When most people visit a new country, they buy a little something to bring home to remind them of their adventures—a treasure found at the local market, for example, or a piece of art or traditional clothing. For Marley Kaplan, that souvenir is always chocolate.
Last June, Kaplan attended Startup Extreme in Norway, one of her favorite chocolate destinations. While there, the WeWork NoMad member found herself “collecting bars along the trip and taking it into the mountains.”
Once she returned to the U.S., Kaplan missed the international morsels so much that when friends from Norway were coming for a visit, she asked them to bring her a few bars. One day, she noticed on Facebook that other people were also putting in chocolate requests from friends abroad, and a light went off.
“Maybe I’m not the only one [who] travels by chocolate,” Kaplan thought, wondering why it wasn’t easier to get from Europe.
ChocoTravlr is Kaplan’s answer to this craving and her “fun project” to spread her love of chocotourism. Using a subscription box service model, the startup offers customers a sweet taste of a different country each month.
For now, the focus is on the chocolate locals actually eat—the treats that can be picked up from the neighborhood grocery store, for instance—not necessarily on artisanal goods that can often be purchased in the U.S. Each box is finished off with a card from the country’s curator, giving recipients a snapshot of the culture and the chocolate they are about to devour.
Kaplan says she has always had a passion for exploring the world and pushing boundaries. When it came time to go to graduate school, the American chose to attend London Metropolitan University for her marketing degree. She ended up staying in the U.K. for four years, enjoying the different shapes, sizes, and textures of the chocolate along the way (one of her favorites: the Aero bar).
Following school, Kaplan jumped into the traditional marketing and advertising world before returning to the U.S. and becoming inspired by New York’s thriving startup community. Just as with Norwegian chocolate, Kaplan noticed there was a link missing between these two communities, and she jumped in to fill it.
Kaplan began consulting for different companies, including Intel on wearable fashion tech and Brussels-based Seaters, a live events platform and her current day job, on their effort to enter the U.S. market.
But with ChocoTravlr, Kaplan has the chance to take what she’s learned and play around with an idea of her own. And she has wasted no time.
While all of Kaplan’s experience has led up to this project, the idea first popped into her head the week before Halloween. Wanting to take advantage of the upcoming gift-giving season, she posted a website sans payment options within the next few weeks to gauge interest in the idea. Her site was officially ready for orders in mid-November.
The turnaround time, while impressive, has led to a few funny hiccups. Kaplan was readying some samples from her first box—celebrating Norway, of course—to send to bloggers and social media influencers, when a friend noticed that all of the chocolate was expired by two weeks (a pitfall of her current acquisition method—having local friends buy in bulk from their neighborhood stores).
She’s also had some delightful surprises, like learning that her first order wasn’t from a friend or a family member.
While the boxes will be Euro-centric to start, leveraging Kaplan’s connections from her recent travels, she hopes to eventually expand her chocolate exploration to other areas of the world like Asia.
The biggest perk of being the head of ChocoTravlr?
“Hopefully this job that I’m creating for myself would allow me to travel and try more [chocolate] around the world.”
Photo credit: Emanuel Hahn