Voilà – Change, Choices, and Chocolate

New York City entrepreneur turns passion for chocolate into retail entertainment concept where adults and children learn about the art of chocolatiering .

How do you transition from the world of banking and commerce into producing happiness?  Through chocolate, of course!  At least, that was the plan for Peter Moustakerski, who went from the world of consulting and finance to launching one of the most unique businesses in New York City, Voilà Chocolat.  I entered the shop to the enticing aroma of what may be the best chocolate in New York City.  While waiting to meet with him, I had a delicious cup of coffee, and could see the machines which temper the chocolate.  Adults and children come to Voilà to make unique gifts, from bars to chocolate pops to animals, and can personalize their creations with unique toppings.  This makes Voilà a great gathering place for groups, from birthday parties to team building activities. I’m always on the search for entrepreneurs who have interesting personal journeys and backstories.  Peter Moustakerski is one of those entrepreneurs. I sat down to discuss what went into Peter’s decision making process during this radical career change from corporate world to being an entrepreneur.

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Peter Moustakerski, founder of Voilà Chocolat in New York City.

Tell me about your backstory and background.

Peter:  I was born and raised in Bulgaria.  My parents were engineers, and my high school afforded me the opportunity to get exposed to the rest of the world.  I studied computer science and had the opportunity to be part of one of the early exchange programs between Bulgaria and China almost 30 years ago.  I ended up spending the next 13 years of my life in China, at a time when the business environment in China was like the Wild West, a cowboy in an uncharted territory with rules I had to learn as I went forward.  I made many connections and learned the ropes of how to start up a business in China by opening a candy factory producing for the Chinese consumer.  I realized that there was a void, a need in China that I hoped to fill.  I learned to network, wine and dine the right people to get the permits needed, built up the manufacturing and the marketing from the ground up.  We made a lot of mistakes during that time, and also had many successes. Eventually, I moved on from that to work at the USDA.

How did candy manufacturing in China lead to a job with the USDA?

Peter:  It was the late 1990s, and US growers and manufacturers were looking for opportunities to enter and distribute in the Chinese market.  It was a visionary concept to view the people in China as consumers. I had the connections to make that happen in the Chinese food distribution world, so even though I was a third-country national, the USDA hired me.  It was while I was doing this that I met my wife, who was an editor for The Economist writing about the opening China market.  We moved to the US in 2001, and I enrolled at Columbia Business School.  Having my crazy background led to some interesting opportunities.  I became the interpreter for the President of Bulgaria as he traveled around China and Hong Kong.  From there, I got involved in the consulting crowd for Booz Allen.  I later ran a strategic initiatives group for UBS, where I learned how to be effective in large business environments. After that, I began working for Bridgewater with its founder, Ray Dalio, who recruited me to help build his family office.  

What did you learn from working with Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater?

Peter:  Ray Dalio is a very smart and intellectually intense person.  But he also pushed you to your limits.  A few years earlier, he had begun thinking about and writing what was behind his success.  He wrote down his values and principles, which became the nucleus for the culture of Bridgewater.  The published vision was followed at Bridgewater almost at a cult level.  His process of self-analysis was a great opportunity to learn who you are, what you want, and how you are going to go about getting it.  After this job, I realized that something was missing in my world, and in the world in general: having more hands-on, creative fun together with other people. So I wanted to fill that void.  I realized that whatever activity we do as people, we are only going to enjoy it if we do things we believe in.  

How did working at the world’s largest hedge fund lead to the idea of Voilà Chocolat?

Peter:  I knew I wanted to work with chocolate.  I combined my passions for chocolate and business, and observed how much fun people were having when they were working with chocolate, as I used them as willing guinea pigs  along my journey of learning the chocolate craft.  I realized I could create a retail entertainment concept, that did not exist in the world, where people could interact and learn about the art of chocolatiering .  Then came the journey of taking that concept, and making it a real business. Thankfully, I had the background to create a business plan that would work, raise the capital needed for this venture, and connections that helped me build a network of people that would stand behind this seemingly crazy concept, and finally recruiting people who shared this vision.  After spending over 2 years launching the business and running the first store for over a year, we now have plans to expand, and aim to have 50 retail stores in key markets around the country.  Our vision of a larger concept gives us the flexibility so we can change and modify quickly to evolve.

What is one mantra that has helped throughout this journey?

Peter:  Creating a business is a very personal journey.  Corporations were designed to be impersonal, to shield away the people.  A business works well when it reflects your personality and values. We have a simple values-based vision at Voilà:  Create unexpected happiness. Succeeding in this goal becomes a powerful multiplying effect.  So, the people you hire should share your vision, your energy, your promise.

What other advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?

