Scott Kucirek has, hands down, the best job on Earth. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Ocho Candy, an organic (and seriously delicious) candy company based in Northern California. But Scott’s path to Ocho was a circuitous one. In this episode of the Crossroads Series, Scott sits down with Sophie Hoyt to discuss his journey from the Navy to Haas and beyond. He shares insights on how to stay the course when the going gets tough, how to know when it’s time to walk away, why consulting is just not his thing, and why Ocho is his sweetest job to date.
On why building a company culture that prizes its people is important:
If they believed in the leadership and the vision, it didn’t matter what they got paid. They were going to do it. I always felt that compensation, to a point, was not the main driver of that. Believing that you made a difference and that you had an impact was very valuable. Creating a culture that celebrated the people was important.
On his work commitment to OCHO Candy:
I’m not worried about failure. That’s just going to happen. That’s learning. You still learn, you still experience, and your life is about experiences, not stuff you get. It is more about doing something that looks interesting and has value, and there’s a calling to it. There’s no regret. I’m just moving forward.
If four years from now, I can go into any store and see people have a choice for better-tasting cleaner candy that’s focused on what’s inside counts, sustainability for workers and the planet, that’s important to me like my values and purpose in life. That makes it worth doing.
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Sophie Hoyt: Hello and welcome back to the OneHaas Podcast, The Crossroad Series. Where we discuss the critical moments that shaped the lives and careers of Haas alumni. I’m your host, Sophie Hoyt. And on today’s show, we’ll be talking to Scott Kucirek. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Ocho Candy which may just be some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had.
[00:00:26] But Scott didn’t always plan to break into the candy business. After finishing undergrad, he joined the Navy and then went to Haas and became the co-founder of ZipRealty before landing at Ocho. And that’s something you’re going to notice with Scott. He always has a plan, but that plan is always subject to change.
[00:00:42] So, you may be wondering how did Scott find himself in the candy business? Well, through his kids, sort of, you see his partner, Dennis Ring, who’s the creator of the 365 line at Whole Foods, approached him in the schoolyard. Their kids went to school together.
[00:00:57] Scott Kucirek: He said, “Hey, I have an organic candy bar. I’d like you to try it”. And my first thought was, oh my God, this is 2005, mind you. It’s like organic candy bar. That sounds horrible. I’m like, why do I want to eat that? But I knew he was a food snob, and he is a food snob. And also, I was in the military before business school as a Naval aviator.
[00:01:18] So I got used to just eating food, any food that’s like how bad can it be? It’s candy. And so, I opened up the little silver foil wrapper, and inside was like an organic Snickers, and it was damn good. This was made with grade organic butter, organic chocolate. It had a nice, smooth finish. The nuts were fresh and vibrant, the caramel melted in your mouth, and you had a caramel finish, and the nougat had a hint of peanut butter and kind of a little softer than taffy. So, the entire mouthfeel and experience was shocking. Once you’ve tasted the bar, there was no doubt. This was better. Wasn’t up for debate. I said, wait, “this is good”. And he said, “yeah”, and goes, “there’s going to be a market for this one day”.
[00:01:59] Sophie Hoyt: And he was right. And Scott was right to believe him. I mean, how many of us are willing to pay a few extra bucks to spring for organic grade food? I know I am. If it can taste good, then I’m sold. And so was Scott, but for Scott, before there was Ocho, there was ZipRealty, and before ZipRealty, there was Haas, and before Haas, there was the Navy.
[00:02:22] Scott Kucirek: I’d always wanted to learn how to fly. I almost joined the air force Academy out of high school. But then I realized if something went wrong when I was in training. If I went to the air force Academy, I would still have to be in the air force of five years, and I wouldn’t get to fly.
[00:02:36] Sophie Hoyt: In college at Cal, Scott got a bioengineering degree.
[00:02:39] Scott Kucirek: Bio-engineering is not the behemoth that is now the building. It was a very small engineering, stuck with petroleum engineering and a bunch of other majors that didn’t know what to do with. I just realized it wasn’t a career. I wasn’t passionate about it. Like some people were. So essentially, I’ve walked. To a recruiting station in Oakland, and there they have Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy on each floor. I got in the elevator, and I said, Well if I want to learn to fly, where is it the hardest to fly?
