As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Charlynda Scales, a TEDx speaker, brand ambassador, Air Force Veteran, social media influencer, and the founder and CEO of Mutt’s Sauce LLC, a company that makes “the sauce for every meal.”
She is a Clemson University graduate with a degree in Aerospace Science and Business Management. She also holds an MBA in Strategic Leadership. She started the company Mutt’s Sauce, LLC while serving on active duty in the military.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
My grandfather was a Vietnam/Korean Air Force veteran. He was an aircraft mechanic who received the call sign “Mutt” due to his ability to blend in. He also helped raise his grandkids, including me. Throughout most of my childhood, I lived in a two-bedroom home with my grandparents, mother, aunt, and her two children in Cookeville, Tennessee.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
Since 1956, my grandfather made a multi-purpose sauce that was our family’s meal-time staple. After my grandfather’s death, I feared that we would no longer be able to enjoy his sauce because no one knew the recipe. So, I called my mother to lament about it. “I have been meaning to tell you something,” my mother sighed on the phone. “Your grandfather asked me to give you something before he passed away.” When I saw my mother again, she gave me the coveted recipe, and I realized my grandfather gave me the only copy. The simple gesture of passing down his recipe led me on the journey of entrepreneurship. In 2013, Mutt’s Sauce was born in his honor, and the company has continued to grow since then.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When I started Mutt’s Sauce, I bootstrapped the company, using funds I was saving to buy myself a new car. During the nascent stages of my company, I was not thinking about my return on investment, and after receiving earnings, one of my earliest purchases were one thousand custom writing pens. I don’t know why I thought the pens would help my business, but I cringe at the thought of wasting money on things that did not yield a return. One of my mentors asked me how much sauce I sold by handing out pens. “People need to taste and believe,” my mentor said. “A customized pen doesn’t make me want to buy sauce.” It was an expensive lesson. I have one pen left, and I keep it on my desk to remind me to make smart financial decisions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
John Soutar is a mentor I acquired through the SCORE program. When I first consulted with him, I told him I had no idea where to start. Soutar smiled and explained that I needed to create a checklist that outlines how to make and sell a tomato-based food product. “Just do step one. File your business license and we will move at the speed of determination.” That speed is as fast you’re determined to make it happen. Four months later, we had our first production day. An Amish company in Chillicothe, Ohio hand-poured 700 bottles, and we sold them all in one week.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I remember driving from Washington D.C. to Ohio for a meeting because I missed my flight. I arrived in Ohio around 3 a.m., and I only had two hours to rest before my meeting, so I pulled into the Wright Patterson Air Force Base and slept in my car. When the Air Force Base gym opened at 5 a.m., I showered, changed, and went to my meeting. At the time, I did not know that I would have several more trips like this.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My mantra is: “When you believe in something bigger than yourself, rock bottom has a trampoline.” Simply put, everyone has a purpose, and rock bottom does not exist — it’s just a moment of reflection and reset.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I believe success is relative. For me, success is taking care of my family and knowing when to pivot during moments of uncertainty. Like many small business owners, COVID affected my business model. Before the pandemic, 90% of sales came from in-person events. So, we had to pivot our strategy to e-commerce, and sales are higher than a year ago.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe creating memories for customers during mealtime is more important than sales. I am striving for people to try Mutt’s Sauce, and be able to discern a memorable moment that was created because of it. I remember one customer wrote us a letter describing her experience with our product. The young woman was making a meal for her boyfriend and his family, and the recipe called for tomato sauce, but she ran out. She then replaced the tomato sauce with Mutt’s Sauce, and she went on to explain how much everyone enjoyed the meal. She even sent us a wedding invitation! That’s why I do what I do!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- Know your why. Failure will happen, and understanding your why will help you survive these moments.
- Find a Tribe. It’s important to surround yourself with people who understand your challenges. Join groups that will help you when you need a sympathetic ear.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone was blunter about the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship. I’ve seen highs, but also lows.
- Life happens. You cannot go on the journey alone. People will be affected by your decisions. You must communicate your expectations, projects, and anything in your business that will take up your time. The only way to find balance is to make sure you tell your network when you need to work. If you communicate, they feel more involved versus alienated.
- Accept help. It took me years before I had consistent team members, mainly because I was hard to work for. I spent so much time doing things on my own, and I didn’t know how to ask for help when things weren’t going well.
- Financial literacy is key. Before starting Mutt’s Sauce, I was not a chef, nor an entrepreneur, and I didn’t know anything about the food and beverage industry. My daily routine shifted from partying on weekends, to cozying up with any relevant business articles. Financial literacy is very important. You can make a great cupcake, but do you know how many you need to make to pay your expenses? Do you know what your cost of goods sold is? What is your profit margin?
- Humility will take you farther than money. My grandfather told me that as a child, and it didn’t make sense until I became an adult. Opportunities and success can be achieved simply by operating in gratitude and humility. People have seen me in the press, appearances with celebrities, or speaking on stages with thousands of people. My secret isn’t money — I’m not a millionaire and I drive a used car.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
Entrepreneurship has put my life’s priorities into perspective. The money I bootstrapped Mutt’s Sauce with was originally meant to buy a brand new car. Now, I look at our sales and think of how we can use the profits to serve others.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
I think the entire experience, the accomplishments, and mistakes, the highs, and lows, are what craft our journey. They are all necessary. I wouldn’t change anything that I have experienced. The triumph and the trauma built me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I started The Empower Movement It is a lifestyle brand that celebrates all of the traits of powerful and impactful women. Proceeds of our sales go to a program in Dayton, Ohio aptly named EMPOWER, which is an accelerator to teach and connect women and encourage them to take on leadership roles in their community.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @muttssauce and @charlyndajean