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Purveyors of The Mustard

Lifting Weights

Sorry to disappoint all of you who hoped to see James pumping iron, but I mean more the metaphorical idea of a weight being lifted off your chest. Yesterday was a whirlwind day.

A quick recap:

  • 3:45am wake up, 4:30 departure to complete:
  • First production run of Champagne Garlic!
  • Mustard is featured on CNN
  • Pick up first run of SoNo tshirts
  • Get call from local TV station wanting to interview us
  • Record interview for channel 6
  • Write thank you emails to all who pledged the last two days on Kickstarter
  • Fall asleep, one hour before interview airs at 10pm (thank goodness for the internet and friends with DVR!)

Many exciting events happened yesterday. But the one that stood out the most to me was getting the production run of Champagne Garlic done. You cannot believe the feeling of relief we had seeing that delicious, yellow concoction spill out of the tubes and into the jars. I’ve attached some video and pictures of our day.

We decided to push play and get one of the mustards made because our kickstarter project has been so successful. Knowing that we have so many pre-orders to fill and the money committed gave us the comfort to move forward with our first production run. The mustard mobile is starting to move, and it’s quite exhilarating. There are and will always be challenges, but damn it feels good to be moving.

Now time to prep for the MUSTARD PARTY we’re throwing tonight at The Station Tavern! Fun times!!

James and Zach about to enter Mustard Surgery. We definitely had a few Laverne and Shirley moments.

Watch the video of the jars being filled: Champagne Garlic Video

Watch the video of the jars coming off the assembly line: Mustard assembly line

Watch the video of the jars being labeled: Mustard Labeling

 

James hanging out on the set of the morning show

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110%

Holy moly, has this been exciting or what?! We reached 110% of our funding goal on Kickstarter in less than 5 days. The backing, so far mostly from family and friends (though with a few serious mustard fans in there too!), has been out of control. Both of us are completely floored with the outpouring of support. And when I noticed that we reached exactly $4400 (or 110%), I couldn’t help but think of the somewhat hackneyed cliché of “Giving 110%”.

Though there are times when things run smoothly without any major hiccups, it’s when the preverbal shit hits the fan that requires the extra effort. And over the past four months we have definitely run into a few major “pain points” (some of which I chronicled here) which required an extra push to get through.

But even more importantly is the extra push that, through Kickstarter and with the support of such wonderful and amazing folks, is launching our wholesale mustard business. Thing is, it’s not that we couldn’t have done it a different way- if kickstarter had not reached the funding goal, we would have had to find another solution. But this one is most elegant, and not because of the money or the pre-orders (though both of these are quite nice). It’s because we know we have so much support behind us.

Now let’s see if we can hit 210%!

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Kickstarter

I’m sitting here at 2 in the morning with my good friend Jason who’s putting the finishing touches on our video for our kickstarter project, which we launched less than two days ago and is already funded for over $3000. It’s amazing and wonderful and exciting. I would say that I’m surprised that we have been able to generate this much support in such a short amount of time, but then I remember that I have the best friends and family in the entire world. Seriously, I’m not just saying that. These people are awesome.

This kickstarter project has been exhilarating to say the least. We’ve been cranking away for the past couple weeks to get it all lined up and now that it’s going, and going successfully, it’s hard to believe. We are so thankful to everyone who has pledged money so far. We’re also stoked for our Mustard Party at The Station Tavern next Friday to celebrate with all our wonderful friends. See you there!

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Mountains and Mustard

This past weekend I climbed the majestic Mt. San Jacinto with two of my closest friends, Joe and Sasha. The hike was 16 miles round trip with 4400′ in elevation gain. It took us just under 10 hours, 5 of which were through 5+ feet of snow. As you may be able to tell from the photo below, we were not outfitted with the most ideal equipage, specifically footwear. Despite our improper gear we pushed on and reached the top just after noon and enjoyed a delicious lunch of turkey sandwiches (with both Champagne Garlic and Hong Kong Habanero on them), trail mix and tangelos. There may or may not have been a flask of bourbon passed around…

I could tell you that while climbing the mountain I thought about the parallels with the challenges of running a business, but that would be a lie. I actually didn’t think about SoNo once while on my hike (except for the moment when I realized I hadn’t been thinking about it). It’s not often that I can mentally separate myself from this business – I’m sure this is the case for any business owner. Finding this space is invaluable. It frees you up to let some of the issues you’re dealing with to work themselves out without your intervention. It also allows you to come back to your innumerable challenges renewed and refreshed.