[00:03:08] Well, it sounds like it’s hardest to land on a ship. Okay. That’s a winner. So, I just pressed that floor, walked in, and a recruiter asked me what I was doing. And I explained who I was and what I was interested in. And then that afternoon, he was like, “can you take a bunch of tests?”
[00:03:23] Sophie Hoyt: Now these tests were on sailing and flying, which makes sense for Naval aviation. But Scott had never sailed a boat or been on a plane, let alone flown one. He asked the recruiter if he should go home study and come back some other time.
[00:03:35] Scott Kucirek: He goes, “Oh, if you don’t know, just answer, there’s a choice. It says you don’t know. It’s fine”. Well, that guy was an idiot. That was not fine. That’s a wrong answer. [Laughs] So essentially, I barely passed that test, and there was another test that was really weird.
[00:03:50] Sophie Hoyt: It was a visual test. Just look at the pictures of a cockpit and tell the recruiter which direction you were flying. Easy? Well, sort of.
[00:03:58] Scott Kucirek: They said, “okay, let’s do the practice one”. Question one. I looked at the picture, and I said, well, “this is clear. I’m going down to the left”. So, I marked that, and I went to question two, and it was like down to the right. And then,
[00:04:14] Then I said, wait, it doesn’t matter what I think, whatever I’m thinking right now is completely opposite of what the answer is to just answer the opposite. And I nailed that test.
[00:04:21] Sophie Hoyt: And just like that, Scott was off to Pensacola, Florida for training, but there would be one more test one you can’t really prepare for.
[00:04:30] Scott Kucirek: I went through training, and turns out I have really, really, very bad car motion sickness, and it doesn’t get better in a plane. And once you start having problems, if you’re doing well in everything else, they send you off to a special extra one week of training called spin and puke.
[00:04:44] And so essentially, they have all these gadgets and devices like a carnival gone mad, where they have these little cylinders that spin you all sorts of different ways. And we have to move gauges and press buttons, and they see if you can actually adapt and stop throwing up all the time and, if you get through it, you get to stay. And if you don’t, you’re kicked out. And so, my inner air got adjusted, I guess. And then I was fine to continue on.
[00:05:11] Sophie Hoyt: And what was it like the first time you were in control of the plane?
[00:05:14] Scott Kucirek: So right away, you’re in control on the first flight. I just remember it went way faster than I thought.
[00:05:20] it was exhilarating, frightening, challenging, exhausting. And I was still getting very fatigued and nauseous.
[00:05:30] Sophie Hoyt: And as time went on, Scott got really good at his job, but there was something missing.
[00:05:36] Scott Kucirek: I did about six or seven years in my squadron. And I was doing very well. They expect me to be a lifer, but I just always realized that I wanted to see my family, and being in the military, it was not conducive to a good family life. So, I applied to business school. The first year I applied, I was on a waitlist. I didn’t get in.
[00:05:55] The second year, I got on the waitlist again. But due to some fortune, a person I knew in the military, a good friend of mine who was a Marine Cobra pilot.
[00:06:06] It turned out his dad had been following my progress and was an alumni at Haas school of business. And he was a little surprised I didn’t get in. Cause I had solid MCATs and really good grades.
[00:06:15] Sophie Hoyt: This friend’s father knew Scott was a solid candidate for the Haas program. And after looking into their admissions policies, he learned that at that time, in a class of 240, Haas was only admitting on average zero to two military personnel.
[00:06:30] For reference, Stanford was admitting upwards of 10 per class. Those numbers have since gotten a lot better. Recently, Scott was talking to a current Haas MBA candidate, an air force guy, Scott says.
[00:06:42] Scott Kucirek: I said, well, how many military people in your class now expecting him to say like three or four? And he said there was something like 20. I said, “wow, that is a big change”.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC IN]
[00:06:51] Sophie Hoyt: In some ways, Scott had to walk. So, this air force guy could fly, so to speak. So, after Scott got accepted to Haas, he got to work. The first day of school is always scary. No matter how old you get. It’s orientation week at Haas, icebreakers and team-building activities abound.
[00:07:09] Scott Kucirek: So, there’s about 150 people who don’t know each other milling about, and the school bus pulls up. And so, a group of people go on the school bus, and of course, everyone sits in the window seat. So, after every single window seat is taken, then all of the people walk down the aisle, and it literally is grade school. Everyone’s looking like, Oh, who’s going to sit next to me. Oh, man. I don’t know if I like that person.
