07 May Tony Lam – Quitting Your Job at a Fortune 100 Company to Opening a Franchise Business – How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Success
Tony Lam is a serial entrepreneur who decided to risk it all by opening not just one but multiple Wing Stop Restaurants in the Bay Area. Learn about the risks he took to opening it and the failures he had to endure to achieve success.
Winner of the hit show Shark Tank for one of his brands, Tony has invested and founded multiple companies along the way. He’s recently co-founded Omni Bev – a modernized approach towards cold brew Vietnamese coffee. What I admire about Tony is that he’s not the executive who sits behind a desk but he’s out there alongside his team, leading pop up shops and knocking on doors to make the sale. His hustles are endless and I’m sure listeners here can learn a ton through his journey.
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Co-Founder – Omnibev Co-Owner – Mavens Creamery Wingstop – President of Bay Area Marketing COOP Workstream – Investor VitaBowl – Investor Kea – Investor and many more
Eric: [00:00:00] hey everybody, this is Eric Y Chen. And today I have a very awesome guest, Tony Lam, who is one of the most true serial entrepreneurs on the show today. And you know, I say true serial entrepreneur because you guys are going to be blown away by his experience. And I love for you to, go ahead and introduce yourself.
Tony: [00:00:20] Yeah. Hey, Eric, thank you for having me on your podcast. I am very honored here because this is my very first podcast that I’ll be recording. So looking very forward to it. So, quick background about myself. , I studied business when I went to college. I went to CalPoly San Luis Obispo.
So I’m a Mustang. , so I graduated with a business degree. My very first job out of school was at a networking company called Cisco. , I ended up working for that company for, gosh, 14 years. And, I had various roles in the company. I was an IT analyst. I did network support. I also did some program management, and so I didn’t know, , at that time, you know, I want to have a business.
I just didn’t know what it would be. and so one of my coworkers had gone to Texas. And she said that, Hey, Tony, my husband and I went to Texas and we stopped by this wing joint. It was called Wingstop. She said, you know, we tasted it and it tastes really, really good. You should consider, ya know, opening up a Wingstop.
And, you know, I’ve never, ever worked in a restaurant or fast food before, but I was really intrigued by it. So I did my due diligence and there was one Wingstop in the entire Bay area. Okay. And where was
Eric: [00:01:48] that? Where was that at?
Tony: [00:01:50] That was in Oakland. And you know, believe it or not, well, believe it, it was the number one, highest grossing grossing location in the country.
Eric: [00:02:01] cause Wingstop starting in Texas, is that where it originated from? Like I don’t even know what the history is, yeah.
Tony: [00:02:06] So it originated in Texas and Richardson was the specific city. So it’s not too far from Dallas. And, uh, you know, that one Wingstop that was in the Bay area and I was, we went there, tasted it, and I fell in love with it.
And so. At that time I didn’t, I had some money because Cisco stopped because of the dotcom and everything like that. Save some money, so some stock. But, I teamed up with, or other business partners. Now we’re down to three, business partners. We flew out to Texas, we interviewed with the C level executives at Wingstop and, you know, we told them about.
our experience, obviously only one person. Our group had ever worked at a fast food place, but we ended up getting, yeah,
Eric: [00:02:56] like running a fast food joint. Maybe they just had some experience like working in one before.
Tony: [00:03:02] Yeah, just they were working fast, but they didn’t all own one, but they were working at a fast food joint.
And, , when you stop, basically, they came back and they gave us. From union city all the way to San Jose, that territory almost 30 miles. So we signed up for five Wingstops. during that time,
Eric: [00:03:22] just five right off the bat, not just starting off with one.
Tony: [00:03:26] Well, what happens is, uh, this is what happens with the franchise.
So what they do is they give you a territory and they give you a time limit as to the number of stores you must open. Cause if you don’t open within that time period, it allows them to sell the territory or rights to other franchisees that want to get in. So we were on the clock. so. You know, I’ll tell you it wasn’t, it wasn’t easy going for me because this was my kind of like my very first business.
And, we lost $100,000 the very first year guys. And I was just like, wow. And we signed up for five. Like, this is not looking so good. Right. And you know, the thing was nobody knew the brand. Back then, this is 15 years ago. Obviously it’s a little bit different now. , yeah, and, and you know, when I’m talking to my friends and I’m telling my, my, my family, I’m telling them, Hey guys, I’m thinking of opening this.
