Episode #19

Raoul Benavides from Heart Soul Heat

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In this episode of Beyond the Inbox, Sam interviews Raoul Benavides, the founder of Heart Soul Heat, a spicy condiment company. Raoul shares his journey of developing and promoting his product, beginning with creating a rough label and reaching out to influencers for feedback. He emphasizes the importance of vulnerability and authenticity in entrepreneurship and how these qualities can be reflected in marketing strategies.

Raoul discusses various marketing channels that Heart Soul Heat uses, including podcasts, digital billboards, and events. He emphasizes the importance of connecting with people and nurturing relationships rather than simply focusing on sales. Raoul also talks about his vision of using his brand as a philanthropic platform, partnering with musicians to donate proceeds to inner-city music programs.

When asked about his strategy for acquiring new customers and driving repeat purchases, Raoul emphasizes the importance of always having something to talk about, whether it be collaborations or growth into new regions. He also mentions the value of having a content manager to help with creative efforts.

Throughout the interview, Raoul emphasizes the importance of being true to oneself and not getting caught up in others' ideas of success. He encourages entrepreneurs to embrace vulnerability and to be open to creative and unconventional marketing strategies.

Overall, Raoul's journey and insights provide a refreshing perspective on entrepreneurship and marketing. His focus on vulnerability, authenticity, and connecting with people offers a humanistic approach to building a brand that resonates with customers.

Show Notes

  • (00:00) Raoul Benavides was discussing his experience with getting feedback from influencers for his product.
  • (06:14) He sent a rough label to influencers on Instagram and asked for feedback.
  • (06:47) Raoul reached out to influencers of all followings and backgrounds.
  • (07:27) He sent the product to influencers for feedback rather than paying them for promotion.
  • (08:15) Raoul thinks of his marketing strategy in an omnichannel way and tries to nurture connections with customers.
  • (09:08) He wants to connect with customers through various channels, such as events and out-of-home advertising.
  • (10:05) Raoul uses QR codes to help customers locate stores and request his product.
  • (12:45) Raoul doubles down on out-of-home advertising and is interested in sponsoring events and pop-up shops.
  • (14:04) He has advertised on podcasts before and thinks they are a great way to reach new customers.
  • (16:51) Raoul uses digital billboards to drive traffic to his website and focuses on specific regions for growth.
  • (18:31) Raoul gives away stickers with every Amazon order and uses them to promote his brand.
  • (20:57) He thinks it is important for e-commerce founders to be vulnerable in their marketing and emphasize authenticity.
  • (22:34) Raoul thinks consumers can pick up on when someone's origin story seems templatized.
  • (24:44) He wants to sponsor concerts and events and plans to use a content manager to improve his messaging.
  • (26:29): Raoul strikes a balance between acquiring new customers and looking after the ones he has.
  • (27:51) He always tries to have five or six things in the pipeline to talk about with customers.
  • (28:37) To learn more about Heart Soul Heat, listeners can visit the website or Instagram and contact Raoul through his DMs.

Read the transcript:

Sam (00:04): Rael, welcome to Beyond the Inbox. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

Raoul (00:08): Yes, thank you. Thank like, glad to be here.

Sam (00:11): I wanna start by asking, how do your experiences as a photographer and entrepreneur prepare you for starting Heart, Soul, Heat?

Raoul (00:21): You know, I the way I think about it is that they're all connected. It, it isn't necessarily my experience as a photographer or entrepreneur. It kind of has to do with my family experience. I mean, it's, I think that I kind of come from a place where it's okay to fail, you know? I think you know, my father and my parents have always kind of instilled hard work in, into me and my family. So failure's easy when you love working cuz you know, you can get out of it. Of people who are kind of on a thread and they're, they're hoping that, like, kind of gambling in this entrepreneurial space, thinking they're gonna hit the seven figures or whatever, quote unquote, successes. They, they have all their chips in one place, and if they don't succeed, they don't know what they're gonna do. You know, I, for me, I think of it like, no matter what I'm doing, it's gonna be something that involves creativity and vulnerability and I'm open. I'm kind of always open to new ideas and ways of connecting with people.

Sam (01:31): I want to ask you about the dream you had about your grandfather and how that gave you the idea for Hot Honey. Can you tell me more about that?

Raoul (01:40): Yeah, I I've I mean, I've kind of been in, in the entrepreneurial space my whole life. I've I worked as a commercial photographer. I used to own a record store. I had, I had a bug farm. I've done all kinds of different things. And it was, this project is a Covid project. You know, it kind of allowed me some time to like not be full throttle on something. And, and this, this dream of my grandfather who started a candy company in Monterey, Mexico in 1940 called Lagarnia. It's, and it's still, it's still going on now, just, I just had a dream about him. And the dream kind of happened, you know, in it's very woo woo, hard to explain, kind of magical way. And it, the dream kind of happened over over three nights, you know?