[00:07:29] Sophie Hoyt: And they’re sitting in the window seat was Juan Mini, Scott’s future business partner. They just hit it off.
And in time, they decided to start a business together. And after four evolutions of startups, ZipRealty was born. While still at Haas, Scott and Juan started to put all of their energy into building their company.
[00:07:48] Scott Kucirek: On our last semester, all our classes, every project done was for the company, allow consumers to search for homes. We’d heard from them saying they didn’t like walking into an office and being shown a book. Then we talked to agents, and agents are complaining that they had a hard time finding customers. And there was a lot of competition.
[00:08:05] So, we felt it could be reimagined with technology that if you provided the information with consumers and allowed them to control some of the process, that you could give them a rebate and that if agents didn’t have to look for customers, they’d been willing to use your technology to just get the customers you gave them and close them and they work on a lower commission. And if we gave them all a little piece of the company, then the ownership partnership will be formed in a healthy way where everyone was working together.
[00:08:31] And that’s what ZipRealty was supposed to be. This new idea of a real estate brokerage that empowered all parties, especially consumers. And it, it became, that was by far the first revolutionary. The reason anyone can go online today and search homes on any website is because our company has spent millions of dollars in lots of programmers going from MLS to MLS, getting data feeds and organizing them, and pushing our competitors.
[00:08:56] Even realtor.com. We got better data than realtor.com in the early days. We just were insane about getting that data there. And so, we just built this robust website that offered people an opportunity to search, get paired with an agent, and then work in a more technologically friendly way with more transparency about paperwork and costs. And they got a rebate we gave tens and tens and millions of dollars in rebates back to customer.
[00:09:18] So. It spawned a whole revolution in the industry, but it was hard-fought. We were very much fought for years.
[00:09:26] Sophie Hoyt: One of the big problems they were trying to fix with ZipRealty was customer experience. In real estate, there’s an agent on each side, one representing the buyer and the other, the seller. Scott describes a bevy of issues. They were trying to undo, ranging from bad business practices and mild inconveniences to blatant corruption.
[00:09:44] Scott Kucirek: If they wanted to, they would just not give back to your agents or take a long time or give bad information or tell their sellers, “Oh, it just so happens. Another agent in my office has a buyer who would just love to buy your home”. So, even though it’s not the top price is a sure deal because we’ll just close it in-house, and it’ll be much faster for you.
[00:10:06] Sophie Hoyt: But their battle to break into the real estate market was just beginning and was already very much uphill.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC IN]
[00:10:12] ZipRealty was getting it start in 1999 while the real estate industry was still categorically analog. But to many, what ZipRealty saw as the future was a risk. At industry events, Scott was a self-described pariah. No one even wanted to be caught talking to him. When he walked into the crowded lobbies, the sea of bodies would park to avoid him.
[00:10:34] Scott Kucirek: “Oh no, there’s that ZipRealty guy. They’re coming to destroy our industry, cut our commissions, put us out of business.”
[00:10:41] Sophie Hoyt: Throughout our interview, I kept thinking about the Greek myth of Cassandra, a priestess of Apollo cursed with the gift of true prophecy. That goes unbelieved. To me, Scott seemed like a kind of Cassandra whose predictions of a digital tomorrow fell on deaf ears.
[00:10:56] Scott Kucirek: That describes every fundraising pitch I had besides like 10, [Laughs] I mean, essentially, when we would do these pitches, we had an internal moniker, we call it stormy clouds or sunny days. And within like two minutes of talking to someone, we just looking at each other like stormy clouds. Let’s just muddle through this thing. But it’s over. And then you just got resigned to the fact that they didn’t see it.
When people got it got immediately, though, they are the sunny days. And they just clicked.
[00:11:25] So my motto was, we’re going to have to talk to a hundred people, and maybe we’ll find one person that’ll fund us. We really were fortunate that the executive officer of the California Association of Realtors was very forward-thinking, and right away, he knew that this was the future cause he was an economist by trade. And so he started working with us.
[00:11:45] Sophie Hoyt: With time, as Scott did more panels and presentations, the industry warmed up a bit.
