SVI 2013: Daniel Terry, Denman Island Chocolate

“You have to keep going and work hard, but success breeds success.”

It’s been scientifically proven that chocolate increases serotonin levels in the brain, so Daniel Terry’s infectiously positive outlook may be, in some part, related to the business he runs. “I make people happy, which you can’t put a price on,” says Daniel, co-founder and CEO of Denman Island Chocolate, and one of the Live Case Study presenters at the 19th annual Social Venture Institute taking place at Hollyhock this September 18-22. “My business is in its 15th year, so by now we’re deemed successful—I love it!”

Life is like a box of chocolates

Daniel and his late wife, Ruth, were the first to introduce organic chocolate to the Canadian market. This position, Daniel says, was “both good and bad—good because we had no competition, but bad because it was an uphill battle to make the general public understand how chocolate (which contains agricultural products) could be organic.”

Another challenge the Terry’s business faced from the start, which continues to this day, is the company’s location on a small island (can you guess which one?) in the strait between the British Columbia mainland and Vancouver Island. “There’s a perception that Gulf Island residents are super flaky and drug-addled all the time—obviously that’s not true! But the perception has left us with an ongoing quest for legitimacy, particularly with larger concerns who are hesitant to work with companies who like to go their own way.” Even with these and other limitations brought on by their choice of location, Daniel still sees tremendous advantages to staying put, especially “in terms of lifestyle, and in how people see our brand—this is something I cherish.”

SVI Hollyhock

Perhaps the largest challenge Daniel has faced, both personally and professionally, was the loss of his wife nine years ago. “When you start a business with a partner, you run it in a way that’s balanced. I’ve had to find a new sort of balance, to find ways that make my life work and also let the business run well.” As is the case in many family businesses, Daniel’s son Theo (who will be joining him at SVI this year) has recently started working for the company, bringing his own set of strengths to the mix.

Learning by doing

Daniel has many of the classic attributes of an entrepreneur. “I don’t think I’m suited to work for anyone else!” he says with a smile that sails across the phone line. Even for someone who loves his work, Daniel admits that the ongoing challenges of running your own business leave him feeling lonely and unsupported at times. He’s looking forward to returning to SVI again this year because “it’s a nice opportunity to find others who communicate and act in the same way as you do, even if they’re in other sectors.”

A self-taught businessman, Daniel proclaims, “I’m not good at being taught things,” but rather enjoys learning by doing. Over time, though, he’s come to appreciate that he doesn’t have to do everything. “Years ago at SVI, someone from Vancity spoke about the difference between ‘empowering’ and ‘delegating,’ and I really absorbed that lesson. The more people I can empower, the better it is for me, because then I can really focus on what I’m good at.”

One of Daniel’s favourite parts of being an entrepreneur is the flexibility that comes with the package. “I can work when I need to, and not work when I don’t. I’ve been really lucky in terms of how many interesting trips I’ve been able to take that are business related. Traveling adds value to my experience of being an entrepreneur by letting me meet all sorts of people.”

A great deal of his success to this point, Daniel says, has had to do with luck. “So much of good timing is luck—being in the right place at the right time. It’s an amazing feeling when things fall into place at the right time, which has happened a lot for us… there have been times when we needed something, and it worked out.”

Still, Daniel doesn’t see himself as a risk-taker. “People tend to think of entrepreneurs as risk-takers, but I’m not, really. I take more calculated risks. Being confident in what I do allows me to move forward.” What advice would he give to entrepreneurs in earlier stages of growth? “If you can initiate success with your business, it snowballs into more success. You have to keep going and work hard, but success breeds success.”


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