How a Craving for Sriracha Sauce Led Two Entrepreneurs to Build a Business That Went Viral Overnight

How a Craving for Sriracha Sauce Led Two Entrepreneurs to Build a Business That Went Viral Overnight
feature

Farbod and Kyle are two close friends living in New York City. They both love food, and share an affinity for spice. But every time they went out to eat together, they realized that one thing was always missing—the special ingredient for everythingsriracha.

As popular and widely loved as sriracha is, so many restaurants still don’t carry it. Everywhere has ketchup, mustard, and usually a ‘hot sauce’ that tastes like vinegar, but no sriracha.

One night, Kyle and Farbod had enough. They decided to look online to purchase a product that would allow them to carry their sriracha with them.

To their dismay, there was nothing to be found. But they knew there must be some sort of simple solution for the masses—something that would change the life of every spicy food lover forever.

Their simple solution? A highly portable bottle that would compliment the widely known Huy Fong Sriracha Sauce.

In this customer spotlight, we dig in to the process behind manufacturing a unique product, getting featured on massive online blogs, as well as the pains along the way of building Sriracha2Go.

How did you create, manufacture or source your product? What were some lessons you learned during this process?

Creating our product presented a few challenges. The primary challenge was finding a factory that could make our product using PET plastic that is food grade and BPA free.  

Many similar shaped bottles to ours are used for medical purposes or sunscreen and hand sanitizer and therefore are made of plastics that are not suitable to be used with food.  

How did you create, manufacture or source your product? What were some lessons you learned during this process?

Due to the way our plastic is manufactured, we ended up creating our own mold for our specific purposes and patenting the design.  

Sriracha2Go has been up and running for seven months and we’ve already worked with three different factories. We have now found a factory that we are extremely happy with and that meets all of our expectations across the board.

The first factory was found on Alibaba.  We selected this particular factory after evaluating it against 4 others by ordering multiple rounds of samples delivered with our desired colors and artwork, evaluating the factories’ certifications, and more.  

Once we received our first order of 10,000 units, we realized that the factory’s quality control was very bad.

Quality has been our number one priority throughout this process, so we didn't really have a choice. We needed to find a manufacturer who could deliver a less than 1% defect rate at scale.

At this point we were fully behind the idea of Sriracha2Go, and were willing to invest further, so we decided to search for another manufacturer who could provide us with high quality product more consistently.

Luckily, Kyle discovered he is connected—through family—to someone who was able to put us in touch with another factory. This next factory’s quality control was much better and we placed two orders through them.

They then tried increasing our price per unit so, once again, we began our search for another manufacturer. We didn’t want to be put in a position where we would have to raise our prices to our customers.

The same family connection who found the second factory also found us our third and current factory.  Everything with them has been great.  We work with the factory through our family connection, who has translators to help break down the communication barriers. It's the factory we went to China to meet with (described in more detail later).

Were there any issues with getting your product manufactured?

Because we have our product manufactured in China, a few problems can arise unfortunately.

Quality:  The range of quality in China is 0 to 100.  Everyone has heard horror stories about poor quality in China, but on the other end of the spectrum, the iPhone, arguably the world’s more sophisticated consumer product, is manufactured in China.  

The challenge is finding the right manufacturer for your needs.

Alibaba has their own verification program in place which includes several levels of verification. Below is a chart that summarizes the three different levels of verification Alibaba has. 

Were there any issues with getting your product manufactured?

Timezone differences: China is 12 hours off of our local time zone, so we spent many nights staying up late sending emails back and forth with our broker, distributors and factories.  Even to this day, there are many nights where we set alarms four times throughout the night to wake up and check emails.

That might sound crazy, but the only other option is to wait 12 hours between every email, which just isn’t an option for us.

Language: Be prepared for the language barrier.  Although many Chinese factories deal with US clients frequently, they are not fluent in English.  

There were a couple times we had a Chinese-speaking friend of ours join Skype calls to play translator for us.

Manufacturing hierarchy in China: Sourcing a product off of Alibaba is very difficult and risky for a few reasons.

A lot of times, the person who owns the Alibaba listing does not work at the factory they are sourcing products from. 

Many times this person is simply a broker who passes your order to a factory in China, and maybe that factory ends up outsourcing the work to a third factory.  

This presents a lot of risk to your business because once your orders increase in size and you begin sending $50,000+ wires to your broker, there’s nothing stopping that person from shutting down their email address and phone and walking away with your $50,000.  

