Karthy Subramaniam Co-founded Fast Growing Sauce Company LITS As A Tribute To A Childhood Friend

How did you come up with the idea for LITS and the name?  Why are you so passionate about this idea?

I’ve always loved spicy food and was fortunate enough to be surrounded by many different cultures growing up, all of which had their own version of pepper sauces and spices – so the bar was already set high. The more I got generic hot sauces when I was out at resto’s, bars and fast-food joints, the more I kept wishing I had homemade pepper sauce on the go. In 2017, I had a life changing moment when one of my best friends, Brandon Boodoo, passed away at a young age. As I continued to visit Brandon’s dad, Eddie, one of the things that helped me feel connected to Brandon was our mutual love for Eddie’s cooking and his pepper sauce. At a time that I was feeling lost and was looking for a way to cope with the loss of my friend, I decided to make some of Eddie’s recipe at home. When people messaged me asking for a bottle, that’s when it hit me – making the sauce was one way I could connect with the spirit of Brandon as well as share the euphoria I’d experience while having it, with others. With our first recipe inspired by and dedicated to Brandon and Eddie, I launched the OG Boodoo as the first flavour in the LITS line-up and the rest was history.

When choosing the name, I wanted something that wasn’t a mouthful to say but also summed up the euphoric experience I’d have while having a good hot sauce added to my plate. While driving one day, listening to Gucci Mane, my friend and I were brainstorming and “lost in the sauce” kept popping up. He shouted out the acronym LITS and it was decided.

Food connects people together and connection is really important to me. I feel connected to not only my customers but also to Brandon every time I share our story and the sauce. This journey is fulfilling because it not only keeps me challenged from an entrepreneurial perspective, it also allows me a creative outlet to share something that’s less about money and more about something I’m passionate about: food.

How did the founding team come together? What was the thought process behind selecting a co-founder? (as it’s a big decision!) 

The team is still coming together as we grow however, my partner Doris has been supporting the brand ever since the start and has played an integral role at LITS supporting all facets of the business while focusing on the numbers, production, packaging, and design at any of our events. The thought process for me in selecting a co-founder is choosing someone who can envision the long-term goals of the business and realize the steps required in order to get there. Commitment and dedication towards hitting those goals especially during the early phases of the business is also very important. Doris is a go-getter and once she understood what I had planned long term, she worked hard to support in making it happen and connect the many different pieces. This lead her to be the clear choice as our LITS co-founder.

How did you guys get your first sale?  Who was the first retail client you landed and what was the process like to secure them?

Tip: don’t wait until everything is perfect before you start. Get it out there and modify as you go because the longer you wait, the quicker someone else will jump at the opportunity before you. When we launched our website (https://lostinthesauce.ca/) on Shopify, our first set of sales came from our family and friends that were following the journey early on. We got a lot of positive feedback and reposts which helped us grow our presence very quickly.  Once we attended more events (especially foodie gatherings), this helped us grow our presence even more. In terms of securing the sale, Doris and I already came from a sales background. This helped us transition very easily to selling the sauces as it was a product we were very passionate about. Creating a positive experience and pitching based on needs has always been key to helping us land sales while creating retention with our customers. The need that our hot sauces filled was a sauce that didn’t burn your tongue off and complemented the food being paired with; essentially flavour > just heat. 

How do you balance your full-time job with building up LITS, especially from a sales perspective?  Is there something you’ve learned from your full-time job that you’ve been able to apply to help grow LITS?

Thankfully my current and last role have been pretty flexible to allow me to dedicate time towards building up LITS. What’s helped me is creating a schedule and task list for when I’ll do LITS-related activities. Most activities for LITS in terms of sales are done online.  For any deliveries or shipments to our retailers and consumers, I schedule accordingly so it doesn’t interfere with my full-time job. In terms of what I’ve learned and apply to LITS from my full-time gig, there’s been a lot of transfer of knowledge and experience. From my last role, I learned how to sell, how to drive traffic to a product, marketing, leading a team and key factors to operational success. I also learned what works and what doesn’t for sales, and above all, customer experience is everything. You can have the greatest product in the world, but if the customer experience is lacking or subpar, your customers will soon walk. The experience is what they remember. This is something we emphasize heavily at market events we attend and the interactions we have with our customers. You’ll never see a quiet LITS booth – we’re the ones outside of our tent bringing people to us instead of waiting for them to show up. Even if we don’t land every sale, we ensure we create a memorable experience and that we leave something for our customers to talk about. There are also many things that I didn’t know at all that I’ve just had to learn independently along the way on this sauce journey – digital marketing, shipping & logistics, full-scale manufacturing – just to name a few. The learning curve has been steep at times but it’s also one of my main motivators when working. I enjoy learning new things because it all adds to my growth. 

Are you looking to continue to bootstrap the company or is raising money something you’re looking to do in the future?

As we grow, so does the need for more capital. The manufacturing industry is a very expensive one because of the costs of equipment, materials, ingredients, facility-use, labour, etc. We’ve seen a rise in many of our materials and ingredients during the pandemic especially because of the different ways it has impacted all our partners both locally and internationally. Until you sell through what you’re sitting on for inventory, you’ve sunk a lot into producing your product. As we gain more retailers and grow our brand to different products, the need to produce at larger volumes becomes ever more prevalent. In the next year, we’re going to be looking to expand our production levels to keep up with demand and focus more on a B2B model. Due to the rapid expansion, we’re going to be looking at different options to fund our growth.

How have you leveraged social media to grow LITS?  Was there a particular channel outside of social media that surprisingly helped grow the brand?

Instagram and Google has been our main source for digital marketing. Many of our retailers found us online and reached out to source our products. It’s insane how much social media and the internet can impact a brand’s presence. Along our journey, we’ve collaborated with many foodies, bloggers, influencers, restaurants and brands who’ve helped us gain more followers and spread the word with their consumer base. The market events we’ve been at have also helped in terms of building in-person presence with our customers when they get to meet the faces behind the brand.

Where would you like to see the LITS brand in 3 years?

International and as being THE go-to Toronto hot sauce brand. We want to launch a few new products and merch as well. We want it to be as accessible as possible from as many places as possible so that everyone can get sauced. One aspect of the journey we’re really looking forward to is growing our team to have a dedicated person handling each functional department. That way we’ll have more time to dedicate towards business development, creating new recipes and products, and expanding our presence further.

What’s a failure you’ve experienced during this journey and what did you learn from it?

There hasn’t been a standout failure moment, but something that has led to very overwhelming times has been trying to do everything on our own. Although it’s normal to be taking care of most things during the startup phase due to resource constraints, it’s extremely difficult and not sustainable in the long run. We’ve learned that even though it’ll cost more to have someone else do it, the time saved, and expertise gained is invaluable. 

What’s a piece of advice you wished somebody had told you when you first started LITS?

Build connections because you won’t know when they’re needed until they’re needed. There are so many moving pieces working in the food and manufacturing industry. Throughout our journey, we’ve made some consistent long-term partnerships that we work with for many of our processes. However, and COVID really emphasized this, you can’t always depend on all of them. Find backups for everything/everyone because at some point, you may need them, especially suppliers. We’ve experienced this when it comes to delayed responses, prices fluctuating heavily, suppliers running out of supplies, etc. Being agile is key to keep up with business needs especially when working in a very dynamic, fast-paced environment where timing can mean the difference between being ready for a big sales season and not. 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***