How Viral Marketing Heated Up Sriracha2Go

Christine Birkner
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
​WHAT: Sriracha2Go sells small, pocket-sized empty plastic bottles that customers can fill with their own sriracha sauce.​ 

SO WHAT: Sriracha2Go's founders grew their business through viral marketing, press from BuzzFeed and an investment from celebrity entrepreneur Mark Cuban.

NOW WHAT: SMB marketers should use social media to generate publicity to grow their businesses, and not be afraid to take risks. 

Sriracha2Go generated buzz for its quirky product offering with the help of some red-hot viral marketing

Sriracha has become the condiment du jour for the millennial set, and—just like bacon a few years ago—the hot sauce is making its mark on the food scene, popping up in fast food offerings, potato chips, chocolate, beer and vodka. Farbod Deylamian and Kyle Lewis turned their love of sriracha into a business opportunity, which grew through word of mouth, social media, well-timed press from BuzzFeed, and an investment from celebrity business guru Mark Cuban.

Deylamian and Lewis, who are longtime friends and roommates in New York, put sriracha on everything when they dined at home; however, most restaurants didn’t supply the sauce, Lewis says. “They’d have ketchup, mustard and maybe Tabasco on the table. It became a running joke between the two of us: ‘Once again, I wish we had sriracha with this meal.’ We started ordering our food to go so we could bring it back to our apartment and eat it with our sriracha. One night, after a few drinks, we got pizza, and we were bringing the pizza home so we could put sriracha on it. There was a torrential downpour, and we got soaked and said, ‘This is enough.’ ” 

Deylamian did a quick online search to find a portable sriracha product and came up empty. “Since we couldn’t find it online, we thought it would be cool to do it ourselves,” he says. From there, Sriracha2Go was born. 

 

 Sriracha2Go - Life Is Short. Keep It Spicy.

 

New York-based Sriracha2Go sells small, pocket-sized empty plastic bottles that customers can fill it with their own sriracha sauce. Attached to each bottle is a carabiner, which allows customers to hook the bottle to a belt buckle, purse or keychain and carry sriracha on the go. They also sell customized bottles that can be emblazoned with company logos for corporate events or with couples’ names as wedding favors.

Deylamian and Lewis launched Sriracha2Go in October 2014, selling the bottles on a website with their own logo. A week after the business launched, it gained some major attention when BuzzFeed ran an article praising the product and actor Ashton Kutcher tweeted about it. Sriracha2Go sold out of its initial inventory of 20,000 units in eight days on the heels of the BuzzFeed article, Lewis says. “In the 18 months when we were working with manufacturers to develop the product, Farbod and I had conversations about how well we thought it was going to do. We said, ‘If this initial order of 20,000 units lasts us six months, we’re doing really well.’ We ended up selling through it in less than two weeks. We don’t think we had an idea to what extent it would go crazy, and how quickly.”

The unexpected success wasn’t without growing pains, he adds. “Farbod and I had full-time jobs, and after a full day of work, we’d come home and box up the inventory in our apartment. For that two-week period, we were packing boxes all night long. We had friends come over and help us. We have pictures of us in our small Manhattan apartment with boxes everywhere. They’re fond memories now, but at the time, it was very stressful. There were a lot of unanswered questions, and we were underprepared for what happened. Thankfully, we got all the product to all the customers, and it all ended up working out.”

Adds Deylamian: “We were excited, but we were also really stressed out because we wanted to make sure we could fill all the orders. The day the BuzzFeed article hit, we knew this was something we couldn’t do from our home anymore.” Thus, they moved packaging from their apartment to a processing center, Swan Packaging Fulfillment in Wayne, N.J.

Executives at Irwindale, Calif.-based sriracha maker Huy Fong Foods Inc. also saw the BuzzFeed article and reached out to Deylamian and Lewis to forge a licensing deal, which allows them to use Huy Fong’s official logo on the bottles. The rooster logo, which is familiar to sriracha fans, has given Sriracha2Go increased legitimacy and visibility, Deylamian says. “Huy Fong has really become a household name in the last five years. Being able to partner with them and work with them, and their cult following, has been a huge help to us.”

The bottles now are available on the Sriracha2Go website, Amazon and Groupon, as well as Urban Outfitters, Cost Plus World Market and Pepper Palace stores, and in small restaurants throughout the U.S., Vietnam and Australia, and Yo Sushi in the U.K.

After expanding the business a bit, Deylamian and Lewis sought out help from entrepreneur and owner of NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban. The duo e-mailed Cuban directly about investing in Sriracha2Go, and Cuban said yes. “We’ve always been fans of Mark Cuban [and] the way he conducts business, and his straightforward attitude. In his book, he said he welcomes people to send him e-mails. One night, Farbod and I were watching Shark Tank [Cuban’s reality TV show where fledgling small businesses compete for investment capital], and we said, ‘Let’s e-mail him.’ We thought through every single word, and went through multiple drafts. Sure enough, he responded in two hours."

The duo would not disclose the terms of Cuban’s investment, but it has opened doors for them, Deylamian says. “If there are companies that haven’t heard of us, they have heard of Mark Cuban. Being able to call ourselves a Mark Cuban company goes a long way. On a day-to-day basis, he gives us operational advice. Kyle and I are new to this. He and his team play an advisor role for us, and give us introductions to retailers and manufacturers. Things like that are really integral to the growth of the business.”

Cuban quickly saw the value in Sriracha2Go. “As soon as I learned about what their team was up to, I wanted in. … I’m fired up to support the team and to be a part of many more milestones that lie ahead,” said Cuban in an e-mail to Marketing News.

Deylamian and Lewis continue to raise awareness for Sriracha2Go through social media, attracting new fans via Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, as well as Instagram, where they ‘like’ every post tagged with #sriracha in the hopes that fans will visit their site. “We’re open to testing everything, including ‘buy’ buttons on Pinterest or advertising on Facebook or Reddit,” Lewis says. “Right now, we’re in ‘test and see’ mode, and we’ll optimize it over time. We’re finding the right mix, but we’re dabbling in everything, from SEO to digital advertising to e-mail marketing to social.”

And they’ll continue to capitalize on the product’s word-of-mouth appeal, Deylamian says. “A lot of the marketing for our product occurs when someone pulls it out of their pocket at a restaurant. It’s immediately a conversation starter. That’s the moment that we want to capitalize on because it’s probably where we win a lot of our customers.”

This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue of Marketing News


Author Bio:

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Christine Birkner
Christine Birkner is the features editor for the AMA. E-mail her at cbirkner@ama.org and follow her on Twitter @ChristineBirkne.
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