Sunglass Warehouse is a brand for people who live life to the fullest. Our customers are just normal people, but they know how to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, and turn everyday experiences into great adventures. SW: Profiles is an interview blog series that shares these unique stories about our customers. From a tattoo shop owner directing horror films, to a young tech professional searching for his Jewish roots, these seemingly different people share a common thread that we’ll uncover together.
Anyone who has ever met Eric Murphy will tell you two things — 1. He’s hilarious. 2. He freaking loves condiments. In fact, his self-proclaimed title of being “The Saucefather” sums up both qualities quite well.
Eric Murphy is an entrepreneur. I’m not talking about the people out there that talk about starting businesses, I’m talking about the people that actually do. Surrendering to his passion for condiments, Eric started an ecommerce marketplace, Condiment Connection, last year. And although the concept of a condiment-based start-up is admittedly pretty funny, the honest, down-to-earth way in which Eric talks about the business and following your passions takes you by surprise.
See for yourself.
Tell us about your love of condiments — when did you start loving them?
I’ve always loved them. The whole concept of a secret sauce is intriguing to me and I’ve always been obsessed with condiments and making food taste better. The thing is, everyone eats the same types of food. There’s meats, grains, vegetables, fruits. And that’s all there is. But when you add condiments to the list you can create a variant of any of those foods. It just adds so much variety.
Listening to you talk about condiments sounds very theoretical…
Well, I didn’t realize I had a problem until I was in college. Maybe this whole condiment obsession is a bit of an issue. I once tried to calculate, “If I didn’t eat condiments, how much less would I weigh?” I took average condiment intake per week and multiplied it by about 15 years of my life. Turns out that’s about 30 pounds.
That’s a lot! So what do you define as a condiment? Is salad dressing a condiment?
I’ve been trying to define condiments and draw some lines in the sand, but there are still a lot of misconceptions as to what condiments are. If you go to Starbucks and order a coffee and ask, “Where is the sugar?” they’ll tell you that it’s at the condiment table. And the condiment table is literally just four different types of sugars and artificial sweeteners that most people don’t think of as condiments, but it totally depends on how you’re using them, right? A lot of people think that condiments are just what you put on hot dogs. They think that if it doesn’t go on a bratwurst or hot dog, then it’s not a condiment. Which is totally not true.
Anything you add to a food to augment the flavor after it’s been prepared — that’s a condiment.
But, there are always exceptions, and it also depends on the use case. Hummus is a good example. A lot of people spread it on a sandwich, in which case it’s a condiment. If you used it to dip something in, then some people would say that it’s no longer a condiment. I would say it still is but others disagree.
What about avocado spread?
Condiments are also prepared in some way. For example, a tomato cannot be a condiment. If you were to mash up an avocado and add something else to it, then it would be a condiment. You can refer to my blog post, “Condiment or Not? You decide.”
Eric carefully conducting a fast food barbecue sauce test. Results can be found here
I will. Circling back to starting a business… did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
I’m very purpose driven and definitely a bit of an existentialist. I really don’t like the idea of working for someone else, not because I don’t like taking orders but just because… you know, the whole spiel about “time on this planet is limited and every second you spend working towards someone else’s dream is a second wasted that you could spend working toward your own dream.” So, if you have things that you want to accomplish yourself, and your job is not helping you get to that level, or get to that place where you are fulfilled… it’s a fulfillment thing. You know Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Diagram
Basically, everything else in my life was great. I have food to eat and clothes on my back. But I’m still not really happy because I’m not feeling fulfilled by my job. There’s something missing. And I think entrepreneurs in general feel that sort of purpose-driven fulfillment doing something for themselves rather than for someone else. And it sounds selfish when said in that way but it’s not really a selfish thing, it’s just a way to be happy.
So I explored different ways to be able to do that. There’s actually a diagram… have you seen this.
Diagram from Eric’s phone
This is my favorite diagram. At my last job, which was a cubicle job that I left to do full-time entrepreneur stuff, I used to have that on my cubicle. And every square inch was covered with pictures of famous people and motivational quotes.
Oh yeah, my dad showed me this once. So back to your purpose.
While I am very purpose driven and theoretical, I’m still very conflicted. I’m a realist and I’m also reserved. I don’t like to take risks, really. So that’s why when I started Condiment Connection I was like, “I’m going all out.” Because at the same time that I wanted to do something that I really wanted to do, I also understood that I need to be able to feed myself. I need to be able to pay rent.
Back to Maslow’s Hierarchy, I need to keep the base level while pushing for the top. So I figured I would do it on the side as a start. That’s what led me to how I started the business. There were ways that I could have started the business full-throttle, but it involved things that I wasn’t willing to do… such as taking on either a massive amount of debt that I wasn’t confident I would be able to pay off, or the other option was equity financing, which I wasn’t willing to give up.
They say that if you find something you love, then it doesn’t feel like work. Do you buy this?
So… there’s a little bit of a balance. There are things that have to be done that I don’t particularly like doing, like plugging names and addresses into UPS and then sending them a lot of my money so that I can get condiments to their doors, but when it’s a one-man operation, the tedious stuff is unavoidable.
I’ve been able to keep the big vision in mind, like, I have to do this small stuff and it’s crappy, but it doesn’t bother me because at the end of the day it’s still a drop in the bucket toward a higher goal. So you just have to keep it all in perspective I guess.
But yeah, it doesn’t feel like work, although subconsciously I know that it is. And one thing that allows me to separate it from work is that I’ve always associated work, in my life, with, “I’m here because I need to make money.” But with Condiment Connection, I’m not making money yet. I don’t sit there and write this blog post because it’s making money. I do it because it’s an investment in something that might make money down the road, but more importantly I’m doing it because I want to. Because I’m able to separate it from money, and separate it from “work.”
