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Bred for Entrepreneurship.

Molly Fienning is the Co-Founder and CEO of Red Clay Hot Sauce, a modern Southern hot sauce company based in Charleston, SC. Prior to Red Clay, Molly co-founded Babiators, the leading sunglasses brand for babies and kids.

When somebody starts a business, nobody knows anything. There needs to be a comfort level to not knowing and figuring it out.

Molly FienningCEO, Red Clay Hot Sauce


Katie Hankinson (00:00):

Welcome to building while flying a Sasha group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies.

Julia Balick (00:12):

We are back on the building while flying podcast. On the week’s episode, Katie speaks with Molly Fienning co-founder and CEO of Red Clay, a modern Southern hot sauce and hot honey brand named Tabasco for the 21st century by food and wine magazine prior to red clay, Molly co-founded and served as co CEO of babiators, one of Forbes hundred most promising companies and the leading sunglasses brand for babies and kids. Molly graduated from Harvard university with a BA in electrical engineering and computer science. Katie. Great conversation with Molly. I heard you guys

Katie Hankinson (00:50):

Molly hard

Julia Balick (00:51):

Seriously to say the least. Um,

Katie Hankinson (00:56):

Can we wait, can we also talk about the fact that she may also be a spy still,

Julia Balick (01:01):


Katie Hankinson (01:04):

As well as a multi, like a serial successful CEO, right.

Julia Balick (01:09):

Or maybe we shouldn’t talk about it.

Katie Hankinson (01:10):

You’re right. Okay. Edit that bit out. Okay. Don’t wanna blow her cover

Julia Balick (01:15):

Any who I heard you guys get excited about when you started to talk about the alchemy of careers and people. Why don’t you talk a little bit about what that conversation led to and how it made you feel?

Katie Hankinson (01:27):

I absolutely love that we hit upon that. Uh, I just really early on the, the stories of Molly and her, her childhood and the kind of whoever it was that had mentioned it to her, that she had sort of alchemically manifest her career. And I just think what’s super satisfying to me from a, just a brand and brand building perspective is you can feel that kind of founding energy, right? The way through, from how she built her own career kind of concocted combinations of career that you would never have thought of having kind of found herself in a, as a military wife and not, not going down the path she originally planned and then two companies so wildly different, but still very super focused around a central product that she’s built and kind of really created something highly successful and highly fun. So, yeah, there’s, there’s the alchemy of her own career building. And then now the kind of mirror of the alchemy of this amazing hot source that we can enjoy on oysters when we go visit her in North Carolina.

Julia Balick (02:38):

Yes. Yes. I, I truly hope so. Molly is certainly a wizard in the world of hot sauce to say the least, um, let’s not keep our listeners waiting any longer. I love it. Let’s

Katie Hankinson (02:49):

Dive Katie’s well, let’s dive in. Welcome to building while flying Mike guest today is moley. Feeing a CEO of red clay, a cold pressed and fermented hot source company. Um, but she has a whole load of stories that live behind that, which brought her to, um, the, the conversation we’re having today, not least, uh, starting out in the world of international security and a previous CEO ship prior to that. But before I jump into that story, first of all, where welcome to the show, Molly,

Molly Fienning (03:20):

Katie. So happy to be here.

Katie Hankinson (03:22):

So really excited to just dive in today and hear a little bit about your story and your journey. Um, I know that today you are CEO of red clay, and we’ll talk a bit about that, but can you talk a little bit about the, the journey that brought you here because it’s definitely an interesting one.

Molly Fienning (03:39):

Thank you. Uh, it is a journey for sure. Lots of terms and, and winding road. Um, so in summary, my, my childhood dream was to be either a spy or a wizard, and I got to a certain age and realized I didn’t have magical powers. And so I wanted to join the inter international intelligence community. Um, I also love building things. I always have loved building things more than I’ve loved writing papers as a kid. And so, uh, in college I studied electro engineering, computer science, um, and then ended up at IBM then back at Harvard for studying kind of the role that the internet plays in international security, which led me to DC for a job to sort of work in the community there. And, um, that’s that my first weekend in DC, I remet a boy named Ted who ended up as my husband, but we talked all night at this party in Georgetown. And, and as opposed to actually, you know, waiting on my security CLA and, and joining, um, and, and doing sort of something in the world of, of Intel, I ended up, uh, military fiance in rural Mississippi.

