Meet the engineer who sold his company for almost $200 million and used the money to open a chocolate factory in San Francisco

Dandelion chocolate, mission district, todd masonisMelia Robinson/Business InsiderChocolate makers at work in Dandelion Chocolate.

When Todd Masonis and his partner sold their startup to Comcast in 2008 for a rumoured sum between $US150 and $US170 million, he took a “fun year.”

Masonis, a Stanford grad, excavated a Roman fort in England, biked across Scotland, and toured family-run chocolate factories in France.

It was in France where something clicked for the serial entrepreneur. He returned to the US and cofounded Dandelion Chocolate, a small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate maker in — where else — a garage.

Step inside Dandelion Chocolate, located at 740 Valencia St., in San Francisco’s Mission District, to see how Masonis and his team are disrupting the sweets industry.

The smell of freshly shelled cacao nibs, grinding in a metal vat for 72 hours, hits you upon entering Dandelion Chocolate, part café, part chocolate factory in San Francisco's Mission District. It's hard to imagine cofounder Todd Masonis can get anything done here.

'I eat chocolate every day,' Masonis told Business Insider when we first met in October. He's a modern-day Willy Wonka who dreams of disrupting the chocolate industry through small-batch production and simple ingredients.

Masonis is no stranger to the startup space. After graduating from Stanford in 2001 with a degree in symbolic systems, he and friend Cameron Ring set out to make something new. They launched Plaxo, an online address-book service, with serial entrepreneur Sean Parker.

Parker, who cofounded Napster and became the first president of Facebook, thought up a software that auto-updated users' address books when one of their contacts moved, changed companies, or got a new phone. Masonis called it 'the precursor to social networking.'

At its peak, Plaxo had 20 million users, employed 80 people, and raised $28 million in funding. In 2008, Masonis and Ring sold the company to Comcast for between $150 and $170 million.

Source: TechCrunch

After their massive exit, Masonis and Ring stayed at Comcast for a year before taking off to have some fun. Masonis went on an archaeological dig in England, biked across Scotland, and toured family-run chocolate factories in France. That's when he got hooked.

When Masonis returned, he and Ring, left, bought a toaster oven and a coffee roaster, built a winnower out of PCP pipes, and started making chocolate in a friend's garage, the quintessential setting for a founder's story.

With family and techie friends serving as taste-testers, Masonis and Ring decided to run with it. They bought a former auto-repair shop on Valencia Street in the Mission and transformed the space into a chocolate factory.

Doors opened in 2012 and a café was added a couple of months later. Every seat in the house provides a view into the chocolate making.

Dandelion's chocolate tastes different than a Hershey's or Ghirardelli square. 'It doesn't taste like candy,' Masonis says. Each bar has just two ingredients: cacao and sugar.

Without added cocoa butter, vanilla, or lecithin to hide behind, each cacao bean needs to be perfect. Staff meticulously sort through the burlap sacks of beans they receive, to weed out the ones that are cracked or otherwise defective.

They roast, crack, grind, and temper the beans in-house, and package each bar by hand. Dandelion products can be purchased in-store and online, although Masonis suggests calling first for availability.

Should you happen to be in San Francisco, a visit to the factory is worth the trip. You can sip on European-style hot chocolate, which is thick like fondue and served warm.

Or try the Brownie Bite Flight, three cupcake-size brownies. Each contains a chocolate of a different origin (Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar) and offers a unique flavour.

This S'more looks almost too beautiful to eat. A homemade graham cracker cradles a chocolate square made from Papua New Guinea beans and marshmallow, toasted to order.

Ring works in an advisory role at Dandelion while pursuing other ventures. Masonis, like any tech entrepreneur, is never finished perfecting his product ...

He applies research-and-development best practices he learned working at Plaxo in the test kitchen, in search of the purest chocolate recipe.

Now explore the Mission, where Dandelion Chocolate calls home.

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at research.businessinsider.com.au.