Vikki Wiercinski is a surface designer and graphic artist, the creative behind Mezzaluna Studios. If you frequent Edmonton farmer’s markets and craft fairs, you’ll recognize her bright, whimsical geometric patterns on tea towels and prints. She’s been making things since 2007, and since 2016 she’s been focused on creating homewares in the studio.
Meet Joshua Plante, one of the brains behind emerging subscription chocolate business, Orca Chocolate. Their gourmet chocolate is truly “guilt-free”—it’s vegan, ethically sourced, organic, and free of soy, GMO, refined sugar, corn, and wheat. They’re just in the process of launching and selling their first products.
Question: Tell us a little bit about your business.
Vikki: I started my business after university as an antidote to all the computer work I was doing as a graphic designer, and an opportunity to work on projects that involved homewares and bright pops of colour. Until some point in 2015, Mezzaluna Studio was called Veekee Workshop. I got my start with a supportive audience at the Royal Bison Art and Craft Fair many moons ago, before I ever even thought I'd be the one organizing it one day!
Josh: I started this venture a couple of years ago because of pretty unique circumstances. My wife and I would regularly buy raw chocolate from retail outlets around Edmonton—especially a brand called Chocolate Doctors. A close friend of mine was a business coach and happens to work with one of the owners of this company. We were all spending the evening together when he told us that they were going to close the business. Because we loved this product I asked my friend to approach the owner with a proposal of investment and rebranding along with a different business model. Initially she was hesitant to embark on any more partnerships but she decided that she would like to team up. At that point, the two of us along with my friend—her business coach—agreed to team up on this project.
Q: What have been your biggest learnings so far?
V: Something no one ever told me when I started was that being an independent designer is a marathon, not a sprint. I used to think that I could get things going and on fire in a year or two, max—now I know that it can take five to ten years to really develop as a designer, find your voice, and then you're set to try to get things going. Turns out I chose a life path, not just a career.
J: The biggest learnings for me so far have been in regards to marketing the product. Specifically how much time and effort it actually takes to get the product in the consumers hand or mouth and to convert that experience to a dedicated customer.
Q: Is there anything you wished you could have done differently, looking back in hindsight?
V: I would have started my full-time focus on my dream work (ie. patterns) sooner. It was hard to imagine taking the leap when I had very little by way of peers or industry I needed in my city and had to make the opportunities for myself, versus applying for a job that someone else set up for me.
J: When it comes to doing something differently, I wouldn’t say that there’s much I would have done differently as of yet with this product. I would, however, say that I wish I would have spent my time a little differently in my younger years and put more emphasis in computer programming and design. I feel that this is an essential tool for running a business today and that having these skills can put so much power into the owner's hands. It’s hard to not only relay the information in ones head to a third party but it’s also hard to make it a financially feasible option for a small upstart.
Q: What did you wish you knew before you started your business?
V: Probably the things I still don't know to this day! Every year is a new level of problem solving, it's like a video game—the big boss at the end of the level gets bigger and weirder every year. For example, copyright of my work is a thought these days, and wasn't at all when I started. Back then I was just trying to figure out how to screenprint a tea towel without smudging the ink!
J: I wish that I knew how to efficiently and effectively capture a target audience and to not waste marketing dollars on misdirected attention.
Q: What would be your top pieces of advice that you'd give to new entrepreneurs before they start their businesses?
V: Entrepreneurship involves risk and while there are ways to mitigate that risk, there's no way to eliminate it. Financially, it's roller coaster—to this day, some months I bring in 300 bucks, and some months I bring in four months of a good salary at once. I'm used to it now but be sure you have a cushion to draw from in those lean months! All this being said, entrepreneurship is scary but it's also really rewarding when you land that cool project or really produce something exciting that you would have never done if you were stuck surfing a cubicle job for eight hours a day. Some people are able to live with the risk, and others can't deal without getting a steady salary every two weeks. Being in business for yourself is not for everyone, but it's worth sticking it out for a while. Also, go sign up to Seth Godin's blog—it's fantastic advice for entrepreneurs at all stages.
- Be realistic about sales projections, especially in the first year. Take your estimated number and half it. It’s better to be surprised by good sales than to be deterred by bad ones.
- Don’t rush a product to market. Take the time to bring a great product to the customer right off the bat.
- Don’t wait for everything to be perfect before bringing a product to market. Even if you think your product is perfect, it’s not. Part of the process is learning how to make decisions and changes on the fly while driving the company. It’s how you deal with these issues that really makes a great business owner.
- Have fun and have a passion for what you do. It’s so much easier to do something you love or believe in. If you’re not wondering where the time went every day of the week, it might be time to take a hard look at things.
- Have a detailed plan for your business and really identify what you want out of your business. Spend a lot of time on this and look at it often. Try not to waver from your vision—use this as a compass as you try to maneuver the murky waters of business.
Like Vikki and Josh, we’re here to help you as you’re looking at starting a business. We’ve created a guide that’s all about helping entrepreneurs get started. Snag it now—it’s all yours!