Husband-and-wife duo Michelle and Aaron Hoffman have spiced up Chattanooga with their local hot-sauce company, Hoff & Pepper.
Their side gig of creating “small batch handmade spicy goodness” for family and friends has turned into a full-time business of selling hot sauce to 4,000-plus stores nationally (with the sauce being tasted by celebrities such as Tom Holland and Jimmy Kimmel).
Hoff & Pepper’s next move? Graduating from the Chattanooga Chamber’s Incubator program and moving into their own 30,000-square-foot facility. Their secrets to success? Michelle Hoffman, Co-Owner and Director of Manufacturing, shared 10 tips to help entrepreneurs blaze their own paths and stay hot in Chattanooga’s startup community.
Trend: How can entrepreneurs come up with great business ideas? How does an entrepreneur know when they have a great business idea or when it is time to move on from one?
Michelle: Your customer will let you know if you have a good idea or not! I have found that testing products in a group and getting direct feedback from users is helpful. The feedback will help you determine what ideas work and what ideas to toss aside.
Trend: How can entrepreneurs craft great organizational mission statements?
Michelle: A great mission statement does not form overnight; a great mission statement is crafted over time. Make sure your mission is true to what you feel and why you create your product or have your service.
Trend: How might entrepreneurs set and measure goals?
Michelle: I measure success by how long employees stay on our team. Our small amount of turnover tells me that our employees find Hoff & Pepper to be a welcoming and safe environment. I believe that both meeting financial goals and team growth are indicators of a thriving organization.
Trend: How can entrepreneurs manage stress, alleviate burnout and protect their mental health?
Michelle: Take time for passions you enjoy outside of work! For example, Chattanooga has many amazing outdoor activities. My husband and I love to kayak, hike and spend a day out on the boat. Also, limit how much you talk about work when you are not at work. Limits have helped us keep clear and important boundaries.
Trend: What are the biggest mistakes first-time entrepreneurs make? How can these mistakes be avoided?
Michelle: Many entrepreneurs think they can quit their day job and go all in on a new business. Make sure you can sustain yourself by testing and proving your ideas before you quit your day job.
Trend: You are in charge of your own work schedule. How would you advise entrepreneurs to create work-life balance?
Michelle: Keep a regular daily schedule and establish a designated workspace away from home. Have an office or a place to work that allows you to separate your work and personal life.
Trend: Is mentorship important for entrepreneurs?
Michelle: Absolutely! I would be lost without my mentor. A good mentor will guide you through the ups and downs of starting your own business and help you understand what is worth your energy and time. I was lucky enough to have access to our incredible CEO, Tyler Jenks. He has built and led companies before and knew what growing pains to expect. Find someone who is where you want to be and learn from them.
Trend: What are across-the-board qualities of successful entrepreneurs?
Trend: Speaking of learning, is professional development important for entrepreneurs?
Michelle: YES! You do not know it all and can always learn more. Hoff and Pepper would not be where we are today without the Chamber’s Incubator program. The access we gained to small business owners, the Small Business Development Center and programming opportunities allowed us to grow in knowledge and capacity in ways we would not have otherwise.
On a personal level, I have taken advantage of local learning opportunities such as enrolling in a UTC supply chain certification prep course and earning my Certified Supply Chain Professional designation. As Hoff & Pepper’s Director of Manufacturing, the course taught me to think about supply chain from a new perspective. I have an improved skillset and knowledge base and can more effectively explain how the supply chain affects our organization to our team. Professional growth is so valuable!
Trend: Any final advice to share with aspiring entrepreneurs?
Michelle: Learn to ride the waves. There will be heavy ups and downs, and you must get used to the rollercoaster ride called entrepreneurship. Stay the course and believe in yourself!
There are crazy days, but I enjoy providing jobs for others, supporting other local businesses with purchases (like peppers, labels and boxes) we need to do our jobs and living out Hoff & Pepper’s mission to “make every meal taste amazing.” The hard work is always worth the reward.