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We Gave it the Good 'ol College Try

Posted on 17th Aug 2016

Hey guys,

This is a super awkward and emotional post for me to make. But you might've  already seen it coming from my lack of social media posting... 

I'll be shutting down Manifest Chocolates and Yaaas Cream at the end of September. Right now there's a possibility that I'll be producing small batches out of a shared kitchen every few months. But nothing's set in stone yet. 

I'm sorry this has taken so long, but I've been exploring just about every option possible to keep going.  It's been a rough  4 years. 4 years of my life I've tried my hardest to build a business. I've loved every minute of it-okay not every, but most of it. And it kills me to have to give it up.  

But, I can't keep trying to make this a full time job anymore. I'm still struggling  to break even and pay student loans, bills,etc. 

I started an organic, raw vegan chocolate company in one of the biggest BBQ cities in the nation. At 19.  All my friends were complaining about how hard Chemistry 120 was, and how boys wouldn't text them back. But, I was hellbent on building a business.  Before I was even 21 I had to dodge a BS copyright lawsuit against a local company that could bankrupt me if I challenged it. Forcing me to rebrand. A smart person would've quit then, but I wanted so bad to build the best vegan chocolate company in my hometown, for people like me that didn't have enough vegan options. 

I've been in college and worked a part time job while doing this. I've tried to do just this, ran out of money and ended up working a crappy part time job, that became full time, just to try and keep the lights on. Before ending up exhausted, quitting, and going back again to give this my all. It's come down to either not having enough time, or enough money. I made the mistake of not having a steady, flexible second source of  income when trying to start a grassroots, niche business. I've made a lot of mistakes trying to build a business, to be honest. Of course hindsight is 20/20. But my foresight was also a little blurry, thinking I could take over KC just because one high volume health food store was moving cases of my product a week. When the reality was the market here is still way underdeveloped - but it's finally growing. And I'm so happy about that.  But I don't see my business scaling to where I could support myself now without pumping in tens of thousands of dollars in marketing and inventory. To pick up more stores, especially outside of KC,  and to keep the product in stock. 

I've done everything on a shoestring budget - I honestly don't know how Iv'e made it this far. But store buyers get upset when you can't keep up with their orders and that reflects poorly on myself and my company. I think that's [art of the reason why I've struggled to break out of KC.  And while I make an amazing product, I undersell it and overwork myself-because I don't think it'd have made it this far charging $3-$4 for a tiny bar or Helio Cup in the Midwest. Which was probably my biggest mistake, but deep down I wanted to make a high quality raw-vegan chocolate that everyone could enjoy daily, if not weekly. Because who the fuck else makes that? 

After my Kickstarter was funded in May, my graphic designer took a bit longer than expected to get the artwork done. He was moving, not his fault. It was mine for putting off the orders for three weeks because I was so exhausted from how long it took to wrap bars an make cups. And I was excited about how much smoother, and faster everything would go. I've been doing this for four years. Pulling all nighters. Working myself until I passed out on the couch in my office, still with nothing to show for it. I should've buckled down and filled them. Things could've gone a little better, but I was so excited. 

Come June, when everything was ready, I called up to place an order for more ingredients, and found out there was a shortage due to el Nino. I've never had this issue before. I was floored and freaking out.  Not only did some of ingredient prices rise, my minimum orders shot WAY up. I held out another week, trying to figure out what to do, before I just started buying up all the palm sugar in KC. It wrecked my margins, which is a bad idea when you're barely breaking even. And wiped out what little money I was making, and I dipped into the Kickstarter funds. I couldn't keep stores out of stock any longer, without risking losing accounts.

So, these past two months of silence have been me running around trying to find a job to pay out of pocket for more inventory and advertising, trying to  close with brokers and distributors, fill orders, and finalize nutrition facts + some other stuff on packaging. And some backend business paperwork. I've lost about a month and a half's worth of sales through it all , which really jacked everything up. 

I hate to make this personal. Because it's a business. But it's a business solely run by me. I've had to deal with a family member in and out of the hospital for the past three months, on top of some other unexpected personal issues. That cut into the time it takes for do everything.

The kickstarter funding was the BARE minimum I needed to push my product forward if everything kept going well, and I made a little extra money from starting my ice cream brand. Most companies that get funded, aren't relying solely on the bare minimum of funding.. I didn't expect everything to go to shit, and I've been trying my hardest to make things work and that's why I've been quiet. I'm really embarrassed and ashamed that it's come to this, and it's ending. Honestly, not all businesses make it, and you have to know when to move on. It sucks that that time is right now. 

If you've backed my project. I've sent out a message about rewards. I'm going to start filling the orders this week. I don't want to be another vegan kickstarter that fucks over it's backers and just disappears. I owe you guys at least that much. 

I know this entire post is gloomy. But, I am so grateful for being able to experience all of this. That my kickstarter got funded. That you guys have supported me and believed in me all these years.  There are a lot of great memories. And most of what I've gotten to do, I wouldn't trade for anything.  I've made some great, unique friendships out of this, and had the opportunity to connect with people from all across the country. 

But, I'm worn down and miserable from everything I've had to go through. I know that sounds stupid. But that's not the kind of person that should be making your chocolates. 

I hope you all understand. And I hope to be able to come back in a few years, wiser, and with a lot more money to pour into bringing Kansas City, and vegans across the country, a company it deserves.

Thanks for all of your love and support over the years,

Zac Manos 

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