Katie Hankinson (04:49):

Amazing what unexpected

Molly Fienning (04:55):

For a great love was this pivot moment there, uh, juncture on the road. And know at that point we would move every six to 18 months with the Marine Corps. He was a fighter pilot for the Marine Corps, um, that I knew I had to work on my own. And so I started in commercial real estate, cuz I grew up with my dad in commercial real estate banking. I knew the world, but that was nice money, but not my heart, not like what I really was passionate about. And I, I ended up sort of in this world of entrepreneurship, which is truly my heart and what I do very well through, you know, the world of the Marine Corps. We, we first started baby eight, which was my first product based business 11 years ago. Um, and um, I grew, we’ve grown that my partners and I’m husband another couple from college to about eight and a half million of revenue organically. We still own it. The team runs it. It’s just, it’s a wonderful business that retails in about 45 countries, but about in 2014, um, after we had our second son, we moved to Charleston and I was eating it our favorite oyster bar here and tried a hot sauce that basically as somebody who didn’t like hot sauce, it, it blew me away. And I ended up investing in it silently two weeks later and stepping in a CEO of red clay four years later in 2018.

Katie Hankinson (06:14):

Wow. I, I don’t think anyone could have charted that path. I, I also really enjoy the fact that you began with like, I wanted to be a spiral or wizard cause there is something like, um, yeah, you’ve, you’ve kind

Molly Fienning (06:31):

Harry Potter too.

Katie Hankinson (06:36):

I FYI this is gonna totally out me as like the total geek that I am, but I, I also had Wizarding desires, pre Harry Potter when I was a small,

Molly Fienning (06:45):

I knew, I like to say,

Katie Hankinson (06:47):

I even went, I was known to be that kid who like found a staff and like walked around and like on long walks in the woods with the family. So like you’re speaking

Molly Fienning (06:57):

In the backyard, in my parents’ house, in their, their beach house. And I would sit with a bowl and mash up dirt and my dad’s hotel shampoos and stones and leaves into like a bowl. And they were like, what are you doing?

Katie Hankinson (07:11):

I’m making a pot of course

Molly Fienning (07:14):


Katie Hankinson (07:15):

So I’m gonna like, um, I will work on, on the brand strategy side of things. And we are constantly talking about the kind of driving force that sits behind a, a, a founder like the, the, a founding instinct that drives some of these things. And it’s interesting to me that, that, that Wizarding, the, the spy, the kind of knowledge and mastery thing seems a lot of, kind of, of what drives you was a as a founder,

Molly Fienning (07:41):

That was a great point. And, and even if the Wizarding thing, somebody, I, I was connected to a friend just like somebody who was in a real intuitive person. And I, and she said, I see you somewhere in a backyard, like doing something at eight years old. And I was brought back to what I just shared with you that moment, mixing the potion in like a, in like a bow, like a mortal and Pele, just like my backyard leaves in dirt. And, and she said, that is the archetype of the, um, Alchemist. And the Alchemist is somebody who makes things who mixes things who builds things. And I think about, she’s like, you’re doing that now with hot sauce. I was like, holy moly, like, yes, you

Katie Hankinson (08:21):

Think that’s, that’s the kind of direction I was thinking too. It is, it’s not only on the hot source side, but it’s actually the alchemy of what you’ve done with your career. You know, you’ve kind of taken some things that have been thrown at you, you know, going from like aspirations to go into international security, to being the Ture fiance and setting up baby, you are kind of taking new input and through the philosopher stone of alchemy, turning it into a, an exciting opportunity from, for business and career.

Molly Fienning (08:54):

And I never, I never would’ve thought that about myself unless you or she, like somebody actually is pointing that out. And then it, it feels, it resonates. It feels very true. Um, and it, you know, somebody asked me about goal setting and I’m like, I don’t necessarily think about long term goals. I think about more journeys I want to go on and experiences I wanna have and how I want to evolve, um, and change. I wanna make change. I want to make like, and that I think is the crux of

Katie Hankinson (09:24):

Alchemy. That’s so interesting. And, and I, I I’d love actually to push a little bit into that. So if we look at the, those two arcs of like creating baby eight and, and turning into a comfort self-managing $8.5 million brand, and then onto something where you started as a silent partner, but now obviously very instrumental in driving, uh, red clay, the hot sauce company, what would the, what was the journey that you would kind of describe for each of those and what you, what did you carry with you from one into the other in terms of learning?