A restaurant called Wingstop, they’re like. Wait a minute. Wings like, I can’t see myself eating wings or lunch or dinner. You know, I could only see wings as an appetizer
Eric: [00:04:33] normally at Applebee’s or something. Right.
Tony: [00:04:35] So they couldn’t, so they looked at me, strangely enough, and they said, Tony, you know, I’m not sure this is a really good investment.
Yeah. Know. And so, like I said, after the first year, we lost $100,000 and. The location that we chose was in union city. It’s right behind, the Bart station, the union city Bart station, and across a high school. But again, because the brand was not there yet, you know, you got to spend a lot of money to, yeah, no, build the brand, , to get customers through the door.
Right. And. I’ll give you an example. I still remember this, but you know one of the radio stations, I remember this, you know, they said, Hey, we could do an ad for you. And I said, okay, we could play you for three months, Tony. We’ll play you three times a day for three months and it’s going to cost you about $10,000.
I’m like, wow, that’s a lot of money. And I go, okay, so what time are we going to be able to, what time are you going to play us? Oh, we’re going to play you at 10:00 PM 2:00 AM 5:00 AM and I’m like. Wait a minute. Who the heck listens. During that time when they came back and they said, well, what did you expect?
You know, if you want prime time, you’re going to have to pay big dollars for, you know, big dollars for it. So it was a lesson learned for, for me at that time, right? Cause that was $10,000. It was a lot for our marketing budget. So,
know, come to the second store was like, you know, I’m thinking to myself, okay guys, let’s open the second store.
Let’s choose another location where there’s a big anchor school. So our second location was in Fremont, California. It’s in the auto mall where there’s a Costco. , there’s a,
Eric: [00:06:17] I don’t think Costco
existed yet when you guys opened up that Wingstop.
Tony: [00:06:21] , yeah, it was just about coming up. But yeah, I mean, it was fairly new, that whole complex right there.
And, you know, so we opened that up and, we were profitable the very first year. So then we said, you know what? That’s the winning formula. We just got to find strong anchor stores like this, , in, in good locations like this. And so that’s what we did. We went and found these locations where there’s an anchor store.
and we were profitable. Now we got to the fifth store. I have to tell you about that story because the fifth store, when we opened that one. I chose the fifth store in San Jose, California, San Jose, off of, story and King. Okay. So this is more on the East side. and there’s more Hispanic in that area.
But my sales were actually kind of poor. And I thought, man, there’s a target and we’ve stopped. Demographic is Hispanic. Why isn’t the store doing great? And when I say there’s not doing great, our sales were about. 10 to $12,000 a week, which is not that great, you know, you need to do at least, at that time, 18,000 to kind of break even.
Mmm. So what happened? I decided to run for a week. We built a, what we call a marketing co-op, where every single Wingstop pulls in their money. Right, putting the money into this bucket. And we use this money. go buy media bias, radio ads, TV ads, digital marketing, sports sponsorship. So I ran for president, and I basically work with an ad agency to do the following, TV ads, radio ads, and so forth.
And one of the things that I told the agencies to do was. I want us to be in Telemundo to be on Spanish radio. Mmm. And that’s what we did, that that particular store now is my number one store.
Eric: [00:08:18] San Jose one
Tony: [00:08:19] the San Jose one.
Eric: [00:08:20] Wow.
Tony: [00:08:21] So, I’ve been doing the marketing stuff, marketing precedent for all 50 stores, roughly 50 stores in the Bay area for the last eight years.
Eric: [00:08:31] And so this is
the co op was because you had your five and then basically everyone else in why California would come in together too. Basically pulling for
Tony: [00:08:43] Yeah, so exactly. So there’s 50, roughly 50 stores in the Bay area. All those stores in this DMA, we call it, pull their money into those buckets.
And so we use that to purchase marketing. So now. Because I have this buying power, I’m able to go onto the radio. Now I’m in all the radio stations. Now I’m able to get the 11:00 AM the 5:00 PM the 8:00 PM slots that I couldn’t have before. Right. before. Before the co-op, it was every franchise, , doing their own local store marketing, LSM local store marketing.
