Hear How This Bahamian Founder Got Her Creative Juices Flowing to Begin Generating Sales for Her Delicious Startup
What is now a national brand known around the 700 islands of the Bahamas, was once a hidden treasure. It was back in 2013 when Melissa Darville and her then-partner, Elvis Percentile, first got the idea for Shiver.
Our team had the opportunity to learn about her journey to finding her sweet spot (literally) as a Bahamian founder, what it took for her to start generating sales and keep the momentum going amidst lockdowns and major operational transitions.
The once aspiring fashion designer turned teacher always knew she wanted to venture into entrepreneurship.
“My journey to Shiver started when I fell in love with ice cream in Jamaica.” says Melissa Darville.
“I wanted to be a fashion designer at first then I got intimidated when I went to visit the college and decided on my second choice to write children’s books. I was promptly told by the guidance counselor that it was not a real job, why don’t I go into teaching? I was always naturally good with children so I conceded.
During my first year of teaching elementary school, I decided I could not do this forever and began taking business classes and training to open a preschool. Becoming a female entrepreneur wasn’t a far-fetched idea for me because my personality is one that always finds a way. I love doing more than is expected and I love new starts. So a blank slate, a blank sheet of paper, a blank screen energizes me.”
For 11 years, Melissa along with her sister and niece tutored adults and preschool through to senior high students at their special needs school CMS Learning Centre.
“It was a very hard decision to close the school and all of the parents worried about what I would do next. But a hobby opened a door.” Melissa recalls.
“Shiver was a business that bloomed when I was uncertain of what I would do next. I retired from teaching and needed another income. Making ice cream was a hobby that I developed, the public liked, and that had the potential to provide for myself and my children.
The conditions were right, I loved ice cream, I had access to the equipment, and the public liked what I created.”
Melissa shares she was gifted a tabletop kitchen appliance, then later a commercial batch freezer.
“Receiving the batch freezer confirmed that I would establish this brand, no turning back or giving up. I started out selling to schools and offices then got picked up by a local distributor and then by Baha Mar Grand Hyatt.”
We asked where the name “Shiver” came from and thought it was the cutest thing ever:
“Shiver was the name my toddler daughter used when she wanted me to put my lip gloss on her. She would perk her lips and say “give me some shiver”. I always thought it was so cute, the word just stuck with me.”
As with many startups, Melissa says it took about a year to research, develop and test her products.
“It took one year before we started to make any product. Once the company was named it took on a persona of its own. It was an extension of myself that needed to be developed.”
We wanted to know how she got started as a female entrepreneur and what those early days were like for Melissa and her partner.
“My first product was tamarind sorbet. I ordered 30,000 cups before I had proof that the business would work. My family thought it was a huge risk, they said you will be giving away cups for Christmas for the rest of your life.
I had faith in the product and within the year I had to order more cups.”
”What was it like taking the product to the marketplace and generating customers and sales in the first 6 – 12 months?
“Making sorbet came naturally to me, it seems that I have a gift for creating flavor combinations. Once we decided on the ratio of fruit in each batch, everything else became clockwork.
My first big sale for the sorbet was at a primary school that was having a fun day. I didn’t have a cooler or freezer truck. I packed the sorbet in clothes hampers and dragged them to the school’s office and stacked them in the freezer. I was so proud of my achievement. It was my first sign that everything would be okay.”
Melissa continues, “Word of mouth took over, and soon I had offices calling and other schools. The first big break was when a local distributor picked us up and put us in the main food store chain. That was just 6 months after I started.”
The next big break was when the Baha Mar hotel in Nassau was having its grand opening and they called and asked if we wanted the good news or the great news.”
We wanted the great news first! And indeed the great news was amazing! Shiver was picked up by Baha Mar, a major local resort, as an offering in their cafeteria.
Melissa added, “They wanted 5000 units to give guests at their grand opening.”
This was monumental proof of concept less than a year after going to market. The business started off with such local encouragement and with booming sales. Melissa acknowledges it was because of the initial positive push that she was psychologically sustained during any later disappointments.
This prompted us to ask if there were any moments along the way when she felt like giving up as a female entrepreneur
“I wanted to give up during the Covid lockdowns because I was left alone to keep the brand alive. I felt overwhelmed by the financial burden and the consequences and pressure of making decisions. I did give up and let go of my emotional attachment to the equipment and facility. I had to tell myself that the brand was Me, my recipes and designs and even if I lost everything physically, I had the knowledge and skills to rebuild and rebuild better.
I am still not out of the woods but the mindset shift was crucial. If I valued the brand on replaceable things that means that my input was irrelevant. I had to own the value that I brought and believe in my ability to survive. Luckily a friend stepped in and gave sweat equity and encouragement. Seeing someone sacrifice their time so I would not lose hope, brought back my confidence.”
Did assembling a team play a critical role in your brand’s growth?
