Young, foolish, know-it-all, eager for large profits describes me in the 90’s pretty well. By this time, I had already seen some success, selling off a few startups for steep profits.
My next venture would teach me a series of lessons to last a lifetime. I had the bright idea begin selling a family salsa recipe. In my naïve mind it was simple, make a batch, slap on a label, and watch the money roll in.
Does this sound familiar? It should many people try this every day, and fail. For me, things took off. I was selling batches faster than I could make them. I did not realize, at the time, this was the first sign of many that I was about to be taken to school.
I quickly expanded past individual sales at local flea markets and seasonal events to approaching local markets to carry my products on their shelves. All the sudden I was not being looked at as this cute local product that everyone adored and wished to support.
I was faced with strict government regulations from the local to the federal level, and those guys meant business. They did not care if it was a few messily bottles of salsa.
Vendors required high dollar liability insurance policies. Up to that point, I was only ever asked to verify I had my TPT. Every city, county, and states had their rules. I was one man making batches of salsa in his garage. Oh, and by the way that was a no-no as well, I learned the term certified commercial kitchen real quick.
One after another like a long domino effect the barriers began to stack up against me. Sales were slow. I was the most expensive option on the shelf. People I had never heard of were sending me letters complaining things like I had used the word “Red” in my name. The civil suits to defend my intellectual properties began. The fight for shelf space was intense every consumer dollar was marked with blood. I was barely making enough to eat off of, now all this.
I had two choices, give it all up for a day job or keep fighting. I did not know when to quit in those days. In my mind, I had too much time and money invested. I need to see this thing through. My battle would continue for six more years. I would gain some ground and loose some.
It was not long before I faced the same choice, give up or find a way to keep fighting. My initial capital was nowhere near enough to play this game. No one was going to invest in just another salsa business. Let’s face it there was nothing special about my recipe at the time. All my revenue continued to be chewed up by the barriers that blindsided me.
I began to think like a consumer and react like an entrepreneur. Why did my product have to sell in a traditional jar? Why did my company have to sell the physical product at all?
My product became about the concept, not the content. I took from other industries within food and outside and created a multi-layered product option. Before long my concept allowed me to create several products, none of which I was producing or selling in-house. In the end, I went from traditional small-scale food manufacturer to revenues solely based on licensing deals.
You never know where your ideas will come from. You will never know everything. The version of the business you begin with is not likely the one that will make you a success. Most importantly, if you are not open minded and persistent, you will probably never experience how this story applies to you. I carried those lessons through the remainder of that project and every one since.