How The Young Founder Of Chocolate Pizza Factory Shares Success Secrets And Supports Youth

Tweet ThisRyan Novak

Ryan Novak, Chocolate Pizza Factory

Youth entrepreneurship is growing at a rapid rate. According to a study released by the Center for Generational Kinetics, Generation Z works during their teen years, plans for college, and some are already saving for retirement. Also, in a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, they are poised to be the most entrepreneurial generation we've seen yet, with an estimated 70% of young people claiming to be self-employed at the high school level.

Youth entrepreneurship organizations are popping across the globe, and they are supporting each other in their endeavors with colleagues, friends and a growing number of mentors.

If you scroll through your LinkedIn feed, you'll most likely find a group of Gen-Z entrepreneurs helping one another in various ways. All over the country, they are making plans to get together locally, sharing content, running conferences, and learning and teaching through live videos and webinars.

One example of these entrepreneurs who supports local youth entrepreneurship is Ryan Novak. Novak went from a dishwasher at age 15 to owning his own company, Chocolate Pizza Company, in just six short years.

Novak attended Syracuse University for a degree in entrepreneurship, and after junior year, he had an opportunity to buy the company. In the past seven years, he's quadrupled sales and recently opened a 10,000 square foot production and retail facility. Novak's company has approximately 12 employees with an annual revenue over $1.5 million.

Giving back through opportunity and education

Encouraging adolescents and adults alike to turn their hopes into dreams, Novak makes sure to share his entrepreneurial expertise by giving back to the community through job opportunities and education in-house and in his community.

Novak is a personal mentor to his young employees and a keynote speaker at SU’s Whitman School of Management. He makes it a point to employ high school students to provide young people with a job, have the chance to learn the value of hard work, and to share the inside the life of a young entrepreneur.

At Syracuse University, he helps both college students and veterans with case study assignments and sits on a review panel to evaluate student presentations on business start-up ideas. As a twenty-something business owner and a graduate of SU’s entrepreneurship program, he can relate to the students in their classes.

Overcoming adversity at an early age, Ryan lost his mother at just nine years old, and the accident changed his life forever. Although devastating, it was the pivotal point in his younger years where he learned the crucial lesson: never give up on yourself and your dreams.

I had the chance to speak with Novak to learn about his work with youth, and to pass on some of the critical knowledge he shares with aspiring entrepreneurs. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed, Novak shares his best entrepreneurial advice for aspiring young business leaders.

Robyn Shulman: Tell me how a young person goes about building a business. How did you do it?

Ryan Novak: For a young person to build a business, demands are more than most are willing to give – which is why most young people don’t even start. But if they do, then standard wisdom is usually, “follow your passion,” or, “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Shulman: Following your passion is a common statement one hears in the startup world. What are your thoughts?

Novak: The truth is you will work every day of your life for this dream. Passion is not enough to build a business – it has to be the oxygen that you breathe. It has to be the lifeblood of your existence because anything less will not withstand the onslaught of hurdles. Otherwise, adversity and frustration will be your constant companions.

Shulman: Tell me more about how you grew the business as a teenager.

Novak: At a young age, I could see the potential in the concept and knew that I could transform the small-town chocolate shop into a genuine brand. Once I became the owner in 2010, I was relentless and methodical in pursuit of taking the company to the next level.

Shulman: How did you transform the little shop into an authentic brand?

Novak: I did this initially with three primary objectives:

Add production capacity – you can’t grow if you can’t make the product;Build a team – you need a team around you that can make and sell the added production;Leverage an expanding market presence – with the product and people in place, go boldly into new markets.

Shulman: Let's break these down. How did you add production capacity?

Novak: I purchased specialized equipment that exponentially increased production capacity. I also invested nearly $100,000 in equipment on things such as a computerized melting vat that could keep 300 lbs. of chocolate melted and ready. The results were dramatic. For example, in the six years prior to purchasing the company, the employees hand-dipped 9,000 chocolate covered Oreos. Today, they can do that in a day.

Shulman: How important is it to build the right team?

Novak: Surrounding yourself with the right people is critical. As an owner, you always need to evaluate your team and make changes when necessary. As the business changes, the team needs to change with it. New faces, new training, and new responsibilities are essential to maintaining momentum as you grow.