(02:32): And I think I was just in this place where I could listen and really take it in. And the dream was not necessarily about, about Ghost Honey, it was just about sweet heat condiments and candies and, and him and, and my grandfather. And I just had enough time to have the idea to kinda simmer, you know, I think for a lot of people COVID was such a mixed blessing. It gave a lot of people the space that they longed for, that they didn't even know that they needed. And if you happen to be in that place where you were open to listening there was a lot of energy going around.

Sam (03:22): I heard you mention in another interview how everything came together during this period, as you just mentioned. And I wanted to ask you more about what were the next steps. You have this dream, and over the course of several months, you start to think about the ingredients. You start to think about how you will have one product. Can you tell me more about what came next?

Raoul (03:49): Well, what came next is I mean, I was already kind of cooking every meal, so it was, it was easy to to really hey so what came next is just, it just kind of this mixture of, of ingredients, but in a certain way, ingredients is metaphors for ideas. I, I knew that I wanted to do a product that was simple. You know, as an, as in, it was, it was a clean label. There was no there was no preservatives or junk, something that you want to feed your family, but something that was interesting and that, that was spicy. And I didn't know what it was exactly at the, at the, at the beginning. So I just started plain, you know, I, I, I wanted to limit the ingredients. And so every day I would just kind of do a little, some experiments.

(04:45): And it, I didn't, it didn't start off with the idea of, of this Ghost Honey, but it just sort of developed and it developed quickly. So once I had sort of an idea of what I wanted to do, I, I, you know, bought some bottles on Amazon and I just started sending it out to friends, say, yeah you know, everyone, of course, you had to ship stuff. You couldn't, nobody was talking, or no, people were talking, but nobody was talking in person. I said, I'm kinda working on this thing. I'm gonna send it to you. Let me know what you think about it. And so just started developing there. But because I you know, I come from a commercial photography and I've always had businesses branding and any of the stuff connected to it is very natural.

(05:32): Before I even had the idea for Ghost Honey in The Dream, the name Heart Soul Heat came up right away. And it was kind of the the anchor point for what I was going to do or what, you know, my plan, you know, kind of, it was the the fertile ground to put anything on top of. So I got the website and I just started doing these very primitive things because it, there very, I could, you know, I could put a website together very quickly. It was easy for me to do. And I started getting all this feedback. So I, I made a, a rough label, and by then I had an Instagram account, and I just found all of these sort of spicy influencers, and I just said, Hey, I got this idea. It's not, this is not a legit product yet.

(06:14): Can I send it to you and get your feedback? And so it kind of ended up being a snowball, you know, it just ended up being small. And I got more and more yeses and more and more feedback, and it just kind of grew and grew and grew. And then yeah, it was one of those things of constant refinement. And I, I think of it now that, that way, you know, the kinda, the bigger it gets, the more you have to constantly be refining as well, operations and, and connecting with people is a, is a beautiful battle that always has to be fought.

Sam (06:47): I think that's a really interesting takeaway. So you are on Instagram and you're reaching out to spicy influencers as you put it. Are these influencers with big followings, or were they very niche

Raoul (06:56): All over, all over the place? You know, I was, I didn't, you know, in a certain way I didn't care, but I didn't care who it was, whether it was a mom or some, some guy that was really into hot sauce or spicy stuff. I just cared that they would, that they could receive the call and understand what I was trying to say to them. And then, and then like, not freak out about giving me their address or, you know, like that they knew how the process worked.

Sam (07:19): And were you sending the product to these influencers, or were you paying them to promote your product? What did that process look

Raoul (07:27): Like? No, cause there wasn't, there wasn't anything to promote, per se. I sent 'em a bottle with no label, and I would just write, I would, you know put a sticker on it that I just, I'd made in my basement. And and I was just getting, I just got a lot, a lot of nice feedback. Yeah. And then once, and, or people would say, like, once this, this is, you got a proper label on it send it to my friend, this guy who does actual reviews for actual products, and it'll help you, you know, grow your channel. I'm like, oh, okay. You know, the more people that you connect with, the more they can connect you with other people and, you know, so on and so on.

Sam (08:02): That's really interesting. So, leading on from there, how has Heart Soul's Heat Marketing strategy evolved over time since then, since those early days?

