Is it hot in here or is it just us? We’re heating things up with a SPICY interview from another up-and-coming millennial entrepreneur. Why all the puns you ask? Well, Devin Rector is the founder of Fireflower, an organic, locally-sourced hot sauce company.
His story is one that truly shows how finding your unique passion and owning it can lead to success. Inspired by the delicious Mexican food in his home state of California, he wanted to make something that was healthy and packed a punch.
Millennial Entrepreneur Feature: Devin Rector, Founder of Fireflower Hot Sauce
From Industrial Design to hotshot entrepreneur – read more about his story and entrepreneurial process in this latest interview!
TrueToast: Hi, Devin! Thank you for taking the time to interview with TrueToast Magazine. Can you tell our readers a bit about your background?
Devin: I grew up on a dairy farm in the middle of California, and moved to Seattle when I was 18. I went to the art institute of Seattle and graduated with a bachelor of science, Industrial Design when I was 20. I started exploring the Seattle food culture as soon as I moved here. I also began cooking a lot at home when I was in college, since I couldn’t really afford to eat out very often. About a year after I moved to Seattle, I decided it was time to get healthy. So, I limited my diet to only healthy foods and cooking at home made it so much easier. I would often cook spicy food, since that what I was used to back in central California. I found that hot sauce would help make everything taste better, especially if it was pretty bland to begin with.
What inspired you to start Fireflower? Why hot sauce?
Devin: Well, it’s sort of a culmination of a lot of different things. I love spicy food, so naturally I eat a lot of hot sauce. And I decided to grow some hot peppers and various veggies on my balcony a couple years ago and I used those to make my first batch of hot sauce. Ghost peppers, beets, onions, garlic, and basil. This recipe eventually morphed (I got rid of the basil and added a few things) into the recipe for “Local Haunt”, FireFlower’s Ghost Pepper and Beet sauce. I had no intention of selling it, until my friends convinced me to. I still was very apprehensive, until I made sauce at a friend’s restaurant and allowed customers to sample it on their food. Everyone loved it and hardly anyone touched the other hot sauces they had in their sauce bucket. So, using my design background, I created a brand and began the legal process. Business license, LLC, and then to figure out all of the regulatory procedures with packaged foods. As it turns out, it’s way more work than I expected haha.
How did you decide on the name ‘Fireflower’?
Devin: I was hanging out with a friend in Minneapolis – Saint Paul area for new years 2017 and we went to one of my favorite breweries in the area, Indeed brewing company. I had been working at Taphandles in Seattle as a Senior Production Designer and had recently worked on their tap handle, so i was really excited to go there. I just love their logo, it’s simple and beautiful. Radially-symmetrical line work. I thought, I want to do something that uses line work, but isn’t so geometrical. Something more whimsical, more playful. Something in the shape of a flower, maybe. Then it hit me. FireFlower. We were kind of on a beer safari that weekend, and our next stop was Toppling Goliath in Iowa. So while she drove, I sketched. I still have that really poorly drawn sketch of what would become the FireFlower Habanero Pepper Sauce (now known as “Hotsy-Totsy”) logo.
What makes Fireflower so unique?
Devin: From the beginning, FireFlower has been about quality first. I made it at home for myself using fresh, whole ingredients and wanted it to be more than just a hot sauce. It’s meant to be enjoyed on any type of food and in any situation. Dipping sauce, dressing, marinade, condiment, you name it. The veggies that go into it are grown locally and I buy directly from farmers that I know personally. The quality of the produce really comes through, and the care that was used in making the sauce – from recipe development, to the farming, to the bottling – is what makes all the difference.
What was the first obstacle that you faced in bringing your product to market?
Devin: The FDA and USDA regulate packaged food very strictly, and the laws can be hard to understand. I also didn’t know who to ask about the questions I had, so i went online and began searching. Eventually I figured out that I needed to either build a processing facility and get it licensed by the WSDA (the enforcer of the USDA guidelines for Washington state) or i needed to find a co-packer (someone who already has a licensed facility) and pay them to use their facility. Since I didn’t have the money to build my own facility, I decided to start looking and eventually found a co-packer. I did a test batch at that facility, then a couple days before the first production batch; they called me and told me they were shutting down, and going out of business. Days before my first big batch. I was obviously very frustrated and started looking again. Eventually, I got setup with a new facility and began producing FireFlower there. Finally, I had enough product to start selling at farmers markets. Meanwhile, I was still working at Taphandles full time and was having to use vacation time to do production batches since the co-packer wasn’t open on weekends. So I’d say the regulation and lack of readily-available information was the first big obstacle.
What kind of feedback have you gotten about your products so far?
Devin: Everything from “wow, this is the best hot sauce ever!” to “I don’t like vinegar-based hot sauces”. The latter is my favorite – I like crisicism. I want to know what I could do to improve my products and also to use for future products. While I think some people will give a negative review no matter what, I’ll use that information to grow and expand the product line if I feel like it has merit. As a whole, feedback has been incredibly positive and a vast majority of people that like spicy food (and even some that don’t) swear by FireFlower and add it to their daily lineup.
How has your background in industrial design shaped your branding strategy?
Devin: Realistically, thinking like a designer is how I got to where I am today – even before I knew that was the way I was thinking. Just being mindful of my surroundings, and creating experiences for others (and myself) to enjoy.
What skills did you have to learn or brush up on in order to market and grow your business?
Devin: All of them haha. I just kind of jumped in and did it. I’m learning every day and the more I learn the more I realize how little I actually know. So I keep learning. My interpersonal skills have certainly been crucial in the growth of FireFlower, from conversing with potential end customers at farmer’s markets to searching for retail/ food business clients. This gets brought up often for good reason; networking is absolutely the key to everything. Meeting customers, bankers, accountants, food processors, business mentors, etc. I have no background in bookkeeping, so i had to research and figure that out. I thankfully found a good co-packer and a food product specialist to help make sure that my products are all in compliance with all regulations. It has been a crazy year and a half getting to this point, and I still have a long way to go.
What are you looking forward to most in 2018?
Devin: Getting back out there and meeting more people at farmers markets. Food festivals and hot sauce Expos as well. I’m also really excited to release a few new products this summer, and I think people are really going to like the updates coming through the pipeline. I don’t want to give away any spoilers 😉
What are 3 lessons that you learned through entrepreneurship that may help others in starting their own businesses?
First off: Be prepared to fail. A lot. Over and over again. Learn from the imminent failure you will experience and better yourself with it.
Second: Time management. I had a consistent job, getting paid the same amount of money every month, working roughly the same amount of hours. I now have no set schedule, and have to be diligent with my time and be sure I’m using it wisely or I don’t make money to pay the bills.
Third: Be kind. This is not something that is new to me because of entrepreneurship, but it is something that is incredibly important. I am fortunate enough to have been taught by my family to be kind and treat others well and that’s how I operate my life. When people try to lift themselves up by putting others down, it creates a culture that is so out-for-themselves that everyone loses. When we all realize that we’re in this together and that we need each other to be successful, that’s when everyone wins.