The secrets of chocolate-driven success

February 25, 2021

100 years ago my grandfather, the son of deaf parents, stood in line outside a new kind of store at 135 Western Avenue in Los Angeles, California. He was there because while his parents couldn’t hear, they could taste just fine and they *wanted* the hottest thing to hit California since the gold rush: some See’s Candies.

Thus began my family’s – and California’s – century-long love affair with that simple high quality, always fresh chocolate company.

In 1972, the Willy Wonka of finance himself, Warren Buffett, bought that company for $25 million. Famously, he almost walked away when it looked like the price would be $30 million. 

For that extra $5 million, he would have given up cash profits of $2 billion+ that See’s has returned to Berkshire Hathaway. Remarkably, the company has converted rivers of chocolate into mountains of gold not through extraordinary growth, but through the simple power of creating a great product that customers love.

I’ve always thought that the company should be studied more closely even though it’s not high growth, nor software-driven.

It’s even better than that: it’s chocolate-driven. 

For that reason, See’s has been there for family holidays, birthdays, first dates, proms, weddings, graduations, and even during tragedies and loss.

For example, during the last year of my mother’s life she only wanted two things: 1) friends and family; and 2) See’s Candies.

That’s right. Chic ate about a box a day in those final months. And, yes, she gained a little weight. But who cares, I told her. Eat up.

She loved the dark chocolate nuts and chews, which, by the way (hint, hint), are also my favorites (and the dark almond clusters are my super favs).

And I want to go on the record now. When my time comes, I want the same thing: my good friends and family, including many of you, and all the dark almond clusters I can eat (and maybe sneak in a little ribeye steak). 

Final note: when my mother died, I wrote to Wonka and asked if he would consider sending something that I could read at her funeral. 

Shockingly, he agreed.

And so we all cried, and laughed, and toasted my mother with dark almond clusters while I read Warren Buffett‘s testimonial. 

Happy 100th birthday, See’s!

Thank you for being part of my family’s journey for the last hundred years and for bringing a little bit of joy to us including, and especially, during my dear mother’s final months on this earth.

With love,


P.S. Warren Buffet’s 2020 letter to shareholders will be published this Saturday. My class of high school and college students – including some of your daughters and sons – will be reading it and then discussing it Sunday night. More about this cool program soon.

Recent Talks and Activity Recordings

  • JTBD in Large Distributed Environments
    Jay Haynes, Founder & CEO,

    Jobs To Be Done has proven to be an effective methodology for building much better holistic end-to-end products and customer experiences.

    *But* CG Council member companies with large distributed environments are finding it difficult to apply JTBD in effective ways.

    Jay Haynes, CEO of thrv, and a global expert on JTBD will come and speak to the Councils community on this specific challenge of using the methodology in large, complex technology environments.

    Talk Type: Product; Skill Builder/Practitioner
  • Groundwork: Get Better at Making Better Products
    Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin, co-Authors of Groundwork
    Talk Type: Product
    Audience/Roles: All Roles

    Product leaders are all too familiar with the one to two-year period it typically takes to train and coach PMs. Product leaders hire smart people and then work with them individually, guiding them through how to think about product management, and watching them develop. Vidya Dinamani and Heather Samarin wanted a much faster way to help cultivate efficient and effective product managers that consistently create products that delight customers, regardless of the industry, the environment, and the development methodology that the team employed. They took years of experience as product executives and working with hundreds of teams as product coaches to create a framework to Get Better at Making Better Products.

    The design philosophy and methodology behind Groundwork was created to help product leaders be confident that their teams were committed to solving the right customer problems, minimizing costly rework by using individualized needs, and leveraging actionable personas in big and small product decisions. Vidya and Heather want Groundwork to help product teams have a much higher chance of success in the market—and help every product manager shine.

    Join Vidya and Heather as they share the background, principles, and methodology behind the Groundwork to help you, and your team, get better at making better products. 
  • Making the Case for Empowering Your People
    Marty Cagan, Partner, Silicon Valley Product Group
    Talk Type: Product, Leadership Development, Culture
    Audience/Roles: All Roles

    From Marty: “I have long been interested in the difference between how the best companies work, and the rest. Working with both types of organizations for so many years, there are many differences ranging from culture to process to staffing to roles to techniques. But at its core, strong product companies empower their people, and most of the rest do not. My focus over the past few years has been tackling this issue head-on, which means the product leadership. In this talk, we’ll discuss why this model consistently yields better results, and what’s necessary to transform to work like the best.”

    Marty’s Bio: Marty Cagan is the founding partner of the Silicon Valley Product Group, which he created to pursue his interests in helping others create successful products through his writing, speaking, advising and coaching. Before starting SVPG, Marty served as an executive responsible for defining and building products for some of the most successful companies in the world, including Hewlett-Packard, Netscape Communications, and eBay.As part of his work with SVPG, Marty advises tech companies of all sizes and stages, stretching far beyond Silicon Valley. Marty is the author of the industry-leading book for product teams, INSPIRED: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, and the upcoming book EMPOWERED: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products. Marty is an invited speaker at major conferences and top companies across the globe.
  • See talks from the last month and beyond here.

About the Author

Phyl Terry

Phyl Terry, Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, Inc., launched the company’s flagship leadership program – The Councils – in 2002 with a fellow group of Internet pioneers from Amazon, Google, and others. Thousands of leaders from the Internet world have come together in the last 15 years to learn the art of asking for help and to support each other to build better, more customer-centric products, services, and companies.

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