Shulman: How vital are attitude and soft skills?

Novak: For a small business, it is particularly important is to find people with the right attitude – people who buy-in on the company’s vision and step up to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. Skills can be taught and improved; attitude is what you bring to the workplace. And hiring people with a positive outlook allows you to do more.

Shulman: How did you scale once you had both the people and product in place?

Novak: You build a business by going into the marketplace and competing head-on, even with the giants. Take the confidence you have in the quality and uniqueness of your products, and share that with everyone who will listen.

Shulman: How do you do that?

Novak: When I bought the company, we had zero wholesale accounts. My growth strategy depended on getting my products in front of as many people as fast as possible to build that brand recognition – and that meant leveraging other retailers.

Shulman: Where did you begin?

Novak: I started by making cold-calls to local wineries and offering a jar of chocolate covered Oreos that they could set near the checkout. Dozens of wineries took me up on that offer, and soon they were asking for additional products. More importantly, people visiting those wineries came from all types of businesses and tried the product, liked it and began calling me to get it in their stores. Today, Chocolate Pizza Company sells products in places like Hallmark, Von Maur, BJ’s Warehouse Clubs, and thousands of other locations nationwide.

Shulman: You hire high school students. What do you teach them?

Novak: The first thing I teach them is that this is a real workplace and that they have been hired to do a real job with real responsibilities. It is a friendly, family-style environment regarding how we treat each other, but at the same time, it is a manufacturer with a significant amount of customers, hard deadlines and non-negotiable quality standards.

I teach them about accountability. Students need to understand that in the workplace, they are not high school kids, they are employees. And like all employees, they are responsible for their work. For many of them, this is their first job, and so it’s important they learn that today’s workplace requires maturity, reliability, and a positive attitude.

Shulman: And about entrepreneurship?

Novak: I also tell them that every job contributes to the company’s success. There are no unimportant tasks and that being responsible for washing dishes, taking out trash or cleaning machinery is not busy work. I also make sure they learn other parts of the business. I teach my employees about the entire chocolate operation, and they learn in other departments, too-such as packaging and in shipping.

">Ryan Novak

Ryan Novak, Chocolate Pizza Factory

Youth entrepreneurship is growing at a rapid rate. According to a study released by the Center for Generational Kinetics, Generation Z works during their teen years, plans for college, and some are already saving for retirement. Also, in a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, they are poised to be the most entrepreneurial generation we've seen yet, with an estimated 70% of young people claiming to be self-employed at the high school level.

Youth entrepreneurship organizations are popping across the globe, and they are supporting each other in their endeavors with colleagues, friends and a growing number of mentors.

If you scroll through your LinkedIn feed, you'll most likely find a group of Gen-Z entrepreneurs helping one another in various ways. All over the country, they are making plans to get together locally, sharing content, running conferences, and learning and teaching through live videos and webinars.

One example of these entrepreneurs who supports local youth entrepreneurship is Ryan Novak. Novak went from a dishwasher at age 15 to owning his own company, Chocolate Pizza Company, in just six short years.

Novak attended Syracuse University for a degree in entrepreneurship, and after junior year, he had an opportunity to buy the company. In the past seven years, he's quadrupled sales and recently opened a 10,000 square foot production and retail facility. Novak's company has approximately 12 employees with an annual revenue over $1.5 million.

Giving back through opportunity and education

Encouraging adolescents and adults alike to turn their hopes into dreams, Novak makes sure to share his entrepreneurial expertise by giving back to the community through job opportunities and education in-house and in his community.

Novak is a personal mentor to his young employees and a keynote speaker at SU’s Whitman School of Management. He makes it a point to employ high school students to provide young people with a job, have the chance to learn the value of hard work, and to share the inside the life of a young entrepreneur.

At Syracuse University, he helps both college students and veterans with case study assignments and sits on a review panel to evaluate student presentations on business start-up ideas. As a twenty-something business owner and a graduate of SU’s entrepreneurship program, he can relate to the students in their classes.

Overcoming adversity at an early age, Ryan lost his mother at just nine years old, and the accident changed his life forever. Although devastating, it was the pivotal point in his younger years where he learned the crucial lesson: never give up on yourself and your dreams.

