In June 2014, Lawrence Wu graduated Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA with degrees in Marketing and Entrepreneurship.
Immediately after school, he began a career in pharmaceutical sales and marketing, something he had strived for throughout his studies. However, a few months into it, he wasn’t feeling fulfilled.
One day, while sitting at a friend’s dinner table, he was offered a homemade hot sauce his friend’s dad had created. Suddenly, an idea struck him. Having grown up in the restaurant industry, Lawrence had always wanted to start a food-related business. Sitting there, he thought to himself, “what if I can make a unique hot sauce like this and make a business out of it?”.
He started working on the idea – now sold as WUJU Hot Sauce – part-time for a few months until July 31st, 2015, when he started a Kickstarter campaign.
At that point, Lawrence left his job to pursue his dream full-time.
We talked to him about the process of building a business headfirst.
How long had you thought about starting your own business?
Probably since high school. Most of my ideas revolved around the Asian restaurant industry, particularly in the growing fast casual eating space.
What caused you to finally make the decision to found WUJU?
The actual decision to found WUJU came while I was still working in my pharmaceutical job. It was more of a let me try it on the side and see where it goes type situation to begin with, haha. My full-time or “all-in” commitment to WUJU came after getting acceptance from not only friends, but also strangers on Reddit. I sampled over 1,200 random people online, which were generally positive. This gave me the confidence to just go for it.
Did anyone tell you that you were crazy for making a decision so many other people would be scared to ever attempt?
People were mostly supportive and worried than anything else. A few people said that it was an aggressive decision, but I think that’s good. You need to understand the realistic aspects of pursuing a venture like this. For instance, I knew I wasn’t going to get paid, I would now need to get my own car and insurances, I would be by myself a lot, and all the pressure would be on me alone. It helped to have friends and family remind me of these critical things. These concerns and others that people brought up, were very important in evaluating when I should leave my job and a baseline of where my business had to be in a certain amount of time.
How did you feel when everything was starting to come together?
The first time this whole thing started to feel real was when I was trying to build my first website (the current one, which can be found at www.wujuhotsauce.com
, is the 3rd version since last year) a few months before the Kickstarter campaign. I built the website through SquareSpace and it was for a competition to win start-up capital. I realised the deadline was coming up soon and I rushed to get a proof of my label done by a label manufacturer, had my co-packer send me a test bottle of the hot sauce and I literally cut a proof of the label out myself and taped it onto the bottle so that we could start taking pictures for our homepage. I had gone to my friend’s house and we spent hours taking photos for the site, and afterwards I took my friends out for dinner. As I was driving them to dinner, I remember it was a beautiful night. There was this awesome feeling that the idea was suddenly starting to feel tangible, and that I had a great support team behind me.
You posted on Reddit, offering to send out samples of WUJU for feedback. What was that experience like, knowing doing so meant putting your faith in hundreds of unknown people?
The experience was stressful, crazy, and filled with lessons. I had posted that I was giving away free product on Reddit and within hours, we got thousands of requests (even though we capped it at 1,200). In just a few days, I had my co-packer ship me over 1,000 bottles, at which point I personally gathered all the free post office supplies I could by going to Postal Offices across multiple towns, and packed and shipped 1,200 bottles from my parents’ garage. Since then, I learned how to pack more efficiently, with less breakages, and cost-effectively. I would say that it was a humbling experience to put faith in all of those unknown people because I knew I had to prepare myself for criticism. At the same time, I knew that it was better to find out early whether this was going to be a winner or loser than later down the road.
Part of your total sales from the Kickstarter campaign were donated to charity. Can you tell us a little more about the reasoning behind that?
When I was figuring out the identity of WUJU towards in the end of 2014 (when I was just forming the business), I was having trouble branding WUJU. I was focused on examples like Chobani and Honest Tea, with their simple and elegant feel, but it didn’t seem right to me. A childhood friend passed from cancer in November 2014 and his mother posted a beautiful photo of him looking out into a sunset, which became the inspiration for our original sunset photo. My mother has also been battling cancer for years and so this special label design and our commitment to the cancer community means a lot to me. When I started the Kickstarter campaign, I made it clear that I was going to donate a portion of the sales to Drexel University and Cook For Your Life’s program with The Hope Lodge
. The Hope Lodge is a home where cancer patients and their caregivers can stay close to where they’re getting treatment and Drexel/CookForYourLife hosts cooking classes and dinners for them. I donated $2,500 to their cause.
Has there ever been a moment that you wished you could return to your old life?
Yes, but only when I miss my old colleagues and mentors. Despite all the perks of the previous job, I truly love what I am doing now. I have more control of what I’m doing, every decision truly impacts the business, and I get to hold myself accountable/responsible.
Now Wuju’s on the shelves of a major retailer. What’s next?
While it’s on the shelves on some big retailers, there are still a ton left across the U.S.. I’d say that I’ve gotten traction in just some major natural retailers, but still have a long way to go in that space and especially the major grocery supermarket chains.
What did you learn from the experience that you’d like to pass on to budding entrepreneurs?
Trust in your gut, but also be realistic. Look at your numbers and also prepare for the downside.
How is WUJU unique in the market?
There’s a number of reasons. Hot sauces are generally a few ingredients, red, salty, and peppery. WUJU has 16 ingredients including wholesome ones like agave nectar, mango, and mustard. That being said, we have a unique sweet side and distinctive yellow colour, not to mention a thicker consistency than other hot sauces. Also, WUJU is low sodium and has an international flavour profile, packed with flavours from our different spices, notably curry, giving it a Thai or Caribbean feel.
Where can people find Wuju Hot Sauce?
They can buy online through our website
and Amazon or at our retail partners listed in our “Find Us” section, which is constantly being updated. We are unfortunately currently selling only in the U.S. and Canada.
Our thanks go to Lawrence for sharing his story.