And you know, we weren’t consolidating our money, so if I want a radio, it wasn’t like I could say, you see that Wingstop is like five miles down the street. Don’t give them radio waves. Right? So, you know, for me, because I want a radio, but they might not want radio. Well, I’m the one working it out. But you know, people who, people who listen on the radio, would hear Wingstop and it would benefit everybody, including stores that weren’t participating.
Yeah. So we create this pro up to allow us to do that. And in one of the, one of the things that we did, with the marketing was, and I’ve been a diehard warriors fan. , and so when the warriors came and said, Hey, you know what? We want to do a partnership with Wingstop, we want Wingstop to be a sponsor.
Of course, I was like, yeah, let’s do this, you know, but, it had, we, Dundas sponsorship is significant. A portion of our money would be used strictly on that. We wouldn’t have so many radio, TV ads and so forth. so it was, um, we looked out over the budget and we said, we can’t do it right now. So. half the season went by, or years came back and said, Tony, half the season has, has gone by, and you know what, you’re getting in at a cheaper price.
it would be great if you, you know, just try it out and see if this thing will work, right? Sure enough. I said, let’s give it a try to see what happens. Right. Again, I’m a diehard to warriors fan. That season 4 years later, if they win their next championship. And of course all the franchisees are like, how did you know that the warriors were going to win?
And I just kinda winked at them and said, yeah, I really didn’t know that they were going to win. And so now we have this Warrior’s relationship. We are now the official wings of the golden state warriors, or the last, the last six years. Now. Since that championship. So that relationship, you know, being associate to a NBA championship team has definitely helps strengthen the brand as well as our business in the Bay area.
Because now, you know, we’re able to. Put the warriors logo on her to go bags on our cups, on our email campaigns that go out on social media. So, you know, that’s the value that you get when you, partner up with a sports team.
Eric: [00:11:42] Yeah, that’s a, that’s amazing. I like that. There’s just so many risks that you’ve taken and, and you know, hadn’t really good opportunities and luckily they’ve all, it worked out so far.
Tony: [00:11:54] Yeah. I mean, I’m not gonna lie. I mean, some of the marketing campaigns we did, it’s, it’s a learning lesson, right? I’m not going to tell you that all the marketing campaigns we did. turn out the best. But the thing is, you know, , we learn and we grow from it. We know that, okay, we tried this marketing campaign.
The ROI was not that great, so we’ll never, ever make that mistake again and do that. So, I’m very blessed to be able to, be able to, I wouldn’t say experiment, but to be able to see each. Uh, each of these campaigns, the effectiveness of it, you know, so very, very fortunate to, to be enough.
Eric: [00:12:30] Yeah.
So what happened, uh, with, with the first store in union city was that you guys still kept it and it kind of just piggybacked along with the rest of the stores that had better locations.
Tony: [00:12:42] Correct. So, so now that the brand is stronger now, we’re profitable now. We’re profitable as a business for that particular store, but it was just that because people don’t, didn’t know about that brand.
the sales were not at the point where we wanted, but because of the marketing that we’re putting in place, every single store where their sales are going up.
Eric: [00:13:03] Yeah. So I, I’m, I was born and raised in Fremont. Right. So when you guys popped up in, I think you said 2005 or
Tony: [00:13:12] two, so it was for the free for two, about 2005 was the union city location for the Fremont was around 2007 2008.
Just when that one came
Eric: [00:13:21] up. I mean, that makes sense because that was 2007 is when I got my, I was able to drive off campus to go buy food and being stopped definitely was, one of the, one of the frequent stops that me and my friends would
Tony: [00:13:33] make. Yeah. Yeah. No. So I mean, I’m blessed. It’s been 15 wonderful years, still love the brand.
I still bring potential clients to my Wingstop and they look at me very strangely. So when I tell people, like, you know, when you get into business, you gotta have that passion for it. You know, the passion shouldn’t be one month, three months, one year, even two years. It has to be at least five years. Right?
And so when I have my clients or friends go eat with me at Wingstop. You know, they, they give me this really awkward look when I’m eating my wings. I go, why are you giving me that awkward look. And they’re like, you know, Tony, if you never told me that you were a Wingstop owner, I would have never known the way you eat those wings.
