Let's start with the most obvious question: why salsa?
I get this question all the time. My dad is Mexican and I am from West Texas, so I grew up eating Mexican food, especially chips and salsa. It was something I enjoyed my whole life. When I moved to Paris to participate in the HEC Paris MBA program, I quickly learned there was absolutely no good salsa there. So I got some family recipes and started making salsa myself.
Over 3-4 years, I moved from Paris to London and Melbourne, where I continued to play with the ingredients, taking out things I don’t like (like onions) and adding in more of the flavors I love. When I finally moved back to New York, I got my social network up and running again by hosting barbecues or dinner parties where I would make my salsa. People kept asking where I bought it, and when I explained that I made it, they then asked if they could buy it. After so many of these questions, I finally threw my hat into the ring and decided to make salsa my business.
What did you do before making salsa?
I worked as a securities and corporate law attorney while in New York. This was in 2008 and within that one year, my law firm went from 300+ attorneys to zero. At that point I decided to reboot my career by going to business school. That’s what landed me in Paris.
At the time, I was aiming to get into finance or investment banking. I eventually worked as a investment banker in both London and New York. This is when I started running the salsa business on the side. I was putting in a crazy amount of hours; I was working investment banker hours plus running a side business.
What made you decide to go full time with salsa?
The realization that the time was right came to me at the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. I was exhibiting the salsa—it was really my first major show and I had no clue what I was doing. I was literally winging it. During the show, a buyer from Whole Foods stopped by the booth to try the salsa and absolutely loved it. She sent over her distributor to talk more about the product. I realized if I can get Whole Foods interested in my product, then I had something that needed all of my attention.
Have you hit any bumps while launching the company?
I’ve certainly had my fair share of problems that arose and that needed my full and immediate attention. Most recently, I had a huge issue arise during the new product launch: the Grab & Go Chips & Salsa Combo Pack. At the 2019 Fancy Food Show in June, I had been working really hard on rolling out the Chips & Salsa Combo Pack. I originally conceived of the idea a year before and I was super excited to finally bring the product to market. With any product launch, there’s always a ton of things that can go wrong. This was no exception. Things went disastrously wrong.
The plan was for me to go to Las Vegas to our tortilla manufacturing plant to supervise production and help assemble the kits on the Wednesday after Memorial Day. I landed in Las Vegas to get an email from my logistics company saying that the salsa cups—a key component to the combo packs—were misdirected and were actually being shipped to my apartment in New York. I was on a tight deadline to get the new product assembled and ready for the show, so I went back to New York and I personally, with the help of my brother, individually assembled over 4,000 chips and salsa combo packs at a storage unit near my apartment.
Most startups fail — and many in the food and beverage industry — what’s your relationship with the risk?
Risk is something that is always in the back of my mind—the constant thought of “what happens if this business doesn’t work out” and questions about whether I would want to go back to the corporate world and grind it out to make a living. I’ve never enjoyed working for other people, so when it comes to the alternatives and to dealing with risk, I’ve basically come to realize that I can’t let myself fail and that I’ll do whatever it takes to make this product successful.
The way I look at it, I have too much riding on this, so I can’t let myself fail.
How do you deal with criticism?
In the consumer packaged goods industry, people sometimes just won’t like your product. I occasionally get emails or Facebook messages from people saying they think the salsa is too watery or that they don’t like the flavors. This can be discouraging, but at the end of the day I’m selling hundreds of thousands of jars of salsa per year. When dealing with such large volumes, there are bound to be people who I can’t please, so I focus on the positive. There are tens or hundreds of thousands of people who buy Salsa God Salsa and who like it, and I know I can’t let one failure or setback cloud my vision for the overall company.
Where did the name “Salsa God” come from?
When I first started, there was a small trademark issue; I wanted to name the company Casa Maya Salsa (a twist on my last name), so I had to pivot and rebrand to Salsa God, which was my Instagram handle. I actually think the rebranding has helped the company become much more successful than it ever could have been with the previous name.
What is your superpower?
Determination. For example, I’ve been particularly determined to get this new product off the ground. It seems like such an easy concept—to have one product that has chips and salsa together, but no one is really doing it right now. Some companies have tried and have failed spectacularly, but I have it in my head that this needs to be in the market. It’s taken me over a year to work out the concept, but I’ve stuck to it. And even with the issues of having the product launch-ready for the Summer Fancy Food Show and having to assemble 4,000+ combo packs, I've been determined to get this to market.
What’s your kryptonite?
Spreading myself too thin. I tend to take on too many projects at the same time. For instance, I’m currently working on launching Salsa God in Canada. While this is going on, I am also flying out to Chile and Peru to do international sales meetings down there. Then in October, I’m off to Germany to do a gigantic trade show called ANUGA to hopefully land some European export accounts. I’m spreading myself over time zones, countries, and projects.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do?
I like to do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu a few times a week to blow off some steam. I also like kiteboarding.
Before the birth of my son, I actually decided to write a children’s picture book called Stinkasaurus: The World’s Smelliest Dinosaur and the Chocolate Chip Cookie Treat. I’m debating whether to self-publish or shop it out. I authored the entire book and worked with an illustrator on the images.
What’s something you wish you knew more about?
I wish I knew more about digital marketing and web design. It’s one of the areas of the business that I’ve just hired a digital marketing agency to run (Double Down Digital — these guys are great by the way!). Most other aspects of the company I’ve been able to rely on my own skills to do, since I have a legal and financial background. I really don’t know much about the digital web stuff.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
I think I would tell myself to have a specific window to raise funds. It can be overwhelming for a founder and can distract from operating the business if you are raising funds without a deadline or a hard stop.