In May, in honor of Small Business Month, Klarna invited small businesses to apply to receive one free year of payment services and $40,000 worth of free media services. One hundred small businesses were selected from the applicant pool, focusing on those most impacted by the pandemic, including minority and female-led businesses. In mid-July, Klarna announced the first group of recipients and is excited to share a bit more about these entrepreneurs and their businesses.
Meet Monique Rodriguez, founder and CEO of Berkeley, California-based Old Salt Merchants, which features gourmet products elevating every dish and pleasing palates.
What inspired you to start your business?
My love for flavors and ingredients began while exploring my mother’s spice cabinet as a child. I loved being surrounded by the different aromas and tastes. I was also fortunate enough to spend time living in or traveling in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and South America which exposed me to a variety of flavors and cuisines. I learned many of those new and interesting flavors were not recognized and celebrated in the US. This was an opportunity for me to source and package a variety of unique, bold, and high-quality flavors that would ignite your taste buds. In parallel, I’ve always been attracted to the idea of owning a business and entrepreneurship.
What are some challenges facing your business as a result of the pandemic?
Throughout 2019, we built the business on retail sales at makers’ events across the country. The pandemic led to the cancellation of those events for most of 2020 and the first half of 2021. That resulted in a loss of over 50% of our revenue. We had to pivot our focus to becoming a 100% e-commerce business. We were lucky to find a small retail space in Oakland, CA this past spring. We just had a grand opening celebration in late July for our new brick-and-mortar store. We will be focused on operating and optimizing the two different channels during the second half of this year.
How might Klarna’s Small Business Impact Initiative grant help?
As with almost every Small and Medium-Sized Business (SMB), COVID-19 significantly affected Old Salt Merchants. Klarna’s Small Business Impact Initiative provides a win-win opportunity. We anticipate it will significantly boost Old Salt Merchants’ online visibility and availability of our products to more customers. Our customers will also benefit by having a flexible payment option like Klarna at checkout.
How do you learn about who your customers are and what’s important to them? How does that impact how you run your business?
I believe it is important to become an absolute expert at your industry first—do extensive research, including understanding who your target customer is and what they want. We do that by attending in-person makers’ events to meet customers and sell our products. Most of our new product ideas result from customer feedback and requests, which we always encourage. Our target customer is someone who is interested in the pursuit of flavor and someone who wants to fold creativity and new flavors into their dishes. I also think our target customer likes to travel and bring those inspirations home as important memories. I hope Old Salt Merchants help them do both.
What have you recently read or listened to that has been an inspiration for your work?
One of my favorite cookbooks is ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” by Samin Nosrat. Her infectious love for food and her fierce attention to flavor has influenced how we source products to help our customers transform their meals.
What lesson would you go back and teach yourself before starting your business?
I think the key is to put your time and effort into something you are passionate about. You can’t expect someone to be wild about a product that you are not enthusiastic about and have a passion for! People recognize and are drawn to passion and hard work.
To learn more about the Small Business Impact Initiative winners and their signature products, click here.