"Sad is an understatement," said Sofia, who was fired from her job with an international oil and gas company last year. Worldwide lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 had resulted in a decline in oil demand, leading to Sofia's fate as a former field engineer.
“I dedicated myself to my work and spent longer working days (including weekends) instead of spending time at home. It was not easy for someone who was professionally oriented to face the reality of unemployment, ”she added.
In the back of her mind, however, the 27-year-old always knew that field work was not for her. Despite having the dream job of a STEM graduate, the scorching heat of the sun and the tedious chores of handling 60-inch sledgehammers became too much for her.
Now unemployed, with some downtime to think about, she concluded that losing her job was likely a blessing as it was the only way she saw out of field work. At the same time, Sofia had been born into an entrepreneurial family, and she believed starting a business was an opportunity for her.
With a new perspective on life, Sofia realized that she could turn an old hobby of hers into a candy store. Cocoa Bells was launched in February 2021 and raised the savings of RM 3,000.
From scorching heat to frozen hands
The name has been adopted cocoa Beans and their favorite place on earth, Maroon Bells in Aspen, USA, where she was studying when Sofia often made chocolate bombs to enjoy in the cold winters. The idea of commercializing their hobby just made sense as it wanted to bring the excitement of having hot chocolate to Malaysians.
Before going into business, Sofia wanted to make it more presentable, with a surprise inside when it was melted in hot milk like a bath bomb. With her sister, whom Sofia called her greatest supporter, they spent more than two months doing research and development to determine the best possible ingredients and proportions to make the products.
Shiny, decorative chocolate bombs / Photo credit: Cocoa Bells
It is also difficult to make hardened chocolate in Malaysia's hot and humid climate. To get a crispy, smooth and shiny finish, the way the chocolate is molded is highly dependent on its ambient temperature and needs to be molded quickly before it hardens.
Sofia told Vulcan Post that before installing air conditioning in her kitchen, she would dip her hands in an ice bath before assembling the chocolate bombs. This was to avoid finger or glove prints that were marked on the chocolate shell.
A party drink
All of Sofia's work has probably paid off as well, as the bombs provided consumers with a simple and enjoyable experience in making hot chocolate. Before the last MCO, my colleagues tried Sofia's sweets and shared that their unanimous favorite was So Mocha Love.
In terms of taste, the team found some of the flavors a little too sweet for their taste as they made each cup with less milk for better Instagram shots. Preparing it with a fuller glass of hot milk gives the taste and sweetness more balance. We found this out after a second purchase that didn't require images for the gram. Once soaked in hot milk, it was an enchanting sight to see marshmallows break out of their chocolate bowl.
Some limited edition Valentine's Day bombs / Photo credit: Cocoa Bells
These are good for kids or as a fun addition to surprise friends and parties. The celebratory market also corresponds to Sofia's customer base.
Since Cocoa Bells hit the market just before Valentine's Day, the founder reported that the response was mostly positive. “People bought chocolate bombs for women, partners, friends, and family. We were lucky enough to find our regular customers who have supported us so far, ”she recalls.
It's also worth noting that Cocoa Bells isn't the only chocolate bomb maker in Malaysia, as brands like Choco Bomb and Coco Raw have their own versions of it. However, Sofia's business is characterized by lower prices. The box of 4 from Cocoa Bells costs 32 RM (excluding promotions) while their competitors sell their over 50 RM.
To date, Cocoa Bells has sold more than 2,000 of its chocolate bombs to customers in the Klang Valley. Sofia hopes to one day automate her chocolate bomb production to accommodate larger order volumes, as she finds that they are made by hand, which limits the company's potential.
Don't look back
Sofia is now happy to run her small business / Image Credit: Cocoa Bells
There is no question that entrepreneurs and employees are very different. In the latter case, you can be sure that your salary will be deposited into your bank account by the end of the month. “As an entrepreneur, a few days can be a little bleak, and that's the risk we need to be prepared for. Nothing is easy and you just have to have faith, ”advised Sofia, who announced that she is now much happier with Cocoa Bells.
Nor does she have any plans to return to the oil and gas industry.
After the downturn, I was called back to join my company and I decided to continue with Cocoa Bells. I love the challenges and excitement the field offers, but nothing beats the feeling of seeing my own parents and family every day and growing old with them.
Sofia, founder of Cocoa Bells.
- You can find out more about cocoa blocks here.
- More Malaysian startups that we've covered here can be found here.
Selected image source: Sofia, founder of Cocoa Bells