KLASSY Toffee talks growing a business – and giving back

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Dedication, passion and pride: three key ingredients of a great entrepreneur – or, as the case may be, soldier. Nobody knows this sweet combination better than 26 year-old Ryan Klassy from Aurora, Colorado.

At the age of 22, Ryan founded KLASSY Toffee during late nights after 10-12 hour workdays on a Colorado Air Force Base. The company is devoted to making high-quality treats and giving back to charities and soldiers. For every box the company sells, they ship a box to an American soldier stationed overseas absolutely free.

To find out more, we asked Ryan to indulge us in some good old-fashioned Q&A.

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Logo design by Neographika; Check out the contest here.

- The company’s devotion to delivering care packages to soldiers is notable. Where does your inspiration come from? I have personally seen what mail can mean to soldiers. I haven’t deployed overseas yet, but I have been in fairly long training scenarios where you have no contact with family. Mail time is without a doubt the best part of the year. I work with thousands of soldiers who have been deployed and they will all tell you the same thing. I have been in the Army for nearly eight years now and have always wanted to find a way to give back. This is it.

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- You must keep late hours to run the company. Describe a day in your life. I work 55+ hours each week in the Colorado National Guard as an AGR Member (Active Guard Reserve). At my busiest time I get up for work around 5:30 a.m., head to Buckley Air Force Base for duty until about 6:00 p.m., then head to the kitchen and start making toffee. I make a few batches which takes until about 9:00, then I head home. There I set up orders, respond to customers and reconcile all business matters… anything from purchasing more supplies to shipping receipts. I’m hopefully in bed by 11:00 so that I can get up and do it all again the next day. Once things really get moving I’ll be able to hire someone to handle the record keeping and shipping, and I will focus on toffee production only.

- Did you learn anything about your vision for the company while running a contest on 99designs? I definitely learned about branding. I saw so many different ideas and creative trains of thought that I realized how strongly a logo can affect the feel of the company.

I wanted something different than what you typically see from chocolate or toffee companies. This recipe for toffee is my own. It is from 2010, not 1910, so I needed a logo that was more modern. I also wanted something that reflects my values as a US soldier. This logo has a strong visual impact with bright colors that really jump off the page.

Klassy toffee

- What role does social media play for your company? My Facebook page has been a huge part of this company’s start up. In fact, besides a few small festivals, it’s the only way I’ve really talked about the company.

We haven’t advertised yet. The last three years have been a learning process and I wasn’t set up to handle large order volume. Now I have all the machinery and kitchen space that I need and can handle quite a bit more. I plan on giving away a lot of toffee to the Facebook fans and really inspiring them with our charity work, hopefully while getting them to share my posts!

- What makes KLASSY Toffee so unique? KLASSY Toffee is 100% owned by a currently active duty soldier. I don’t know any other company that gives so much of their product away to soldiers overseas, and that focuses their entire business model and marketing strategy around overseas military personnel. I have a very intimate connection with the military. Everything I do is military-related, so why not have a company that reflects that?

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- What’s your advice for others looking to start a business? Everyone says do something you love. Well, if that doesn’t work out then learn to love what you do! Eventually you will get a huge sense of pride in what you have done and the passion will follow. Be ready for a lot of hard work and a lot of unexpected changes. Don’t be afraid to change course on something!

Try to keep overhead as low as possible. If you want to be a success then you need to BE the business. Live, eat, breathe and dream the business to success. Most of all, do not stop! Always think, “Ok, I accomplished this small task… what’s next?” and constantly take the next step. Don’t stop, and eventually you will get very far.

There you have it… the ingredients to a successful business: dedication, passion, staying true to your values, and of course, a sugary sweet logo design!

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Kelly works for the marketing team at 99designs. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Kelly lives in San Francisco where she can often be found eating cheetos, playing ping pong or frequenting one of the Bay Area's many parks and cafes with a good book.