Raoul (08:15): How has it evolved? I, I think well, I mean, it's evolved definitely, definitely in, in Reach. You know, I think of it like I don't consider my, my, my company a a a D to C company. At the beginning I thought that D two C was the way that it was going to open up, because I think everyone did. But for me, I, I really think of it in a omnichannel way. And I, I'm one of those people who's like very anti funnel, you know, funnel is, is isn't something that is I don't wanna be in a funnel and I don't wanna put people in a funnel. It sounds very restricting. I think about it, it very much like energy, but I think of it all in a flywheel. You know, I, I think of it like there's people who get introduced to your brand in one way or another.

(09:08): They find it on a grocery shelf, Amazon or online somewhere. And the where, where they come in to your brand, whether it's through the website or through a QR code, or through a, a billboard or a sticker is one thing. And I think I think about nurturing nurturing these connections and, and, and these people and through events or I'm not really one of those people who thinks about sales. I, I, I, the website sales that we do have, I consider very much a loss leader. I don't I don't do a lot of direct consumer, but the stuff that we do it's a way of getting them connected. I don't know if that answered, I don't know that that kind of went, that kind of went sideways. So, <laugh>,

Sam (10:05): I don't know if that answered, answered it. I have so many follow up questions, so I think we can jump back into that. So, one thing I loved, and you just mentioned it, you talked about QR codes, and I thought this was so fascinating when I was researching for this episode. So can you walk our listeners through the process of buying the product on Amazon and everything that that entails?

Raoul (10:28): So I, I, you know, I, Amazon is a, is a funny thing. I'm one of those, I feel like I'm one of those few people who really likes Amazon because I know what it is. If, for us, it's a channel, it's a reach channel. I'm not interested in I think there's a lot of people that got caught up in this new entrepreneur hustle ship where everyone's driving Lamborghinis and, and I'm, you know, I'm sorry for those people who got caught up in that <laugh>. There's, there's nothing there's nothing about this entrepreneurial game that's, that's easy or quick. And, and if, if, if there is easy, if you find easy and quick, it, it is it's gonna, it's gonna burn out fast. I, I like Amazon because there's so many people on it, and it is its own little universe.

(11:21): What, what happens on Amazon is very different than what happens in real life or, or on, on retail shelves. Amazon is very much about numbers. They care about how much energy you bring into the, in, into the platform, and they care about how much how much advertising spend you, you have, and they don't really care about you, which is okay. I like playing games where I know what's happening. I use it as a distribution platform people can find on there, you know in the United States, I think, I think the number was like 65% of all shoppers are on Amazon countrywide, which is humongous. And it's easy to use. It's easy to check out. And they do the fulfillment for us. You know, as a small company you've gotta find partners that can help you do the things that you can't do or don't want to do at this stage in your business. So yeah, people find us through Amazon. The QR code is on the bottle through the QR code. They can find our store, lo store locator. They can find more information about me, the company or buy directly. It's it's one of those things where the more we can get our product into people's pantries, the more that that product can connect with their families and their friends, and the bigger it grows.

Sam (12:45): So, regarding the QR codes, that's scan the QR code on, is it taking them to the website or it's, is it taking 'em to a local store? How does it work?

Raoul (12:53): No. So the, the QR code company that we use is this company called Bridge. So it goes to a landing page that, that that's put together by Bridge, and we get to customize that landing page. So it, it's, it's pretty simple. It it, it, yeah, first of all, it goes to our store locator, and then we have this this little segment through this company called westock that people can request the Ghost honey in a store near them. Mm. So they can make a request, which is very interesting and very kind of a cool little feature that doesn't cost anything. Of course, for the, for the consumer, they can request it. And that information we can use to pitch buyers to grow our company. And so it kind of, so it goes store locator request request the ghost honey more about the brand, more about the founder story, and then they could repurchase right there.

Sam (13:55): Another strategy I know has worked really well for you in the past, and I wanna ask if it's something that you're still doing, is advertising on podcasts? Can you speak on that? Yeah,

Raoul (14:04): Yeah. I, I mean, I love, I love podcasts and I love podcasters. I think because there's something about PO podcasting that's very vulnerable. You know, I, I it's, it's vulnerable being, being an entrepreneur. And it's nice to share that to, to, to support people who are in that shared vulnerability in their own way. So, and I, and I love it, there's something about podcast advertising that's really, you don't know who, and, and where it's gonna go for and when they're gonna connect with the brand. But it's kind of an, I kind of think of it like a, an umbrella platform because you don't, it, it can be rebroadcast and it can kind kind of goes on, on the internet forever.

