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Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Ella McKay

Ella is the Fatso Numero Uno (AKA Co-Creator) of super chunky, disruptor dark chocolate brand, FATSO. Self-proclaimed as food obsessed, and as a classically trained marketer having worked for some of the biggest global brands, Ella and her foodie friends scrapped the big corp life and leaned into their entrepreneurial instincts to take on the saturated world of chocolate, with a truly unserious and uncompromising brand.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

After graduating with a business & marketing degree, I bounced into a marketing role of a big blue chip and was given A LOT of classical training in brand management. Working across leading oral care brands, I quickly learned that a successful marketer can make anything sexy. Even denture products…. A hop over to a major telco company before a jump over the pond to Vancouver where I landed myself in the fast paced, work-hard-play-hard world of advertising. After three fabulous years, I returned to London staying in agency but with a focus on brand strategy & design. A great breadth of roles & places, and yet I had this itch… the entrepreneurial one.

The idea for FATSO came when my two partners (in chocolate) and I started to ask the question: why is dark chocolate so boring, and why does milk chocolate have all the fun?  I couldn’t ignore the urge to solve the problem. Our solution? A seriously chunky, fearlessly flavourful, uncompromisingly ethical dark chocolate brand, that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Tell us more about the idea for the company?

Oddly, a discussion between ex colleagues/friends (now my chocolate partners) about ice cream… What do you add to your scoop? Nuts, granola, cookie crumb, dark chocolate- basically all of the above was the consensus. This evolved into a debate: why dark and not milk chocolate? Our conclusion: dark chocolate is more delicious but everything out there was so serious, apologetic, a bit posh; a boring slab of (often bitter) chocolate. When it comes to flavour, milk chocolate won every time. And so our idea was born. Let’s show the world that dark chocolate can be as flavourful and desirable as milk.  

How did you achieve awareness?

In short… LOTS of talking! Our awareness so far has been organically generated through really great distribution (we have put a lot of time and energy into winning independent and premium retail listings through relationship building), organic/editorial PR & social media coverage and WOM. We don’t have big budgets for paid ad campaigns or big sampling outreach, so we rely on our small team to tell our story and get chocolate in mouths.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

To date, we have self-funded and are growing sustainably by keeping sales as the absolute focus, following the ethos that “cash is king,” and ensuring that taste & product quality remain the beating heart of our business. We are creative, idea generators. But we make sure to keep our “commercial” hats on, ensuring when we do something, we have done due diligence on feasibility and timing.

What are the key successes and what were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

  1. Our UK-wide distribution within independents and major premium retailers (Harvey Nics, Anthropologie, Oliver Bonas) in a relatively short 15 month period, and building direct relationships rather than relying on wholesaler distribution. The overwhelming challenge with this is finding the time: but without having direct relationships, we can’t gain feedback, understand what’s working and what’s not and use those insights to learn and innovate. We had to find the time, and make our relationships with them our absolute priority.
  2. Proving that you can deliver awesomely tasty chocolate without compromising on ethics and values. This ambition runs deep on a personal level for me and my co-creators, and it’s far harder to do than you’d think. On deciding to take the idea to the next stage, we delved deep into the world of chocolate, and quickly learned the real extent of problems globally in growing, sourcing and manufacturing chocolate. We are fortunate to have found our chocolate partners in Colombia, not only because they grow and make the best tasting chocolate (as accredited by the world chocolate big wigs, not just me!) but because they offer a short, controlled and totally slave free supply chain, AND put a huge amount of investment back into local social and sustainable projects.

What are your plans now/for the future?

Oh we have lots of amazing plans for product pipeline & international expansion. We want to be the brand that put dark chocolate on the map, globally. And we want to do so with integrity and by putting people at the heart of our business.

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

  1. Take risks. Make informed decisions, yes. Bounce ideas off people who you think will give you an honest and interesting perspective, yes. Understand the category you’re looking to enter and decide if there is a gap or need for your product, yes. But don’t overthink it or spend too much time or money “stress” testing or proving your concept.
  2. Keep learning: never stop asking questions, researching and observing the world around you. It’s what keeps the creativity flowing and your business relevant.
  3. Don’t feel you have to do it all on your own. Raising a business is like raising a child (give or take). It takes a village. Find people to run alongside you or at the very least support you, selecting people who have expertise in areas that aren’t your natural skillset

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

Michelle Obama: her self awareness and her empathy is on another level, and she leverages these qualities to do such good and to inspire people from all walks of life.

Renee Elliott (Planet Organic founder): Only recently has Renee told the real story behind what happened with her exit from Planet Organic before buying the business back; it really struck a chord. She kicked back after being siloed and forced out by the male dominated boardroom, she is unapologetic in her motherhood, and she puts her integrity and values at the heart of her approach. She’s an inspiration to me because she’s demonstrating that value, people centric businesses can win too.

My two Co-Creators: already successful entrepreneurs before we launched Fatso, but never know-it-alls. Amazing business people, partners and mentors to me. I wouldn’t do it without them- not because I didn’t have the confidence but because I believe there is strength in numbers.

My Mum: a self-starting, successful entrepreneur herself… maybe it’s in the blood! The woman is formidable, talented, eternally loving and kind.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence”- Helen Keller

“It always seems impossible until it’s done”- Nelson Mandela

“Show me a person who has never made a mistake, and I’ll show you someone who has never achieved much”- Joan Collins

Instagram: @so.fatso

Linkedin: FATSO Brands

URL: sofatso.com