Molly Fienning (09:58):

I mean, oh my gosh. So much. I mean, I cut my teeth with baby ears for sure. I mean, that, that was really where I learned about business building. And I went from just, and, and this is the thing I want, I want everyone to know whenever somebody starts a business, nobody knows anything. Right? Like, and, and I think think people are scared.

Katie Hankinson (10:17):

We’re all making up as we go along. Exactly.

Molly Fienning (10:19):

People are scared to think, oh, I don’t know what they know. Nobody knows anything. And I think there needs to be a sort of comfort level with all right, I’m not gonna know, but I’ll, I’ll figure it out and I’ll do a really good job. And I, I have found 11 years in success in entrepreneurship is about perseverance and a commitment to just doing work daily, weekly, monthly, get up, put out a fire, get up. What’s the next baby step I have to take. And, and, um, you know, I think about, so my, my background in, in education, I was an engineer, electro geo computer science at Harvard. They did not teach us specific coding language, per se. Yes. We worked in C plus plus and Java and all that time, but the focus was not on the language cause they knew that would be outmoded very quickly.

Molly Fienning (11:07):

The focus was the pseudo code, the mindset, the problem solving algorithms that they wanted us to like, you know, internalize. And I think about like a big pyramid and we all go to admire the pyramids or visit the pyramids and say, how could they have done that? But in reality, it’s stone by stone, right? Step by step. And so taking these, this big thing that seems so majestic, unattainable, I could never do that. Breaking it down into bites that you can do every day, 10, 15 year years later, you turn around, you built a pyramid. And you’re like, I don’t know how I did that, but it’s just, it’s, it’s about the commitment to doing the work.

Katie Hankinson (11:48):

I, um, I think that is like a lesson for everyone, as you think about, especially the, the kind of the way that quite often building a business and scaling, it can feel like boiling the ocean, that if you’re not in a position to break it down, um, talk about, I’d love to hear a bit about what cuz I, I think a lot of people who have started up a business will often look back at it and think if only I’d known X, when I was making that decision, I’d do it differently. And you’ve been through two relatively fast cycles in terms of creating a baby and, and, and sending it off and running. And now jumping in with red clay, is there something that you, you learned from the baby experience that you are like, I’ve never gonna do it that way and then now gonna do it this way and you were able to implement it on the, uh, red clay side of things as a CEO.

Molly Fienning (12:41):

Yeah. I mean, I feel like baby taught us so much. So I started with my husband and another couple, two friends from college and then it was just the four of us, very much the entrepreneurship moment. Right. And that’s where I learned how to be an entrepreneur. And I think in contrast what red clay has taught me is to learn how to be or learning. I have not learned it yet. It is a day to day process, but learning how to be an effective CEO. And so when I look at my time at red clay, it is the experience of being a CEO. And I look at time at baby theater. It is those early days of what entrepreneurship really is. And you have an idea, you have a brand name now what okay. You have to incorporate, okay, you have to have an offering agreement with your partners. You have to trademark, you have to pilot, you know, your, your benchmark, your product, you have to go to market with it. And all those things, just, you know, the, the taking something into, in bringing it and to reality. And then with red clay, I already knew how to do that. And what I did not know to do was to be an effective leader by myself because I had this team of four

Katie Hankinson (13:45):


Molly Fienning (13:46):

All like kind of co CEOs. And so with red clay, I’ve stepped into the power of less about what it means to entrepreneur, what it means to be a and a CEO of a team. And that is about hiring amazing people and empowering them and getting out of their way. And I think as an entrepreneur, we love to be in the weeds. We love to know everything get involved and everything as a CEO, in order to be effective, you have to step out and step back. And that has been the growing experience for me to get out of the weeds and into just like trusting my team to do it. And I’m here. I got you. And I’ll do whatever I can to create an environment that enables you to thrive.

