We had the good fortune of connecting with Kristen Blue and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kristen, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
My life would look very different if I were scared to take risks and pursue adventure. I once walked off an unethical job, packed up my office in the middle of the day, and moved to LA on a friend’s couch with less than $50 in my bank account. I trusted it would all work out.
I’ve learned to follow my instincts and trust that life will work out how it’s meant to, even the hard lessons are part of the journey. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more calculated in how I take on risks. I follow my intuition, but I’m considering the pros and cons of decisions, timing, identifying ways to mitigate risks, and I try to leverage data and research to support my decisions.
My business is a great example of this. I have bootstrapped my business, starting incredibly small in my kitchen but proving the concept, figuring out our operations, who the customers are, and perfecting our craft while researching, validating our ideas, and putting together a plan to move ahead. As we grow, so does my investment in time and money. Putting your savings and racking up credit card debt to bring your idea to life is risky. Saving yes to the adventure and believing it’ll work out is part of being an entrepreneur.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Sonhab started in my kitchen. I am unintentionally an entrepreneur. I never thought about becoming a business owner, it just happened. My business started as an experiment in passion and creativity. Last year in our second year of business, we landed in Forbes Magazine three times. I found myself standing in the rain forest in a cacao field in Costa Rica, watching a chocolate maker crack open a cacao pod on a rock. It was pouring rain and muddy. This journey of starting a business has been an unexpected thrill.
It hasn’t come without sacrifice. My partner Cody lost his job during the pandemic, his workplace closed forever. That allowed him to step in and help with the chocolate production as I worked full-time while also running the business. Cody is back at a regular job again and we continue to work full-time while running our chocolate manufacturing business. We’ve lost a lot of sleep in the past two years to build our business up. We’ve chosen not to take shortcuts and we’ve bootstrapped our business, taking on a lot of personal debt to grow and buy the machinery and packaging needed to meet demand. Our bean-to-bar chocolate takes a week of labor for us to make with machines running 24/7 for days at a time. We hand mold and wrap every bar. We pay more for our cacao beans and work with an ethical importer to ensure our cacao is traceable and sourced thoughtfully. We do this from the Sonoran desert- one of the hottest areas in the world – manufacturing a meltable product. In hindsight, we picked a very fragile, labor-intensive, and expensive product to make but we’re so in love with what we do, there’s no turning back. It’s become a part of who we are.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Nature: A must if you visit Phoenix – take a drive to Tortilla Flat, a quick afternoon trip to get lost in the Southwest landscape. Spend time outside near the Superstition Mountains.
Art: Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture and stop at the Phoenix Art Museum. Check out the studio at Mount Sunny in downtown Phoenix. Drive around the valley and visit Frank Lloyd Wright, Wendell Burnette, Ralph Haver, Soleri, Beadle, and Will Bruder sites. The valley has inspired incredible architects. If you are an architecture nerd like me you will appreciate the richness the valley has to offer. Masa Studio and Tennen Studio are also two favorites with roots in the desert. The Modern Phoenix website has a map, neighborhood guides, and information you can use to do a self-guided tour around the valley and learn all about the architecture here.
Shopping: Pick up some curated snacks and natural wine at Buena Vida Bodega in the Garfield District! They just opened and even have a gum-ball machine out front that’s filled with healing crystals. Then drive up to Local Nomad and For the People in Central Phoenix – all of these shops carry unique, beautiful, and thoughtful goods.
(PSST you can also pick up some of our chocolate at Buena Vida Bodega or Local Nomad)
Healing: Mount Sunny for acupuncture, cupping, and all things wellness. We are lucky to have a healer like Shelby (the owner) in our community!
Eat: You can’t miss out on Mi Salsa burritos at the downtown Phoenix Saturday Farmers Market. You’ll need to show up early, they sell out. You’ll also want to grab some of their salsa to go! We also love Cocina Madrigal, Taco Boys, Tacos Huicho, Los Dos Molinos, and Maskadores Taco Shop. When we’re not eating chocolate, we’re eating tacos. For coffee, head down to Futuro Coffee in Downtown Phoenix.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Score Business Mentoring program has been a huge part of my journey. I’m so grateful for my mentors’ guidance, time, and expertise. Working with SCORE has been like having cheerleaders there to celebrate your success with you, teachers to help unblock you, and guide you through the challenges that arise as a small business owner. I can bring a list of problems and they have suggestions or know someone who I can talk to. I called Steve a while ago at a low point, exhausted from working full-time while running a business and hitting growing pains. Steve talked me through it.
Thank you, Steve Engelhardt and Don Finch.
Don Finch passed away in 2021. Don had a passion and deep knowledge of food and excitement for entrepreneurship. I have so much gratitude knowing he spent his last years mentoring, believing in, and encouraging me. He is very missed. Thank you, Don.
I’d also love to publicly thank Nick Dellis for being an incredible mentor to me. He was one of the first customers I ever had and was the first shipment I made with Sonhab. I had no idea what I was doing at that time. Nick has been a cherished resource and supporter. He has taken time to help me articulate problems, identify risk, and coach me through my journey of building a business. I learn so much from Nick in every discussion we have. Thank you, Nick.
I also want to dedicate our shout-out to say thank all the cacao farmers and fermentors across the world. We’re so grateful for the love, care, and hard work that goes into cacao farming. Growing, harvesting, fermenting, and drying cacao is a very skilled and technical process. There is so much complexity that happens to a cacao bean before it arrives in our hands. Without skilled farmers and fermenters, we wouldn’t be here. Good chocolate starts on the farm.
Kristen Blue and Leigh Patterson of Moon Lists