So you seem pretty realistic about passion, work, and that things are not always butterflies and unicorns. What’s been the most challenging experience you’ve had thus far?
The challenge has been sort of having to learn as I go through everything. I have a lot of mentors that I can talk to when I have questions about stuff. Like, how do I handle my annual taxes from a cost accounting perspective? Which forms do I file and why? How do I know which business credit card to apply for and what kind of account do I open?
It’s just everything under the sun of starting a business, that, when you think of starting a business from a very high level perspective, you don’t get too far into the weeds. I never thought in a million years I would have to struggle with figuring out how to get a proper SSL encryption on my website so people can check out with credit cards, etc. So I was dealing with little issues like that… where you talk to so many people and it still takes you 6 months to figure out. And it ended up being something really stupid, you know?
Going through everything for the first time, that was the hardest part. And trying to figure out a lot of complicated business problems in only 10-15 hours a week has been difficult.
Condiment Connection’s first fulfillment center — Aka, Eric’s basement
That’s a lot of stuff. How do you stay organized?
Lists, first of all. You should see my lists, they’re crazy. I’m very much a list operator. I have a list of everything I need to do for the day. I get it done, I cross it off. I add things as necessary.
Truth be told, I’m not super organized because if I took the time to be organized to a certain level, it would be taking away time that I need for other things. I spend a lot more time literally just thinking than I do doing. In general in my career, that’s worked out to be very productive in the long run for me. It’s like, I could sit down here and work really hard on this project, or I could think of a better way to complete it and then finish it in half the time. It’s the whole concept of work smart and not hard. Not saying I don’t work hard… but I just think that when you have so many things on your plate, you need to figure out ways to work smarter.
Has everyone been supportive of Condiment Connection?
People have been very supportive. Probably too supportive. Because I think that when you have a lot of people that are supportive, you don’t get the tough love that is necessary to grow. So I think people have been great but people also tend to not tell me when I’m doing something wrong. The start could have been better if I received more constructive criticism earlier on.
That being said, I do really appreciate the support.
Eric after he launched Condiment Connection in 2015
Has life changed for you since Condiment Connection?
My life really isn’t that different. Before Condiment Connection I was in a business fellowship — Orr Fellowship — which took up a lot of time.
It’s kind of funny, but in my mind I know exactly how much time I will be willing to work in a given week before I reach that threshold where it’s like “I’m unhappy and I’m going to destroy everything — break everything down and build it back up so I can be happy again.”
So let’s say I’m working a high-stress week at my full-time job but I don’t have time for Condiment stuff, then that’s fine. There are weeks where I’ll put in 50-60 hours at my full-time job and I have no time for Condiments. I just know that 60 hours of work a week is the point where I feel like I’m not living the life the way I want to. I’m not willing to sacrifice living my life at any point, whether it’s now or 5 years or whatever, for any sort of expected long-term benefit. I know a lot of people that are like “I’m going to work 90 hours a week for the next 4 or 5 years and hopefully that eventually pays off.” I don’t buy that.
That’s interesting, coming from someone who started a side business and maintains another full-time job. But it does sound like you have a pretty strict work-life balance.
Yeah. And I feel like that’s a really important part of enjoying what you do. The whole fulfillment aspect.
People have different thresholds, though. Maybe you can still work 70 hours a week and still be happy. Everyone is different.
I would say this, though. This is huge — because I don’t have Condiment Connection tied to financial outcomes that I need — so I don’t need business to be able to buy the new chicken caesar melt from Subway that I’ve wanted to try for so long — that alleviates a lot of the stress that I imagine would be there if I needed the company to succeed.
I knew that going into this whole thing that it wasn’t going to be immediately successful, that it was going to take a lot of trial and error, that it was going to take a lot of time, and that it was going to take a lot of persistent effort. So having that mindset, little failures don’t mean a lot to me. It’s more of a learning opportunity.
An inside look at a Condiment Connection 4-Pack
So thinking of Entrepreneur Eric in 10 years, do you have a big vision for the future of Condiment Connection?
This is a great, great question. And actually, I’ll back-in to this question by saying that what exists of Condiment Connection right now is not what I initially planned for. But it is step one for what I planned for, which is the big vision.
The mission of Condiment Connection is to help people find the best condiments available to them — whether that’s at a restaurant, or at the nearest grocery store. So being the condiment authority, the best condiment resource. If you’re cooking lamb shanks for dinner and you need a good mustard-based condiment that comes highly recommended, and you’re about to go to the store to pick it up… which one should you pick when you walk down the aisle and there’s 100 different condiments to choose from?
So, the first vision was to be the authority. It was going to be a publication and a mobile app, like Beer Advocate. There are a ton of apps like that that have been wildly successful, but they don’t really have an app for sauces, seasonings, dips, or condiments. The idea was to be that resource.
I pitched that concept, got constructive feedback, and I ended up coming to terms with the fact that it would take a long time and a lot of money to get to the point where Condiment Connection would be the resource I wanted it to be. Frankly, the idea was too conceptual and unproven.
The feedback I got from these investors was to figure out how to make some money, bring revenue in the door, and then use that money to reinvest in the business. Then you can build the company the way you envisioned it, because it’s self-sustaining and the risk is gone.
Condiment Connection as it is now in the ecommerce marketplace, is in step one of phase one of potentially five different future phases. Ideally I see it being a publication with tons of contributors that are writing reviews and rating condiments.
This is when I’ll know that Condiment Connection has made it — I would love to host an annual event. I already have the URL, it’s called “Condiment World.” Top chefs would come to the event and share their secret sauces. One weekend focused solely on condiments — that’s my dream.