Katie Hankinson (14:29):

Has there been, I mean, you, you obviously have kind of, you know, been building a brand at a pretty crazy time in terms of like through the pandemic, although, um, condiments is probably something that has survived pretty well, as we’ve all said at home desperate for something to spice up our lives. Exactly. Can you talk a bit about some of those, those challenges that you’ve had where, um, well, obviously in this case you had a, you, you were able to trust your team to, to, to figure it out, but what, what are some of those specific real challenges you’ve hit in the last six years grown it,

Molly Fienning (15:03):

We had a real, we had a real pivot moment at the start of the pandemic for sure. You know, our goal was, you know, so when I stepped in a CEO, my partner chef Jeff had kind of built this beautiful cult hearts, hot sauce locally in Charleston, it was on all the right restaurant tables. Everybody locally loved it. Nobody really knew about it beyond Charleston, unless you visited and stopped at one of the restaurants. And, um, it was plateauing at about 75,000 revenue. And this was four years into us investing and we were silent money. My husband and I, and I read about sir Kensington ketchup and how it scaled on 17 million in revenue to 140 million exit with Unilever and thought everything. Sir, Kensington is in ketchup, thoughtfully crafted young cool millennial, consumer, beautiful branding. It, you know, higher quality ingredients like we are to hot sauce.

Molly Fienning (15:56):

And so that drove me to step in and a big part of our strategy for growth was food service, restaurants, hospitality. We were talking to Barclay’s Brooklyn nets about putting hot sauce in the, in the club, you know, boxes and all these cool restaurants moments. When, when quickly with our $1 million revenue goal for 2021, all these restaurants in March shut down and stopped ordering everything. And we had to pivot to be able to meet those goals and a small business lives and dies by its cash. Right? So to be able to make sure we had the cash run with, to survive what we thought could be very questionable time. Mm. We took all those dollars that we were going to do for sampling. Yep. And we pivoted to influencer gifting, and we started

Katie Hankinson (16:44):


Molly Fienning (16:45):

Samples to chefs and leaders who were now home on Instagram, cooking at home. Um, and so one example of that was Jan Bush hanger. We did a w a big, um, mother’s day gifting. And we gifted to Jenna Bush Hager and she three or four days after receiving held it up in front of Hoda on today’s show from home on zoom, they were still remote. Yep. This is getting me through quarantine and we had a $45,000 weekend. And this woman who supported our teen any small brand, basically we went from, oh my God, are we gonna make it to, oh my God, we don’t have stock to

Katie Hankinson (17:21):

Suddenly doesn’t another fire,

Molly Fienning (17:25):

Like shout out to Jenna for just changing our course in that moment where we, I mean, I wasn’t sleeping at night for sure. Right. And so that was an example where pandemic habits change where your, your point about everyone is now home and like not spending their money on outside food and Bev, they might treat themselves, people were ordering beautiful, premium, higher quality products investing in, you know, a gorgeous olive oil or beautiful cured tuna or something because it’s like, I’m home, I’m cooking for

Katie Hankinson (17:55):

Myself. I’m the gourmet ex opportunity of the week now. Yeah. Yeah. And so

Molly Fienning (17:59):

We into that and that really worked, and we were able to meet our goals for the year, which was great.

Katie Hankinson (18:04):

It’s so true. I mean, I found myself looking in that, you know, same store that I was had only just begun to feel comfortable, even wondering around masked up in those early months, desperately looking for something to like, be the fun thing to build the dinner table.

Molly Fienning (18:21):

And then the other thing is, is mixology. Like we launched a spicy margarita salt, which in within weeks became our best seller on our website because everyone was making those cocktail hour moments at home and wanting to feel special. And if you’re investing in a beautiful, small batch top shelf flicker, then why not buy the beautiful top shelf agave to go with it or fresh lime juice or in our case, the spicy drinker in that has kosher salt and serving on sugar. And, and so that was a huge moment for us, which was unexpected as well.

Katie Hankinson (18:53):

So it sounds like, I mean, firstly, you are testing things out, but you’ve got a few of those irons in the fire at any one time and you don’t quite know which of those are gonna hit it’s that small bets approach. And then it also sounds like you’re doing a decent amount of product in like on an ongoing basis around the core spicy source.