[00:11:50] They realized he wasn’t the boogeyman they had painted him to be.
And that technology wasn’t going anywhere. The executive officer that Scott mentioned would set up covert meetings between Scott and Juan and local brokerages. It was all very hush-hush.
[00:12:05] Scott Kucirek: And what they were curious about is they knew they needed to incorporate technology. They just didn’t know-how. And I was just curious about how they’d run their family business for maybe 30, 40, 50 years had a thousand agents been really successful. If this is supposed to be so unsophisticated, as you know, Silicon Valley said they were, then how the heck do they just keep making more money and keep growing?
[00:12:24] And I came to realize that they really, really were very sophisticated business people that knew how to run their business. And the forward-thinking ones knew this was going to change.
[00:12:32] And then they realized that we really we’re in a partnership. We weren’t worried about putting any one brokerage out of business, and as more technology startups came in doing different stuff, then everyone started realizing, “oh wait, this is not going away”.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC IN]
[00:12:44] Sophie Hoyt: And just as quickly as the real estate industry was changing. So was ZipRealty. Initially, Scott and Juan got funding the week before they graduated from Haas, a first for the business school. From there, they raised another 1.5 million in about three months before meeting with Bob Kagel from Benchmark Capital.
[00:13:02] He liked what he saw and led a $10 million round. And they just kept growing rapidly, expanding their team from 30 people to a few hundred.
[00:13:12] Scott Kucirek: Pretty much hired all those people.
[00:13:13] Sophie Hoyt: Then to 10 cities across the country.
[00:13:15] Scott Kucirek: Because that’s what Yahoo wanted, to do an online partnership with us. You know, make it work well for them.
[00:13:21] Sophie Hoyt: And in 2004, they went public. A victory well-earned. Scott’s advice? Believe in the thing you’re selling.
[00:13:29] Scott Kucirek: When you clearly know where the future’s going, you become. Like a zealot, I would just use the number one law of large numbers. Someone in this darn Metro area has the money and believes in what I’m saying.
[00:13:41] I just have to find them. So, I’m just going to have to network, network, network. Go through a lot of bad meetings, even then, you never know at the end, always ask if we should talk to somebody else. And then occasionally you get a hit, whereas positive and so you start building up a database and people are supportive and get it.
[00:13:58] You know, of course, it was here about the people who liked it, two pitches and got $50 million, right? Because those people will talk about it. You know, it’s the law of positive reinforcement. The other 900 people who pitched a hundred times and didn’t get anything, don’t say anything.
[00:14:13] They’re not at their cocktail party or out on the weekend where their friends going, “wow. I just went through my hundred pitch, and my business is going nowhere. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m moving back from my parents. I’m out of money”. But you know, whatever, right? That’s kept quiet. So essentially, you can’t take what you’re hearing sometimes, but we just knew the further we got into this, this was where it was going. It was just so clear. It’s like reading a book.
[00:14:37] Sophie Hoyt: So, while all of this growth and change was really exciting, some of it came at a cost.
[00:14:43] Scott Kucirek: So, after ZipRealty went public, one thing became clear that CEO that was brought on was not a good fit for the culture. And that’s something I learned from the military that no matter what business you and your, and people know, one thing I saw in the military is that their salary didn’t matter because everyone knew what everyone’s salary was. And if they believed in the leadership and the vision, then it didn’t matter what they got paid. They were going to do it. So, I always felt that compensation to a point was not the main driver of that. Believing that you made a difference and that you had impact was very valuable and that creating a culture that celebrated the people and that was important.
[00:15:21] Sophie Hoyt: Scott and Juan had spent years building a culture that prizes to the people of ZipRealty. Only to have their new CEO tear it all down, seemingly overnight. Scott opted to work alongside other employees on the floor, sharing insights and learning from his colleagues, while the new CEO had two separate offices away from everyone else. Topped off with what Scott calls an I love me wall, which I can only imagine to be like a shrine to oneself and former glories. Not bad, just different, very different.
[00:15:53] Scott Kucirek: I just didn’t like it. And it was a struggle. My co-founder already left a year or two before he figured out that the CEO was not right earlier.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC IN]
[00:16:03] And then my wife one day told me very clearly just like, you know, you’re in love with company doesn’t exist anymore and you can’t stop what’s going on there. And she was right. So, then I just realized after a lot of tears and sadness, I’m like I have to leave.