I’m like, well, what do you mean the way I eat those meats? Well, you eat those wings as if you’re eating wings for the very first time. And that’s how passionate I am about that food. I love when you, you know, now my wife would kill me if she allowed me to eat Wingstop every other day. But you know, I’m, I’m eating Wingstop maybe once every two weeks right now.
Eric: [00:14:36] yeah. No. Wingstop Wingstop is great. I mean, I personally, they’re actually my favorite French fries. Two.
Tony: [00:14:43] Oh, wow. Yeah. Yeah. You know, I won’t tell you the secret sauce, but yeah. But you know, we do put crack in there. No, I’m just kidding.
Eric: [00:14:53] There is a little bit of sugar, right?
Tony: [00:14:55] Yes. There’s a little sweet of a, yeah.
Sweet sugar in there. fries. Yes.
Eric: [00:15:00] Yeah. No. Great, great, great touch. So I’d love to kind of dive, dive deeper into your, even that, the start of that journey, right. You, you briefly mentioned. Just bringing on, you know, three other partners with you to go, you know, to even discuss this Wingstop you know, your, your coworker.
Basically introduced it to you. Was that person, one of the partners as well, or,
Tony: [00:15:22] yes, they were. They were there, or one of my partners. Yeah. So then you got
Eric: [00:15:26] a husband and wife, and then, then you brought on one more person.
Tony: [00:15:31] Oh, I’m sorry. So I’m sorry. I have three other partners, so I brought two other people.
Okay. It does. Yeah. One was a cousin and one was, actually a college friend. Yeah.
Eric: [00:15:40] So then, I mean, for, for those, for your, the friends you brought on, I mean, is it that you’ve worked with them in some type of capacity or you guys are just so close, or you guys have talked about it way back and he’s like, Oh, it’d be cool if we all work together and ran a business together.
Tony: [00:15:56] Yeah. You know, it’s, it’s, yeah, it’s kind of fun because, uh, one of them was my college friend. , I guess we were great friends in school. So, I reached out to a couple of other people. Right. And so, again, like I was mentioning earlier, not everybody, was like so into Wingstop because they said that, Hey, you know, Wingstop is a.
An appetizer food, right? There’s a lot of risks or an appetizer, food. But, , these guys, what they did was they tasted the product, they believed in it, and, they want to, you know, participate in this opportunity.
Eric: [00:16:28] I’m pretty sure you have the people you have previously reached out to you that anyone reached back out and kind of regret it like a year or two later.
Tony: [00:16:36] Yeah. It’s funny that you mentioned that. I do have some friends. I said, man, I should have gotten to Wingstop, now it’s a strong brand because, you know, it’s a publicly traded company right now. If you look at it like, we’re very close to our, 52 week high. Yeah, no. Even through this, what we’re going through right now with the pandemic and everything, it’s a, it’s a strong brand that has been able to, you know.
outlast some of the other quick service restaurants out there in the market. Yeah.
Eric: [00:17:03] Was it you or someone else? I saw recently on Facebook that, in and out had like their drive through, like it was just super optimized now and people can just drive right through it and get their hamburgers like within a couple of minutes.
Is that yours? Oh, no.
Tony: [00:17:20] That wasn’t me. But I could, I could, yeah, I could believe it. I mean, those guys, they got the operations, , nail down. I mean, that’s one, uh, a role model type of franchise. You know, I think a lot of people, I would love to try to mimic that. And, and a Chick-fil-A, you know, chip plays the other one that’s doing really, really well.
Eric: [00:17:40] So, , with the, uh, with Wingstop, right, you, you’ve basically figured out, you know, the key ingredient, which was putting it next to anchor stores such as Costco and targets. And then you figured out the marketing and you were able to get some marketing opportunities through radio and with
the golden state warriors.
And so, pretty much Wingstop at a certain point is basically. Running on its own. Right. So then,
Tony: [00:18:08] I think
Eric: [00:18:08] you mentioned previously as well, that you had,
One partner probably left, or you guys bought out. And you know, I
think a lot
of people who, you know, might be finding a time today to look into business opportunities.