Molly Fienning (19:16):

Yeah. And I, I found that out through baby in the sense that our classic black aviator shade is going to sell all day long every year, but press and the moments where people wanna to talk about it. It’s always about something new and fresh. And so we would come out with these very fashiony moments, like a neon or a pattern or a new shape style that might be too edgy ex obscure for the mainstream, but it it’s what gets us in the cultural zeitgeist. And so we always believe it right. Clay to have a couple fun things is in the pipeline, but we will lead with our hero skews, our original hot sauce, our spicy peach honey, our, you know, margarita salt. Those are the things that we’ll go to grocery with. And we’ll scale on mass with the things we know work. And we use our website as this test bed of small batch. Before we, we roll thing out beyond kind of direct to consumer

Katie Hankinson (20:14):

That’s super smart. Talk a bit more, you mentioned, you know, press is the thing that wants new and exciting. And we’re in this space now where earned media has taken such a different shape. And you talked a little bit earlier about influencer. What is the makeup of your I now I’m getting tactical right in there. What the makeup of how you, how you go about activating that kind of earned media. Is it, what is the mix of like the more classic the press side versus influencer and, and what else for sure?

Molly Fienning (20:45):

I think so. I remember when we first launched baby eat, one of my husband’s college roommates was the guy who founded Warby Parker. His name was Dave Gilboa and he maybe launched Warby two years before us. And we, you know, we had dinner with him and his now wife. And we were like, you know, you’re disrupting the optical industry and we are making baby shades, but what can you, that will help us what you’ve learned on your journey? And he said, make sure you allot some, if not, most of your marketing budget to a really wonderful PR strategist team to help build that earned media because you know, and this was now 11 years ago, it’s a, climate’s changed slightly for sure. But from day one, we have always had PR and with red clay, when I stepped in CEO, one of the first things I did was bring in a PR team.

Molly Fienning (21:32):

And I think you need the long leads. You need the traditional press for the flags, for the stamps, for the check in the box. You want to get it, even if it doesn’t translate to immediate direct sales and you can’t quantify a return on spend is so important from a brand cache and just like a level of respect. And I really believe in traditional PR still. I also think with that, you need to do both a digital ad strategy. And so that could be everything we’re doing things like testing Instagram, Facebook ads, which obviously is less efficient. Now that there’s the privacy,

Katie Hankinson (22:08):


Molly Fienning (22:09):

But we do Google ads and we’re now actually just launched with a shopper marketer, digital grocery ads. So things like Instacart and Walmart, whole foods is, is beta testing, a, a version of Instacart through Amazon. That’s gonna be like a whole food specific ad spend or CRI on target or every, every grocery channel has its partner has its own kind of preferred platform. So we want to put some dollars behind that, for sure. And then I think what we are finding works most effectively is the influencer

Katie Hankinson (22:40):

Strategy, right? Huge.

Molly Fienning (22:41):

And so partnering thoughtfully with people who we always make sure our P the people are already fans and authentic users. And then we were happy to brainstorm how we can partner on a gifting moment or a recipe or a video where they’re talking about what they love about red clay. And so I view PR or just brand awareness as old school, traditional PR digital ad spend, and then the influencer events network

Katie Hankinson (23:09):

Activations those moments in time. And then also being able to capitalize on those unexpected moments like the today show where something happens and you can jump in and either make hay or, or figure out how to replicate that again,

Molly Fienning (23:24):

Online. Totally. And that, that came from a big influencer gift thing, right? And so that’s where the nutritional PR and gifting kind of overlapped where we gifted to 50 people and maybe 25 are bloggers and five are chefs and another 10 are editors or press. And so it, they sort of all get, you know, the world of, of, of voice and audience just gets a little blurred, you know, and it’s more about for me, what are their values? Do they align with what you stand for?

Katie Hankinson (23:54):

So what are the, where are you thinking the opportunity lies most for red clay now, what it what’s on offering in the, in the offering in the next few months, or, or year ahead.

