Trading in Chocolate with Doisy and Dam

Written by Emily Leeming
June 28, 2019

We caught up with Richard Wilkinson, Director and Co-founder of Doisy and Dam – the new kid on the chocolate block, with Aztec-inspired packaging and quirky taste combinations from toasted quinoa to black sesame.

Nothing beats a great bar of chocolate. Enter Doisy and Dam - they’ve won four stars at the Great Taste Awards and sold over 15 tonnes of chocolate and 225,000 bars to date. But who actually is Doisy and Dam? The name was inspired by two Nobel Prize winners Henrik Dam and Edward Doisy who discovered vitamin K in 1943, but the true Doisy and Dam behind the chocolate are founders Sam Smith and Richard Wilkinson. Apparently their own names just didn’t have quite the same ring.  It’s a partnership that’s gone back years, since they were playmates at 5 years old. Growing up as best friends together at school we always had that kind of bug of wanting to start some sort of business together’ says Richard. Though not all their first ventures were too successful (or legal). While at school ‘we tried to take the easy way out and counterfeit money to use at the school tuck shop’ Richard laughingly tells me. ‘It didn’t work, so as we grew up we went with the more legitimate ideas’. Hence Doisy and Dam. 

From city corporate to co-founder

Before chocolate, Richard was a city trader. ‘I really liked the high pressure environment, it was a kind of fun stress’ says Richard. ‘It wasn’t a boring desk job, it was high-paced – and that kept me hooked on it for a couple of years’. After a while though, trading numbers on a screen began to feel meaningless - and Richard and Sam put their heads together for something new. ‘I wanted the freedom to be in control. I didn’t like working for someone else. I wanted success or failure to be down to me, not down to someone else's decisions.  I wanted the idea of seeing a project through from start to finishRichard tells me. ‘I think the reality of that has been quite accurate – but you just don’t have that much freedom!’ As Richard explains, freedom for him is really about driving Doisy and Dam towards some conclusion. Either until the business becomes stable on its own two feet, or they grow the company enough to be able to sell it. Luckily I love what I'm doing, but it’s not as freeing as you might imagine’ he says. Though thankfully with a five month old daughter, Eve, at home, being his own boss has allowed him more flexibility to spend more time with her.

Doisy and Dam

‘Chocolate was always going to be the winner simply because it tastes so good - we thought we could do something special with it’ Richard tells me about Doisy and Dam. Sam and Richard officially launched Doisy and Dam in 2014, with £11,000 seed capital from their own savings. What sets Doisy and Dam apart from other chocolate brands is that they’re driven by three core values; 100% ethically sourced, no more sugar than strictly necessary without compromising on taste, and only the best quality and essential ingredients. That and their bright colour-popping packaging with geometric designs inspired by the Aztecs, the ancestral fathers of chocolate who were thought to use cocoa beans as a form of currency. To test their prototypes, Sam and Richard cycled around London offering free samples of their chocolate to delicatessens and upmarket grocers. And suddenly people started ringing up for more. ‘I think the biggest high was when we saw the bars on the shelf in Sainsbury’s. Because that was the first time we’d taken our little artisan brand to the wider public. So that was brilliant. It was the result of an incredible amount of hard work, so it was hugely satisfying.’

Not always plain sailing

While Doisy and Dam seem to have gone from strength to strength, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. ‘You spend six months developing a flavour and no one buys it, everyone thinks it’s crap, and that’s tough’ Richard grimaces. Richard uses their milk chocolate as an example - ‘we’re pulling all our milk chocolates because it seems our customers don’t want to buy milk chocolate. But if we did taste-tasting no one would ever say that because everyone who eat our milk chocolate thinks it’s delicious – so that buying decision and the tasting decision are two very different things that you can't really test’. Often when starting a business it can be tempting to spend thousands and thousands of pounds creating the perfect product, with the perfect branding, without of selling a single one. I ask Richard what his ultimate advice is for new food entrepreneurs. ‘You can test a product for no money - make it at home and take it to the local supermarket. See if people will buy it. You don't need to spend money on making it perfect. Make your mistakes quickly and cheaply. And see if people are willing to buy a basic product.’

You can buy Doisy and Dam’s chocolate online here, or in your local supermarket. 

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