Now I’m back cranking away and doing the million and one things I wasn’t thinking about at the top of the mountain!

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Brick walls

I started a post last week while at SFO airport on my way back from visiting my family for Easter but was not able to finish it before I got on the plane. I was extolling the wonderful benefits of quality family time and segueing that positiveness into the fantastic news that our mustard seed had finally arrived at our production facility after a two month delay.

Even though I didn’t finish, my boasting must have angered the mustard gods enough to rain down punishment with great fervor. As the plane touched down in San Diego I powered up my phone to find a voicemail from James. Apparently the production facility we choose to manufacture our mustards and with whom we have been in constant communication for the past two months does not have the capacity to heat and/or cook anything, which was news to us, rendering them unable to manufacture our mustards (not to mention we had already shipped all of our ingredients and jars to their facility). One might say that their equipment does not cut the mustard…

Sooooooooooooooo, long story short, the second we cleared the first brick wall (no mustard seed) another was put up in front of us. But as Randy Pausch said, “Brick walls are there for a reason.” When I told this to a couple friends, the usual response was, “That sucks.” And indeed it did, but more importantly it’s nothing unexpected. That is, this particular issue was unexpected, but the fact that something major like this would come up is unsurprising. That’s just the way business goes, and it’s all part of the ride.

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Artisanal LA with a Vengeance

The third installment of the wonderfully produced events known as Artisanal LA was another great success! We sold everything we brought, less 15 jars. We even had a number of Angeleno fans show up to restock with mustard!

It had been a while since James and I stood behind a table and sold mustard (since stopping the farmers markets in December), but as soon as we stepped behind the table it all came right back – just like riding a bike or juggling. We were also fortunate to have our good friend (and local) Sasha work the booth with us. He has become a mainstay in our Artisanal show arsenal, selling the crap out of our mustards and being an all around supportive friend (on a side note, he started an amazing online art marketplace called Socurio – check it out if you are into art).

It was also lovely to see some of our friends selling their wares, including:

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O Mustard Seed, Mustard Seed, wherefore art thou Mustard Seed?

Well, as I started writing this post, we were still uncertain as to the time frame of our delivery of organic mustard seed to make our first batch of mustard set up for wholesale. Low and behold, we just got word that the mustard seed will ship out at the end of this month! I don’t want to count my seeds before they have been ground – so to speak – but this is definitely wonderful news!

Two months ago we received word that our former purveyor of mustard seed was no longer supplying large quantities and had sold the industrial part of its business. Though unfortunate for us (as we liked working with that company), I completely understand having to adjust one’s business when things are not working the way you would like them to be (see my previous post). So from the minute we received that letter we have been on the hunt for organic mustard seed. James (bless his soul) championed the search and connected with about two dozen suppliers in the US and Canada (Canada is one of the largest growers of mustard seed) getting samples, price quotes, and info on order minimums. We tasted about a dozen samples, 3/4 of which did not meet our quality standards. From this, we settled on one supplier with whom we are moving forward. But if this hurdle has taught us anything, it’s to have a back up source lined up and ready to go (and back up for our back up) when an unexpected change falls upon us.

-Zach

ps. I hope I didn’t just jinx this delivery by announcing it on the blog…

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SoNo is no more.

Well, not exactly. But I do have some unexpected news to report:

I never thought I would be saying this, but, James has left in a coup and started his own company – a KETCHUP company – GoHi Trading Company. Apparently after 15 months of mustard he had enough. “I’m through with this godforsaken yellow stuff!” he huffed with arms akimbo right before he stormed out of the office, er, garage, taking with him our farmers market tent, a whisk, and half (it looked like more than half to me, but whatever…) of our remaining stock of cranberries from the cranberry mustard we made this past fall.

Apparently, James has been secretly testing ketchup recipes for some time now, and you will soon be seeing him in our old spot at the Little Italy and Hillcrest farmers markets selling his wares. As for the name, I guess he always felt slighted by our name SoNo (South/North Park) since that’s where I live, and he actually lives in Golden Hill.

