Kitchening & Co.’s foray into French macarons was basically the accidental start of a business. From humble beginnings in 2010, we now provide French Macarons to roughly 40 stores throughout the Lower Mainland. I worked on the business part-time with Carly until 2014 where I transitioned to a much more full-time role working primarily on business development. From sourcing equipment and packaging, marketing, design, collaborating on branding, photography and streamlining processes, I have fairly regular involvement in almost all aspects of the business. We’ve seen significant double-digit growth year over for all six years we’ve been in business.
Late in 2012 as I began to spend less time doing software consulting and more time working with Carly on Kitchening & Co., I spent a lot of time looking for good software to help us figure out our recipe costs to determine whether our recipes were profitable. Much to my chagrin, I couldn’t find anything. There was a bunch of old, clunky Windows-based software, there was expensive software ($5000/seat), there was impossible-to-use enterprise software — but there wasn’t any software for normal, small businesses trying to make a go of it.
Give that I couldn’t find anything I liked, I did what any normal software developer would do: I wrote some software (in this case a web application) to calculate our recipe costs.
It made my life so much easier, that I couldn’t help think that it would be easy to turn into an affordable product for other small food businesses experiencing the same problems. Four years, thousands of users and hundreds of customers later, it turns out I probably wasn’t wrong. To this day I continue to be excited by the emails I receive from customers who are “over” their “manual spreadsheet”. I received an email from Jenna Perreault (owner of Delish Gluten Free) recently who said “Recipe Cost Calculator has saved my life”.
If you run a food business and need good tools — check out Recipe Cost Calculator and see if it helps. I’d love to hear from you.
In July of 2015, my wife Carly and I accidentally inherited The Pink Spatula. It’s a sad story, but we carry on the legacy of a dear friend. Within 12 months of taking over the business, we were able to transform The Pink Spatula into a profitable food business, more than doubling sales year-over-year and being sold to great customers in both the retail and food service industries. The marshmallows were used in fondue programs at The Fairmont Hotels as well as in limited edition desserts at Earls Restaurants across the country.
In 2016 I began working with Morris DeRossi and a small team of other food and marketing professionals to bring growth consulting to small and medium sized food businesses.
In 2008 (after a two-year sojourn in Singapore), I was approached by Kareem Mayan to work with him as the first product manager and software developer on Chimp. Over the course of the next seven years we built the initial prototype and several additional iterations, taking it to over $100M in receipted charitable donations. I worked directly with the CEO, CTO, auditors, built a double-entry accounting system and wrote code from the back-end to the front-end. Wrote all initial code to handle importing of data from the Canada Revenue Agency to list and categorize all Canadian charities as part of our online database. My roles and responsibilities over the course of those seven years were significant and varied (I don’t want to write a novel about it, and you don’t want to read it – so let’s leave it at that). Bell Canada, Unbounce and Hootsuite (among many others) have all run fundraising campaigns using Chimp.
Spent four months in late 2015/early 2016 working with Predictable Revenue to help analyze existing people and process for the purpose of bringing best practices / recommendations to the software development and product development teams. Mentored a recently promoted Engineering Manager and reported directly to the CEO. Spent time in the daily scrums, sprint planning and sprint retrospectives in order to make recommendations for positive change in overall structure and performance of the technical team.
A few days ago, I told you a story about joy. A few days later, a sad nobody walked into a school in Connecticut and stole the lives of 25 people, many of them young children.
It wasn’t long after when this photograph of some of the victims of the shooting made it’s way around Facebook. I couldn’t help but gravitate towards the young girl on the top row, second from the right. I looked at her shirt, the words “Joy” written on it, and I was overwhelmed.
It took me a while to figure out who she was: Olivia Engel, 6 years old. If our son Oliver had been born a girl, his name would have been Olivia. An olive branch, throughout history, has been a symbol of peace or victory. My heart mourns for the Engel family right now, and I can’t fathom how long it might be before they feel peace or victory in their lives. But today, instead of choosing to remember the name of a killer made famous by sensationalist media, I will choose to remember the name of Olivia Engel.
Olivia was born on July 18, 2006 and “brought immediate joy to all those around her with her ever-present smile and adorably infectious giggle”.
According to a tribute written in the Newtown Bee:
Quickly growing from a happy, bouncing baby who clung tightly to her stuffed lamb into an enthusiastic, loving little girl who always wanted to do and see more, Olivia’s zest for life began early. With help from her adoring parents, she quickly developed an affinity for all things fun. On any given afternoon, one could just as easily find Olivia twirling in a pink tutu in dance class, developing her swing on the tennis court, kicking the winning soccer goal, drawing, painting, and gluing things in art class, or honing her inner songstress in her community musical theater class.
This Christmas, as you sit down with your family to dinner, will you stop for a minute to remember one of these children, and say a prayer for their families?