And even for me, it’s, I’m, I’m very skeptical about like, Oh, you know, if I am to go start a business, you know, do, should I go work with friends or should I go work with, you know, strangers or should I find someone who has. More of the complimentary skills, like a CTO for instance. Right. If I’m going to be building a software company, there’s no point in bringing in two business operations
Tony: [00:18:42] Correct. Yeah. My, my advice for that is you’ve got a, you know, you really need to fill those four positions. the CEO, CMO, CFO, and the COO, you know, and I think. If I were to do things, like right now I’m going, I’m doing another startup right now. I have those four positions covered right now and it’s so much smoother cause everyone has their own expertise in each one of these lanes. And you know, we’d all do our own thing, right? We don’t look over each other’s shoulder and say, I think you should be doing it this way, right? No, we just focus on, for example, mine is sales, right? I just tell my partner, I said, Hey, you know, you just focus on the quality and producing enough.
That’s all I care about and I will do the sale. So, you know,
Eric: [00:19:37] you find that
that comes just more within your guys’ own experience. , yeah. And that everyone is, you guys have vetted each other prior, or this has just been a working relationship that you guys grew with each other and understood and you feel like maybe you guys got lucky that everyone is pretty top notch within there.
You know, they’re there focused and specialty.
Tony: [00:19:57] That’s a really good question. it comes with experience. For sure. They’ve got the experience to do this. Now the other thing too is, Mmm. You want to kind of get to know your partners. you know, get to know them. So what I’ve done is, before I sign on board with,
with Omni, for example. I had to get to know the CEO. So we, we hung out. We talked for good three, four months to find it before I finally said, you know what? Okay, I want to be part of this journey.
Eric: [00:20:28] But w when you first had the conversation, was the conversation about having you come in as an investor and then you wanted to spend some time and do your due diligence for four months, or it was.
We’re just friends. And then you saw what they’re doing and then, then you came in and offered after four.
Tony: [00:20:44] Yeah. So, my original conversation with Tammy at that time was more, um, you know, she didn’t have a food background. And so a mutual friend of ours, um. introduced us and said, Hey, Tony, you know, she doesn’t have any food background, but she’s got this great coffee product.
Can you help her? So during that time, you know, I was kind of giving her advice. This is what I would do. And that conversation became bigger because she then said, Hey, you know, Mmm. You have the experience to help get my product into, restaurants and retail chains as well. can you help me with that?
Right. And so from there on, I said, okay, well let’s, let’s get to know each other a little bit longer. You know, I don’t want to sign the dotted line just right away because, , she was just starting out. And, so we got to know each other. A little bit longer hung out, kind of share, you know, the, the vision of , what she had with the company, and we were in alignment.
And so now I’m, I’m part of the journey. I am getting the product into more store locations.
Eric: [00:21:54] Yeah. And so for,
for people who don’t know, we’ve only just said the word Omni. If you want to share with the audience what Omni. Yeah.
Tony: [00:22:03] Sure, sure. So this is, so Omni, Bev, my, my partner Tammy, basically she has a family farm in Vietnam.
We are the very first. Vietnamese cold brew company with an RTD product. RTD stands for ready to drink. Okay. So, people who love Vietnamese coffee, they will love our product. How are we different? We’re different because, our Vietnamese, the beans are imported from Vietnam. They’re bottle and brew in Southern California.
We put the coffee, the cafe sit down, a typical Vietnamese coffee into this bottle. So it’s a quick grab and go, we have a three month shelf life with our coffee. You’re like, wait, wait, how is that possible? So we have a pasteurization process that allows us to extend the shelf life of the product. So, , especially now with a lot to go orders, right?
If people want coffee, they can just grab and go, this. And take it with them. Okay. so in the last, you know, I, again, I got, I just got involved just recently about seven months, and, we did a lot of ’em. We did a lot of, what do I call, focus group testing, right? To see what people had to say about it.
And, at the very beginning, I have to say, you know, it wasn’t easy going cause a lot of people, uh, were not accustomed to our formulation. But what we do really well is we listen to feedback. We pivoted and we changed the formulation. So in the last five weeks, we will have at least five products on the market.
it’s very, very well received. we’ve been very, very fortunate. , I have some, you know, later on I’ll share the news, but you know, we were able to get into about 400 locations within the last five weeks.
Eric: [00:23:56] Into a retailer.
Tony: [00:23:58] we are, we are in some retailers, but more, and this is something that’s a little bit different.