“Our permanent team has always been small. However, I’ve had help from so many people on a need basis. Through accelerator programs, I’ve had access to expert advice and training, which helped me to develop the company into what it is now. To date it is a team of a faithful four, however, we are looking at adding partners as we explore new markets.”
Appreciating Melissa’s transparency, we asked what 3 things she thought made the difference in her brand’s sales and growth.
“Word of mouth, most of our contracts and referrals are from conversations people have talking about our brand and the positive experience they have.”
Melissa added, “Our price is very competitive and our individual serving portion size lends to impulse buying and families purchasing in bulk.
The key to Shiver is the taste, each spoonful makes you reminiscent of childhood eating native fruit. People crave it. It’s different when a native prepares the sorbet because we make sure the taste is authentic. We bring seasonal tropical fruit into your grasp.”
Our founder, Aisha Nesut Ani, attests to the authentic taste and nostalgic feeling Shiver successfully delivers. She shares how the Shiver sorbets were a hit in her home and at events, she hosted for both kids and adults.
We asked, what makes Shiver the amazingly delicious and unique product that it is?
“Traditionally sorbet is made using corn syrups, extracts, and fillers for texture. Shiver uses pounds of real fruit and no artificial additives. The texture and taste keep our customers coming and the story of a bootstrapping single mom developing a brand inspires others and draws them to the brand.
We have elevated the local produce and highlighted them for the super fruit that they are, vitamin-rich, and tasty. Soursop, tamarind, mango, pineapples, passion fruit, blackberries, guavas- these would usually only be available seasonally, but we make them readily available year-round.”
Melissa said that in the beginning, the initial goal was to have a successful delivery service. Then they were satisfied with supermarket and wholesale orders.
“After 2019 when Shiver made it to the quarter-finals of the Entrepreneurial World Cup Finals, my eyes were opened to the global possibilities. Now my goal is for the inclusion of local farms into the manufacturing process, environmentally aware practices, and international factories and franchises.”
Undoubtedly, Shiver has created a pleasant and tasty chill in the national Bahamian marketplace. Next, Melissa has set her eyes on branching out into the other Caribbean islands, so it’s not just Shiver Bahamas but Shiver Caribbean!
“We hope to get into the USA market in the upcoming year as well, and the world would be able to order Shive online.”
Before we wrapped up this exhilarating interview, there was something we wanted to circle around to. As we know the pandemic of 2020 was a most challenging time globally for hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs.
Melissa, have you made any adjustments to your business since the pandemic of 2020? If so, what’s the most successful initiative or change you’ve implemented?
“Before the pandemic, we had purchased customized freezers. The closure and limited access to primary shopping and the use of essential stores lent themselves perfectly to us placing our freezers in corner stores and essential stores.
Our dependence on wholesale hotel and supermarket sales had to be adjusted so we are now following through with plans to get our storefronts and franchises established. A successful initiative we tried was in catering to events such as weddings and birthdays, etc. We had the great pleasure of our product being invited to a New Years’ exclusive party where The Wailers performed. We’ve also been invited to speak at The Prime Minister’s National Address.”
Melissa expresses that once schools and hotels reopened, and business went back to normal post the lockdowns, sales started to increase. “I am grateful that demand started to exceed my ability to supply, which gives me proof that it is time to expand.”
Out of curiosity, we wanted to know if there was a mantra or favorite quote that Melissa used as inspiration and motivation to keep going.
Psalm 50:15 Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will give me glory.
‘This is my quote because, without strong faith, I would not have had the tenacity and courage to face the disappointments that come with being an entrepreneur. There are many good days, but as you evolve into your best person as an entrepreneur many things in your life will be tested.
Your friend base, family base, financial security, your popularity. If you supply your strength from external stimuli, you can become weak. Tap into a strength that is renewable and infinite- your desire to do good works, to be your best, and to make an impact on the world.”
Melissa left us with some words of advice for new founders introducing their products or service to the marketplace.
“Firstly, make sure that you have a social media presence and that you establish yourself as the leader in your field. Be visible and donate your time and skill, it will pay off in connections and alliances. Listen to the market. Don’t try and force a product into a market, but listen to the feedback and adjust, if needed change your target market if it cannot sustain you.
Seek experts in your field, and listen to criticism with the hope of correcting and improving your product. Don’t skip over market research, local and global. Follow the leaders in your industry, and make sure you are trending towards the future of the market. If you have access to an accelerator program, join. If you can find one specific to your niche, choose that one.”
In this short feature on Bahamian founder, Melissa Darville, we learned so much about what startup success looks like. Every entrepreneur’s journey is different, but the common trait we find with the entrepreneurs we meet and speak to is always an evident passion for what they do. The energy and passion with Melissa as a woman founder is magnetic! We are confident that there’s so much more to expect from Shiver and we look forward to sharing more success stories from them in the coming months and years.
P.S. Be sure to check out our eNews feature: How This Entrepreneur is Paving the Way for Next-Gen Women in Tech. We post monthly blog posts about entrepreneurs, creatives, and business owners building and growing their brands.