[00:16:14] It was my baby.
[00:16:16] Sophie Hoyt: It was time to pivot, and that’s just what Scott did over and over until he found a good fit. First, he worked as a general manager for Prudential but got out around the time of the real estate downturn.
[00:16:36] Then he 180’d researching how to bring a woman’s pro soccer team to the Bay area. And then shockingly, Consulting. I know what you’re thinking. Consulting isn’t a shocking pivot, but for Scott, it kind of is. You see, Scott is anti-consulting. In fact, he’s kind of known for it.
[00:16:56] Scott Kucirek: Been known in my class for railing on Consulting. So as a profession that just prescribes a solution doesn’t have to deal with the actual execution or ramifications of how that solution might turn out with real people in real world.
[00:17:09] Sophie Hoyt: So, what could possibly bring him to the dark side? In the end, he was told it would only be a three-month stint writing a business plan for a friend who had helped him out in the past. His friend, Joel, even sweetened the deal with some high-level negotiating.
[00:17:24] Scott Kucirek: Joel was pretty persuasive.
What kind of negotiation tactic of, if you can just name your price on how much we need to pay you. Name your price is a very strong negotiating technique, by the way, for all your employers out there who are reticent. So, I picked the price, and I thought was ridiculously high, but not insulting. Turns out later, when I saw the budget, I was 5000 under what I could have asked for, but I was at peace with that. And, so he probably thought he had a win, like any good negotiation. I thought I had a win, and he thought he had a win.
[00:17:49] And then, that three months kept getting extended every three months until I built a statewide MLS, from scratch, you know, being three other people. That was crazy town. And then we ended up merging with the third biggest one in the state and offloading it. And then both Joel, I had some champagne and said, thank God.
[00:18:05] Sophie Hoyt: And after that, Scott walked away. More now in 2010, five years after where our story began. On the schoolyard with Dennis and his dubious organic candy. Scott tells me that in the background, through his various pivots, from his final stint at ZipRealty to his tryst with consulting, Dennis had continued to pitch this business to him. And after consulting.
[00:18:26] Scott Kucirek: Doing a candy bar company started sounding real good. I said, “Dennis, let’s do this thing”.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC IN]
[00:18:31] I started looking into it more from a consumer perspective and I have two daughters, and I looked at my pantry, and I saw Halloween candy from a year or two years ago. It’s still somewhat edible by FDA standards. I was thinking, “Oh my God, it’s 2010. Can’t you make really clean, better-tasting candy?”. Dennis is right. This is wrong. Why? Why is this happening? Then I got to know there’s an oligopoly in candy Mars and Hershey has control essentially at that time, 85% of the US market. And when you have an oligopoly, what you get is no innovation.
[00:19:00] This is the same thing as it was in the multiple listing service world. There’s only four providers of the technology. And so, I got very familiar with seeing what an oligopoly does to innovation and customer service. And let me tell you, it’s not good because they don’t need to. And so, I was thinking, this seems like we should be making better candy. I mean, it’s not going to change the world, but people enjoy candy, and really does make them happy, and they should be able to enjoy it and not have weird stuff in it. So, let’s figure out how this is. This will be kind of an adventure of learning and curiosity.
[00:19:32] Sophie Hoyt: And then came the fun, the taste tests. Scott was coaching his daughter’s soccer team and all the girls started making requests.
[00:19:40] Scott Kucirek: I remember we ended up doing, uh, one of our
[00:19:52] Sophie Hoyt: Of course, the girls started playing better than ever. And the candy kept flowing. A full caramel bar? Way too much. But a mini? Now that’s just right.
[00:20:03] Scott Kucirek: There’s people that, you know, they were talking about flavors they liked, they didn’t like, why don’t you put this in? And so that part of it is really neat, right? Everyone has a say about candy cause it’s such an emotional part of most people’s lives, so it’s easily accessible and easily open to feedback and opinion right on the spot.
[00:20:19] Sophie Hoyt: Now, in the beginning, everything was handmade. One might call it rustic, but Scott had some choice words.
[00:20:27] Scott Kucirek: Janky, dented, and wrapped poorly. Oh, you’d be fired here now if you even remotely try to passing those bars off.