We’re into more, corporate offices. Yeah. Oh, yeah. So, my, my niche has been more restaurants and more retail chains, but we’ve been able to get our product into a retail, into corporate offices. Why? Because a typical coffee drinker drink two cups of coffee a day. So, and the other thing about our product is we have a, you can see here.
Four cups of caffeine in this one bottle and one bottle
Eric: [00:24:31] is the first time you drink it, you’ll, you’ll definitely get a pretty, pretty hyped up. I realized I have to drink half a bottle in a day and then save the rest for later. Otherwise, I’ve got,
Tony: [00:24:42] yeah, absolutely. I’ve, you know, I had one of my colleagues, I dropped him a case and, , the case only has 12, but yeah.
A month has passed and I says, Hey, do you want to order another one? He says, I’m still working on mine. I’m like, wait, Whoa. How are you working on? There’s only 12 in a case, and you know, it’s been 30 days. He says, dude, you know your coffee. It’s so strong that I only drink one third of it, and that keeps me up all day long.
I’m like, man, you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck and you’re only paying $4 for this bottle.
Eric: [00:25:14] It really isn’t. I had to reduce it, reduce it down to half, so. that’s amazing. So, one thing I did want to bring up in, you know, if people know you already via social media
and on Facebook, I mean, there’s, there’s been comments
about, well, you know, one of those things where any, any business that Tony touches kind of turns into gold and it’s, it’s pretty true.
But, you know, one of the things I, you know, as I looked at the things that you’re doing and you know, how you’re pushing out the products and brand. Yeah. What it came down to was that you, yourself as an entrepreneur, as an individual, you’re actually out there,
you know, putting in the work.
You’re the person who’s actually grinding.
You’re showing up at events, you’re the one pouring and serving out, you know, these, these samples and talking to people to promote
your product. Right? I think
a lot of people would be like, you know, that’s not my job. I’d rather hire a marketing person, or, you know, show like a show person to. Take on that role and responsibility then being, having to be there.
Right. Yeah. And I think that’s something I I see in you is that thinks you so much different than anyone
else trying to push their own businesses that you’re
willing to be on the
ground floor. and then it really push out
product that you believe in.
Tony: [00:26:27] Yeah, absolutely. I think, I’m, I’m the scrappy type of person.
You’re right. So, any wins that I get, I share it with the team where I take full responsibility accountability. So when I tell people that I’m responsible for, you know, sales, I, you know, I gotta perform, I gotta execute. It’s not all talk. , but at the same time too, you know, down the road.
You’ve got the, it’s, you know, when you’re building a brand, there needs to be a story behind it. Right? You know, when you raise money down the road, you know, this is why I tell all the young entrepreneurs, like, you gotta put your story together that it shows that, you were out there in the field serving coffee, , driving, from the Bay area all the way down to LA to for this particular event.
I advise all the young entrepreneurs like, guys, you should document this. Right. Document it. Cause you’re going to tell your story. And you know, when the investor is investing in, when they see the product, it’s great and everything, but at the end of the day, they’re investing in the story and the people.
Yeah, no. And the people in this company execute , can they hit these sales targets? That’s what they want to know, you know? And so, and that’s why you see me hustle so hard. And I, you know, I gotta I gotta I got to build the story. I got a show that I’m very passionate, which I am very, super passionate about.
I, I, you know, I honestly think that we, with this particular product, Mmm. You know, we want to elevate and bring Vietnamese coffee mainstream with this product. And, about a couple of weeks ago, we got one step closer in the sense that our packaging, we won first place for our packaging for the package design.
The branding, in this contest, that’s rarely really reputable around the world. It’s an American. design, packaging contests, and we came in first place. So it makes my life a little bit, a lot easier actually to be able to promote a product like that. So. That’s another win for us.
Another thing to add to the story.
Eric: [00:28:41] Exactly. Yeah. In terms of documentation, I mean, what, what do you recommend, you know, for, for people? I think, you know, even even for me as I’m continuing on my journey, one of the toughest challenges is, you know, when you’ve either you feel like Impala, you have the imposter syndrome, right?
Or you’re not really. Having any small wins. And so you just don’t feel like there’s much to celebrate. Right. So what do you, what would you tell
someone like that, who might
be in that
kind of that rough?