Sam (14:55): Are you sending that traffic to a dedicated landing page, or how are you,

Raoul (14:59): It just goes, no, it goes right to the, you know, I, it goes right to the homepage. Everything that I do is usually has a, a, you know, UTM tag, and it's, it's very very monitored and it's very trackable. And I, I love the podcast. I love podcasts, and not, I don't even want to, I don't wanna track it. I, I don't spend a lot of money on podcasts, but it's nice to just have sort of have that energy in the air and I don't have any expectations about it. And I don't know, it just makes me happy. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. There's we I, we, we've been doing lots of out of home advertising, which I kind of think of it very much the same way, except it's very targeted by location. So we, I do lots of di digital billboards, and I think about my brand and the growth of my brand in a real city by city.

(15:58): So you know, our big concentration right now is you know, the Midwest, Chicago you know, Minneapolis, St. Paul, where we're located Austin, Texas, Houston, and the state of New Mexico, and kind of everywhere in between kind of the middle of the country is kind of where our growth channels are, where our growth energy is. So I do a lot of dedicated Google ads to sort of pick up to pick up sort of as a back background filter to pick up any buddy trying to find the brand through a digital billboard that we put up. And what I like about the digital billboards is that you can, you can kind of click them on and off and you can change the creative very quickly.

Sam (16:49): Are you talking about display ads, just so I'm clear?

Raoul (16:51): No, no. I'm talking about a actual out-of-home billboards on the side of the road. Oh,

Sam (16:55): Wow. Okay. Can you speak more on that?

Raoul (16:58): Yeah. So there's there is there's a, I mean, the company that I use is called Blip. And they they're a national, they might even be international, but they're a national, there's a national company that you basically put in your amount of money that you wanna spend for the day. You get to pick the billboards and you get to pick the times. And of course, you get to pick the creative. So it is what I love it, if I'm going into a city, I kind of have this like a, think of it like a welcome flow mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, but it's a welcome flow of billboards. So I'll, I'll do, for two weeks, I'll put this creative, and then the other, the other that, that's maybe more vague. And then for another two weeks I'll put this other creative.

(17:48): And then the third one, I'll be very very literal as in what the product is where it's located. And there's something about that I really love. I think of it like podcasts. And I love I love out of home in general with every, like, Amazon order, we put a sticker and we've sent out, I mean, we've sent out or given away 50,000 stickers. Wow. And the sticker is just the bottle. And they're all over the place. They're all over. They, yeah. They, they end up being all, I don't know, I, I find them in the strangest places. Yeah. Because we've, given so many away,

Sam (18:31): Gives a whole new meaning to Yeah. It gives a whole new meaning to omnichannel marketing.

Raoul (18:36): Yeah, of course. Well, I also, I also I think as, as brands, you know I give away a lot of the control. You know, I think that we think that we're supposed to do things a certain way, and everyone ends up doing the same thing because fear's common. And people spend their whole careers trying to not be vulnerable. It, all I wanna do is be vulnerable. I mean, I'm, I'm producing something that's going in someone's mouth. There's nothing really more intimate than vulnerable than that. And everyone has their own opinion of what is good. So I think about because I've done this my whole life, you know, I think about it is a, I only want to have radical ownership over what I'm doing and how I'm delivering it. And and who I wanna, who I wanna invite to the party.

(19:39): You know, my, my goal with the brand is to use it as a philanthropic platform. You know, I wanna make a, a condiment, a some sort of spicy Mexican inspired condiment with someone like Lizzo or Dave Grohl and have every dollar go to like, inner city music programs. You know, I think that CPG is such a wonderful channel and I think people are caught up in other people's idea of success, and they're not seeing the full opportunity. Of course, you have to be successful, of course, you want to connect in as wide as possible and, and yeah, have clean ingredients and do good things for the, for the environment. But I think it could be so, so much more. You know, I, I want to give and connect in ways that aren't obvious.

Sam (20:44): I wanna return to something you just said about being vulnerable. How can more e-commerce founders be vulnerable in their marketing while still maintaining that authenticity?

Raoul (20:57): Well, we, we, we, authenticity is kind of, that's very personal. Yeah. I don't know what authenticity is. I, I mean, I, the, the biggest thing is that, you know, I come from a, I come from a hiphop rock immigrant background. I mean, I'm anti-corporate from the beginning. They wouldn't let me in the door if I wanted to. So most, most people that you run into that are 30 something CPG founders came from some sort of corporate thing, you know? And vulnerability is not something they've ever been known to lead with, even though it's all vulnerable, you know, it's all, it's all money on the line, it's all, everything on the line. I think it's, it's all, it's personal, but, but who we are and, and, and the, the DNA of what makes us happy and what makes us get up in the morning is the thing that defines who and, and what we do in the universe. I

Sam (22:05): Think it's something that readers or potential buyers pick up on very quickly. You can tell sometimes when someone is say, telling their origin story in a welcome email, and it almost seems templatized here was the problem, here was how I solved the problem. And I think consumers are able to pick on, pick up on that very quickly. And I think it's something that's important to emphasize.