Molly Fienning (24:06):

So big picture. I like in terms of, you know, we talked about the alchemy, like, I, I have a dream, I want to turn this into something that I can put on a flatter and sell. Um, and that’s just the idea of like taking something from nothing and exiting it because I’ve built a number of, but we’ve, we still own them. So I never, I’ve never put something and given it away, you know, she and sold. So this is something we’re overtly building and, and seeking capital. And we have a wonderful investor set and trying to actually experience genuinely what that’s like. I wanna just have that experience

Katie Hankinson (24:45):

See cycle like this Kensington case study is

Molly Fienning (24:49):

So that’s for me, when I think about our long term strategy, we’ve got three to four years of hard work until we can do that, but we really, the whole team is aligned and we’ve given everyone on the team equity because we want people to be along for the journey to enjoy the benefit that we all have together and celebrate. But in terms of immediate short term fun change in may, I am very excited about a product we are testing on our website. That is a spicy cocktail sauce.

Katie Hankinson (25:18):

Hell yeah.

Molly Fienning (25:19):

What I like about it is no one has no one owns the brand on cocktail sauce. It’s when you’re buying it at the store, it’s typically generic. It’s typically whatever the grocery store has made, like in whole foods, 365, kinda an example. And or you’re making it yourself, you’re buying ketchup and horse rat. And for us, you know, being here in Charleston, South Carolina created for an oyster hot sauce.

Katie Hankinson (25:46):

I know I’m literally, I’m such an oyster fan. Oh,

Molly Fienning (25:49):

We need to get you down here. They’re the best oysters down here. And oyster is a big part of both self sort of the, the, the climate preservation with the oyster beds, protecting us from hurricanes and rising tides, as well as just the culinary history of the oyster. So Charleston is a wonderful location for oysters. And so for us, spicy cocktail, fuss is a natural evolution into product extension. And I am excited to see how that does making something really tomato forward and premium and fresh, but, but elevating it beyond just generic grocery brand.

Katie Hankinson (26:25):

So you literally become the named product on the, on the menu of longside the name noises. Cause

Molly Fienning (26:32):

When we launched hot sauce, clearly you have all the big players, hot sauce is incredibly, it’s the fastest growing condiments, a $5 billion global category, but there are hundreds of hot sauces, right?

Katie Hankinson (26:44):

And so many craft players as well. You’re kind of like it’s had to break from that craft into the, into the next player.

Molly Fienning (26:51):

And then even a spicy honey. We came in as this second more elevated version, but Mike’s hot. Honey was the true leader. And, And so the spicy cocktail sauce is an example where we actually would be the kind of leader here, which is really fun to,

Katie Hankinson (27:06):

To branch super exciting. And I love that angle that you mentioned about, um, the sustainability of like oyster beds that are, you know, actually part of, of, of growing healthier, uh, ecosystems in, in, in the, in our oceans and like that I, I part having a part, a brand partnership that kind of really leans into that as well is really interesting

Molly Fienning (27:28):

As well. For sure. We do a lot of oyster tours here. We partner with a wonderful local group called seaboard and we’ll go out onto their beds. And we test, we, we, we do wine pairings with my friend who has a natural wine shop and we get the whole full experience of like my partner, the she chefs, where he came up with our sauce, plus oysters plus yummy wine. And so, but, but he tells this story about, you know, basically Charleston is sort of the American sinking vents. Like we’re a peninsula. We, we have sunny day flooding. We need to be the beacon of what the nation should do. Big picture as the waters continue to rise. And we’re our mayors concerning all the options. And one of them is the army Corps of engineer coming and building a manmade wall. And the problem with that is the moment it’s done. It starts deteriorating. And

Katie Hankinson (28:21):

The moment

Molly Fienning (28:22):

It requires dollars for maintenance, all of this in contract oysters, if you surround the city with oysters, and I know Manhattan is doing this with the 1 billion oyster Oyster, um, it only strengthens, it only grows over time. And so it does deteriorate. It doesn’t require those follow on dollars. And so it’s one of the things I wanna do. And I don’t know if we do this formally with red clay, cuz I don’t wanna get too, like on the political side personally, my dream is to really get involved and help sort of align the administration of the city with like the need to do this effectively on the, and using oysters is a real

Katie Hankinson (29:01):

Kind, that’s phenomenal that, that full circle like back to kind of foundational building as well. It, my brain, my, I went back into a childhood memory as you were talking actually cuz on the east coast of England where I spent a lot of summers in the, in as a, as a kid, um, there are huge parts of the peninsula where you can, where there’s just, you know, the whole of the, the ground is just made up of oyster like that. There’s been a lot of erosion over years of it’s been done for centuries that oysters have been used to kind of shore up bits of the land. I also like the idea that your, the name of the brand is like, you know, grounded red clay, you know, kind of it’s about

Molly Fienning (29:39):

My partner is a Georgia boy chef whose grandfather was a watermelon farmer and Renaissance man. He was also a journalist. He was all these crazy things, but he’s the man who raised my partner and he grew up outside of Atlanta or in Atlanta and visiting his grandfather outside of Atlanta. And the dirt in Georgia outside of Atlanta is this color red clay. And so the, a red play sauce, our OG sauce reminded him of his childhood and wanted to pay Ho’s grandfather who raises him.