Tony: [00:29:10] I think, where, where I got, how I got to where I am today is through my network. so I would advise people, like, if you guys don’t have a LinkedIn profile. Get one. I mean, for me, that’s, that’s how I’ve been able to get a lot of leads. Your net worth is basically independent on your network, right? So how big your network is, you know, I can’t even imagine like, tell you how, you know, how some of these deals happen, you know, is because a friend, I’ll give you an example.
I met a, a person, one of my colleagues, , I met a person on a plane nine years ago to a San Francisco 40 Niners game, and he’s in the beer business, right? And I’m like, I don’t know what I could possibly kind of business do with this guy. Right. And I said, I’m not in the beer business. I don’t even drink beer.
But, . Yeah, no, I just remember that he was in the distribution beer business and I was telling him about my coffee product and he said, you know, Tony, a lot of the beer distributors, they’re looking for other businesses since they’re in the grocery stores already and they’re dropping off your products, they’re looking for other bed products.
I can make some connections for you. So even like things like you least expected. You know, down the road, it took like nine years later, but here’s a connection for me to go into, you know, a distribution channel that I never had access to. Right so what I’m saying is, you know, when you’re in a rut like that, you’re, you’re not, um, no, you’re not getting these wins.
You really should really go back and figure out, you know, have a strategy in place and see if you could connect to some of these people who could make that introduction or you, yeah, no. another example we’re trying to build brand awareness with there. So we’re looking to. Team up with caterers, right?
We’ll ask the caterers, do you have a coffee option? And they’ll say, no, we don’t. Well, guess what? How about this? , you bring us in, I will give you a commission and I’ll have my folks do the servicing. . Yeah, no. So you gotta be creative, and come up with these ideas, like, let’s not do the traditional channels.
If there’s ways where I could collaborate with people who already have their foot in the door in these corporate offices, or these retail chains, you know, work with them, give them an incentive to get you in it. Right. cause not everybody will work for free. Right? You incentivize them by giving them a, a rev share or a commission or referral fee.
Eric: [00:31:53] So, so w
with your background, , going from Cisco is like an it person, analytics program manager. Then you go into Wingstop. There’s not necessarily a sales background. I came with Wingstop per se, right. Because a lot of it came down to the marketing aspect. So where did you get your sales chops? coming into it to,
Eric: [00:32:13] really push out the product.
Tony: [00:32:16] You know, it’s. You’re absolutely right. I, I, you know, someone had told me that, Tony, they wanted me to sell ice cream, so I have a, you know, Maven screaming. We were on shark tank and. Um, the sisters asked me to become a baby screaming. It’s a Macron ice cream sandwich company. The sisters that asked me, Hey, we need a salesperson.
I said, I’ve never, never done sales, but I’ve done Wingstop. Right? And someone said, well, Tony, you’d be a good salesperson. I go, well, I’ve never done sales, but I can try. So what happened was, I ended up, you know, being the investor, , being there. A chief of sales,
Eric: [00:32:55] which is kind of a weird mix of zoned, who’s investing their own money.
Then having to go back and try to bring in more money.
Tony: [00:33:02] Yeah.
Eric: [00:33:03] Round about way, right?
Tony: [00:33:04] Yeah. I mean, there, there, there are positions that needed to be filled, and so marketing and sales was two areas that, you know, I felt my strengths were, and, so I’m, I’m knocking on all these different restaurants, right.
The door isn’t on restaurants, and I’m saying, they’re saying, Tony, can you, , or I’m sorry, I’m telling them, Hey, we have this great product. We would like to put this research in your restaurant so that you could, sell it to your con, to your customers. You know, and I told them all the different benefits, how much money they were going to make if they sell to 300 units a week.
And what was really interesting was, how I got these restaurants to sign up was I also talk to them about the marketing aspect. A lot of these mom Paul restaurants, they don’t have a marketing team. They don’t know much about marketing. But for me, coming from a Wingstop background, they see that I have five Wingstops.