Peter: You have to be patient to get from A to Z, as the path is not always straight.  Keep to your values as a compass to guide you along the path to arrive at the best decisions.  Things are not going to turn out exactly the way you expected.  You have to have the passion to elevate you up.  You have to have the forward drive to say: if it didn’t happen today, it will happen tomorrow. Like a marathoner, think about the next step, not the long journey ahead. You have to be agile, and have sideways flexibility when you come against a wall.  You need to create an agile evolutionary process to succeed.

About Andria Younger

Andria Younger is a personal brand strategist and marketing consultant in New York City and ranked in LinkedIn’s Top 25 for personal branding. Follow Andria on Twitter or check out Andria’s personal branding blog at andriayounger.com.


Sucking at Relationships….Take Aways from Bethenny Frankel’s AOL Build Series Interview

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As a personal brand strategist and founder of Cre8iv Branding, I’m always on the look out for successful personal brand stories.  This week I was at the AOL Build Series, a live interview, where Bethenny Frankel, entrepreneur, reality TV personality, and NY Times Bestselling author, was talking about her new book I Suck at Relationships So You Don’t Have To: 10 Rules for Not Screwing Up Your Happily Ever After.

“Yes, my name is Andria Younger and I’m a Bravo reality TV addict.”

Over the years of watching Bravo, I’ve seen Bethenny Frankel go from being a struggling entrepreneur on Bravo’s Housewives of New York, living in a studio apartment on the Upper East Side, doing the hustle to launch her Skinny Girl brand, writing and promoting her four NY Times best-selling books, to selling her Skinny Girl Cocktail line to Jim Beam for a reported $50 million. This is the same person that Martha Stewart herself proclaimed that Bethenny would never amount to anything.

As a personal brand strategist, Bethenny Frankel has done an incredible job in creating and monetizing a successful personal brand…books, TV, appearances, and products. She’s worked it! Besides being a great marketer, I think what Bethenny does best is connecting to her fans and customers on a deep emotional level. She’s clear on who she is, what she does, what’s her story, allowing her fans to connect and relate to her on a very deep emotional level. This is what I call “Riding the Lightning Bolt”, when you are able to leverage and monetize your personal brand to grow your business, while your customer and client feel connected to you on a deep emotional and personal level. What you see on TV is what you get in person…. she’s open and honest, not afraid to express her opinions. As she admits, even in wake of her very public and nasty divorce and the “haters” attacking her, she still keeps it real and stays true to her personal brand.

Bethenny’s latest book I Suck at Relationships So You Don’t Have To is about her being open and honest that personal relationships have been a problem. From the interview, here are three things that I took away that can be applied to help you build your personal brand and reputation:

1) Know Thy Self.  Sometimes we say and do things based on emotion, which can make for a big emotional mess which needs to be cleaned up in our relationships. This can lead to over-analyzing, beating yourself up, and undermining your confidence. You can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge. It’s important to learn when and how to talk about what you see and are feeling so it doesn’t come back and bite you in your butt, giving toxic people ammunition. For Bethenny, she knows she can talk herself into a really emotional place, obsessing and feeling needy, which has resulted in her having to cleanup emotional messes. This is her truth. From a branding perspective, the more you know about yourself allows you to set clear boundaries on “what you do” and surround yourself with the right people that are supportive and energize you.

2) Let Go.Our past life experiences have a strong impact on our personal and professional relationships and can lead us to feel like we need to control everything in our life. For example, Bethenny is very open about growing up in an abusive environment, feeling abandoned by her father, and moving 12 times in her childhood. This left her with the need to control things. Its important to harness control and use it for good, but it has a negative impact when you feel the need to control everything and everybody around you. From a reputation standpoint, you can be seen, as over-controlling to the point where you are personally miserable and that you are “out of control”.

3) Stop Making Fear-Based Decisions. Are you making decisions based on fear, such as not having enough money, being alone, not getting enough clients, or perfectionism? I think we all have done this as some point in our personal or professional lives. As Bethenny says “fear distracts you from the truth, and you will never know if your decision was the right one if you made it out of fear.” For example, if you have a fear of not having enough money, this can lead you to form “crazy client relationships” with people that don’t respect or value your expertise, as well as people who “suck all your time and energy out of you.” This can prevent you from growing your business. Or, worst case, these people damage your reputation by sharing negative comments about you to others either in person or via social media.

Are you ready to take your personal brand to the next level?  If so, it’s important to assess all your relationships and ask yourself….do they support my personal brand?  If not, maybe its time to move on.  For my clients who are paid experts, its essential to build healthy and meaningful relationships with people who can refer, recommend, and hire your services.   Life is too short to surround or work for people who don’t respect or value your expertise.  I hope this blog post has given you some inspiration to play big.

  • Do current relationships support your personal brand?

  • Do you have a personal brand success story your want to share?