Matthew Hardie is the Founder of Manuko, which produces a range of delicious organic chocolate products.
What made you take the leap from studying business into organic chocolate?
I originally got the idea for Manuko whilst undertaking my nine-month internship with Ernst & Young as part of my studies in the RMIT Bachelor of Business, International Business. I always had difficulties finding healthy and delicious food in the city that was readily available and accessible. I thought at the time that a fast, healthy and delicious organic food option should be available on every corner and accessible to everyone. Something that was good for our taste buds, good for our health and good for the planet: a win-win-win. This was the original idea: I called it Manuko – "A True Food Revolution".
After I graduated, I came to the realisation that working in an office and pursuing a conventional career path wasn’t for me. So, I turned down a role in the corporate world. Instead, I decided travel: to discover more about myself and what I really wanted to do with my life. I had incredible adventures, from studying Kung Fu with Shaolin monks in China, to camping in the valleys of Switzerland, to living in a Buddhist monastery, to hitchhiking across Sweden.
Readjusting to life in Australia after my travels was challenging. Particularly, as I hadn't yet established myself in a line of work I felt passionate about. So, I worked a range of random jobs to pay my way whilst I tried to figure out what I was going to do. This included some time working as a product maker at Loving Earth. There, I got an insight into raw chocolate and organic food manufacturing. This is when Manuko as a business began to take shape. It became a matter of necessity for me to find work that was truly meaningful to me. And because there was no job out there that I found truly satisfying, I realised I had to create it. It took me several years of living and working with the idea before I actually started the business. Since then, it’s been a step-by-step process, building towards my original vision. Seeing it gradually materialise and take shape over the years has been incredibly rewarding.
How did you get your business started?
I began Manuko in a spare bedroom through an agreement to rent a friend’s commercial kitchen and with enough money to buy some ingredients. RMIT had asked me if I could create an organic trail mix for a social enterprise event they were holding. This was the starting point I needed. In one week I developed five products that I thought took trail mixes to a whole new level, combining raw organic chocolate, nuts and superfoods. Now I had a product. So, I started knocking on doors around Melbourne, introducing store-owners to it: I had an almost 100 per cent success rate at getting my products into the shops! From there, I began to develop relationships with distributors. Today, Manuko is distributed to over 90 stores across Australia, with the possibility of going international this year.
Handmade Manuko delicacies - The Raw organic Turkish Delight
What lessons have you learned so far on your business journey?
For me, running a business like Manuko is like learning anything new: the trick has been to stick with it and not give up because it’s too hard, especially in the early stages. My experience is that learning has been a never-ending process because there’s always something new to pick up. Step by step, I’ve found I’ve become more skilled, capable and embracing of uncertainty and the creative path, and generally more passionate about the entrepreneurial journey. Sheer perseverance – not innate brilliance and great ideas – has played a significant part! The willingness to give it a go and to do the work necessary. Then the brilliance and great ideas show up.
I've learnt that business is about serving the needs of others, which has been the most exciting aspect of my entrepreneurial journey. To create products I’m passionate about, and to see others fall in love with them and connect with my vision, is extremely rewarding. For me, the key to Manuko, especially in the beginning, has been faith in my vision and the persistence to realise it. I believe many people won't see your vision until you've revealed it to them, and that can take time. As an entrepreneur, I’ve also found taking care of my health and wellbeing has been essential. This has enabled me to grow on the journey and not get burnt out.
I've also learnt that business is all about relationships and that I can’t fully realise my vision without partnering with others in some way. This includes suppliers, customers, designers, distributors, growers or any other relationship in which I need to engage. I think it's important to honour these relationships so that it’s a win for everyone involved. I think if the other person benefits from your interaction, then you win: they’ll be more likely to do great work, which will be reflected in your business. They’ll want to continue working with you to help you to continue fulfilling your vision. This is what I’ve set out to do with Manuko.
How important is it to have a business mentor?
Mentoring is incredibly important for me and has been an invaluable resource for me with Manuko. It’s a great opportunity to learn from others and helps me to develop skills and knowledge in particular areas. For me, mentoring can come in many different guises: books, one-off encounters with people, or relationships with longer-term mentors. Sometimes, I seek out mentors when I want to master something specific that I have no idea about. For example, good food manufacturing practices, or employing people.
What are your top three tips for starting a business?
1. Start with your passion.
2. Persist. Just as I was starting out with Manuko, a mentor said to me: “It's not the brightest idea, it's not the smartest person in the room, it's the one who perseveres that wins the race”.
3. Serve something greater than yourself and embrace the journey. I think it’s important that a product or service – the thing that we are passionate about creating – is not only serving us but is also serving a real need and want for people. There’s nothing more fulfilling for me with Manuko than when someone discovers my products and it makes their day. And because it’s a never-ending journey, I think the joy is not coming to some end point where the dream is realised, but the joy is in embracing the journey every step of the way. For me, the dream is the journey. As Emerson put it: “Find the journey's end in every step of the road.”
The websites that were most influential in your journey towards launching your business?
Reason: I actually find it hard to recommend websites. What has been most beneficial for me has been offline: to be out in the real world traveling, meeting people, experiencing and working in different businesses and seeing how they operate, reading great books, and doing things that helped me connect with myself, such a Kung Fu and meditation.
I think YouTube is a fantastic platform to find interviews with inspiring business leaders and innovators and to learn more about the business landscape and the entrepreneurial journey. And there's also a wealth of information available in video format (that can be easier to digest that just written information) when it comes to learning anything from design thinking to employing staff.
Reason: TED has heaps of inspiring interviews and talks from business leaders and creative individuals.
Reason: LinkedIn is great for contacting inspiring individuals and mentors to connect with them.
I also remember something on the Net that particularly inspired me when I was starting out and discovering that entrepreneurship was the career path for me. It’s a slideshow by LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman, given in a talk to recent graduates.
Matthew Hardie is a graduate of the RMIT Bachelor of Business, International Business (2008), and the RMIT Certificate IV in Small Business Management (2012). He is willing to answer your questions about starting a new business. Find him in the Members section.
"I've learnt that business is about serving the needs of others, which has been the most exciting aspect of my entrepreneurial journey." - Matthew Hardie