So a lot of the conversation was on the marketing piece, and they said, okay, well, if I buy this product, you’re going to help me with marketing, right? So I said, yeah, sure, why not? So that was how I, you know, that’s where I really got kind of like my first taste in sales. And so, with mavens, we got up to 300 venues in the four years, in four years time.
and my network is growing, you know, , these restaurant owners are introduced me to other restaurant owners that want our product. Right? So it’s a, it’s like a snowball effect. You know, you’re building your network. Like I said, your net worth is dependent on your network. So, that’s kinda like a, you know, where I got, I got my first taste of
Eric: [00:34:42] Yeah. And you know, one of, one of the things that I also recognize about you is really that, that tenacity, to come in I think goes, just a few months ago, there were supposed to be not even a few months, maybe close to a month ago, there was a trade show that you were going down to LA four.
Right. And I think the
trade show canceled because of the coronavirus or they’re trying to reduce the, the
Tony: [00:35:04] events, correct?
Correct. We were supposed to go down so four. For Romney. Bev, this was the, it was supposed to be a very big event. We were going to, natural product expo West, which is like the biggest food expo, , on the, on the, in the States and because of the Corona virus, my team was literally driving when they got to LA.
And then the email came up to say it was canceled. And we’re like, Oh, we spent like three months on the booth, putting the product together, introducing new products, and we’re down in LA and it’s canceled. So rather than just, , sit there and, and, and, and cry about it, we said, you know what, Le let me reach out to my existing network.
Right. And let me go out and crop samples. And that’s exactly what I did was I met with, folks in the restaurant, feel drop off samples to them. there were some retail chains that are, their headquarters is down in, LA area. I was able to meet with them and they also tasted it. And like I said, within, four or five weeks.
We are going to be in, you know, 400 venues. but everything was put on hold. Everything was put on hold because of the coronavirus. But you know, when, once that’s lifted, then you know, we’re going to be having our product into those venues and everything. But, you know, again, I’m, I’m a scrappy person, you know, even though I’m.
Everything is stacked against you. Not to say that you know, all these other people weren’t affected. Everyone was affected by this whole thing. Right. But you’ve got, you just got to make the best out of the situation. Yeah. No, and so people were creative. The buyers for these conferences, they set up a virtual expo.
So, just like how we’re doing right now with zoom meeting, they had all those, those, those vendors, , that we’re going to, showcase at the expo, jump onto a virtual call, and we each got about five minutes to pitch our product. Oh, wow. So, you know, people, they come up with creative stuff. Yeah, no. And so that’s what we were able to do.
Eric: [00:37:16] That’s interesting. Bringing that up cause I just saw, I don’t know if it’s really real, but you know the, the Canton fair, which is the largest import export, . Convention and, in Shenzhen and they basically announced that they’re going to have a virtual, , conference. And I’m like, I don’t know how, you have hundreds of thousands of people walking that show that the showroom during that time, twice a year.
And how are you going to do a virtual conference? I don’t know. It’d be very, you know, exciting to see how they actually execute on it, but, . Yeah, I brought that I wanted to. You know, prompt that story up just because it goes to show your documentation of your journey and showcasing how, you know, you turned a situation.
and just something positive, which now has led to a huge opportunity to, to go into, you know, hundreds of
retail stores. Yeah. So,
I wanted to, you know, thank you so much for jumping on the show and give you an opportunity to share, you know, anything else you want to with our audience here
Tony: [00:38:13] So, you know, the product that I want to promote obviously is my coffee company, Omni, Bev. So for the folks that are listening to the podcast, I like to give them, you know, 15% off our product by going to our website, www.OmniBev.com.
Before checking out, use the promo code Y factor, and you’ll be able to get the 15% off until the end of the year. So give us a try guys.
Eric: [00:38:38] Okay,
that’s amazing. Thank you so much, Tony. I mean, I’ve had your coffee many times. I’m actually looking forward to trying out the new flavors that you guys had recently released as
Tony: [00:38:48] Yeah, yeah. We also have the plant base, but you’re talking about, so we also have the coconut one as well, so.
Eric: [00:38:54] Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Tony, for sharing your incredible story. I’m sure you know the audience here. We’re able to take away a few golden nuggets and really look to you as an inspiration and
pretty much a role model,
you know, in terms of conducting visits and really, you know, being passionate about what you, what you do.
Tony: [00:39:11] So thank you so much. Thank you for having me, Eric. Thank you so much. Take care.
Eric: [00:39:16] I’ll talk to you guys soon.
Tony: [00:39:17] Yup, bye. Bye.