There is virtually no recourse.

You have no idea who’s manufacturing your product. It’s a really difficult situation to be in sometimes. The broker could be turning around and passing your order to a factory breaking labor laws like child labor, unsafe working conditions etc.  Sometimes this hand off occurs multiple times and the business owner has no idea.  

To alleviate these risks, the best way to find a distributor or manufacturer is through your network or by attending expos and meeting with them in person.

If you have your product sourced in China, do everything you can to get to China to visit a factory. This sounded crazy to us when we first started out, but we cannot explain how valuable our trip to China was this past March.  

We spent five days there meeting with our factory and distributor and had a translator present the entire time.

How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from?  Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?

We initially promoted our business through friends, family, and social marketing. The friends and family part was pretty straightforward.

Here’s a breakdown of how we promoted across social media.

Instagram:  We knew there were a lot of sriracha fanatics out there when we launched, and we wanted to find a way to reach them as quickly and cost effectively as possible—social.  

People LOVE sharing how much they enjoy sriracha with the world, so we had to find a way to make these people see our brand.  Instagram was critical to the early success of Sriracha2Go.

How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from?  Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?

If someone posted a photo of sriracha on Instagram, we knew this meant they loved sriracha, so we searched for #sriracha and began liking and commenting on as many pictures as we could.  

Naturally, seeing a like or a comment from a company they had never heard of called “Sriracha2Go” drew these sriracha lover’s interest, and soon people began visiting our website, posting about us to social media channels, and more.

Twitter: Twitter has been more of a challenge in generating engagement, but we’ve found it very useful for communicating with customers, bloggers, publishers, and others we’re trying to get in contact with.

Also, it is a major social customer service channel, so we make sure to respond to all questions and comments that come through Twitter within a few hours.

Reddit:  We posted our product to Reddit at the time of launch with a coupon code for 40% off. This was a great way to get quick exposure, honest feedback on our product, and sales.  

This post got a lot of good traction on the r/spicy subreddit and soon grew to other social channels.

How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from?  Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?

Facebook:  Facebook was also a bit more of a challenge at the beginning because it is less public and less searchable, but we invited all of our friends to the Facebook page to begin building our following.  

Once Sriracha2Go was written about by different blogs and news outlets (details later), our Facebook following quickly grew.  

How did you promote your business initially and where did your first sales come from?  Any major media mentions or PR wins since then?

Because we knew these people were sriracha lovers, we figured there was a strong likelihood that their friends were as well.

As the business has matured, we’ve begun investing more in Facebook advertising.  When we post an image to the Sriracha2Go Facebook page, we usually ‘boost’ the post to gain more exposure.  

This is a great way for us to spread awareness of our brand and reach new customers.

Pinterest: About a month after launch, we decided to launch a Pinterest page, which has evolved into one of our most important social channels.  

We’re participating in the Pinterest Ads program and have seen great results.  Our product is very visual—once you see it, you either understand it and want to buy it, or you don’t get it and move on, which makes Pinterest a great channel for Sriracha2Go.

How did your sales pick up?

The steps we took on social which turned into organic growth amongst our target market quickly caught the attention of major publications.  

On November 7th, within 10 days of launch, we were pleasantly surprised to wake up to an article BuzzFeed published about us, which got almost 1,000,000 views.  

Within hours of the BuzzFeed article many other publishers followed suit like Refinery29, LA Times, Esquire, Thrillist, and about 100 others. We had no idea this was coming, and our business went from 0-60 in a matter of seconds.

How did your sales pick up?

Our order volume went through the roof and within hours we ran out of inventory.  

We quickly changed the copy on our website to make it very clear to our customers that we were on backorder and that all orders placed will not be delivered for 4-6 weeks.

As exciting as this was for us, it was also incredibly challenging.  

Most customers were very understanding of the backorder, but at the same time, there was a small percentage who were understandably frustrated to have to wait up to 45 days for their product.

Over this time, our sole focus was to do everything we could to make sure our customers received their product within those 4-6 weeks.

With this new volume of orders and the poor quality control of our first factory, we decided to make the transition to factory number two.  

Additionally, we knew we would be unable to package and ship these orders ourselves, so we partnered with a 3rd Party Fulfillment center, Swan Packaging & Fulfillment.  

There were a lot of moving parts, but we knew these changes had to be made to get a high quality product to our customers within the timeline we promised them.

How do you handle fulfilment and organize the back-end of your business?  Can you share some key lessons and tips on doing this successfully?

