In 2017, Cal State Fullerton grads Nick Ajluni ’15 (management) and Nick Guillen ’15 (communications) launched a luxury hot sauce brand, TRUFF, through their Instagram account.
Three years later, the black and white truffle-infused hot sauce is sold at such retailers as Whole Foods, Wegmans, Neiman Marcus and Barney’s, as well as through online outlets.
By early 2019, after raising its first round of capital, the brand was already valued at more than $25 million, and its growing international presence, including in Australia, Kuwait and South Korea, suggests that even greater things are in store for TRUFF.
Ajluni, age 26, and Guillen, age 29, were named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for 2020, which recognizes rising entrepreneurs in a wide range of industries.
We sat down with the two Nicks, who shared a bit about their journey and advice for others thinking of starting their own businesses.
Tell us about the idea behind starting a hot sauce company. How did the two of you decide upon this venture? And where did the inspiration to use truffle oil in your hot sauces come from?
The project started when Nick Guillen got the Instagram name @sauce. He got this handle organically. We had been deep into social media for years prior, and Nick had always tried to secure cool account names. One day he randomly got @sauce!
We started by building a pop culture foodie following on the account. After a while, we wanted to create an upscale sauce for the audience that we built. Our goal was to make a sauce that we thought could elevate the category as a whole. In our search for ingredients, we really resonated with black truffle and found a way to incorporate it into the sauce! Our recipe uses a mix of real black truffle along with the highest quality black truffle oil available.
What is one thing entrepreneurs can do to best utilize Instagram (or other social media) to build their brands.
Be authentic and do not just try to sell things to people. Your goal should be to provide as much value as humanly possible to your audience.
What has been the most satisfying thing about starting and owning your own business?
The challenge of building a business from the ground up is rewarding in itself. You have to love the process because it isn’t always glamorous.
Another rewarding aspect has been influencing and changing the digital food culture landscape. And seeing TRUFF featured on outlets such as The Oprah List and “Good Morning America,” as well as seeing it on shelves at places like Whole Foods and Wegman’s, are very rewarding as well.