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tinyB Chocolate Friday Fail: Tempering the Impact of a Bad Personnel Decision
In this season 3 episode of Back of the Napkin, Renata and Andrei Stoica from tinyB Chocolate in San Francisco, CA, share how a single personnel decision changed how they operate their boutique chocolate and team-building experience company. Listen now.
Renata and Andrei Stoica from tinyB Chocolate in San Francisco, started a business based on the brigadeiro, a Brazilian confection. A brigadeiro is similar to – yet distinctly different from – fudge, ganache, truffles, or bonbons. The sweet, creamy, intensely flavored bite is perfect to scoop from a jar (spoons optional), gently shape into a ball, and roll in a variety of sweet or savory toppings.
The Stoica’s leveraged their passion for the brigadeiro into a virtual team-building experience that has since expanded to 52 countries and more than 31,000 orders, unwrapping a sweet spot in the competitive boutique chocolate marketplace. While company growth has been impressive, the Stoica’s at times traveled a rocky road.
Bytes of Chocolate
When tinyB Chocolate first started, tech entrepreneur Andrei was used to working in an arena where a solution was almost self-explanatory. Coding either worked or it didn’t. With their chocolate company, Andrei stepped into a business in a very crowded category where you had to differentiate. “Differentiation in marketing was a much bigger part of the business,” said Andrei. “And I wasn't as prepared for it as I should have been.”
In addition, in the tech industry you tend to let a product come into its own before you come out with a 2.0 or 3.0 version. With chocolate, it is much easier to make changes by adding a new flavor and get instant feedback from customers. This allows for more experimentation and a constantly evolving product line. “In the beginning, I developed five flavors of chocolate and he (Andrei) wanted to keep only these flavors in the menu,” said Renata. “That's how technology works. If you have that product, let's sell that product. Chocolate is different, you have to be more creative and bring more different experiences for the customers.”
As Andrei got more comfortable in the chocolate business, he helped Renata grow more comfortable in branching out from just a storefront to engaging directly with businesses. Andrei’s experience as an entrepreneur heavily influenced this decision. “I just decided to trust him, because he was an experienced entrepreneur and I was just starting,” said Renata. “And he was right, because I don't think if he had a storefront during the pandemic, we would have survived. We got out of our comfort zone, and we created something even bigger, and I think even more fun than we had before.”
Hiring the Right People
Once they settled on their strategic vision and found a niche where they had a very good product market fit, it was smooth sailing, right? Unfortunately, they suffered a setback common to a lot of businesses, both big and small: making a bad hire.
As the pandemic ramped up during the holiday season, they promoted a person to be the head of production, hoping to free up time for both Andrei and Renata. “Keep in mind, this was during a period where the pandemic was coming in,” said Renata. “Each one of us has literally four full-time jobs that we are trying to juggle.”
After three or four months, they started to see that not everything was going well on the production side and a change was needed. “We didn't really pay as close attention to what was happening and the product that was being produced,” said Andrei.
The problem wasn’t as simple as someone who wasn’t a good fit for their role. “It was so difficult to identify (the problem) because this person was actively toxic,” said Andrei. “Just misrepresenting what was going on, bullying employees to keep them from speaking to Renata directly. It was very intense.”
Unfortunately, just removing the employee did not put everything back to normal. “The more we looked, the uglier things got, I've never seen anything like it,” said Andrei. “I've been in several companies, but every week or two after that, for a period of three or four months, we would find some other catastrophic mess-up that this person had done.”
The Joy of Teamwork
Recovering from that situation taught both Renata and Andrei valuable lessons about how to navigate between micro-managing everything versus over-trusting and giving too much leeway. “I think what I learned from this is, I have to be more on, constantly on top of everything that's happening because it's my product, it's my company,” said Renata.
Going forward, the company has put mechanisms and metrics in place to ensure that the most critical elements of the company are always up to par. When they see one of those metrics or quality control points are slipping, they investigate immediately and resolve the problem before it can escalate and spread.
Having a situation like that occur is never a good thing. However, coming through it and getting to a positive and stronger place is what is most important. “We're a very different organization,” said Andrei. “We feel we have A-players everywhere, and it's a joy to come into work because we're surrounded by such awesome people. But that was a learning experience.”
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