I had the chance to speak with Novak to learn about his work with youth, and to pass on some of the critical knowledge he shares with aspiring entrepreneurs. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed, Novak shares his best entrepreneurial advice for aspiring young business leaders.

Robyn Shulman: Tell me how a young person goes about building a business. How did you do it?

Ryan Novak: For a young person to build a business, demands are more than most are willing to give – which is why most young people don’t even start. But if they do, then standard wisdom is usually, “follow your passion,” or, “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Shulman: Following your passion is a common statement one hears in the startup world. What are your thoughts?

Novak: The truth is you will work every day of your life for this dream. Passion is not enough to build a business – it has to be the oxygen that you breathe. It has to be the lifeblood of your existence because anything less will not withstand the onslaught of hurdles. Otherwise, adversity and frustration will be your constant companions.

Shulman: Tell me more about how you grew the business as a teenager.

Novak: At a young age, I could see the potential in the concept and knew that I could transform the small-town chocolate shop into a genuine brand. Once I became the owner in 2010, I was relentless and methodical in pursuit of taking the company to the next level.

Shulman: How did you transform the little shop into an authentic brand?

Novak: I did this initially with three primary objectives:

Add production capacity – you can’t grow if you can’t make the product;Build a team – you need a team around you that can make and sell the added production;Leverage an expanding market presence – with the product and people in place, go boldly into new markets.

Shulman: Let's break these down. How did you add production capacity?

Novak: I purchased specialized equipment that exponentially increased production capacity. I also invested nearly $100,000 in equipment on things such as a computerized melting vat that could keep 300 lbs. of chocolate melted and ready. The results were dramatic. For example, in the six years prior to purchasing the company, the employees hand-dipped 9,000 chocolate covered Oreos. Today, they can do that in a day.

Shulman: How important is it to build the right team?

Novak: Surrounding yourself with the right people is critical. As an owner, you always need to evaluate your team and make changes when necessary. As the business changes, the team needs to change with it. New faces, new training, and new responsibilities are essential to maintaining momentum as you grow.

Shulman: How vital are attitude and soft skills?

Novak: For a small business, it is particularly important is to find people with the right attitude – people who buy-in on the company’s vision and step up to do whatever is necessary to get the job done. Skills can be taught and improved; attitude is what you bring to the workplace. And hiring people with a positive outlook allows you to do more.

Shulman: How did you scale once you had both the people and product in place?

Novak: You build a business by going into the marketplace and competing head-on, even with the giants. Take the confidence you have in the quality and uniqueness of your products, and share that with everyone who will listen.

Shulman: How do you do that?

Novak: When I bought the company, we had zero wholesale accounts. My growth strategy depended on getting my products in front of as many people as fast as possible to build that brand recognition – and that meant leveraging other retailers.

Shulman: Where did you begin?

Novak: I started by making cold-calls to local wineries and offering a jar of chocolate covered Oreos that they could set near the checkout. Dozens of wineries took me up on that offer, and soon they were asking for additional products. More importantly, people visiting those wineries came from all types of businesses and tried the product, liked it and began calling me to get it in their stores. Today, Chocolate Pizza Company sells products in places like Hallmark, Von Maur, BJ’s Warehouse Clubs, and thousands of other locations nationwide.

Shulman: You hire high school students. What do you teach them?

Novak: The first thing I teach them is that this is a real workplace and that they have been hired to do a real job with real responsibilities. It is a friendly, family-style environment regarding how we treat each other, but at the same time, it is a manufacturer with a significant amount of customers, hard deadlines and non-negotiable quality standards.

I teach them about accountability. Students need to understand that in the workplace, they are not high school kids, they are employees. And like all employees, they are responsible for their work. For many of them, this is their first job, and so it’s important they learn that today’s workplace requires maturity, reliability, and a positive attitude.

Shulman: And about entrepreneurship?

Novak: I also tell them that every job contributes to the company’s success. There are no unimportant tasks and that being responsible for washing dishes, taking out trash or cleaning machinery is not busy work. I also make sure they learn other parts of the business. I teach my employees about the entire chocolate operation, and they learn in other departments, too-such as packaging and in shipping.

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