that it’s about is chocolate?’
How did you make ChocParty happen despite the idea being unwelcomed?
“I listened to their reservations but I kept my faith. I pulled a team together and we leveraged on our strengths to make the first ChocParty happen. My team members who were majorly friends and family; and their commitment kept me going even when most people frowned at the idea. We put together a menu of chocolates, cakes and ice-cream. We made games available so that way, fun was incorporated. Entry was by tickets. As for publicity, the bulk of it was through social media – Facebook, Twitter, BBM, Whatsapp.
So how did it turn out?
It was a mind blowing success. You know, I’d initially planned for 500 guests for the first ChocParty but when certain people expressed their doubts, I cut it down to 300. In the end, we recorded a turnout of over 400 guests. This was in 2012”
And how did you sustain the idea of the ChocParty?
“For the second ChocParty, we only had to leverage on the success of the first. We had imported chocolates for the first ChocParty but with the plan we had for the second Party, it wasn’t cost-effective to import chocolates. Making my own chocolates became the first major challenge but the internet came in handy.”
He takes a sip from his bottle of water and continues:
“I began to learn how to make chocolates by following the available recipe on the internet. I began early enough so that by the time the second party was at hand, I had learned a few tricks in the art of chocolates. If the first ChocParty was mind-blowing, then I don’t know what to call the success. The success was transcendental – that was when ChocParty as a phenomenon.”
And, what challenges have you faced so far?
“The journey has not been a smooth and easy one, bro” Jare begins. “The common knowledge that is shared by many about chocolates comes in the way of business. Stuff about chocolates not being good for the teeth is mostly the only thing people know about chocolates.”
Another challenge is creating world standard chocolates. Chocolate production is a huge business, not something you jump straight into as a startup. So, making chocolate products available in commercial quantities and not compromising global standards is a battle I fight every day. We’re winning, one battle at a time. Soon, we’d have the ChocBoy chocolate spread brand available on shelves for sale.”
I am about to say something, then Jare cuts in:
“Did I say family and friends have been instrumental to the success of the Choc business? Yeah. And they could be a tough call sometimes. Friends and family, ehn, they can make or ruin your business. Imagine an event where a third of guests are friends and family and they don’t pay for entry tickets. How will you ever break even?”
Have you ever felt like quitting?
“Quitting?!” he asks again and then, giggles. “Every day gives you a genuine reason to quit. Imagine the most spiritual person you know calling you, encouraging you to keep up the good work but also asking you to reconsider the business. This person you respect so much calls you to remind you that with your BSc degree, you can get a good job in a multinational and you’ll be well paid.
Then there have been huge disappointments that just made me want to close shop. Once, we were to cater for an event in Lagos. We had been assured of attendance of nothing short of 2000 people. I did the math and figured out that I would make almost 400% profit. It was good business. I invested N500, 000 in the event and in the end, the turnout was 300 people. Just 300 people! Santi, 300!
Finally, what keeps you going?
Every time I open my wallet and I don’t see money, I want to give up; but then I remember the future. The future is so bright people will wear shades to see us. Santi, the future is bright o!” he beams into an infectious laughter. He sees something I don’t see – a future. “And more importantly, the joy I see in the eyes of people we make deliveries to is priceless. That’s how I keep keeping, man!”
*This interview was in 2014. Jare has gone on since then to organize two editions of ChocParty – 2014 & 2015 and the turn-out at the event keeps increasing. In 2016, he became a certified chocolatier and now, he owns his own chocolate factory where they produce and distribute chocolates all over Nigeria*