Some people believe that following your passion leads to your success. Agriculture always been a passion to Sabrina Mustopo, CEO & Founder of Kakoa Chocolate. After working with consulting company on agriculture sector, Sabrina Mustopo take a leap and decide to build the one and only Kakoa Chocolate.
With six years experience on agriculture sector, Sabrina Mustopo moved back to Indonesia and create good quality chocolate on a small scale to empower Indonesia’s farmers. In 2013, Sabrina started Kakoa Chocolate, a chocolate company with various flavors, from salted cashew & coconut brittle chocolate to chili chocolate.
We’re so inspired by Sabrina’s passion to empower farmers and make high quality products at the same time. We love the detail and the hard work Sabrina puts into every aspect of Kakoa Chocolate. Today, she shares her story on the leap of faith she took, from being an office worker into a social entrepreneur.
Full name: Sabrina Mustopo
Occupation/Company: CEO and Founder of Kakoa Chocolate
Year you started Kakoa: 2013
Education: International Agriculture Development (Major) and Food Science (Minor), Cornell University
What’s your first job out of college?
I worked for McKinsey Company. It’s a consulting firm and actually was my first and only job out of college, and I worked there for six years. Most of time I was given a particular topic to try and resolve, so we call it a work stream. We work in a group of three or four, and twelve people was my biggest group. Each individual would have a topic that they would be focusing on and try to solve. Most of time, I did problem solving related to strategy — thinking about solutions and how to stop various issues that clients had. So doing the analysis behind that, maybe some modelling, maybe some projections, maybe some risk management stuff, and giving recommendations to the client.
What’s the most difficult problem you’ve ever solved in McKinsey?
I think all them were difficult in their own way because the issues that I was working on were naturally things like how to stop deforestation in third world countries, or trying to improve the agriculture sector in third world countries. They’re all very challenging issues and difficult in their own way. Sometimes it’s more about the politics and the people behind it. The solution was not too technically difficult, and the answer is not difficult to find. It really depends on the project.
Can you tell us your life before starting Kakoa Chocolate?
I was with McKinsey and focusing on agriculture development. So, I went to countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, and Indonesia as well. Working mostly with governments, and mostly thinking about ways to develop the agriculture sector in these various countries. Sometimes we also do projects that had something to do with sustainability, like trying to stop deforestation or thinking about a way to use the waste products that come up from agriculture.
How do you make the decision to move on and start your own business?
There are two perspectives, and I wanted something that was a bit more hands on. As consultants, we’re giving recommendations but we rarely do the implementation of the work. So this is the answer, but who’s going to actually Implement and do it? And I want to be the one actually doing the work on the ground, that’s the first one.
The second thing was from the perspective, it’s just too great an opportunity not to do.
From the social perspective, there are so many problems in the cocoa sector. Indonesia is the third-largest producer of cocoa beans in the world after Ivory Coast, and the second is Ghana. But if you buy chocolate in Indonesia, they’re mostly made overseas. So where are the Indonesian brands? We don’t do a lot of value addition, and this is not just in the agriculture sector and not just in chocolate. We are so rich in nature resources as a country that we have developed bad habits such as exporting things without doing the difficult part and charging for it.
And another problem is the farmers. They’re not making enough money right now from cocoa. A big problem is that they don’t know how to take care of the plantations properly. Nobody’s taught them. They learned from neighbors who actually don’t know how to take care of their plantation. And now there are a lot more diseases because it’s growing and spreading. So farmers have been planting for twenty years, and the last five years have seen their plantation being destroyed by all these pests and they don’t know what to do.
The knowledge is out there on how to properly take care of the plantations and produce high quality products, but no one is teaching them this. There’s nobody to help send this information to the farmers. Then there’s also the issue with quality. It’s a big shame that 90% of our Indonesian cocoa beans are not fermented.
Most people don’t know this, but usually the farmers just take the seeds and spread those seeds. If you want high quality chocolate it should be fermented. But for farmers, they don’t have the financial incentive to do it because whether it’s fermented or not, the price will not make much of a difference. So we felt that needed to change. And also, there’s still a lot of diseases, and they tend to mix the good quality cocoa and with the diseased cocoa. You can’t get high quality chocolate if you don’t have good quality starting material.
That’s another thing that we’re trying to teach them to change. Do the fermentation, do the sorting, do all that, and we pay you a much higher price for it. We saw many problems in the cocoa sector: low quality, low productivity, low farmer income, low added value, and at the same time we saw the market trends for just the chocolate industry.
