Growing up in South Africa with a British father and Madeiran mom with such a massive extended Portuguese family exposed me to a vast richness in cultural diversity. In people, personalities, language, music and flavour.
I’ve been enjoying chillies since I was 12 or 13 (the last few years of primary school). My go-to lunch was always the same - sandwiches with mayonnaise, fresh chillies and/ or chilli sauce, and cheese, melted in the microwave. It was like a sweaty, molten, doughy, dripping mess! (And no, I don’t eat that today).
Johannesburg had an abundance of African-Portuguese style peri-peri sauces, so it’s not at all strange that I was exposed to it so early on.
If I was to try pinpoint how I became so fascinated with chillies at a young age, I guess it was ultimately experiencing and enjoying the burn, but it was probably those endorphins at a young age that pretty much-cemented chillies as a major factor in my life going forward.
Well that, and getting a kick out of friends wanting a bite of my sandwich, or swapping, sharing or stealing my lunch, knowing the reaction was going to be funny… for me.
The moment I decided to start a hot sauce company
Business, travel, music and chillies have always been in my life, but that tipping point came while having dinner with a mentor while discussing my future.
I was running through a list of things I wanted to explore in digital products, and he was asking me why not physical products? While I was fumbling through my excuses I told him I didn’t have a clue what I could possibly make. All this while he was watching me throwing chilli flakes and hot sauce all over my food (I’m sure like most here, the usual pre-eating preparation routine). It was at that moment; noticing him noticing me, when it all hit.
But the light bulb moment also triggered the next excuse – “but what do I know about….” and I was halfway through the sentence when I realized - “actually, I know a shit-load!”. 20 years of sampling and enjoying hot sauces while traveling the world puts me in quite a unique position.
The very beginnings of Sacred Sauce
The first two recipes were very thoughtful and intentional.
To make something unique in a space that, from a craft perspective, was already exceptionally innovative, I took my cues from the world of fine wines and luxury cigars.
I knew I couldn’t physically be there to talk through flavour profiles with everyone that discovered Sacred Sauce – so I focused on communication tools available – the label, packaging, the story, ingredients, imagery, words, and the ability to ignite the imagination in the mind of whoever held the bottle.
I looked to include ingredients I had experienced that conjured up exciting visuals. Hence the tagline “visions in every drop”. Finally landing on a mix of spiky prickly pear cactus pads, the lush red flesh of blood oranges, and that pink hue of uniquely shaped Himalayan salt crystals. With that, I felt I had a great sauce to begin.
The next one, Sacred Salad Sauce came to me immediately since it was something I was missing in my life. I often refer to food as a chilli vessel, and although I’ve always loved salads, I often chose the unhealthier pizza or veggie burger with fries option purely to get my chilli intake. Now I have something specifically for cold plates and healthy, leafy salads.
The path of self-discovery and business lessons
This journey has largely been one of self-discovery. Like most solopreneurs, the path is demanding, and I had to learn a host of new skills just to get to this point, and there’s more reading, practicing and researching required every week.
From initially creating the recipes, to labels, materials, FDA approvals, nutrition panels, barcodes, branding, positioning, marketing, legal, regulatory governance, trademarks, service agreements, finance modeling, taxes, clothing, packaging, freight forwarding, warehousing, inventory management, shipping, getting a 3PL, technology and API’s, automation, IT, building the website! CMS, HTML, CSS, design, photoshop, social media, email, advertising, influencers, the review process, discount codes, Amazon, Ebay, wholesale, retail, customer service, and constant industry research.
It’s been really fun though. Similar to how traveling makes the world feel smaller through the feeling of accessibility, but then infinitely bigger since there are so many little offshoots to see. You can never go everywhere. As such, with every new skill or area unlocked, my curiosity increases which fueled the next days’ learning and implementing, which switches on more lights to things I never knew, or hadn’t ever thought of before, which keeps me aware of how much more there is still to learn.
Looking back, what has been your favorite memory with the Sacred Sauce journey?
Going at it full time. There’s an immense amount of excitement, albeit naivety, when deciding to put everything you have into something you believe in. I don’t gamble, but I imagine it’s that same excitement, worry and fear, with hope and praying all in one that someone would feel in a final round of a world poker championship as they go all in! There’s an element of failure of course, but you trust you’ve done the right amount of research, calculation, and groundwork.
The energy and why behind Sacred Sauce and my journey
I was blessed to grow up in a multi-cultural household in an entrepreneurial country experiencing a necessary re-birth. I left South Africa at 19 traveling over 30 countries so far. Backpacking through Africa and the Middle East, 10 amazing years across Europe, a few trips to Australia, and now 5 years here in your beautiful country the United States of America (accessing Central America a couple times too).
It always makes me think of that book ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, where she likens her life to a piece of river clay - everyone we come into contact with leaves a fingerprint on our clay. All mixed up in there! I’ve learned so much on my travels and have been helped by so many beautiful people along the way, and also had to handle some truly difficult and dangerous situations too. I have become all of it, and all of it has become me.
And the food! All the random foods!
This is why I say I’ve had a colourful journey.
From a business standpoint, I’ve had a long list of random jobs. Night shifts in factories, farm jobs, working on boats, in deserts, I played guitar professionally in bands and even launched a record label in Scotland.
The following 10 years I worked my way up at Monster Energy drinks to Head of Digital and Gaming for all 15 of their brands globally, which was the greatest education in business, branding and marketing I could have received. They are as amazing as you would imagine! It’s true that great companies are built by great people.
Now I find myself equipped with some valuable tools, knowledge and experiences, ready to build a brand that hopefully the community can get behind - committed in service to the fans and the planet we live on.
My advice to those starting a hot sauce company or thinking about making the leap
The biggest advice is to just start.
You’ll amaze yourself every step beyond making that very first important one. And even if you stumble or drag your feet, at least you’re on your way. Remember time passes anyway, you might as well be putting some cumulative effort into something meaningful.
So begin where you can. No matter what your idea for a company is – just start with what you know. Get version 1 out to as many people you respect as possible. There are many parts of business that you do once and never touch again, many that require monthly or annual work, and many that need daily attention. The more you tick off over time the more your little idea becomes a little more tangible to show off, to sell, and to be proud of. You’ll start to attract the right people based on what you’re building.
Secondly know why you’re doing it.
For me I wanted to build a socially responsible, humanity+ business around something seemingly small yet powerful. That’s my internal marketing beacon. Doing that around travel and chillies was simply combining the things I know and love the most. This is the lens through which every other decision is made. It also makes it easy to say no to opportunities that might appear great, but aren’t for me. I don’t dive into or hoard things just because I come across them, including opportunities.
Leaning on people around you is too important not to mention. It’s not only your friends and colleagues that can directly help or give pointers. They have friends and colleagues that just might end up being your tipping point – so talk openly about what (and why) you’re doing. It’s incredible how inherently nice and supportive people can be.
Lastly, don’t be greedy – you absolutely have to work with people and companies to get anything done in this world. So be fair, be prompt, and be nice. I always visualize an upward spiral where anyone that comes aboard feels like they’re winning too.
To learn more and follow Sacred Sauce check out some of the links below. I'll catch you out there