Upon launching our product, we were packing up and fulfilling our product ourselves, out of our office.

We quickly realized that staying up until 5am on a daily basis to pack and ship boxes wasn’t a sustainable model, so we partnered with a fulfillment center, Swan Packaging Fulfillment, who handles all of our fulfillment needs.

The additional costs to have a 3rd party handle your fulfillment needs are sometimes tough to swallow, but it’s definitely the route you need to take if you plan on building a successful business.

Uline is a popular choice to purchase packaging materials including over 1,300 sizes of boxesbubble mailers, and package cushioning.

How do you handle fulfilment and organize the back-end of your business?  Can you share some key lessons and tips on doing this successfully?

You can’t spend hours upon hours fulfilling orders on your own if you want to concentrate on the sales and marketing of your business. The one exception here would be if you have the resources to hire a team in-house to fulfill orders for you.

The software our fulfillment center uses—3PL— and Shopify easily integrate with each other so that every order placed on our website in transmitted to our fulfillment center in near real time. They then fulfill the order and send tracking information back into Shopify, which triggers out our confirmation email.

All orders placed by 12pm Eastern are now being fulfilled on the same day. It’s a fantastic business model in terms of being hands-off for the most part.

Here are three main tips when working with fulfillment and inventory

  1. Partner with a fulfillment center who you trust, and who will be available to help you in times of need.  Not everything is black and white when it comes to the fulfillment process, and you need a partner who understands your business and is willing to think outside the box.
  2. Make sure you are always cognizant of your inventory, and once your product gains momentum and you start seeing a market out there, stock up.  Running out of product can be seen as a good problem to have, but keeping your customers happy is the most important element in running a successful business.
  3. If you are starting out by fulfilling your product yourself, make sure you’ve done your research on fulfillment centers. This way, once it’s time to outsource this part of your business, you’ll be ready.

What software, tools, and resources are crucial to your business?

  • Shopify - for all things commerce
  • GoShippo - to save time on shipping labels and more
  • MailChimp - for email marketing 
  • Asana - for productivity
  • Upwork - for finding freelancers

What are your top recommendations for new store owners?

Provide exceptional customer service, no matter where it is: social, in-store, email, or phone. Your customers are the backbone of your business, so do what you need to do to make sure they’re completely satisfied with their shopping experience. It doesn’t matter if it’s a customer who gets upset and is extremely rude over something that you don’t have any control over (i.e. a shipment getting lost). Do everything you can to make them happy, even if it means losing money on that customer.

Leverage your network and learn from people who have experience in this space. If you don’t personally have a large network, ask friends to introduce you to people who have been in the ecommerce space at some point. There is a lot to learn, and you can’t overlook the importance of tapping into the knowledge of others. There’s also nothing wrong with reaching out to people without a warm introduction. Some will respond and can end up being very valuable resources.

Build close relationships with everyone you do business with. Whether it be your fulfillment center, your customers, your employees, or your manufacturer -  building relationships and getting to know and trust the people you work with is vital to success.

Find a couple of successful companies that you love, and learn from them.  We are in love with the brand identity of DollarShaveClub and PooPourri. They both provide amazing products, exceptional customer service, and are fun, edgy, and don’t take themselves too seriously.

Reach out to publishers and tell them about your product/store. Be prepared to work hard and long. The hours are essentially non-stop, but it’s well worth it. Make sure to list your product on Amazon, and use FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon). As the largest internet retail website in the US, Amazon is a channel that must be leveraged.

Don’t neglect social media. Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter—use them all. Social is more effective for some brands than others, but it only takes one publisher to see and love your product/store on social media, write about it, and change your life.


    Sriracha 2 Go Giveaway

    Conclusion

    Kyle and Farbod’s entrepreneurial journey has just begun. They’ve been able to build a wildly successful business in just a matter of months, and there's no sign of them slowing down.

    They’ve continued to innovate and iterate on their product—and just recently were able to sign an officially licensed deal with Huy Fong Foods to incorporate their famous rooster logo into the Sriracha2Go line.

    With a hot product and extremely extensive knowledge of the manufacturing industry—we can’t wait to see what else is in store for Kyle and Farbod.

    If you enjoyed this post, please let us know in the comments below!


    Conclusion

    About The Author

    Tucker Schreiber is an ecommerce entrepreneur and content crafter at Shopify. He writes to inspire, educate, and inform readers on all things commerce.

    Start your free 14-day trial of Shopify