Very loosely based on actual events but Flamin’ Hot can teach us a few things about entrepreneurship.
Flamin’ Hot is a fictionalized dramatization of how the wildly popular Flamin’ Hot line of products was created. A more detailed account of the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and related products can be found in this LA Times article. Although it is very loosely based on actual events, the film can teach us a few things about entrepreneurship.
Warning Spoilers Ahead
Richard Montañez, the supposed creator was a natural entrepreneur since childhood. In the film, he was bullied by his classmates about his burrito lunch. He persuaded them to try it and got them to buy burritos from him. Richard then sold burritos to the entire school. Richard also showed interest in machinery early on which helped him understand the chip manufacturing process.
Not everyone is born with the traits and proclivities to create something new, but if you are, it’s a big advantage.
Selling drugs got Richard in trouble with the law which limited his career options. So he pleaded his way into a janitorial job. Richard swallowed his pride and did the work.
Our perceptions about our self, how we think others perceive us, where we think we should be in life, pride, shame, etc. are all factors that can sometimes limit us. Overcoming this is probably more important than being a natural entrepreneur.
Industry and Market Research
Richard learned his job as a janitor but also learned how the chips were made. He also asked questions about chip manufacturing to people that were not in his department; thus crossing over departmental “cliques” — sanitation doesn’t mingle with engineers, etc. This allowed him to learn more about chip manufacturing than almost anyone. His willingness to overcome shame/embarrassment, in this case overcome corporate culture, also allowed him to access knowledge that others were unwilling/uninterested in learning.
Additionally, Richard’s Mexican-American background gave him exposure to spicy food and awareness about the large Latin-American population. In 1980, 6.5% of the US Population was Hispanic; by 1990, it grew to 8.8% as the total US population grew 22 million in that time. He saw how his friends and family would add spicy seasoning to their foods. Richard also saw, when he was on a delivery run with a coworker, that mainstream snacks were the only option in neighborhoods like his. A large and rapidly growing market did not have a spicy option.
This is all part of industry and market research.
In reality, Fred Lindsay, a Frito-Lay salesman that worked the Chicago and Great Lakes region noticed spicy products from regional competitors out-selling Frito-Lay.
Learn everything you can about your business, other people’s businesses, your customers, their customers. Knowledge is power.
New Product/Service Creation
It is important to note that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (according to the movie) did not happen over the course of a couple of years. Richard was working at the plant for over 8 years when the idea came to him. Also, in the movie, Richard’s wife Judy, developed the recipe in what seems like less than a year.
In reality, Lynne Greenfeld and a team of product developers at Frito-Lay was assigned in 1989 to create a snack designed to compete with spicy snacks sold in the inner-city mini marts of the Midwest. Greenfeld would go on a field marketing tour throughout the Midwest and bring back 50 different bags of snacks that were all new to her. Eventually, she and her team honed in on a flavor combination and chubby devil branding that we know today. This process took around a year.
With the recipe in hand, Richard needed to acquire chips to coat the newly developed spicy slurry with. At the Frito-Lay factory, brown chips were thrown out because they only wanted the lighter colored chips. Richard took the discarded chips to create his first batch.
Finding inexpensive solutions is a crucial task in entrepreneurship.
A pivotal moment in the movie happened when Richard looked up the contact info of Roger Enrico, CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo Inc., the corporate owner of Frito-Lay, to pitch the idea to him.
In the movie, Richard stumbles when asked about market share and product yield. This is where our services come in. Our industry leading pitch decks come with industry and market overviews, projected sales, and much more. Companies from a wide range of industries have used our pitch decks to raise funds from banks, SBA, and angel investors.
Even after convincing Enrico to launch the Flamin’ Hot line, it was not all smooth sailing. In the movie, Frito-Lay did not launch an advertising campaign as most companies do for most products and services. As a result, the products were not selling.
To raise awareness for the product, Richard resorted to guerrilla marketing. He rallied his friends, family, and coworkers to start giving away unsold bags for free to anyone in the neighborhood. This strategy, more specifically, is called product sampling, and is commonly used by companies to raise awareness and increase the chances of initial purchases.
In reality, the Flamin’ Hot line of products had the full force of Frito-Lay’s marketing department. Unfortunately for most entrepreneurs, they do not have a large corporation driving awareness for their newly launched product.
Contact us today for help with your new product development.