This is a one-time interview conducted by the Target Accelerators team. Participating companies have been asked to share details about themselves and their brand after completing the Target Forward Founders program.
The Target Accelerators programs are focused on helping entrepreneurs on their journey to retail with a mission to engage startups through dedicated programs to provide meaningful values and capabilities to Target. Six months after the inaugural class of Target Forward Founders, Caleb Wang from The Xiao Chi Jie and Samantha Allonce from Hot N Saucy share how the Target Forward Founders program has helped their businesses move forward.
TA: Target Forward Founders is focused on helping entrepreneurs better understand mass retail and what it takes to get there. From the 8 weeks of the program, what have you applied to your company that you learned from the program? How has that helped you?
Caleb: [The] Target accelerator [program] greatly accelerated our thinking around wholesale, how to approach, differentiate, and make sure our business is retail ready.
Samantha: My Forward Founders cohort [experience] left me with so takeaways that have truly helped to propel my business forward. I feel as though I have mastered my pitch, I created a retail action plan which now serves as a roadmap to how I run my business currently and learning the true reality of fundraising and where I need to be before getting to that step.
What is a Retail Action Plan? The Retail Action Plan (RAP) is a playbook built week by week throughout the program to help participants plan their approach to mass retail. The RAP is only available through the Target Forward Founders program.
TA: Throughout the program you were able to meet over 40+ speakers and mentors from both inside of Target but also subject matter experts across the country. How have you leveraged the program network, whether other cohort member, speakers, mentors, since you’ve finished the program?
Caleb: Our Founder in Residence, Denise Woodward, [Target Forward Founder – Founder in Residence, Founder of Partake Foods] was super helpful as we were going through the fundraising process and building out our FP&A team.
Samantha: The program introduced me to a company that I am now using, who has cleaned up my books and really given me a clear picture of my business. My pitch went from tragic and unfocused to sharp and concise and I have currently applied to several pitch competitions and lastly, my retail action plans served as a roadmap for my business currently and shows me where I need to be focusing.
TA: Since the program has finished. What has your company been up to? Especially after placing 2nd and 3rd in the Lightship Capital Twitch Pitch event last year?
Caleb: [We’ve] launched our limited-edition Pork & Blue Crab xiao long bao flavor for Lunar New Year, which resulted in our most successful day of sales to date! [We also] received great feedback for our products from press, including bon appetit and Food Network. And being able to tell our story on Good Morning America!
Samantha: Right now, we just got our hot sauces into Marshalls, TJ Maxx and Home Goods. We are still aiming to hit large-scale retailers in the next year or so. We have had current press on at Kitchen and Women’s Health have had increased sales in the past 3 months.
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About the Companies:
Xiao Chi Jie (XCJ) is on a mission to build this generations modern Chinese food brand, with a deep focus on honest representation, accessibility, and education. The Seattle-based D2C company was launched during COVID – delivering batches of their frozen xiao long bao (soup dumplings), so local customers could stock up and enjoy them at home. Demand for the dumplings quickly skyrocketed and inquiries about shipping out of state started flowing in, at which point co-founders Jen Liao & Caleb Wang realized this could translate into a nationwide business. Now, XCJ offers direct-to-consumer delivery of a full restaurant-quality experience – soup dumplings, sauces, and bamboo steamers – to all 50 states, and has shipped over four million dumplings to homes across the country, to date. As the company continues to grow, they plan to introduce new products (such as dan dan noodles) and be the go-to brand for regional Chinese specialties.
Hot N Saucy officially launched in August 2020 but the groundwork was laid for it, years prior in NYC restaurants when I would make iterations of my hot sauces to add to menus. In March of 2020 when NYC shut down, and everything came to a screeching halt, I had to stop work, and subsequently found out my husband and I were expecting our first child. As time went on and my belly grew, I tried almost every hot sauce on the market to satisfy my cravings and none of them had both the heat and flavor that I was searching for. It was then that a lightbulb went off and I decided to put my hot sauces out there. I would bring not only the heat, but bold and unique flavors to the hot sauce market. I spent the rest of the year perfecting the recipes and packaging and by August 2020 we were ready to go. Not only was the brand born but also was my son.