[00:20:33] Sophie Hoyt: But whole foods took them. Remember, Dennis is the mind behind the 365 line. And while it was validating to be taken on by such a large chain. It wasn’t enough for Scott.
[00:20:44] Scott Kucirek: I said, “Dennis will know this works when people, we don’t know, who’ve never met who have no idea who we are. Show up into a store and buy the candy. And if that happens and we might be on something”.
[00:20:54] Sophie Hoyt: And they were, the in-store demos were going well. The sales were strong, even without promotions. And suddenly, it became difficult to keep up with the orders because they were all handmade.
[00:21:05] Scott Kucirek: So that’s when I said, “Dennis, I think. I think we’re onto something here.”
[00:21:10] Sophie Hoyt: Granted, there were some elements working in their favor. Justin’s peanut butter cups had become a popular alternative in the candy market and were a clear point of reference for their consumers.
[00:21:20] Scott Kucirek: So, they opened a lot of doors for us where you would say, “Hey, we’re kind of like Justin’s except we do all these bars, not the cups.”
[00:21:25] We’re not going to do cups. And we have a peanut butter bar, which is different than the cup because it has a lot more peanut butter ratio to chocolate.
[00:21:31] Sophie Hoyt: But that’s not all they do. There’s the after-mentioned caramel minis, a caramel, and peanut butter bar, Coconut, peppermint, PB and J, and plenty of others are in the works.
[00:21:41] And the reason they’re so good. Other than the ingredients might have something to do with their recipe testing system. Remember Twilight? The steamy teen vampire saga that I most definitely read cover to cover.
[00:21:59] The teams. You remember team Edward versus team Jacob? It’s like that at Ocho, but with candy flavors.
[00:22:05] Scott Kucirek: I was captain of team PB. So, the captain was the most senior person in the company who that was their favorite bar. And the reason we picked up those teams was because if we needed to modify the recipe at all, or we thought we did, the only people are allowed to prove it. We didn’t do taste panels or whatever, or the all the members of the team of that flavor. So essentially, they are had the final say because they were the most passionate about the bar and represented all the people who might be buying it.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC IN]
[00:22:32] So, for team peanut butter. What I loved about it, against a cup. The cup had too much chocolate and not enough peanut butter and the peanut butter.
[00:22:39] A lot of times, unfortunately, was dry and chalky. So, for our bar, you had a lot of peanut metal. It was a little gooier and softer. So, you bite through the hard shell. But in the middle, you’d have delicious creamy peanut butter, the barely amended. We used cane sugar that had large grains. And so, when you’re eating it. There is a little like gravelly finish to it that is insanely satisfying, and people noticed it right away.
[00:23:07] Sophie Hoyt: Okay. So, after hearing that, do you want to take a guess at what their best seller is?
[00:23:20] If you couldn’t tell, I too am Team PB but apparently, according to the sales numbers, Coconuts where it’s at over at Ocho. In all seriousness, though, Coconut is very good and I do recommend it.
[00:23:30] Scott Kucirek: No more needs to be said, team Coconut dominating the universe.
[00:23:35] Sophie Hoyt: But how did Ocho go from a home-grown operation to the fully-fledged factory It is today? Well, after outgrowing a small space in Folsom, they moved to a 5,000 square foot space in Oakland with 52 employees working around the clock to turn out handmade candy, but they still had to turn down orders.
[00:23:53] Scott Kucirek: We can only make about 12,000 bars a day on a good day, which seems like a lot, except when Target calls and they want a lot of bars, and you just can’t make it. So, we spent that same time going around and trying to find if there was somebody who could co-manufacturer because then you don’t have to put the money out for the equipment.
[00:24:10] Sophie Hoyt: And in meeting, after meeting every potential co-manufacturer had to turn them away.
[00:24:15] Scott Kucirek: And we explained the process of how they’re handmade and molds like that explains it.
[00:24:19] We, we can’t do that because, in the confection world, you’re either doing molding, which is like tablet, bars, with a nice, shiny glossy outside shell and a center, or you’re doing an extruded, which is most candy bars, which is you make the center as firmer it gets cuts of size and goes under a chocolate waterfall.
[00:24:35] So, you have a thin layer of chocolate, like a Snickers and then a firm center. Well, what we were doing was completely unprecedented. We’re making a molded bar that looked like an extruded bar. So [Laughs] we’d take tempered chocolate and pour it into a mold like a canoe, the tops, and the sides, and then put the center in and then put the bottom on and pop it out in the mold.
