On Tuesday June 27, Schulich hosted Spotlight on Entrepreneurship, a summer barbecue and alumni speaker event to welcome prospective and incoming students to the Schulich community.
Keynote speaker Dan Tzotzis (MBA ’10) captivated his audience with an open, heartfelt account of how he achieved success as Co-founder and Managing Partner of Awake Chocolate, a company that has managed to bring (caffeinated) chocolate into the trendy market of functional products.
A Look Back
Dan graduated from Schulich’s BBA program in 2002, returning to complete an Accelerated MBA in 2010. Taking a corporate entrepreneurship class with professor Steve Pulver is one of his stand-out memories to this day. In fact, the class left him feeling so connected and inspired, that his instructor was one of the first people Dan called when he made the decision to leave his corporate job at PepsiCo and found Awake Chocolate.
What started as an idea (scribbled on a napkin over burritos) is now a cash positive, thriving venture with a presence across North America. Awake Chocolate is sold at over 23,000 retailers in Canada alone, and the company has grown from three founding members to 18 employees, including a second Schulich alumnus.
Free samples distributed during his talk provided a tasty testament to Awake’s appeal. The sweets genuinely taste like confectionary “without the active jitters and the generally bitter taste that comes with every other energy product on the market,” says Dan.
By prioritizing taste and perfecting its recipe, Awake Chocolate managed to stand out in a saturated market of enhanced foods and beverages (think Vitamin water, energy drinks and probiotic yogurt). But it was identifying its key consumer demographic that really marked a turning point for the brand. To borrow Dan’s phrase, the company’s “lightning in a bottle” proved to be college and university campuses across North America. Its power consumers? Post-secondary students in need of a quick pick-me-up that delivers on taste and packs the same amount of caffeine in a single serving package as a half cup of coffee.
If you weren’t enticed enough by the charmingly cartoonish night owl logo, colourful packaging and seductive combination of chocolate and caffeine, a few minutes’ acquaintance with Dan would certainly capture your interest in the product and team behind it.
Dan is a naturally commanding businessperson, exuding both an obvious passion for his work, and a down-to-earth, realist’s approach to delivering his story.
“Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart,” he emphasized throughout his speech, amid anecdotal challenges, failures and learning opportunities. “[As an entrepreneur] you’re leading a life that is perceived one way and is actual in another. It’s one of the hardest things to do.”
He stays grounded by reminding himself –and others- to never lose sight of what matters most. In Dan’s case, it’s his relationship with his family and friends.
“I would consider it the biggest failure in my career if for some reason my business pulled me away from the people [I care about],” he says. “Remember what’s most important to you.”
Following Dan’s talk, which was live-streamed on Facebook to an audience of over one thousand viewers, guests had the opportunity to network at a barbecue reception led by members of the Graduate Business Council executive.
To catch Dan’s full talk or learn more about his story, visit the links below!