What does this mean for the future of SoNo? Well, having full control of the reigns, I’m now afforded the opportunity to fully develop the arm of the business I’ve been dreaming about: The SoNo Bobsled Team! Tryouts are THIS Saturday, from 4-6am at the top of Pershing Drive. There’s no time to waste!!

 

 

PS. I’m adding this post script to make sure that everyone reading realizes this was an april fools’ joke. James has not started a competing ketchup company, though we’re still pushing forward full steam ahead with the bobsled team.

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What do YOU do?

I used to dread having to answer this question. Too often this is the default question people ask when put in a social situation with folks they don’t know. I dreaded it because it usually led to a forced, awkward conversation, and sometimes because I wasn’t super proud of my employment (“I’m on the clean-up crew at the dog park”, “I’m, uh, not working right now”). But now I LOVE to answer this question!

“So, what do you do?”

“I own a mustard company.”

Without hesitation, the next response always is, “I’m sorry, did you say mustard?”

Seriously, I love it! How many people do you know who own a mustard company? Last night I attended a workshop run by Aaron Keith, business coach and owner of Ascension, and when he asked me – in front of the entire room – what kind of business I own, I was never more excited to answer this question. I like to think that the smiles on people’s faces when I tell them that I own a gourmet mustard company are due to my dashing good looks, but the smiles don’t usually appear until after I have reaffirmed that they did indeed hear correctly. I once read that your explanation for what you do should be elevator-able: able to be explained and catch someone’s interest in the 30 secs you share an elevator with him or her. Ours takes 3 secs. What does that make it? Stop sign-able? (“GO AHEAD, YOU GO FIRST. BY THE WAY, WHAT DO YOU DO?” – my imaginary conversation at a stop sign…)

It’s the most proud title I’ve had the honor to hold (though, “general manager of chocolate company” was a good one).

So, what do YOU do?

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Honesty

After my last post, openly (even brazenly) admitting to a few of the mistakes we’ve made in the last year, I received a number of comments showing support for both our business and for us personally. I cannot tell you how wonderful it feels to get this type of feedback from folks – thank you. The love is mutual.

There are two ideas I would like to address: honesty and sympathy. I’ll start with the latter.

Sympathy, the way I define it – taking responsibility for someone else’s feelings – is not an emotion I find very productive (Empathy - understanding someone else’s feelings - on the other hand, is quite different). I don’t want anyone’s sympathy. I never want anyone to ever feel bad for me or my business. James and I are 100% responsible for everything that happens (or doesn’t happen) with our business, and we feel very strongly about this. No one should ever take responsibility for those mistakes. That responsibility is ours.

Honesty

One friend messaged me because he was concerned with the tone of my last post. His concern was specific to my admitting of mistakes. He was of the opinion that we should never admit mistakes to the public. Moreover, that for a business to admit to such mistakes is “PR suicide”. And before anyone who may disagree with this viewpoint (including myself – I’ll get to that in a second) feels the need to express something different, please do so with respect; my friend said this to me from a place of love and respect. I just disagree with this way of thinking.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I feel like many newer businesses, especially entrepreneurial ones, are changing the paradigm of how to be successful and profitable. Honesty and openness are a big part of this. Additionally I find it it hilarious when a stodgy, old-school business tries to “be real” and connect with its customers. It’s like someones dad trying to be hip and listening to rap music – the intention just isn’t there. I understand that from a “corporate” standpoint admitting faults or mistakes may be harmful to a business and could leave it open to some sort of litigation, but those are the consequences of making mistakes. I call it taking responsibility. When you screw up, own up to it, apologize if necessary, and move forward. This is why I take umbrage when organizations say, “We probably could have made different decisions at that juncture” or something along those lines. They are being dishonest. It may not be a straight up lie, but it is not straight up. Mistakes are not intentional; that’s what makes them mistakes. And making them doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad company – it makes you human. And if you are smart, you make lots of mistakes and learn from them. Just be honest. A little while back my good friend Joe wrote a short post on making mistakes (with a link to one of my favorite Jordan commercials). I agree with his viewpoint.  http://thejoesweeney.wordpress.com/2010/12/22/120-of-25737/

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