So if you’re just interested in making money, chocolate is a good business to be in because consumption is increasing in this region. We believe that we can make money by doing this, but at the same, it has a huge potential to have social impact. That’s why we decided to go into cocoa. It’s such a good opportunity that no one is really doing it in the way that we think it should be done, so thought that we have to give it a try. That’s essentially why I stepped out of McKinsey and started doing this.
Can you take us through the details into the launching of Kakoa?
In the beginning was quite like an experiment, because we had no idea if this is going to work or not. Like, is it possible to make high quality chocolate on a small scale? Do farmers actually want to work with us at all? Even if we have this program, is it going to be beneficial for them?
So the first 6 months were research and development. I went to Belgium and looked into how to make chocolate. I traveled around farms just to talk to people seeing what they do and tried to make contacts. I emailed a whole bunch of NGOs and tried to figure out whether people are interested in this model that we have.
It turns out that yes. people said that we can make good chocolate in a small scale capacity. Then around January, we started making chocolate. Experimenting with our first batch of beans and starting experimenting with the manufacturing process. And we went through a lot of really bad chocolates.
It was really sinful, all these chocolates but you can’t eat it, so you have to throw away so much chocolate. That was about six months, we were developing the formulation and the production protocol. And we kind of did a mini launch in June of last year, where we came up with three product lines. And based on initial consumer feedback, we relaunched again in October. So the first big event that we did was the Trade Expo Indonesia.
Why do you choose Lampung as the plantation place?
We choose Lampung because it’s not too far from Jakarta and there’s quite a lot of cocoa grown here, but not a lot of intervention and help from big companies. So we felt that we could make a difference here. Another fact is that my father is from Lampung, so we have family ties here.
Where people can buy Kakoa Chocolate? Is it online or people can buy on offline store?
Kakoa Chocolate is available at all Ranch Market supermarkets in Jakarta, Loka supermarket, and Starmart in Jakarta. We also have an online store, but with delivery still limited to Jakarta.
Can you describe your life as a CEO and founder of Kakoa Chocolate on weekdays and weekends?
So, weekdays and weekends are about the same for me. As a CEO and founder of small company, I am completely used to doing everything from end to end within the company. Thinking about design, finding the farmers to work with, hiring people, product development — so everything that you can think of that needs to be done in order to develop of company.
Now we have a bigger team as well, obviously I get to delegate a lot more things to my team. My focus right now is more on the farmer relation side of things. So making sure that our farmers are going through the programs as they should that benefit them, as well as calculating the impact that we have on farmers. And also on the product development side: Making sure the product quality is to the correct standard and creating new products. My co-founder is focusing a little bit more on the sales and marketing side of things.
What a typical day looks like, it’s tough to say. There’s no typical day. What needs to get done on a particular moment? Another question that I got is how many hours do you work every week? And again, what do you count as work? So when I am looking at chocolate recipe or something like that online, is that work? When I’m youtubing food channels, getting inspiration, is that work? Because lot of things I’m doing for work right now is what people do for fun. Looking at cookbooks, experimenting with recipes, watching YouTube, looking at social media, seeing what’s going on. I mean this is what people do for fun. But I get to do it for work.
What’s the challenge of starting agriculture business in Indonesia? And how did you overcome it?
I’d say that we’re more of a manufacturing business because we have a lot of farmer engagement, but then we are at the end of the day a chocolate company. The way that we give back impact is by working with farmers and through all the agriculture programs that we have. The biggest challenge that we have is specifically in the agriculture business portion of it, which is winning the trust of farmers and getting them into changing their behavior.
Because at the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is get them to take care of plantations better and manage their harvest better as well. So after they harvest, what do they do with it? We asked them to ferment the beans and dry them properly to make them a high quality product. But how do you convince them to do that, right? How do you convince them to think about things in longer terms as well, that whatever you do now would not just benefit you but benefit your children? How do you think a little bit about financial legacy and financial management? It’s all about change and mindset.
The biggest challenge for me was working with farmers. They’re great individuals, but very different from myself. Obviously, the mindset is different, the motivation is different, and the struggles they’re facing are different. So it takes awhile to get to know them, and then to understand things from their perspective and having an appreciation for that. We just have to spend time getting to know each other, and they have to spend time getting to know me.
