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How this former Perth journalist launched a viral hot sauce brand - and made millions

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Here's how Renae Bunster launched a multi-million dollar hot sauce brand. Images: Supplied
Here's how Renae Bunster launched a multi-million dollar hot sauce brand. Images: Supplied

“May cause anal leakage.”

It’s one hell of a tagline, and for West Australian hot sauce business, Bunsters, it’s proven exceptionally effective.

Bunsters founder Renae Bunster pulled in 1,572 investors for her equity crowdfunding campaign on Australian crowdfunding platform, Birchal, in August last year.

She raised a total of $2 million, making her the highest crowdfunded female founder on Birchal in 2020.

However, the birth of the outrageously branded Bunsters was a “complete accident”.

“There was no plan in place at all,” Bunster told Yahoo Finance.

She’d travelled Mexico and Central America where she fell head over heels in love with the rich, spicy hot sauces. But when she arrived home in 2012, she was disappointed by the ones on offer at her local IGA.

“So I came home and made my own. Everybody who tasted it said, ‘This is amazing,’ and started throwing money at me, and the business just started instantly.”

Three years later, after months of selling at market stalls and to friends, she decided to make a sauce “so hot that nobody would be able to eat it”.

She gave it a joke name: ‘Shit the bed.’ A photo of the sauce went viral instantly, gaining traction across Australia and even in the US, where Christmas shoppers were seeking out unique stocking stuffers.

“I had no idea that a food product could go viral and that everybody would want to buy it all at the exact same moment.”

Her husband was between work contracts at the time, luckily, so he spent his Christmas break in the lounge room watching The Ashes test while packing bottle after bottle of hot sauce.

She spent the summer cooking up the sauce in her Perth kitchen.

They sold out quickly, but the orders kept coming in.

Ultimately, they used up every glass bottle they could get her hands on in Western Australia and every scorpion chilli.

“That’s when we knew: ‘We need more money. We need more hands. We just need more.’”

Storytelling for financial success

Renae Bunster's hot sauce is sold all around the world today. Image: Supplied
Renae Bunster's hot sauce is sold all around the world today. Image: Supplied

Following that Christmas, Bunster launched a Kickstarter campaign, received financing from angel investors and through their own personal finances and ultimately decided to try equity crowdfunding.

The ability to tell a compelling story was critical in securing equity crowdfunding, in addition to watertight financials, the former journalist for the BBC and Reuters explained.

“It was Matt Vitale [co-founder of Birchal] who realised that equity crowdfunding campaigns are all about one person standing up and saying to the community, ‘Can you please help me get this to the next level?’” Bunster said.

Today, the business uses a “humongous factory” whenever they need to make a new batch and a workforce of around 20 people across the world who work remotely for a few hours or days a week.

It sells four sauces now, and has recently released a vodka.

“It’s an international, remote workforce company based out of a house in North Perth.”

Bunster believes there are two keys to her success: first, the product is great.

Even over COVID-19 when consumer confidence dropped her products boomed as stuck-at-home Australians quickly realised they couldn’t cook. They needed hot sauce to camouflage the wreckage.

The second key lay in her previous experience. A reporter by trade, Bunster knew how humour would work as a marketing tool, and understood the importance of crisp copy and a robust social media strategy.

In 2014, she wrote on the wall: “I am a communications company.”

“Every business needs to be a media business, as well as a hot sauce business, or a fencing business or a gardening business.”

And if they’re not, they’re at risk of, well, sh*tting the bed.

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