Katie Hankinson (30:07):

It’s lovely. It’s also maybe not deliberate, but it does connect to a really nice story as we were talking about this kind of the alchemy and, and making something from something else. And clay is a, is a substance that you can create so much from. I think there’s a really nice connect.

Molly Fienning (30:23):

I love that. I’ve never thought about that alignment in that’s so true.

Katie Hankinson (30:29):

So yeah, that, that, yeah, that’s a sort of magical little bit of storytelling that’s coming through here.

Katie Hankinson (30:37):

My, my final question, I, I have so many and we, we only have such a short window, but I do. I wanted to just ask you our classic, uh, building while flying question, which is, you know, we’ve heard a lot about, um, you know, your journey and having come through all of all the multiple journeys that have already kind of built up to where you are today. And our podcast is cool building while flying because of the fact that know entrepreneurs are constantly on this journey of, of invention whilst, whilst actually selling product. So a big part of, of building while flying is kind of having your pilot’s checklist that helps you stay the course and, and stay centered and grounded as you are, as you are dealing with all these things flying at at you. And what would be your building while flying mantra or checklist as you, as you think about yourself as a business leader, and that’s carried you through all of these moments,

Molly Fienning (31:32):

That’s such a good question. And I’m, so my, my husband is a pilot for emergency,

Katie Hankinson (31:37):

Oh, there you go. Take

Molly Fienning (31:40):

Quiz him on the checklist emergency procedure checklist when we were early days in our dating life. Um, so I know what that is. I, so I feel like, you know, I certainly believe that first of all, entrepreneurship is all consuming and secondly, it’s isolating, right? You’re by yourself in the beginning. And it’s, it’s, you have more work than hours in the day and you need to build procedures, practices, habits that keep you centered and keep you like prevent you from burning out, you know, and, and keep you aligned and on that right journey towards the goal or not goal, but towards the direction of what you want to achieve. And, and so for me, I think about like certain habits I’ve learned for instance, as an example, start of the day, uh, if I’m not gonna be room mom, because I’m a working mother or able to necessarily do school pickup every day, depending on my meeting schedule, the bookends of my day with my children is incredibly important to me.

Katie Hankinson (32:42):

And so

Molly Fienning (32:43):

I think about breakfast with them getting them off to school in this loving way. And I think about dinner time with them getting them, our bedtime routine stories, songs, prayers. So I’m very particular with my kids about our bookends and our Sunday Brun tradition and like, so that when they look back on moments, there are those traditions that make them smile, you know, and they remember like, you know, in fall we go apple picking to Asheville, like what are those things that you’re gonna remember as a family, um, or Disney world or whatever they are. And so, and then once they’re off to school for me, it’s getting a cup of coffee and getting back in the bed or my, you know, sitting on the porch before I look in my phone, before I check my email, I don’t want work to set the tone for my day. I wanna be thoughtful about I’m gonna set the tone and then let I’ll decide what comes next. And so that’s journaling that is meditation, breathing, prayer, walking, whatever you need to do for yourself. What are the things that really help you? I, I always take 30 to, depending on like somebody’s 90 minutes, you know, I read Jeff Bezos did something like that, where he didn’t take a meeting until 10:00 AM and everything prior to that is like his own research or due diligence sacred.

Katie Hankinson (33:55):

Good time. Yeah. Yeah.