What is it? I’ve found that most people consider joy to be synonymous with happiness, but I don’t believe this is the case. The dictionary definition of joy states:
a feeling of great pleasure and happiness
It’s unfortunate, but I believe this definition does a disservice to what true joy is and ought to be. Happiness is an emotion, and for the most part I would say it is fleeting. While happiness tends to focus on self (in the selfish sense), joy encompasses so much more. It’s easy to demonstrate this by the way people talk. We’re not really surprised when we hear people say “I deserve to be happy”, but when have you ever heard someone say “I deserve to be joyful”?
Happiness is often wrapped up in self, and is something you try to acquire by buying the right car, getting the right job, the right spouse, the white picket fence, wealth, or other ephemeral things that humanity tends to chase after. Joy, on the other hand, is wrapped up in that which is external to oneself, the people you are surrounded by, thankfulness, contentment. Joy is a choice, and one that needs to be made on a daily basis (maybe an hourly basis on some particular days).
Joyfulness and sadness are not mutually exclusive.
I want to share with you a story about the word “joy”. It might be considered more of a journeytowards joy – as the story itself seems more concerned about a desire for happiness. Joy, as it turns out, is something that can be a very difficult thing to choose. The story below (a true story, by the way) is something I wrote on December 28, 2009. For three years it has sat here, unread by anyone – until now:
It was just a Christmas tin. You know the kind – the ones that often come with cookies inside. This one was slightly rectangular as opposed to round, painted red and gold.
There on the top of the box was painted the word “Joy”, in an elegant cursive script. “Joy”. Ironic.
My wife and I have been trying to get pregnant for two years. All around us are little children, with more friends becoming pregnant with their second or third child on what sometimes feels like a weekly basis. And yet for us, every month yields the same damn results: nothing.
Some months it doesn’t seem to bother me, and some seem to bother me a lot. Occasionally I convince myself that this new month is different for some reason or another. This month will be different.
December. The beginning of the month is a happy time. Time to dig up from the garage all the carefully stored Christmas items that have lay dormant for another year. A time to re-discover your ornaments, decorations and nativity set. But as I slowly unpacked box after box, I came across a tiny stocking, one that you might hang in between two adults stockings, if you were expecting a child, or had a small newborn in the house. Several months of emotion seemed to flood through me at once, and I burst into tears. A rare site. For a moment, it was my wife who had to be the strong one, the one to console me. Usually it’s the other way around.
After a while: calm. What else do I find in the boxes – a tiny mitten that could easily sit alongside that tiny stocking. But that’s ok, because now I know that this month is going to be different. Something is different. It’s going to happen.
So I grabbed the tiny stocking and folded it in half. I lay the mitten on top, and put the whole bundle into the “Joy” tin. Later this month, when we receive different news, news of a baby, I’ll pull the tin out, lay it in my wife’s lap, and we’ll laugh together: happier than we’ve been.
But as it turns out, December wasn’t any different. The tin still has its stocking and mitten, and I’m still sitting here wondering if any month will ever be different. Tired of people, tired of pity, tired of questions and tired of pretending to be happy and congratulatory for pregnant friends.
Six months later Carly and I were packing our bags for France. Neither of us could stomach being at home any more. If I had even one more person give us advice about what doctor to see or what tea to drink or tell me they’d wished they had a boy instead of a girl, it was going to end badly for them.
Carly and I left on a journey. We left running, numb, broken, angry and desperate to escape. We didn’t know it, but we were entering into a pilgrimage of sorts. Not the type of pilgrimage where you know where you’re going, and so you walk in that direction, but rather a pilgrimage where Someone Else knows where He’s taking you, and you happen to stumble on a lot of rocks along the way – mostly due to your stubbornness. Someone was trying to teach us about joy.
The real story of Kitchening & Co. is not one of food or macarons or anything of the sort. The real story is one of brokenness being transformed into joyfulness. It’s about people. It’s a story of pouring our hearts into something, and bringing joy to others regardless of whether or not our own lives were being fulfilled in the way we selfishly wanted them to be, by becoming parents.
And so it happened that on this journey towards joy, and 18 months after Carly and I started this Kitchening thing, we were blessed with a beautiful boy that we adopted on September 10, 2012. We named our son Oliver James David Wintschel. His names were chosen carefully, and for many reasons, none the least of which is James 1:2-5:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (NIV)
As we look now toward Christmas, will you seek to choose joy over happiness?
Society today loves to clamour around the multi-million dollar success of entrepreneurs, especially in technology. Look at FaceBook, LinkedIn and the countless other (currently) privately held companies like Twitter, GitHub, HootSuite and others who’ve pulled in tens of millions of dollars and made hundreds of millionaires often overnight.
I’m an entrepreneur.
Note that I didn’t say “successful” entrepreneur, and I certainly haven’t made millions of dollars (yet?), but entrepreneur nonetheless. Society is filled with people who are entrepreneurs that either don’t know it, or are afraid to admit it to themselves.
