Diamond's Corner Episode 5: Guy Sako

Diamond MMA Founder Craig Diamond sits down with the Founder and CEO of Defense Soap, Guy Sako, to talk about how his company started, where his company is at now, and how they're keeping up with the crazy demand for their products during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Check out the video of their interview or read the transcript of their conversation below! We will be releasing new Diamond's Corner videos every Wednesday and Friday at noon, so check back for more awesome conversations with interesting people.  

read craig and guy's conversation below

Craig: Hi everybody. My name's Diamond. It's another episode of the Diamonds Corner, this is an exciting episode for me. I got one of my entrepreneur heroes of many years, Guy Sako from Defense Soap is joining us. How you doing Guy?

Guy: I'm doing good Craig, how are you?

Craig: Good, good. So I've been seeing year-round, forever for the last decade or so from trade shows. Just, you know, we kind of serve the same market. And you know, I've always looked up to your brand and the products you make and, and just how you stay true to the problems you Guys are trying to solve. Just like we focus on being the best in the world that we're trying to solve. And so in this episode, I, you know, I want to talk a little bit about you, your business, how you started some of the challenges may be and some of the high points and, learn a little bit about it. So, how did the whole defense soap start out?

Guy: Well, way back, you know, like in o fives. I think that's when we first met probably at one of the USC Fan Expos way back there, I believe. My entire wrestling team got ringworm, had ringworm. I coach a club with a hundred kids in it and every single kid had ringworm and they always said, why don't they just make a soap to get rid of ringworm? How hard could it be? When we wrestled in college, we used dander shampoos, you know, we didn't really even know why, but we were using dander shampoos to wash. I remember like phisoderm and stuff like that.

Craig: Yup.

Guy: So I knew that there were products that people used for special reasons. I looked into and I found out that dander shampoos actually have, you know, antifungal agents. And that's why they're dandruff shampoos. So if somebody could put this in a shampoo, I could put it in, in a bar of soap. You know, it was much better for the skin than some shampoo and create a soap for my kids to use so they wouldn't get the ringworm and you know it worked. At that time I wasn't starting a business, I was just making soap for the kids. I had actually had a lady make them for me, for the kids just to control the ringworm, you know, and it, and it did a pretty doggone good job. And you know, next thing you know, people are saying, will you get more of that soap, we need some more of that, you know, that soap. And we started producing them and did that.

Craig: Let me ask you a question, sorry, when, that's interesting. So when you started, when you started, did you start making some special soap or did you, did you start making your own concoction and I mean, how did you get the first batch or were you, were you just using kind of the dandruff shampoo?

Guy: No, I, looked over dandruff shampoos, shampoos have a lot of really bad things in them. And I was looking at like the side effects and the ingredients in shampoos, they're not that good, to be honest with ya. So I started looking at, I was gonna make this bar. So without those ingredients, how am I going to get a bar of soap that's effective, you know, with, without, you know, harsh chemicals or actually poisonous chemicals. So I started looking around and I came across essential oils and I had, I had no idea what essential oil was. But before this, you know, and I came across tea tree and eucalyptus oil and they have tremendous antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal properties. I found some lady that can make soap, asked her, Hey, can you put this in an all-natural bar of soap for me and she did, and that's, that's how we started.

Craig: Was the first, so was it a bar first?

Guy: The bar, it looked like a homemade bar soap looked like a chunk of wax kind of, you know, they were hand cut. They didn't have boxes, they just came in, I just got a good box of a hundred chunks of wax that I gave out to the kids. It hurt when you used it because it had like corners on it and everything. But, but when I, when I started after like the second or third batch of those, I saw like swirls on these bars, you know, they're not like, like our bar is now. And when I saw that I saw the swirls I realized that these bars weren't very consistent and we're, you know, we're using these bars to fight infections so they need to be consistent. So I went to a, a larger soap manufacturer that can guarantee consistency. And that's who I've been with ever since.

Craig: Wow and so when you had those, those first products, first you have any of the first bars left of your first?