Molly Fienning (33:56):

So like, you know, you, you dictate your schedule and then evening a drink with a girlfriend, a dinner day with my husband, a walk by myself on the water. Like I need something for me that unplugs my work stuff and you, we all, we all need to be really deliberate about turning work off at a certain hour. Um, and so I’m, I’m all for working as hard as I can, but I also, you know, I know this is a long game, it’s a marathon outta sprint. And I can’t, if I stay up to two in the morning, I’m a rep the next day. And so for me, it’s about viewing. Somebody said to me, if you’re a CEO, you yourself, as an elite athlete, how do athletes train? What do they put in their body? How do they sleep? How do they work out? Like, and, and so this is a 10, 15 year journey, like, and thinking about what I wanna accomplish in that frame of mind is helpful.

Katie Hankinson (34:51):

I love that I’ve written intentionally designing the week, which I think is, is just such an important thing. Maintaining priorities, creating rituals that make memory raise, preserve what’s important and nourish yourself. I just, I think, yeah, so valuable all of

Molly Fienning (35:08):

Those things. Yeah. And nourishing for me, like I’m, I’m a foodie. So I, I love savoring beautiful, rich, wonderful things. Like for me, it’s not, I, I overt health thing. I, I don’t, I need to work out more, but walking is my thing or stretching, but like even a glass of wine, it’s more about the presence of mind, you know what I mean? Um, yeah. I, you know, then it is, you know, I feel a lot of people get really deep into the health thing. And for me it’s more about like the pleasures of life. I don’t wanna look back after a decade of work and be like, I, well, I worked that decade.

Katie Hankinson (35:42):

I read somewhere recently or perhaps it was on a podcast that talked about, um, savoring as being an incredibly powerful way to be mine, to be mindful and to not miss the important things. I think the word savoring and especially in, yeah, your foodie land. I

Molly Fienning (35:59):

Love the word savoring. And my, my 10 year old uses that word. Like I’m, you know, one of my, one of my two son who are 10 and six, the six year old flies through an ice cream cone, you know, and then the 10 year old licks it slowly, he’s like I’m savoring.

Katie Hankinson (36:13):

And then the other siblings like, it,

Molly Fienning (36:17):

I should have done that. Um, but it reminds me of this. Like, it’s not about what you’re consuming, it’s about the process and the enjoyment and the memory, you know? And so that’s all the difference. Like, you know, like, are you eating chocolate in shame in your closet? Cause you’re embarra about it or are you sitting and having a beer beautiful piece and letting it melt in your mouth and really like being present. And then there’s like a, those are two completely different

Katie Hankinson (36:45):

Experiences or are you sitting on a dock with a beautiful Charleston view with hot sauce, slather on an oyster with friends? Well,

Molly Fienning (36:55):


Katie Hankinson (36:56):

I’m there, I’m there it’s happening. Um, well this has been such a wonderful conversation. Um, I so appreciate your time. It’s been great to hear about your own Al alchemical journey from, uh, from Harvard to baby, to red clay, hot sauce. Um, and really thank you for sharing your, your kind of bless along the way. I think super helpful for other businesses.

Molly Fienning (37:22):

Thank you so much. And I, I have, I always had these thoughts of those sort of more spiritual moments in my head, and I’ve never been able to align it to the business. So Katie, thank you for doing that. Cuz you’ve brought these two together in a really powerful way.

Katie Hankinson (37:36):

Oh, that’s been wonderful. It’s been wonderful talking to you, struck you. Thanks for joining us for building while flying today. I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.

Speaker 4 (37:54):

If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times, tune in to the next episode. And if you’re so kind, please rate and review us, plus we’d love feedback. So let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on building while flying across brands, businesses, marketing and more

Katie Hankinson (38:08):

Original music by Fulton street music group.



Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

From Harvard Business School to Silent Investor. 

Molly Fienning is the Co-Founder and CEO of Red Clay Hot Sauce, a modern Southern hot sauce company based in Charleston, SC. Prior to Red Clay, Molly co-founded Babiators, the leading sunglasses brand for babies and kids. 

Molly joins Katie on the Building While Flying podcast to talk about her journey from Harvard Business School to silent investor to CEO of Red Clay. She shares lessons learned from each step of her journey, and how each experience informed the next. She talks about what it means to be a good CEO and leader, and shares a potentially surprising opinion about public relations! 

Other in-flight topics:

  • How to be an effective CEO
  • Difference between goals and journeys
  • Lessons from one business to the next
  • Scaling a brand during the pandemic
  • The importance of traditional public relations
  • …and more!

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