We speak with Dapaah Chocolates co-founder, Kwaku Dapaah, to learn more about how the business started, the challenges he has faced, his achievements and advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs
Give us your elevator pitch.
Dapaah Chocolates is an award-winning artisan dairy-free chocolate brand.
Why did you start your business?
We started our business for two reasons. Firstly, there is a social objective behind our business. We recognised that there is a lack of value-add to the raw agricultural goods that are abundant in our country of origin, Ghana. We wanted to be an example of a business that does this through creating high-quality chocolates and in the long term we want to develop a sustainable chocolate manufacturing factory in Ghana which can create employment and business opportunities for young people in our motherland.
Secondly, the business pays homage to our family heritage. Generations of our maternal and paternal family have been involved in cultivating cocoa and we see the business as a continuation and furthering of this legacy.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I was always quite unsure of what I wanted to do when I was younger as I was a pretty good all-rounder in school. As a kid, I could have been described as somewhat entrepreneurial but more out of necessity to make some pocket money. This led to me selling sweets and eventually trainers to school friends. As an adult, my interest in entrepreneurship really grew more out of a frustration of the office-based corporate world and a desire to have a social impact in my work. I was further inspired during an entrepreneurship programme that I participated in Kenya (2014).
What’s been the biggest challenge you have faced on your entrepreneurial journey?
We’ve had a few setbacks whilst building Dapaah Chocolates. For example, we’ve had equipment break down unexpectedly; had logistical issues which led to our products reaching our customers either melted or crushed within our packaging during the warm summer months. Obviously, we were scared at the reputational damage that that could have but because it was early on in the business and we had built up a strong brand and relationship with our customers, they were very patient with us. We also strongly emphasised amazing customer service regardless of the cost to us. We managed to deal with these issues through research, testing and iterating our production and logistical processes until we got it right.
"There is an amazing community of bean-to-bar chocolate makers who have been invaluable to us when it comes to learning how to make chocolate from scratch."
What has been your greatest achievement?
Our greatest achievement has been being recognised by the Young British Foodies Awards with an Honorary Award in 2019. This confirmed to us that we were on the right path and had a quality brand that people in the artisan-food industry respected, especially so early on in our journey. Other great achievements have been: being featured on publications like VICE and British Vogue.
Who has helped you on your journey?
There is an amazing community of bean-to-bar chocolate makers who have been invaluable to us when it comes to learning how to make chocolate from scratch, as we had no experience at all. Blogs and videos from experts in the game really helped, as well as conversations and feedback from family, friends etc.
"We benefited from the fact that we had hardworking parents who instilled a strong work ethic and the importance of education."
What challenges did you face when you were growing up?
My brother and I grew up in council housing in South London. We weren’t financially well off with our parents being 1st generation immigrants to the UK, but we benefited from the fact that we had hardworking parents who instilled a strong work ethic and the importance of education. My upbringing has also helped me develop a very independent personality and go-getter spirit which fuels us to today.
"Do not be afraid to try things and fail."
Who has been your biggest influence in either life or business?
In life, it would probably be my dad in regards to education and the trajectory that this created for me i.e. attending a grammar school and eventually studying Economics at Cambridge University. In business, I haven’t necessarily had a role model but individuals like Nipsey Hussle and Gary Vee have given me inspiration in my entrepreneurial mindset, especially regarding staying true to yourself, community building and being uncompromising with your vision.
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Do not be afraid to try things and fail. Be bolder and more confident. Develop skills and hobbies outside of academia!
What advice do you have for the next generation of entrepreneurs?
Do your research and test as many of your assumptions as possible before you sink lots of money into an idea that you haven’t really validated. Speak to your target customer or audience early and regularly. Finally, start small but make sure you start!
We hope you have found Kwaku's story as inspiring as we have.
free-from, with love x