Guy: I actually just got rid of them. They're 15 years old and they got so, so kind of funky looking over the years and we just finally, we just moved, we moved into our brand new building and we threw away a whole bunch of stuff that probably I'll probably kick myself in 10 years for throwing away. But yeah, we're in our brand new building. I left a lot, left a lot behind, including some of those bars.

Craig: So, I mean naturally, so you got, you got to do manufacturer, you got the consistency down. I know there's, I mean nowadays, I mean you've been growing and you've been filling the need for a lot of, you know, not only wrestlers but combat sports athletes and, and, and all sorts of different markets. What what, what was, what was like some of the bigger challenges from kind of going to the early days to maybe scaling to where you're at now? I mean, from, do you remember any of the tough growing pains, do you remember?

Guy: The funniest part about it is when I, when I first started marketing, like starting to approach people about, my soap. I was typing emails and this is how bad of a businessman I was. I was typing every single email word for word and someone said, "Hey, what are you doing?" Like I'm sending emails. "They're Like, why don't you just copy and paste that?" And I'm like, copy and paste. What does that mean? Show me how to copy and paste my email. And then they're like, "Oh, why don't you just blind carbon copy all those people?" I'm like, what the hell is that mean? And so they had explained to me like, I mean that's a bad of a businessman I was. I didn't even know how to use a,

Craig: Hey, you were, you were hustling, you were doing what you could do.

Guy: Yeah, I was typing, every one of them word for word over. And I, and I'm the hunting pecker, you know, so like typing, you know, not the best for me. So I mean that's where I came from, you know you know, and, and I, I still have my old ledgers. We were looking at, I think my first real major shipment was like 300 bars and I would subtract every time I sold a bar and delay the ledger. It's kind of funny, you know, I just brought in 150,000 bars the other day and that's going to get me through the next couple of months. And then I'll have another, you know, 150,000 come in. It's, it's completely different. But you know, this is actually the most challenging time I've ever had. And, 15 years is, you know, we're in this new facility, we have 20 to 25 different skews right now and all of a sudden with the some virus, all the bottles are gone. Can't find bottles to put my soap in, it's crazy. You know, we have labels, we have pictures, we have marketing material. Well, we have a line that looks, you know, pretty decent when it's put together and now we're just putting soap in anything we can to get it out of here. It's kind of hounded right now we're not talking like I don't need like 20 bottles. I order 60,000 bottles at a time. So it's, it's a challenge.

Craig: Wow. So I mean for anybody listening right now, it's April 8th in 2020 we're going through this COVID pandemic. We're really, you don't unless you're an essential business on a lockdown. So yeah, this is, this is in a way your Superbowl, I mean for what you Guys do, you think but business is tough and you need, you need products and packaging. And I remember similar times with our, our products were we had trade shows and I needed, you know, 1500 cups and they just weren't coming. They were on a ship locked in a port because of the strike. And you're just, you're just stuck. I mean, we had Joe Rogan talking about our products on a UFC and how the whole world wants it, but we can't get it because, so I know what it's like and people say it's a good problem to have, but it's not, and it's a tough problem to have. Now, what are you Guys going to try to do? What, what do you think you could do for solution?

Guy: We're looking at alternative packaging. What this taught me though is how fragile my supply chain really was and we do everything domestically. We, we, we don't have to worry too much, too much about ports and stuff like that. But you know we're not a huge player. We're not a small player by any means, but by no means are we a huge player. So when Clorox comes in and Clorox books a facility for the next month, Guys like me get pushed out. So I realized, who my friends are really fast and this, I realized who, who I can count on and those would be the people that we're going to do business with moving forward. We've got, like for example, I'm kind of all bottle distributors. I go straight to the manufacturer. I'm buying truckloads of everything at a dime. I mean, they'll talk to you if you're going to order a semi truckload of bottles, you order 60,000 bottles they'll talk to you. If you're ordering 10,000 bottles, you have to go through a distributor. We're doing truckloads now. We're to that size anyways. We should have been doing it a long time ago. So you know, we're, we're, we're doing that to just take one more step out of that supply chain so we don't have to depend upon anybody. We learned that. So that's, that's the main thing that our soap is solid. We have more soap then we have bottles right now.

