“Sad is an understatement,” described Sofia, who was fired from her job at an international oil and gas company last year. Global lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 had caused demand for oil to drop, which led to Sofia’s fate as a former field engineer.
“I was engaged in my job and spent longer days working (even on weekends) rather than spending time at home. For someone who was career-oriented, it was not easy to face the reality of unemployment, ”she added.
Deep in her mind though, the 27-year-old always knew that fieldwork wasn’t for her. Despite a STEM graduate’s dream job, the scorching heat of the sun and the laborious chores of handling 60-inch masses became too much for her.
Now jobless with some downtime to reflect, she concluded that losing her job was probably a blessing, as it was the only way she saw fieldwork. At the same time, Sofia was born into a family of entrepreneurs, so she believed that starting a business was a possibility for her.
With a new perspective on life, Sofia realized that she could turn one of her old hobbies into a confectionery business. By pooling the savings of 3000 RM between her and her husband, Cocoa bells was launched in February 2021.
From scorching heat to frozen hands
The name was taken from cocoa beans and her favorite place on earth, Maroon Bells in Aspen, USA, where she studied, while Sofia often made chocolate bombs to enjoy during cold winters. The idea of marketing her hobby made sense, as she wanted to bring the excitement of hot chocolate to Malaysians.
Before starting the business, Sofia wanted to make them more presentable, with a surprise inside when melted in hot milk, like a bath bomb. Along with her sister, whom Sofia considered her biggest supporter, they spent over 2 months in R&D to determine the best possible ingredients and ratios to create the products.
Tempered chocolate is also difficult to make in Malaysia’s hot and humid climate. To achieve its crisp, smooth and shiny finish, chocolate molding is highly dependent on its ambient temperature and must be shaped quickly before it hardens.
Sofia told Vulcan Post that before installing an air conditioner in her kitchen, she would dip her hands in an ice bath before assembling the chocolate bombs. This was to avoid any fingerprints or glove prints that would be marked on the chocolate shell.
A party drink
All of Sofia’s hard work has probably paid off, as the bombs made for a simple and enjoyable hot chocolate-making experience for consumers. Before the recent AGC, my colleagues tried Sofia’s sweets and shared that their unanimous favorite was So Mocha Love.
As for the taste, the team found some of the flavors a little too sweet for their liking, as they made each cup with less milk for better Instagram photos. Doing this with a fuller glass of hot milk gives more balance to the flavor and sweetness, we found after a second purchase that it doesn’t require a photo for the ‘gram’. When submerged in hot milk, it was a lovely sight to see marshmallows popping out of their chocolate shells.
These would do well with the kids or as a fun addition to surprise friends and at parties. And the celebration market also caters to the clientele of Sofia.
Since Cocoa Bells launched near Valentine’s Day, its founder has said the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “People were buying chocolate bombs for wives, partners, friends and family. We were lucky to find our regular customers who have continued to support us until now, ”she recalls.
It should also be noted that Cocoa Bells is not the only producer of chocolate bombs in Malaysia as brands like Choco bomb and Raw coconut offer their own versions of it. Where Sofia’s business stands out is in its lower prices. The Cocoa Bells 4-box is RM32 (no promotions), while its competitors sell theirs above RM50.
So far, Cocoa Bells has sold over 2,000 of its chocolate bombs to customers in the Klang Valley. Sofia hopes to someday automate her chocolate bomb production to meet larger volume orders, as she finds making them by hand limits the company’s potential.
Don’t look back
There is no doubt that being an entrepreneur and an employee are very different. Being the latter, you can rest assured knowing that your salary will be deposited into your bank account by the end of the month. “As an entrepreneur some days can be a bit dark and that’s the risk we need to be prepared for. Nothing is easy and you just need to have faith, ”said Sofia, who said she was much happier running Cocoa Bells now.
And she also has no plans to return to the oil and gas industry.
After the crisis, I was called back to join my business and decided to continue with Cocoa Bells. I love the challenges and the excitement of the field, 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 read more about Cocoa Bells here.
- You can read more of the Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.
Featured Image Credit: Sofia, Founder of Cocoa Bells