Recently, I had the privilege of connecting with Julie Busha, the founder of the popular condiment brand Slawsa. Slawsa is a unique cross between a “slaw” and “salsa” that is all-natural, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, low in sodium and kosher. Julie was featured on ABC’s Shark Tank, and though she didn’t receive funding, was the recipient of much praise from the “sharks.” Following the exposure of the show, she has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for expansion, which is open until January 4th. We discussed the sacrifices she has made along the way to build her company, her experience on Shark Tank, and Julie gives her tips for those looking to build a better career. 

How do you define your “personal brand?”

I’ve historically been the “behind-the-scenes, roll-up-your-sleeves, get the job done type person.” Never in the spotlight and I prefer to let the results speak for themselves. In the agency world, my job was to make my clients look good in the eyes of their customers. I’m one that has extremely high expectations for not only myself, but for those around me. How does it impact your company? I think in terms of running a business, I see things very black and white, cut and dry. While I like to hear all options, I’m very decisive and I think that sense of purpose has helped my company grow in the most efficient way possible.

What were some of the biggest sacrifices you have had to make in building your company?

Obviously, the personal sacrifices (which I did not vocalize to the Sharks). Back when I was recruited to help someone else build his company, I put in the extra hours and effort in because that is what was required…hadn’t had a vacation since 2006. Now that I have launched my own company, I can’t imagine I do, but somehow I’ve put forth more energy. Putting off starting a family is the biggest sacrifice (especially since I am now 35) but I want to be in a position where when we do start that family, I can not feel I am taking away from growing my company. I can do both, but just need to get my company to a place where I can do both. Of course, the financial risks/sacrifices are far beyond what most people will ever comprehend doing themselves. But greatness does not come without sacrifice and when you know you can build something great, giving up the perks in life is what’s ultimately going to get it there. Hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy those perks later as there is no better feeling in the world than waking up each day eager to grow a brand.

What, if anything, did you learn from being on the “Shark Tank?”

I don’t know that I really learned anything. It’s obviously a great opportunity for any entrepreneur but none of the Sharks really gave me any advice on what they thought I should be doing. They didn’t find faults in the company…instead they just decided to not invest and I think much of it stems from the fact that 1. They usually want to have a good understanding of the industry in which they are investing and 2. They want to be able to use their assets (Lori to get on QVC, Daymond to plug in his overseas manufacturing, Mark & Robert to rely on their tech background) and honestly, I don’t think they felt they could offer either. I do need to take compliments better. I have such high expectations of myself, I always feel I need to be perfect. Not getting the confidence of a Shark to offer a deal I took very personally for weeks.

Where do you hope to be down the line?

Obviously, I’m not going to be content until I get Slawsa into every grocery store, stadium and hot dog cart in America so I realize this is just the beginning of a long journey. You always have to be looking forward so I’ll be in development of the final two flavors this winter and a secondary 3-sku line in 2014. Obviously, my priority is growing awareness and trial and to keep growing household penetration. What is the ideal position for Slawsa? I think ultimately, Slawsa has the potential to have the greatest market share in the relish category. It’s healthier, more versatile and more flavorful than a pickle relish. We just need to educate consumers to think about what a relish is or could be versus the traditional.

Can you give 2-3 key pieces of advice to young people who are looking to take the next step in their career?

First and foremost, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. People are shocked that I gained placement of Slawsa in nearly 5,000 stores within two years because it’s so far from what is considered possible for a start-up food manufacturer on a limited budget….but not once did I believe it couldn’t be achieved. Sometimes you just have to dive in the deep end head first and make it happen. Secondly, put yourself in a position to take advantage of opportunities. Both my husband and I worked our way up in our respective industries and being fiscally responsible is what allowed me to leave an industry that I loved to take the leap of faith to become an entrepreneur and put so much financially into my company. We don’t live beyond our means and while that seems strange in our “borrow and spend” society, that’s the best way to do something great. I’m a “go big or go home” type person. If I had to rely on a second income and just dedicate myself to Slawsa in the evenings or weekends, there would be no way we’d be as far along as we are now. It requires full-time efforts and making those financial sacrifices earlier in life allows me to do so without worrying about sucking valuable marketing dollars out of the company to pay myself. The third piece of advice is to put as much away in retirement as possible at a younger age as it will pay back dividends in the future (likely when you realize the government won’t be able to support you). You should never have to rely on outside support. Put yourself in a position where money is never an issue if you lose your job, launch a company or whatever it is you want to do.

Thank you to Julie for taking the time to share her story with me.