Need inspiration? This is what you can learn from Tony’s Chocolonely

2 February, 2017
  • 8 min read
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Are you looking for inspiration for the New Year? Check out the approach of the most inspiring company in The Netherlands. Tony’s Chocolonely has a clear goal, a defined mission, a sharp strategy and a great team. The CCO, Chief Chocolate Officer, Henk Jan Beltman, tells the story of Tony’s on a daily basis and is a master storyteller on stage. During OnBrand16 and after the release of the inspring 40 ( I asked Henk Jan Beltman about his success.

Why is Tony’s Chocolonely so successful?

What does Tony do differently and what can we learn from this? According to Henk Jan Beltman this is linked to four factors.

  1. A clear goal

    “We have a very clear goal. Slave free cacao. Not just our cacao, but all cacao in the world. To show others this is possible, we need to be commercially successful, to make the rest follow our example. This, to me, is a different way of looking at a company than just putting out a fun brand and hoping for great sales”

  2. A defined mission
    “We have three steps in our mission. The first one is: We have a problem and everyone needs to know. The second one is: We will show them it is possible, by removing slavery from our chain. The third step is to behave in an inspiring way in order to make others follow our example. I would love to be the pilot boat for big multinationals. If we can make them change direction, we have much more impact than by just cleaning our own supply chain. It’s about the impact to me.”
  3. A sharp strategy
    “We purposely chose not to do a lot of things. We don’t do above the line [marketing aimed at a broad and generic audience – ed]. When you don’t do a lot of things, you get better at the things you do focus on. Most marketers don’t choose. They do a little bit of everything and when an opportunity arises, they add that to their plan as well. There is no use calling Tony’s if you want to promote your plan, because we aren’t open to that. That sounds harsh, because there is a lot of opportunity that we don’t take, but by focusing on what we created, something of this magnitude arises. By limiting yourself, you become much more creative in the things you do. That’s awesome.”
  4. A great team
    By the time I’ll be in a nursing home, I want to look back on something I am proud of. I want to make as much impact as possible in making the complete cacao supply chain slave free in all chocolate companies. This can’t be done without a good team. The moment you invest in your team and make it a close knitted club that know the goal of the race, you realise this goal. It starts with the people.

This is what we can learn from Tony’s Chocolonely

  • A clear goal is the driver for success. A social enterprise is like any other company, but has the benefit that making money isn’t the primary goal.
  • Build a good team around you, take care of them well and put them first.
  • Create a clear strategy and stick to it. Don’t get distracted.
  • Don’t spend huge amounts of money to promoting your brand, but tell your story over and over again and create ambassadors.

It is obvious that more and more companies are starting to take you as an example. A lot of social enterprises are being started up. What advice can you give these companies?

“I think a social enterprise is no different than a regular company. The big difference between Tony’s and a regular company is that everyone is convinced of the fact that the current state of affairs in the cocoa industry is ridiculous. We are going to fix this mistake. This means there’s an extra drive within the company. That means you need to send people home, rather than encouraging them to work harder.

Besides that, having a business is the same game. You need to make sure you have the money part covered; you need to make your goals clear; you need to not get distracted and you need to focus completely on achieving your goals.”

Listed companies are confused

“Most listed companies work for EBIT (earnings before interest and tax). If you put money as a primary goal, you’re easy to beat because you’re obviously confused. That is the power and the sharpness of a social enterprise. Besides that, it’s really the quality of the people. Make sure you have a good team to carry out the clear strategy that you have. If you have a good strategy, a good goal and a good team, you’ll be the champion. As long as you have the right players that move together in the right direction, you’ll be on top of the list.

About luck and being lucky

“We are lucky. As an entrepreneur you only have a small percentage at hand. A good goal, a good strategy, a good product and the most important: a good team. If you do all of that right, the consumer needs to be receptive to your message.

There are so many good entrepreneurs that end up not being noticed by the consumers. The difference between Tony’s and any other business that just doesn’t make it, is plain luck. The current consumer is very receptive to a business that works hard and is transparent. You can tell the consumers don’t trust the big brands as much.”

But the message needs to reach the consumer. You purposely avoid above the line marketing. How does the message reach the public?

Telling you a story and having you write down this story in an honest way, is much more powerful than an ad. It’s my job to make sure I have a good story. If you don’t have a good story, you need to buy an ad. And buying an ad where you make the truth better than it is, does not make you more believable. So we said: We are focused on making the company transparent. We invite people to the office and you can’t leave without taking one of our bars and having heard our story. As a brand, you are so much more likeable when you’re real and make the effort to talk to the consumers (they’re really just like people), and instead of doing research just open doors, be transparent and admit mistakes. It’s much more powerful when ten people are touched by our story and want to pass it along, than yelling it to a hundred people.”

Do you have someone you look up to, that inspires you?

“Nobody is perfect, so I don’t believe in absolute idols, but there are definitely people around me that make me value and love what they have achieved. Looking at business people that inspire me that would be Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. She makes me think: Wow. How can someone have this much impact and build up an organisation like that?

Additionally, I have to mention Anita Roddick from the Bodyshop. Unfortunately she passed away way too soon and I don’t think we would have gotten along anyway. She would think I am way too slick and I might find her too much of an activist, but I have an enormous amount of respect for what she has done.

I have been on a holiday to South Africa, and I can’t believe what Mandela has achieved. How can you sacrifice yourself so much while trying to achieve a goal? And he isn’t even idolised in South Africa. To me, he is a great man that gives me goose bumps. He is in no way someone I would dare comparing myself to, but I do admire him greatly. And he isn’t even on the same pedestal in South Africa as I would put him. That’s peculiar to me.

Why did Tony’s start up a learning point concerning social enterprises?

“I think we can make a bigger impact if we put what we do in an academic frame as well. I am convinced that there will be a time when people see that companies should make the world a better place. I want to have my share in this. And I think social entrepreneurship is important for this goal. It needs to come from the hippie corner and get on top of the list. A company can make the world a better place, I am convinced of that. A true liberal should think the same. And currently, this is not where it should be. It’s insufficient.

I really think entrepreneurs need to take their responsibility. Family businesses have done this for a long time, because they set long term goals and aren’t affected by money. But companies that are listed in the stock market work solely for the money and this needs to change. That is when the economic market can make the world a better place. This realisation has hit me very hard. I really don’t understand why there are still companies out there that don’t do this.

Maybe they are still making too much money?

“Yes, but at the end of the day you’ll be in your grave and you can’t take the money with you. And the feeling and the karma you build up in life, that you do take with you. And if you know you’ll take your feeling and karma, why would we work for money? I talk to a lot of other entrepreneurs about this in a very different manner. I am convinced that if you dedicated yourself to the right things, you’ll go into the grave satisfied. And I want to go into the grave satisfied. Just not yet.

Read the original article in Dutch.

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About the author

Marjan de Jong

Strategic and hands-on Marketing Consultant and Lecturer at Hotelschool The Hague.

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