The Chica Behind the Chocolate: It’s hard to be a full-time student without a small business to run on the side, but sophomore Cassidy Lam handles the task with ease and determination. Hailing from Boulder and influenced by Eastern medicinal practices, Lam and her business partner Elise Morgan, University of Colorado Bolder ’19, have designed Chinese herb infused truffles designed to help those who menstruate. After winning $10,000 and placing second at CC’s The Big Idea entrepreneurial competition, Lam sets her sights high to get her subscription based business to her growing network of customers.
The Catalyst: When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Cassidy Lam: Ok, ironically I actually wanted to be a chef because I was kick-ass at running a very high-end restaurant out of my backyard that served sand-pies and the like.
TC: What initially inspired Chica Chocolate and what/who were your greatest influences in that process?
CL: So my dad’s an acupuncturist and the idea came out of his office originally. Around early high school, my dad met a friend that was getting his chocolate business off the ground and he was really committed to delivering single sourced fair trade—like really high-quality—Ecuadorian chocolate to his customers, but he was having trouble with the business, financial, and executive side of things. In the process of them becoming friends, the idea arose to blend an herbal formula my dad uses to treat patients that have complications with their cycles and take those herbs and put them in chocolate because ,for some people, Chinese herbs are super weird tasting and that’s not an attractive thing for a lot of people, and there was a lot of resistance to taking the herbs regularly. So the concept was having a medicine that, you know, went down with a spoonful of sugar, basically. Elise and I adopted the idea when it became clear that my dad wasn’t interested in running a business; So we took that and kind of went running with it, well actually kind of crawling because it went really slowly at first, but then The Big Idea gave us a big opportunity to get us going.
TC: With the scarcity of women on teams that not only compete, but also make it to the finals of The Big Idea, did you find competing on a team of only women to be difficult at any point?
CL: I think in general in the startup world, it’s very difficult to be a woman, largely because it’s just like genuine surprise when you’re in that space. I interned with a company this past summer that is working to promote women in executive positions broaden the ramp for women-run companies and through that process it became clear to me that women don’t really put themselves into the startup space because there’s a psychological barrier that says ‘I can’t do this.’ But actually in The Big Idea, I think it was more of a benefit than anything because there’s such a scarcity of women in the startup space where seeing women in executive positions is good publicity and selling point, so I think it was a good thing. And it frustrates me that it is such a novel thing that people look for because a lot of people will put women on their teams, not in executive positions but as marketing positions, just to show they’re progressive and they get the startup space, and they’re inclusive. So having an authentically women-led team is rare but helpful in the end.
TC: If you received $10,000 that could not be spent on your start-up, what would you spend it on?
CL: Honestly, I would probably use at least part of it for textbooks…that’s not really an interesting answer though. I would finance a summer internship. I have been interested in working with Mercy Corp, which is an NGO that currently has a branch in Petra where I have some family friends living that are doing some incredible work, and that was a pipedream of mine briefly. That or I would go live in the woods somewhere, maybe.
TC: At age 20, what do you want to be when you grow up?
CL: Well, obviously a famously successful businesswoman who gets to wear pantsuits and walk in high heels with commanding authority; but I think I’m having a, what, like quarter-life crisis right now? Coming into CC I thought I wanted to go into international social justice work, and now I’m wondering if the route to improving my community and really actively participating in my world may manifest in a different way. So I don’t know; I’m trying to be flexible about where that takes me. Entrepreneurship is a whole new world.
TC: What is your opinion on the current market of products directed towards a female or female-identifying audience and how does your brand fall into that?
CL: It’s changing. There’s a lot, especially in terms of period products. The marketing and the actual products themselves are changing a lot. Companies like Thinx are starting to push that barrier which is awesome because we get to emerge in this pace where we’re not the first ones and we’re not the only ones, but we are kind of on the edge of this tide that’s really pushing mainstream dialogue on issues like periods and other daily challenges women and others who identify as women deal with constantly. I think part of the difference of Chica—which might be slightly misleading by the name—is that our product is for periods, but it isn’t exclusively feminine, and we are trying to stay true to that with our branding. We want this to be accessible to anyone who wants these chocolates, and we want to kind of challenge the current dialogues around periods and femininity and how that is really frilly or taboo or gentile. This is real, and this rough, and this is raw, and we want Chica to be this kick-ass product that is available to everyone and that has a less expressly feminine image.
TC: Long-term, can you see Chica Chocolate being used beyond the regulation of menstrual cycles?
CL: I think so. Currently that’s not really coming into consideration with us, but collaboration with other companies that produce period products is definitely a possibility. We’ve been in contact with Aunt Flow, which is also a subscription business that sends tampons and other menstrual products every month. And I think the possibility of using different herbal blends in chocolates and having multiple lines of chocolates to help with other varieties of health issues could be an interesting place for us to move towards in the future, but right now we’re definitely focused on period chocolates. That’s our defining image right now.
CL: Over the next year we’re going to move towards our full-scale e-commerce launch. This summer’s going to be full-on production time for us, and we are going to start by sending free trials to customers who have expressed interest on our email list exploring free marketing opportunities through that. And then we’re looking to package these truffles and send them in boxes one customer at a time.
TC: When will your product become available for subscriptions?
CL: Ideally, mid-summer and if not, the end of the summer. This is a mail subscription service, so we’re not exclusive to the Boulder area because we’re not looking to be a shelf-based product. So ideally we’ll be available across the U.S., but I think it’s more realistic to think it’s going to start regional and expand outwards once we generate enough revenue so we can hire employees that will help us with packaging.
TC: What is one piece of advice you would give to any CC student hoping to develop their own startup?
CL: Don’t try to make it perfect. There’s never really an easy time to start a business and it seems like starting a business in college would be the worst time because you’re really occupied with school, but honestly, it is one of the best times. You’re young so people give you the leeway to f— up; you’re in this space where you’re beginning to network and gain access to people and opportunities you really haven’t had access to before. Things like The Big Idea that really foster a entrepreneurial spirit are available, and you have the time, and you have the people there to support you to really get your idea off the ground. And eventually you have to move past the idea stage, and having to sit down and work on that isn’t easy. So I guess my suggestion would be to use a workshop or a class if you’re not feeling ready to manage your time one your own, because it really makes you sit down and produce something.