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The Youth Are Getting Restless:
Emma Smith of Zimt Chocolates

Creating your own ideal corporate atmosphere: Taking the leap through conviction and self-belief

We continue with the second instalment of “The Youth are Getting Restless” blog series, focusing on how energetic young leaders are making a difference in the corporate world. Corporate leaders should take note of these successful young people who are ushering in a wave of corporate change with increased transparency, inclusivity, community engagement and corporate responsibility.

Cadence founder, Aram Arslanian, sat down with Emma Smith, Zimt Chocolates creator, to find out more about starting her own vegan chocolate company from scratch. Zimt Chocolates manufactures certified organic vegan treats and is committed to running a socially and ethically responsible business. They’re conscious of the ingredients they source and the products they use. Everything Zimt touches is vegan by design, even the bandages they keep at the factory!

After college, Smith found it challenging to find a company to work for that matched her level of commitment to ethics and corporate responsibility. She decided to create the company that she was hoping to find. Smith’s unwavering belief in her ability propelled her forward, even though she had no previous experience in the chocolate industry. This type of leap of faith is not something that many others have the self-confidence to attempt. Smith’s desire to produce delicious treats ethically on a large scale and her willingness to dive in headfirst to learn her trade, made Smith an unstoppable force. Smith mastered an entirely new skill set to launch her company through her own grit and perseverance. 

Smith’s journey from making chocolates in her family kitchen to launching a professional manufacturing corporation is sure to inspire you to create your own ideal corporate atmosphere. In developing a company that reflects her convictions, Smith demonstrates that the youngest wave of corporate visionaries can and will design their own professional paths rather than sacrifice their beliefs. 

When you couldn’t find an employment opportunity with a company that met your ethical standards after college, how were you able to take the leap in starting your own business?

Well, I guess I’m a little bit of a punk, taking a less conventional life path was something I was already used to. But honestly, I was really fortunate because at that point in life I didn’t feel much pressure. I still felt like I was able to rely on my family quite a bit. I certainly didn’t have any kids or any huge responsibilities to account for, and so I thought that taking a risk at any time would be most appropriate at that time.

So, it was a bit calculated, for sure, and I just knew that I needed to at least go for it and see what I could do. Hopefully, everything would turn out well and I could keep going with what I’m comfortable with.

Why vegan chocolate? Was it something that your family was involved in previously?

It’s not in my family at all, no.

You know, that stems from a pretty tricky time in life where I actually was very fortunate to come across veganism and welcome it with open arms. During that time, I was in Europe and I came across a café that sold these specialty vegan chocolates. And we didn’t really have anything like that in Vancouver. I just thought, “This is the most incredible thing. I can’t believe people are doing this.” That always stuck in my mind for a good year, year and a half. So, when I was deciding what to do with myself after my studies, I thought, “You know what? Something like this around here, this being these specialty vegan chocolates, I think that the market is maybe not quite ready for it but will be ready for it.” That’s why I decided on it.

Did you know anything about making chocolate before you decided to do this?

No, I knew absolutely nothing about making chocolate. I had no skill whatsoever.

Since neither you nor your family had any experience in this business, what was the thing that made you decide to go for it?

I think initially I wanted to do something that of course I believe in, and I wanted to also show that I was working hard for something that I believe in. Then it kind of evolved into being more grit-dependent because it hasn’t gotten easy. It’s gotten easier in some ways, and it’s gotten harder in other ways. But really the bottom line is you just need a lot of grit to keep going and to get through those first few months, first year, first few years and keep going.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in starting a new company, bringing vegan chocolates to Vancouver and joining the broader international market?

Okay. I’ll work backward. Becoming part of the global market, there’s a lot more competition the further out you look, right, because everyone can be a part of this global market. I would also say that simply shipping has been a challenge. The world is generally warmer than it once was, and chocolate melts. So just that in and of itself has been a challenge. And I still battle with that on a frequent basis. Globally, I would say those two components.

In a more local market, education is the most difficult aspect of any business. If people don’t know why they want or need your product or service, it’s just infinitely more difficult to sell it, right? As I mentioned earlier, the local market wasn’t ready for this line on the scale that it is now. I think too what I have to do and what I do is rely on others who are trying to build up the market. Of course, giving my own little twist to it and my own insight as I see fit. So, education locally has been a challenge

Your story of just blazing your own trail in an unknown industry is so cool. It’s inspiring that you didn’t wait around for permission to implement your vision. How did you psychologically take that first step as a self-starter?

