Today we have Alyssa Jade McDonald, founder of BLYSS gmbH sharing her entrepreneurial journey! So lets crack on and hear about her amazing story…
How long have you been in business?
The basis of BLYSS is Ilolo Estate which started in the uncarved jungles of Papua New Guinea in the 1920s by social entrepreneurs Percy and Gertrude McDonald. It passed through to son Robert and his Australian bride Patricia, who developed the multi-diverse plantations further. Meanwhile, Patricia’s father, a renowned pâtissier in Sydney, was crafting elegantly tiered desserts and gateaux with his wife Beatrice in their Randwick atelier.
Together the influence of 3 sets of social enterprises, encouraged their granddaughter to contribute to the family vision and pick up old note books from Ilolo Estate, recipe secrets from Sydney and get the detailed infos of plantations, villages and diplomacy. This led to the founding of today’s BLYSS gmbH in Germany and Ecuador.
What is a brief description of your business?
We have created ‘single bean’ virgin chocolate, which as we’ve been told by kitchen chefs and sommeliers from Europe to the Gulf is “the most pure chocolate in the world”. Experts recommend our chocolate because of two key reasons: we work with about 450 families on 2 sustainable plantations in Ecuador to grow and love authentic genetic Arriba Nacionale cacao trees (very rare trees!) and then carefully pluck them to be sun-dried and cold-ground for molecular integrity.
This means, that with very low heat and a pure organic species, the aroma and taste of the cacao is maintained by very long and loving handwork. This chocolate which we offer exclusively to star chefs and sommeliers is our proof-point for better standards of manufacturing in nutrition, where we actively lobby and influence diplomatics and ‘Quality of Life’ measures, from the Arabic peninsula to South America.
We proudly offer vintage and terroir based chocolate for cooking, gifting, and body care. Our BLYSS is the result of almost 100 years of plantation and pâtissier expertise from Papua New Guinea, Australia, to Germany and Ecuador. Alyssa Jade McDonald, grand-daughter of the Ilolo Estate, named the present company after her nickname, ‘lyss’ and the meaning of spiritual ‘bliss’, as her personal commitment to a better world for the next generation to follow in the family footsteps.
1. What drove you to start your own business?
My parents and grand parents were social entrepreneurs, who cared for rubber forests and raised cattle in the wild hills of Papua New Guinea and Australia – naturally I had to ‘escape this crazy life’ and worked for a decade in large corporations pursuing a ‘corporate’ life. Poetically, my toxic lifestyle in bureaucratic profit driven companies made my body sick, and I looked with wet eyes back at my family asking for ‘the meaning of life’. They shrugged and just continued to tell stories of the great life on plantation, running their own social enterprises and how they couldn’t relate to me – because they always lived their dream.
Finally all the years of dinners around the family table thwacked me between the eyes and I started to look at old notebooks, and photos, business ledgers written in brown pencil on litho paper and recipe books that had been covered with dust since they retired. I decided to un-retire the family tradition and take control of my health at the same time. With almost 100 years of social enterprise expertise within my genes, I put on my jeans and went to ‘real work’ and took the best of what we had done in PNG and Australia to Ecuador and Germany.
I asked my father to go to Ecuador in search of a rare and special species of cacao I had read about called the Arriba Nacionale, where he lived for two years sending me packages of infos, goodies, pictures and cacao for my idea to create a chocolate that could truly be good for the body and the world.
It took 3 years of trial and error in the kitchen to come up with my BLYSS. On weekends I studied food hazards and health science, then ground up cacao beans in my altbau in Germany and delivered little white paper packages of ‘test chocolate’ to my friends on a Sunday night with a feedback form to improve recipes. This was my safe way of starting a new idea, keeping the corporate job and working on my passion over weekends.
2. What was the turning point?
The turning point came when I received a phone call from doctors in Ecuador who said my father was gravely ill in hospital. I hardly believed it because he had just hiked up Machu Picchu the month before. I packed my bags within an hour and spent a tear-filled day in the office with my very kind bosses who gave the grace of leave to go immediately to see him in South America. Although I believe corporations are investor-driven toxic organisations in the business world, in the private world they are run by dear-hearted people. A paradox I have been struggling with ever since.
Within 14 hours I was at my father’s side and over the next weeks his condition deteriorated. I would arrive at the hospital with wall charts and markers, dancing around writing up more plans for the work I needed him to ‘get well’ for and go out to more plantations for the authentic genetic species we were looking for. Together we sang The Way You Look Tonight and one day, he looked at me and said ‘Flossie, it’s your turn. Take it up, learn from everything I have told you from our plantations in PNG, my notes from Ecuador, talk with your mother and get the final hints from her. I want you to LIVE, because you are dying in your current world. Finish off what we started’. He passed soon after and in the same week, his doctors told me I would have the same fate if I didn’t fix my health and lifestyle.
It was an easy decision. I called my corporate boss, quit my job and committed to building BLYSS in the modern format of my grandparent’s Ilolo Estate. My health returned the moment I started living my truth. My life returned the moment I had the courage to create my own standards. I lost everything with this decision. And then I gained more than I ever imagined back again.
3. Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
My family are my biggest mentors: their old letters, advice, pictures, dreams, experiences and ideals. The world is different to when my grandparents carved a road into Sogerei in PNG in the 1920s – their biggest threat was the Japanese war invasion and hosting Australian soldiers on their front balcony as they prepared for battle.