Farmers are very vulnerable people. They tend to get cheated a lot. We heard stories, somebody came around and said, “Is anybody buying or selling vanilla beans in this kampong?” And then one or two guys growing vanilla beans sold it to this guy, and he said, “Okay I’ll pay you this much it’s really really high amount”. And said, “Oh okay. And I’m also selling vanilla seeds, you know. Who wants to buy?” They know 20-30 people will buy, and then when it comes to harvest time, this guy disappeared. So his actual main purpose is selling those seeds.
They experienced things like that. They’ve experienced issues with theft. When it’s almost harvest time, their stuff get stolen. They’re very vulnerable. So you have to understand things from their perspective and the things they do and they have to know that you’re there for the right intentions as well. That you’re not just coming in and trying to cheat them. Relationship-building takes time.
What advice would you give to girls who wants to start or pursue a career in the agriculture industry?
I think the agriculture industry is very vast, so it really depends on which segment of the agriculture industry you’re looking to do. My advice would be very different depending on what specifically they’re trying to do. It could be anything from understanding your market better. It could be to develop relationships earlier, understanding that relationships take a long time to develop. So it really depends on what specific segment on the agriculture industry.
What is the highlight of your career so far?
Overall highlight is being the first investee of LGT VP. They have been in the country for two years and were looking for an investment. After two years speaking to so many social enterprises, they made an investment on us. We’re the first one in the country to have received that. An institutional investment is a bit more vigorous. It’s not about whether the person likes you or not, it’s all about if we believe that the business model is right. Do we believe that it has the right impact? Do we believe that the entrepreneur can actually execute upon the plan? So all the very hard stuff. Their investment was the big push of confidence for us, that yes, we are doing something right.
Who’s the woman that inspires you?
Everybody’s gonna say their mothers, but I think my mom is the person. I think I get my business sense from my dad definitely, and I get the desire to be a good person from my mom. She is the person who is always very self-sacrificial, very good as well.
There was one day in Mangga Dua, she saw an old lady walking around looking kinda lost, and she had lunch with the lady. They go shopping all day, and my mom gave her money. And she only told me. It’s not something she should brag about it to other people, but as her daughter I get to brag about it. She’s the kind of person who cares about other people.
In times of being kind and doing good, my mom’s been my inspiration for that. On a bigger scale, people who have been my inspiration…it’s a bit cliché but Mother Theresa is compassionate and self-sacrificing as well. She is very inspiring.
What do you see yourself and Kakoa Chocolate 5 years from now?
We want to be known as the brand that resonates, and people know when you buy this particular product it’s not just chocolate. That you’re going to get a really good quality product, you’re going to get something that really empowers farmers, and you’re going to get something that is sustainably produced. So we really want to establish brand awareness.
I’m also looking for beyond chocolate: Because chocolate is one thing, but there’s a lot of opportunities to create higher quality products from so many different things as well. So hopefully in 5 years’ time, we’ll be doing other product lines as well. Not just chocolate, but something that always focuses on empowering farmers and producers, and always focuses on sustainability and high quality.
We want to help to lift up Indonesia as well. If you go overseas and try to buy anything Indonesian, maybe you can only get instant noodles. That’s all you can get. Why only instant noodles? Why can’t we have premium stuff coming from Indonesia? I want to people to say, “Oh yeah, Indonesian products are really good”.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I am so grateful that I have so many mentors and so many friends over the years that shaped my directions and life. I think one point I was deciding between doing an MBA, or do I do this? I have a scholarship for the MBA as well. It was something that I want to do in a location that I want to live in this particular country. It was a big decision for me. That time I already started Kakoa. Then I have to make decision, do I have to continue Kakoa? Or do my MBA?
My friend said, “Whatever decision you make is right decision, but the most important thing is you make it and you don’t look back. Because the only thing that could go wrong is if you keep second-guessing.” Thinking “What if..? Should I..?” and all that could be the worst thing that could happen. That’s one of the best pieces of advice I got.
Another one is you “already know what you’re meant to do.” Outside of the external noise like your friends, your parents, society, or whatever, and all expectations of people put on you and what you are supposed to achieve — you, yourself already know what is right. And it’s not a question or answer that anybody else can really tell you.
I talked a lot to people who are thinking about starting social enterprises as wel and I ask, “How do you decide between this or that?” And they said, “You already know the answer. It’s whether you can listen to yourself or not.”