How do you know if you’re an entrepreneur? I suppose it’s different for everybody. I found out that I was an entrepreneur when I came to the realization that I’m not an ‘employee‘. I figured out that I wasn’t an employee sometime around 2002 when I realized that I couldn’t stomach getting paid $40-$60K/year while my employer was billing me out to clients at $100-$150/hour. I also can’t stand living on someone else’s 9am-5pm-cubicle-schedule.
Slaves (in Roman and Ottoman days) unlike today’s employees did not need to flatter their boss.
Nassim N. Taleb
For the past decade, my entrepreneurial tendencies have taken various routes. I started a consulting company with three co-workers back in 2002. We did a couple projects together but eventually all went our separate ways after which I took a job with an equity stake in a company where we built a client-server performance monitoring solution in Java. People took our solution pretty seriously (at one time we were in talks with E-Comm 911 who handle all the emergency service calls for all of metro Vancouver). That company eventually tanked given a lousy sales team and super shady CEO. When Carly and I moved to Singapore in 2005, a friend of mine came to stay with us for a couple months and we worked on building what was at the time an impressive piece of web-based process management software that never saw the light of day.
Following that I started a consulting company with a friend from Texas that we called Helium Syndicate, but the red-tape of trying to form a US company with a 50/50 Canadian partner left us giving up in despair. At that point I started Humandoing Ventures Inc., which is essentially a one-man consulting company with occasional contractors. Eventually I’ll write something about how I almost ended up switching careers to investing / finance in 2008 (but that’s a story for another time).
In 2009 I started a company with Kareem Mayan. We built a pretty impressive piece of online scheduling software for solo hair stylists, massage therapists and the like. We ran it for a couple years before deciding to shut it down because we found it was a difficult space to compete in, neither of us were very passionate about it, and it was going to be a slog to grow it to any meaningful amount of revenue.
All of these things, successes and failures alike (and there have been failures), have been phenomenal learning experiences that I could never get by sitting in a classroom at some university.
So what is an entrepreneur exactly? Let’s look at a couple definitions:
Entrepreneur: A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so.
And from wikipedia
An entrepreneur is an enterprising individual who builds capital through risk and/ or initiative.
So finally back to what this post is actually about: what about the hundreds of entrepreneurs in our midst who go completely unnoticed? How can we learn from them and appreciate them for the great things they contribute to our local economies in terms of jobs, innovation, creation, charity and countless other things. Even in a place as small as Vancouver, there are unsung entrepreneurs everywhere you turn your head – if you know where to look.
I’ve met dozens of them, these unsung entrepreneurs, and most of them are real people, happy to share their stories, lessons, wisdom and knowledge with anyone who would be bothered to ask.
When you walk into the world of “small scale food processors” in Vancouver, as Carly and I did with Kitchening & Co. early in 2011, there are entrepreneurs everywhere. We met Kathy Geiger who founded Fraser Valley Gourmet (they make Almond Butter Crunch – to die for candy) who was incredibly helpful to us in a dozen ways as we fumbled around this food business world that neither of us knew anything about. Or how about vending at markets and meeting people like Tina Bacon (best surname in the history of the universe) who owns The Pink Spatula and teaches cooking classes and makes high end marshmallows. Or freelance entrepreneurs like David Arias who did our rebranding. Can’t forget Saul Good who does amazing gift baskets with locally produced products for customers in the Lower Mainland and elsewhere. The likes of Daniela Belmondo who’s created her own high-end organic skin care line, also based in Vancouver. Then we have artists like Linzy Arnott whose artwork Carly still dreams about. Want to wear some of the most awesome t-shirts ever, targeted towards Canadian males – identity tees. If you like great soap, check out SoapTree Studio made in Whistler, BC. Like hot sauce? Oddball Organics is a small BC company in Quesnel that makes the best hot sauce I’ve ever eaten. How about tomatoes? My neighbour across the street is Ruben Houewling of Houwelings Tomatoes (a family owned and operated company). You can buy their tomatoes all over the place. How about Darryl Bueckert who quit his comfy job to build his career in photography and other areas, while also assisting his wife Jodi build her interior decorating business. Love cool little community shops with tons of character – Marche St. George. And I haven’t even started on some of the great restaurants around like Seasonal 56. If I spent another twenty minutes at this I could add another fifty people to this list.
My point being that these folks are all entrepreneurs in pursuit of their passions (maybe some of them don’t even know it), and they’re all real people. These people and hundreds like them contribute greatness to the ecosystem of the Lower Mainland and elsewhere, often without anyone thanking them or appreciating them for the risks they take or how hard they work trying to build something great. To any unsung entrepreneurs reading this: I appreciate you, and I’d love to help you succeed in building your business.
Who are your favourite unsung entrepreneurs? I’d love to know.