The world is a different place to my parents continuation of the plantations where global trade started to become a topic with native village engagement and United Nations meetings. The world is a different place to my maternal grandfather’s pattisseir shop in Sydney which used to stop traffic when he put 6-tier cakes in the window; such a creation was considered a masterpiece.
Much is different, but much the same, my challenges are climate change, cultural preservation and biodiversity.
In the modern world, my heroes are my friends who have the courage to set up their own social enterprises from their passions. A digital coach, a bag manufacturer, a drummer, a photographer, a musician – my friends who I chat with all the time, sharing experiences, ideas, contacts and cheer. These change makers are more influential in my life than a Richard Branson or Sergey Brin.
I love the work of: Eden Full from SunSaluter, Jordan Kassalow who runs makes ready-made reading glasses for people in the developing world, Tom Skazy from Terracycle, Bill Drayton from Ashoka, Antony Bugg-Levine from Nonprofit Finance Fund, the gorgeous Jane Chen who makes a ‘Thermpod’ which keeps tiny babies warm in hospitals, where there are rolling blackouts.
4. What are your goals for your business?
To help our kitchen chefs win more awards and stars for their menus, to delight the guests of our hotel customers who receive surprises on their most memorable days in the spa or the bar.
To influence a reduction of diabetes in the Arabic peninsula through a change in food standards , to keep teaching gastronomy in evolving communities (South America-North Africa) so they don’t go down the path of ‘western food’ and maintain traditional whole food treasures.
5. What would you do differently next time around?
Everything and nothing.
6. What difficulties and challenges have you had to overcome and how did you keep going?
As a social entrepreneur just existing is a challenge because the standards of my family’s heritage and my vision for the future work against the methods that are at play in our modern economy. I value different things than the capitalist workings of my industry and this makes every decision a knife-edge between sustainable business decision-making and the world I want to make for my (future) children to grow up in. From a 4 degree temperature increase on plantations which reduced crop yield by 30%, to customers who don’t pay bills that pile up on our own desk, I have a great support team and network, but still feel like a maniac most days.
7. What legacy would you like your business to leave to the world and your family/friends?
To have been the Trojan horse which snuck into the Michelin star restaurants and showed from the gastronomy side, that healthy growing and processing (nutrition) and taste can go together. And, snuck into regulation papers and left an imprint that demanded that food manufacturers deliver nutrition which contributes to a person’s health WHILE contributing to the earth at the same time It’s very simple really.
8. What support did you seek out and what difference has that made to your business?
I get a regular kick in the pants from my family which keeps things real. My friends mirror my truth and the professional chefs and sommeliers who have trained noses and skills, really give me guidance on a high quality ‘pure’ product; as well as customers and hotels who kindly open up their worlds to help me craft the business model that best dove-tails their needs for a sustainable long-term co-operation.
I have no lack of creativity, but had to learn financial management the hard way, while all the time prioritising commitments in Ecuador but often at the cost of the European based suppliers who helped us so generously here with long-term payment options. Again, the *klang* between prioritising people and earth commitments over capitalist structures which exist in our western business community. Thankfully and luckily, I’ve been lucky enough to find a great support network from suppliers to advisors, who believe in the BLYSS vision and contribute to it’s longevity.
9. How far ahead do you plan and what keeps you on track and motivated?
In the beginning I had 5-10 yr plans and then the reality struck me. Now it is detailed monthly planning on a revolving 12 month basis with 2-5 yr outlooks driven by a combination of customer indicators and what we are able to produce.
I am kept on track by my family, my darling partner and my friends. My industry, my customers and my supporters. That literally means, I cannot move a step without someone mirroring back to me the congratulations of mini-steps and a little slap on the butt to keep going. This hour-to-hour feedback is literally the fuel that keeps my lamp burning.
10. What has been the one big success that you have achieved in your business?
11. What does success look like to you now?
A redeemed social condition. A great menu at a star restaurant. Profitable and happy customers, profitable and happy farmers.
12. What piece of advice has had the most impact on your business?
‘’Stand up again’’ from my amazing mother.
13. What are your top 3 tips for someone who would like to start a business now?
Make it BIGGER than yourself and commercial indicators. Because when things look dark, a vision that is bigger than you will be the thing that keeps you and your team going.
Try stuff. Try something, see if you like it and continue, shelve it or stop it. It’s that simple.
Share. Share everything you have, from contacts, to ideas to skills. Make everyone else’s world the best it can be, and use all your resources to do it. Because that is the footprint; a business is fictional in universal consciousness.
14. What are 3 books, websites or resources that you would recommend to other business owners?
How To Be A Productivity Ninja by the awesome Graham Allcott, not only brilliantly researched, written, continually updated, he’s also a great ambassador of ‘good business’ with how he runs his training and expertise. The tips on productivity that he shares have dramatically impacted my ability to cope with the overwhelming demands of BLYSS and help me sleep at night and spend time with friends while leaving the phone in the bag.
Feedly – to monitor everything you, your customers and your competitors care about in a single view and ToodleDo – for task management.
Web address www.BLYSSchocolate.com
Smoke Signal: Carl Benz Strasse 21, 60386 Frankfurt am Main, Germany