I would agree that I didn’t look for approval with starting Zimt. I appreciated any support with starting Zimt, and I still do with running Zimt. I really do. But again, this just comes back to grit. It was pretty quick for me. I had this idea, and I was just going to keep going until I get it right, and that’s about it. I don’t know if that’s how most people operate, but it’s how I operate.

So, no, I didn’t need approval. I don’t really look to most people for approval. I look to the fundamental components of what I’m trying to do or what I’m trying to carry out or change, and if those are really good, if they follow the golden rule, then that’s what I need approval from. I don’t need approval from humans. Not that all humans are bad, but we’re fundamentally very flawed

Taking that first step had to be incredibly daunting. How did you break your plan into digestible action steps to start executing it?

Yes, you’re totally right, and honestly, it wasn’t just then. It’s almost every day. Like every day I wake up and I most of the time don’t really want to do anything, let alone run a small-scale manufacturing company. But I just tell myself now is not the time to have feelings. Just go do this. What Zimt is, is bigger than the uncomfortable feelings I might be having. That’s how I get through my mornings basically.

Your experience is an impressive example of how being willing to explore new ideas and learn on the go can allow you to create a successful business. You had to learn every aspect of the manufacturing process from scratch on your own. Have you always had a growth mindset, and how did you access it?

That’s funny you ask that because I think like a lot of people, I’ve always been a super curious person. Curious in that I just want to learn so much. I want to know so much. Everybody has their field or fields that they’re particularly drawn to, but I love learning. There’s so much cool stuff out there. If I’m feeling super low, I would say that other than thinking about all the wonderful animals out there and the wonderful people and animals in my life, realizing how much cool stuff there is out there to learn about at all different stages of life, and to really just engage in and open up to is, yeah, that’s huge for me. I’ve always loved learning. I haven’t always loved school, but I’ve definitely always loved learning. I think that being comfortable enough to welcome this curiosity has been fundamental in facilitating growth- it’s a natural extension.

It’s clear that a lot of the work behind Zimt comes from a vulnerable place. How has that vulnerability been an asset to the growth of your company?

At the end of the day, I really rely on a lot of people. Directly with Zimt, we, of course, rely on consumers. We rely on each other as staff members. We rely on buyers, other people in the community.

I think vulnerability is really important because to me it shows honesty, and I think that often we become very guarded and feel that in being vulnerable, we’re being unprofessional, but I think that’s the opposite. I think we’re just being honest, and I think a lot of folks feel really almost caged into putting on a façade just for the sake of seeming like they have everything together. Nobody does, nobody has everything together, but we can all really do our best even when it’s really difficult and be transparent about that. And I think people appreciate that, and I’d like that to become a more common practice.

How do you think larger companies could benefit from a shift in mindset to embracing vulnerability?

Well, what I think of automatically is a lot less burnout. Again, people are juggling so much. Life is not simple, and I’m not saying everyone needs to just sit around and talk about their feelings all day. That’s unfortunately not possible, but I really think that in being more transparent, we are a lot more open about who we rely on as people, and it just creates a more sustainable business environment for the long term because it’s healthier for people overall. It’s a balance, but it is healthier.

It helps prevent people from feeling like they just have to contain everything, and really it helps prevent a snowball avalanche effect down the road if we can just be honest and of course keep things professional and appreciate boundaries when necessary. But I really think that having that throughout an organization, it lets people feel less vulnerable in a way. In a way that they’re scared to show and applauded for being more transparent for long-term success.

Learn More About Zimt Chocolates and Its Charitable Impact

Zimt Chocolates is helping people all over the world with its commitment to donate 1% of all sales to charitable causes. This pledge has remained constant throughout the company’s history, and they have no plans of changing their philosophy on corporate giving and responsibility. One of the many incredible organizations that have received donations from Zimt Chocolates is 100 For Haiti, which focuses on preventing sexual assault in Haiti and empowering victims of sexual assault through social work.

To learn more about Zimt Chocolates, their mission and the charities they support, please visit www.zimtchocolates.com.