For Chicago-born Suemur Bezabeh, creating this one-of-a-kind hot sauce from fresh berbere and mitmita spices native to his paternal Ethiopian homeland wasn’t enough. He knew from a young age he wanted to partner with his family in Ethiopia who work in imports and exports, but he was never sure what form the business would take. His whole life he wondered how he could incorporate his family’s and father’s legacy in something here in America. In establishing The Horn Hot Sauce, Suemur found a chance to become his own boss and expose the world to Ethiopian cuisine, while also honoring his family’s ties to the country.
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Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Suemur Bezabeh: It was the summer of my sophomore year in college and I needed a serious break, so I decided to visit my family in Ethiopia for the first time. While in Ethiopia my aunt Genet constantly fed me while seasoning everything with Berbere & Mitmita Ethiopian spices. Now I’ve tasted these spices before back home in Chicago but my aunt’s spices tasted much BETTER. It was at this time I found out my family had a generations-old Berbere & Mitmita spice secret recipe.
While I was in Ethiopia, I couldn’t stop putting my aunt’s spice on my food; it was addicting, it literally enhanced the flavor of my food. I mean I had to have it all the time. It was at this point I told myself, I need to figure out a way to bring these spices to America and share it with as many people as possible because I’m so proud of it and it brings me so much joy.
Fast forward to 2021 I took my aunt’s family Berbere & Mitmita spice recipe and created The Horn Ethiopian Hot Sauce.
Was there somebody in your life that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Suemur Bezabeh: My father inspired me to take this journey with my business. Everything changed on September 12, 1974, when Emperor Selassie was overthrown by a Marxist-Leninist military junta calling themselves the Derg. The Derg began crushing opposition groups and people with connections to the Selassie government, like my grandfather. In 1976, the Derg implemented the Ethiopian Red Terror, a series of executions, imprisonment without trial, and torture targeting rival socialist, capitalist, and pro-monarchy factions within the country.
My father was faced with a crisis. On one hand, he had a successful American business, a suburban Chicago home, and a happy family with two young children. On the other, he was forced to watch the rest of his family suffer as his homeland crumbled thousands of miles away. In 1981 he made his decision and left to fight for Ethiopia’s independence.
My father planned on us to return to Ethiopia with him when the fighting settled. Unfortunately, he lost his life in 1982 while fighting for liberation in Ethiopia. Life became hard for me and my family in the aftermath. My mother, unprepared to bear the economic burdens of single-motherhood alone, struggled to get by. Meanwhile, I struggled to reconcile my American upbringing with my Ethiopian heritage. Years later I would soon realize that I would create a business to make my father proud.
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Suemur Bezabeh: Not thinking about marketing, having too small margins & thinking you can do it all yourself are some common mistakes I see entrepreneurs make. Marketing is important because it allows businesses to maintain long-lasting relationships with their customers. It is not something you do once but an ongoing strategy that helps businesses flourish and stay ahead of their competitors.
In the beginning, if your margins will likely be quite impressive because you more than likely will not have a large workforce and a lot of overhead expenses. As your sales increase you will want to expand but your margins will likely shrink because you’re probably hiring more people and expanding your product line. You have to make sure you capture the most money on all sales.
You can’t do it all by yourself. Finding the right mentor or advisor that will help you navigate through the ups and downs of starting your own business. They need to add value, treat your money like it is their own, and truly want you to succeed.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Suemur Bezabeh: Resilience is what gives people the psychological strength to cope with stress and hardship. Having resilience and a strong mindset is critical in times like the ones we are going through now. How we deal with problems plays a significant role in the outcome of that situation. The good news is that there are things you can do to become more resilient, like having a strong mindset. A good friend and mentor of mine, Kenny Nguyen once told me, “Whatever you are struggling with, just know that it’s temporary and you are destined for greatness”, “Learn, educate yourself & grow”.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Suemur Bezabeh: Although The Horn Hot Sauce is the only commercially available hot sauce to incorporate fresh berbere & mitmita spices native to Ethiopia, it is in no way a typical, gimmicky sauce. While many hot sauces overpower foods with obscene heat, The Horn is designed to enhance the flavor of your food. Everything from meat & eggs dishes to vegetarian dishes and more. Made with fresh handpicked ingredients means that our sauce is the closest to authentic spices that you can find in America.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Suemur Bezabeh: Having deep passion, being eager to learn & having a robust work ethic are instrumental to my success.
I choose to do this because I love it. Despite my success in athletics and academics, I felt unfulfilled until, and at the age of 20, I saved up money and took a semester off school to visit his family in Ethiopia. The experience of living with my aunt changed my life. My life literally took a complete 180. I realized there was so much more to life than the daily hustle. This is where the passion to be connected with my family in a deeper fashion started.
I’ve learned at an early age that no one knows everything. Even the smartest person consults with others before making a decision. I am learning every day and I’m eager to learn. If you’re really smart, you’ll know that you do not know everything. I believe that in order to be a successful entrepreneur, you should have always have smart people around you.
I was told that the first commandment of entrepreneur work ethic is to get after it and get things done. When it comes to entrepreneurship you can’t have a weak mindset. It’s a strong work ethic and positive attitude that ultimately allows the best of the best to shine through.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Suemur Bezabeh: I think its extremely important for a leader to be mindful of their own brand. I want to make sure my brand not only has a lasting impact on my audience but I want them to see the passion that I have. The Horn Hot Sauce is not just some sauce I created to enhance the flavor of your food. The story behind the sauce is what’s really important to me. When someone tastes my sauce not only want their tastebuds be tantalized but also to be mindful of the brand and what it stands for. Everyone who has a strong personal brand also has a strong sense of purpose.
Being able to tell the story of how I developed The Horn Hot Sauce and why it’s so special to me shows others that you can be yourself when telling your story, People will remember that because they remember how you made them feel and that’s a huge part of your brand.
How would you define “leadership”?
Suemur Bezabeh: Leadership in my opinion has nothing to do with seniority, titles, or one’s position. I believe leadership is being able to translate vision into reality. Can you inspire? Can you empower? Can you change the mindset of others? Can you influence others to be great? That is what leadership means to me.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
Suemur Bezabeh: I believe entrepreneurship is something that you can learn on the way. Growing up, I was taught to go to school and to get a good job. I was never told by anyone that I would be able to start my own company. I knew that I had a greater purpose. My father didn’t come to this county for me to work behind a desk my entire life. My father took risks, so why can’t I? Being an entrepreneur is not something you’re born with, it took 20 + years for me to realize the I could one day have my own company. It’s just a matter of asking yourself, how bad do you want it? Once you realize that it can happen, act on it!
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Suemur Bezabeh: “Dare to let your dreams reach beyond you. Know that history holds more than it seems. We are here alive today because our ancestors dared to dream.” – Maya Angelou
This quote has affected my life greatly because it reminds me of my father Kahsay Bezabeh and his sacrificed. He came to the USA by himself, left his entire family in Ethiopia, and dared to dream. He went to college in a foreign county, learned 7 languages, obtained a great job and started a family, and dared to dream. I am here today because my father dared to dream.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Suemur Bezabeh for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Suemur Bezabeh or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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