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Alexandra Clark | Detroit | Perfect Concept!!

I worked at an ice cream shop and lived in a family full of artists! My mom is a welder, my sister can draw anything and my dad is a carpenter. I always liked chocolate but it wasn't until I had my first piece of truly artisan handmade chocolate that I really "got it" - chocolate is my medium. I spend eight years obsessed with it - traveling anywhere that would take me to learn more, working midnights on the line, early mornings in pastry shops, in economic research institutes, wherever I thought I could learn more about chocolate, I was there. I was measuring the size if peoples' mouths at rest in the bar, to see what the perfect size chocolate should be, I was testing recipes, constantly drawing, talking to artists, scientists, food manufacturers, anyone, really who would talk to me about my idea of the "goodest" chocolate shop that I could come up with! Then, I moved home, rented the back room of a Coney Island (what we call a diner here in Detroit) and started handmaking, handpackaging and selling Bon Bon Bons one day at a time.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

Initally, the biggest hurdle in my business was access to credit. Although we grew very quickly, it took a long time for us to qualify for any sort of traditional financing, including a business credit card! It was okay, in the beginning to balance things on personal credit cards and bootstrapping but there were certain business functions that just became easier when we had access to credit!

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?

How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

Absolutely! When I moved home to open my business, I came across a lot of old friends and friends parents who were a constant reminder of what a traditional life trajectory might look like, and how my life didn't fit in that mold. They were taking high paying jobs, advancing at big companies, buying houses. I was renting the back room of a diner and making chocolate with my dog. It's different, it still is different, but it's always been mine.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

The community that I live in (Detroit/Hamtramck) is very collaborative and strong minded. This allows me to tap into the expertise of business owners who have been operating in the city for decades to newcomers who see opportunity here to other artisans in my community very easily in order to share ideas, learn and grow. I have always really appreciated this and I believe it's something very unique to Detroiters. And Detroiters themselves are why I love this place so much.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

Patience is a virtue. I was so excited to open my own chocolate shop that I nearly could not wait! But life made me - I could never find the right shop, the right kitchen in the right area and it forced me to spend an extra three years working on my business. In that time I developed my packaging to what it is now, I refined my purchasing to allow me to easily acquire the best ingredients a chocolatier can get their hands on and so much more. Once your business is open, you will have to spend a chapter working in the business instead of on it, so enjoy the time you have before it is open when you can continue creative thinking, refine ideas and perfect concepts before you unleash your frankenstein on the world.

What advice would you give to an upcoming young and old entrepreneur locally and internationally?

Sell something. Anything! To anyone! You'll learn things from starting and operating even the smallest business that simply cannot be taught anywhere else. Even if you don't have the perfect idea, perfect product, perfect concept you can satiate your entreprenuerial interest now and it will only make you stronger for when you do find it!

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