When he was a vice president at Goldman Sachs Group Inc, managing portfolio analytics for the fixed-income desk, Kushal Choksi would stress when the short end of the interest rate curve steepened. “Then all my hedges were off, and I would have to recalibrate my models.” Now, he says, “the biggest stress of my life is when the UPS truck doesn’t show up.”
Choksi and his wife Alak Vasa, a former vice president for algorithmic trading at Goldman, are the founders of Elements Truffles. The Jersey City-based chocolate company specialises in sweets inspired by ayurveda, the Indian practice of natural medicine that highlights ingredients such as turmeric that are believed to have healing and health benefits.
They sell a line of gorgeously packaged bars—labels are block printed with vegetable ink and stitched onto boxes— made without refined sugar or soy. Instead, such selections as Sea Salt with Turmeric and Orange Quinoa are sweetened with local honey and made with ethically sourced cacao from Ecuador.
Their chocolate, which goes for around $7 for a 2-oz bar, has a pure, deep tropical fruit flavour that slowly melts into your mouth. Elements is also producing vegan hot chocolate—a thick, satisfying, fruity concoction—as well as snack bars in flavours like mango and chocolate coconut. The newest product is a plant-based, chai-spiced protein powder made from organic yellow peas. The couple prioritises education: One-fourth of their profits are donated to teach underprivileged children in India.
Choksi and Vasa began Elements in 2016. “I had been on Wall Street long enough—10 years—and I realised that this was a lifestyle I could not sustain,” says Vasa. For an outlet, she had started baking and making confections on weekends at Financier, the French-minded patisserie located across the street from Goldman Sachs’s former headquarters on Broad Street. “It would be a long week,” says Alak, who took the Path train to the bakery at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings after an intense week of work.
They launched the company with $100 000 of their money and have taken no outside investment. “I did not want this to be just about chasing valuations,” says Choksi. “We really wanted to create value,” he says. Instead he and Vasa were fiscally prudent: Their families helped the couple wrap chocolates at the outset.
Their first commercial sales were at a farmers market in downtown Jersey City in 2016. If the product didn’t sell, Vasa knew she would return to Wall Street. “I was very calculated and risk averse,” she remembers. But the chocolates sold out the first weekend. The couple then took Elements to places like Chelsea Market Baskets in downtown New York. That same year, they started their e-commerce business. Elements products are currently in 2 000 stores, including four regions of Whole Foods Market. Some customers are as far away as Australia.
Elements has also set up a small manufacturing space in Gujarat, in western India, and hopes to start production there by the end of the year to serve markets in Asia and the Middle East. It plans to produce a special bar for the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence Day.
Choksi says Elements has been profitable since the second year of business, with an average net profit margin currently at 20%. They had planned to raise $2 million for 2022 but are holding off, “given the macro scenario,” says Vasa. “We’ll come back to market soon.”
She and Choksi continue to see the benefits of the gruelling hours they put in at places like Goldman and BlackRock. “What being in the financial world of trading and portfolio management prepared us for is to deal with whatever comes your way,” says Choksi. “I have never been in a situation more stressful than on a trading desk. So what we do now just feels so natural. It’s all in a day’s work.”
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