Welcome to Plant Basting Talks, where we interview entrepreneurs in the vegan-friendly space about their story, what they’ve learned thus far, their business model, and revenue numbers.
In our third interview, founder of FAIYA Radhi Fernandez discusses:
- The influences that led to starting FAIYA
- Benefits of selling at seasonal markets and pop-up events
- How he's handled the battle with rising prices and supply shortages
- The importance of checking in with yourself as an entrepreneur
1. What influenced you to start FAIYA?
I like to think that I have always been very business oriented. My dad has been a salesman his entire life and I've learned a lot from him when it comes to business-related things. Back in April of 2020 when the pandemic was kinda taking off and the world was starting to shut down, I had a hard time dealing with it and I started to feel very anxious about life in general.
Even though I was fortunate enough to still keep my job during all of this, I figured that it was probably a good time to start exploring one of my many business ideas, and after going through what seemed like a never ending list of ideas, I landed on hot sauce. Then all I needed was a recipe and a name for the brand. The rest, well, the rest is crazy.
2. What went into putting together the initial hot sauces you made for friends and family? The first you sold to non-friends/family members?
For the initial sauce, well, for the foundation of the company itself I somehow wanted to represent my heritage. I was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, and I wanted to make sure that it was part of the brand in a way. So I called one of my best friends and told her the idea I had and I wanted to share with her what I had in mind and my idea for the first sauce: Sweet Summer Heat. The name is an ode to the island and the eternal summer I was used to.
Then after that it was a matter of playing around with the ingredients I thought would be best together, buying some glass bottles, new cooking equipment for the house, and printing some labels I designed myself. Then came the sharing it with some people. The first person to try it was my wife, and she loved it! Which gave me the confidence to then have other people try it. I think my friends actually tried it before anyone in the family. Within minutes of posting the sauces on Facebook I realized I needed a website, so I made one in under 30 minutes with Shopify and started sharing the link everywhere. I remember my first sale to a stranger and that was the moment I knew I had come up with a good idea.
3. How did you get your first customers?
My first customers were the people on my friends list on Facebook and Instagram. And then I kinda asked people to help spread the word and tell other people about it and that's how I started to get more and more people hooked.
4. How have you continued to grow FAIYA’s customer base?
So far I've let things take their natural course. I applied for markets and pop ups and got lucky with getting into a bunch over the summer/fall. I usually offer samples at the markets for people to have the chance to try the product because I think it's one thing to hear what's in the sauce, but a very different experience and determining factor if to buy or not once you try it.
I also ask people to sign up for my newsletter and follow the Instagram to keep people posted and updated about anything FAIYA related.
5. What is FAIYA’s business model?
At this moment I rely on 95% sales directly to consumer thanks to my farmers markets and pop up events. As the market season comes to an end I'm trying to work with more and more local shops to be able to keep bringing FAIYA to customers, but it's a tricky world to navigate.
6. What is your monthly revenue and how have you grown it?
It's so hard to say for sure with confidence. Every month is a surprise so far. This year I had a month where I only sold $200, but also others where roughly $7,000 were made in sales. As mentioned previously, the way I've maintained sales is by applying to markets and being in situations that put me directly in front of people, which gets them to buy the product.
7. How did you originally decide on pricing of your products? Have rising prices or shortages of supplies affected FAIYA?
I originally did a bit of research to see what other similar companies were averaging their pricing at. Then I calculated costs of materials, plus ingredients, plus a slight profit percentage to be able to restock on more materials and more supplies to make more sauce.
I have definitely been affected by rising prices and have decided to maintain a steady pricing anyways. I sometimes make other non-permanent products to help a bit with income for the company to balance things out.
And as far as shortages go, sheesh, it's a wild situation right now. There are weeks where I can find everything I need with no problem, but there are other times where everything is out of stock and sold out for weeks, and I have to get creative and find other sources for the supplies that I need in order to continue to make more sauce.
8. Is it important to you that your product is vegan-friendly?
Yes, although if you think about it, most hot sauces are vegan by default. But I have seen some companies that use ingredients that don't fit the lifestyle, and I wanted to make sure to not be the same as they are. Plus, by making sure people know my product is vegan, I make it inclusive to those who live a vegan lifestyle while at the same time not affecting anyone else.
9. What are the biggest challenges you've faced and obstacles you've overcome?
The biggest challenge has been trying, and failing most of the time, to find balance between my family, my full time job, and this entrepreneurial life with a new business. You know that line people say about "I didn't want a 9 to 5 so now I work 24/7 working for myself"? It's the truest statement ever when it comes to talking about entrepreneurs.
I have a hard time shutting off my working mode and it feels like it just never ends. Long nights, long days, followed by more work. It's a dangerous cycle, but I think that I'm slowly starting to overcome some of it thanks to the people who have chosen to help me with the company. My team consists of 5 people currently and they make life a bit easier.
10. Have you found anything (resource, book, skill, habit, or bit of knowledge) that’s been valuable or useful for your entrepreneurial journey?
Networking has been my best tool. In this day and age, anything you can think of doing someone else has already done and gone through. So I attend a bunch of networking events and talk with people who have been in the same path as I am now and they have been very helpful with advice and tips.
On a more personal note, I found that writing everything has helped me stay on track and focused with my vision. I carry a little journal with me everywhere I go and I'm constantly writing in it. I like to sit back and review it every other week to see what I've done or what still needs to get done, and it helps me stay on track with myself.
11. How do you tend to your mental health as a business owner?
This is another very hard question, haha. I mentioned that I have a hard time turning off the business side of my brain, so it's hard for me to recognize when I'm falling into a bad place mentally. I have days that can be literally crippling with anxiety, and it takes me a long time to recover and get back on track.
So I try to meditate a few times a week to relax, and focus on life and to make sure I'm emotionally and mentally okay. I also like running every now and then. We have amazing natural trails near the city and getting lost in the woods during a good run has also been a way for me to reset my batteries and feel mentally okay and prepared for anything.
12. What’s your advice for entrepreneurs just starting out in the vegan-friendly space?
Don't stop what you're doing. Believe in yourself, look at your ideas, share them, get feedback, modify, adapt, continue. No idea is perfect. No business is perfect. We are all on a learning path and we have to be open to the idea of change and the possibility that your original idea will have to be modified to be able to work. That doesn't mean you should quit or stop what you're doing. Don't give up.
13. Where can we go to learn more about you and FAIYA?
I always share what our next markets will be, new products or restock, and sometimes just a meme for a change of pace. Life shouldn't be too serious.
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