[00:24:55] And that’s why you get that nice glossy, shiny top. And so, instead of going through a thin layer chocolate and then getting a firm center, when you ate an Ocho candy bar, you crack through a thick layer of organic fair-trade chocolate and get a creamy center. Because we didn’t have to amend the center to hold that shape because the shell held the shape.
[00:25:12] Sophie Hoyt: It didn’t make sense to change the product to fit the manufacturers. Because their soft fillings were the reason, people loved Ocho. So, Scott and Dennis had to figure out how to make the manufacturer fit their bars.
[00:25:25] Scott Kucirek: One manufacturer had some equipment, two different types of equipment that weren’t normally put together that we felt might be able to be modified to work. And we invited their sales head of world sales and US sales to our place in Oakland because we’re pretty serious. And so they said, sure, which surprised us. And then they flew out, but they didn’t tell us they brought the CEO and namesake of the company with them. So, we walked around through the plant. It didn’t take long. It was tiny. The front of it was people filling centers like piping, or hand roll coconut-like little snakes and press it in, and then other people bottoming it and banging them out, running through a wrap machine.
[00:26:02] And then around the back was where the centers were being made. And we had little Ikea desk with all of us sitting there, with our computers, with our hairnets and stuff and our computers, getting bombarded by powdered sugar.
[00:26:12]and he looked at me, he goes, “never in my life have I seen something so insane and so genius at the same time, only in America”. He goes, “our company will figure out how to make our equipment replicate what you’re doing here because this is the best confection I’ve had in 20 years. And I’ve built over 800 plants”.
[BACKGROUND MUSIC IN]
[00:26:28] Sophie Hoyt: And they did. Through much trial and error, they adjusted and tweaked the machines and the process until it hit the store sweet spot. But once it did, Ocho was able to crank out thousands of perfect bars in half the time, except for one, peanut butter. Something wasn’t quite right with the texture and the new system.
[00:26:48] And instead of compromising the product or changing the recipe, team PB opted to have 15 workers continue to make those by hand until they could get the machines to make them perfectly.
[00:26:59] Scott Kucirek: And that was a moment where I’m proud of our company, even though we’re running out of money and we were. We would go under before we allow one product out the door that didn’t meet the Ocho standard.
[00:27:08] Sophie Hoyt: And that’s one of the things that makes Ocho special, the commitment to the product. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Scott is the captain of team PB, the most fickle feeling. Listening to him talk about his life, I noticed a trend. At every stage of his career, Scott sought out the most challenging endeavors and rose to the occasion, whether it be wanting to land planes on ships, trying to predict the future of technology in real estate, or figuring out how to standardize an unprecedented method of stuffing, a candy bar full of peanut butter. Scott’s there, and he’s committed because his work is not done.
[00:27:45] Scott Kucirek: I’m not worried about failure. That’s just going to happen. That’s learning. And if it totally tanks, that’s okay. You still learn you’re still doing experience, and your life is about experiences, not stuff you get. So, I’m not driven by that. I guess more doing something that looks interesting has value, and there’s a calling to it. I get a certainty. So that’s either insanity or good, you know, if it works out, it’s good. If it isn’t, you’re a crazy person. So, when I pivot over to do it, there’s no looking back. There’s no regrets. I’m just moving forward, optimizing, and you know, if it’s four years from now, I can go into any store and see people have a choice for better-tasting cleaner candy. That’s focused on what’s inside counts, sustainability for workers for the planet. That’s something that’s important to me for like my values and purpose in life, right? So, then that makes it worth doing.
[00:28:37] Sophie Hoyt: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the OneHaas Podcast, The Crossroad Series, and a special thanks to Scott for sharing his story with me. If you want to try Ocho candy for yourself, and I’m sure you do. Go to Ocho candy.com. That’s O-C-H-O candy.com to use their store locator to find their products near you.
[00:28:57] If you enjoyed our show today, please remember to subscribe to OneHaas wherever you get your podcasts and rate and review us on iTunes. You can also check out more of our content on our website at Haas dot FM, where you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter and check out some of our other Berkeley Haas podcasts. Until next time, go bears!