Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Lauren D'Souza, founder of Ujjo, the first hot sauce made for coffee located in Columbus, Ohio.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I’m the founder of Ujjo, the first hot sauce for coffee. Our two hot sauces use a sweetener base instead of vinegar, so they’re a little spicy, a little sweet, and perfect for people who like coffee, or hot sauce, or just having some fun with their food.
Tell us about yourself
Ujjo started as a joke when a friend dared me to throw a dash of hot sauce into my morning coffee. It turned out to be absolutely disgusting, but the experience got me thinking, “I like coffee, and I like hot sauce…so is there a way to make a hot sauce that would work in my coffee?” After about ten months of playing around in my kitchen, I started asking people for feedback, and, shockingly, even people who didn’t like coffee or hot sauce were into it. (Needless to say, coffee fans and hot sauce fans were wild about it, too.)
In those early days, I got to connect with so many people and watch the confusion, then excitement, on their faces as they realized that they really, really liked Ujjo––that’s hands-down the thing that motivates me every day.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
We’re still early enough that I’m pretty proud of every sale we’ve made so far, but we did just close a deal with an international distributor that will make us available in 57 countries starting early next year!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
I think energy management is crucial for any business owner, but especially for a solopreneur. Early on, I would get overwhelmed by a never-ending to-do list and would push myself to the brink of exhaustion just trying to keep everything on track. I quickly realized that working around the clock wasn’t just physically unsustainable but also detrimental to my emotional state.
Now, I try to prioritize balance as much as I can. I still work long (and weird) hours, but I delegate more, and I’m learning to be okay with leaving some stuff on my to-do list until tomorrow.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Ooh, this is a tough one because I think it highly depends on your business. But at a high level, I’d suggest…
- Doing your due diligence before jumping in feet-first. I was working a full-time job when I first started working on Ujjo, and it gave me the time and safety net to research the market opportunity, build my brand, and make sure that people loved my product before launching.
- Sharing the ups––and downs––of your brand’s journey. I’ve used our Instagram to be pretty upfront about how things are going: the big wins like winning new accounts and growing the team, but also the heavier stuff like dealing with insomnia, depression, anxiety, and startup guilt. Being so open has done two things: 1) It’s allowed me to form a tight relationship with our customers, so we see a high repeat customer rate because people believe in the product and the brand, and 2) It’s made me feel really supported by our customers, which helps me get through those tougher days.
- Hiring a bookkeeper sooner rather than later. We’ve been fortunate in that a friend of mine has helped do Ujjo’s books from the very beginning, but without him, we would be an absolute mess. Because startup costs can grow out of control so easily, we needed to have a clear understanding of what we could and couldn’t afford so that we could scale quickly but also sustainably.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.