Raoul (22:34): Yeah. And I think that, yeah, for sure. But I, I think that the the part that that you don't you don't see, or that you don't know until you know it this idea of not only brand maturity, but really knowing yourself and knowing what's important. And once you have that, you can, you put it into everything, but it's not something you figure out immediately. Of course, success. I mean, of course you don't, you, you, if you, if it's not paying the bills, and if it's not doing the thing, you're not gonna succeed. You're not gonna, if there's not, you have no, no growth. But I think that there's a way of being more present and more creative and more connected with, without going through this known path. You know, for me it's like, if there's something that involves an agency or something involved, some people talking about some seven figures or some ridiculousness, that, that, how, how could, how could you ever help me? You know, how could you ever if, if you don't share that vulnerability, that thing where you're a maker, a doer, or a connector, could you ever help me? How could we ever partner up,

Sam (24:11): Been trusting food for, for,

Raoul (24:14): Yeah. I mean, you know, this, the nice thing about entrepreneurship is that we all get to roll our own. We all get to be who we are, however we want to be at whatever stage in life. And there's no wrong, but if you're lucky enough to see above the bushes, the world is really vast and it all wants to be, it all wants to be connected.

Sam (24:38): What are some of the things that you are doubling down on in 2023?

Raoul (24:44): Oh, doubling down on, I'm, you know, I'm, I'm doubling down on more out of home, of course. But I'm really interested in some events I'm interested in. Maybe maybe sponsoring some concerts or maybe kind of wanna do some sort of gorilla sampling. I've been talking to a couple of stadiums baseball stadiums and football stadiums across the country about maybe doing some sort of popup ghost honey chicken sandwich. So I, I'm kind of one of those people For a while I was waiting for people to come to me in life, you know, like, oh, I have this idea maybe the world will come to me. And, and it took me, it took me some years, but then I figured out that the world's never gonna come to me, that I have to do it myself. So I'm going to we're kind of making a product that involves my product. So whether that is a, a, a food truck, a chicken sandwich, food truck, maybe even some sort of a state fair, something a little abstract. I'm not sure exactly what, it could just be a real chicken nugget, ghost honey sampling in the middle of downtown Chicago.

Sam (26:12): Are you striking this balance between acquiring new customers and looking after the customers you have? Because obviously it is a replenishable product, and I'm curious what you're doing to drive those repeat purchases without making it to marketingy or salesy?

Raoul (26:29): You know, the nice thing, I mean, well, I just hired a content manager cuz I was just kind of doing everything myself so that that person's gonna help me kind of get my, get my creative together and kind of connect the dots for me. But what the nice thing is that when you, when you do things or grow into different parts of the country or do collaborations with different companies, is you always have something to talk about. You know, so my whole thing is about always trying to have, you know, five, six things in, in, in the in the pipeline. So if a couple of them don't make it, I always have something to talk about. And I don't talk very often to, to to my email list, but I try to let people know that I have something going on maybe nine, 10 times a year, you know? But I don't, it's one of those things where I always try to let people know what I'm doing without letting them know what I'm doing, you know, so if I, sometimes I use the the email list to run some social pay through. I don't always use it for what it's intended, but so that, that's kind of, you know, sort of subtle. But, but, but constant,

Sam (27:51): I think that's a great place to bookmark this conversation. I have really enjoyed this conversation. I've learned a lot. I was making notes as we were talking. I'm gonna look more into digital billboards. I love that idea. I love what you're doing and I love how you are thinking about it. Where can our listeners go to learn more about Heart Soul Heat?

Raoul (28:07): Yeah, just raoul@harsoulheat.com. That kind of connects we're big on Instagram and heartsoulheat.com, or I should say at Heart Sould Heat. And I try to keep the channels very simple. I, I don't go hard on a lot of different platforms. I like, I like Instagram cause I'm very visual and that's the place to find us. And I'm, my dms are always open. I'm always interested in talking to entrepreneurs or different people who are interested in connecting or partnering up on something creative.

Sam (28:37): Perfect. Well, we'll put all those things in the show notes. Andry, I wanna thank you again one more time for taking the time to join us today. And all the best in the future with hot soil heat.

Raoul (28:47): Thank you.