This is the story of entrepreneur David Tran, as told to Inc.'s Alexandra Starr.
I started making hot sauce when I worked in the kitchen in the Vietnamese army. After the war, my wife brought home a bottle of sauce made by an acquaintance of hers. I tasted it and said, "I can make something better than this."
My brother grew the peppers. I ground the peppers. My father-in-law washed the sauce containers--mostly reused Gerber baby-food jars. People would resell the jars after they used them. Vietnam was Communist, but it was an enterprising place. People were always trying to figure out new things to sell.
Life had been growing more difficult under the Communist government. So in 1980, I came to Los Angeles. I had almost nothing. I named my company Huy Fong after the freighter that brought me to the United States, and I incorporated it in February 1980, just one month after I arrived. I started selling in markets in Los Angeles's Chinatown. I made $1,000 in profit in my first month.
When you are running a business, people always have advice. An early customer told me the sauce was too hot, that I should change it. I refused. After the sauce began catching on, I started receiving offers to sell the company or take a private equity investment. I've turned them all down. This company is like a loved one to me. Why would I want to share it with someone else?
People have told me, too, that I should make different flavored sauces, like a spicy ketchup. I said no. It's best to keep it simple.
Now that the market for sriracha has been established, we have competitors. Some companies are bottling copycat sauces. Subway has introduced a creamy sriracha sauce for sandwiches, and Frito-Lay has a sriracha-flavored potato chip.
I don't pay much attention. In a lot of ways, what I'm doing in the United States isn't that different than what I did in Vietnam. I just try to make the best sauce possible and keep prices low.
I'm amazed by the following we have. A few years ago, a customer sent a photograph of our sauce in the International Space Station, floating behind the astronauts. I blew up that picture and hung copies of it around our headquarters. I never envisioned something like that happening. I felt so proud.