Craig: What is, so how long has the company been in business for?

Guy: Since O five in 2005.

Craig: Okay 2005. So, and how many employees do you have working for you now about?

Guy: I have 12 now.

Craig: So are you, where are you based out of?

Guy: Well, we're in Ohio. I'm in a little town outside of Cleveland, just West of Cleveland called Vermilion. It's where I live. I just built this facility here. It's a 12,000 square feet, has 4,000 square feet of mat space in the back.

Craig: Wow. Are you still wrestling and coaching and getting on the mat yourself?

Guy: I still coach, but I don't wrestle too much anymore. I show a little technique every now and then, but I have nine assistant coaches in my program. All nine wrestled division one college wrestling someplace. I have a really stellar staff. And they, they're younger Guys. They do that, they do the technique.

Craig: What's, tell us about some of the new products. What, what, I mean, what are you, what are some of the newer products or what are some of the bigger sellers right now? What's going on?

Guy: Our biggest seller right now is, our disinfected tablets. The EPA just came out and recommended them to kill the Coronavirus. So that's obviously going to be, that's going to blow us up. What you did. We, we went through our whole summer supply already. I have 12 more skids coming in. We can't make those here. I depend upon someone else to make those. So, that's a big product that was really good. Our antimicrobial skin cleanser, which is registered with the FDA. That's, that's a big one that kills viruses too. That, that got blown outta here. I have a brand new acne line coming out, which is nice. It's a defense acne. And then, I don't know if you ever saw our medicated antifungal bars. Now all those are FDA approved too. So we have two FDA approved bars for over the counter medicines, OTCs and then our sprays and our tablets are EPA. So we went from that back when you knew me just a holistic company that just used tea tree and eucalyptus oil too, you know doing pretty good with antifungals.

Craig: What, what's, what's the FDA process like? What's that approval process like, I've never been through that.

Guy: It's kind of interesting. You, products are never approved by the FDA. They're registered with the FDA. You use approved, you use an approved FDA ingredient in your product in order to register with the FDA. So like there's only like seven FDA approved antifungals. So you have to pick one of those medicines to stick in your bar. You know, I already knew that my bar worked really well against fungus, Right? We known that for years, but the FDA is starting to crack down on companies like mine who didn't necessarily make a claim but led you to believe that my product was antifungal and I knew that sooner or later they're going to come knocking on my door and tell me to knock it off. So what I did, was I got ahead of the curve. I went out, I got the medicine to put in the original bars, just a regular bar of soap with the medicine in it and then you have, then you make the batches, then you send it back just to the FDA. Every single batch. We sent it to a, a reporting facility that reports back to the FDA. They test it, they make sure that they're consistent. That goes back to that consistency thing that I saw 15 years ago. It really paid off now cause you know, we were, we were pretty strict on our formulas and making sure everything was right and it really paid off. Now because we deal with the FDA, all that has to be in line and they test those bars to make sure they are accurate and when they, when they are, and then they, they release the bash and you could sell it.

Craig: Oh.

Guy: So there's a lot of what.

Craig: You know, so what's next? I mean, just keep it up with, with, with demand and, and solving daily problems. I mean, are you Guys, are you Guys developing new products? You Guys have the defense, so baby, the acne, I mean, there's so many different things. What's, well, what's next?

Guy: What's sitting on my desk that this camera's sitting on is, our shampoo bars. We have a shampoo bar that's coming out. I don't know if there's a big problem with fighters as much as little kids wrestlers ringworm in their hair. Little kids get ringworm in their hair like crazy.

Craig: Really?

Guy: Wrestlers absolutely and I have a new shampoo bar as a bar soap that works, that's actually a shampoo with the same antifungal medicine in it. So we're going to help, we're going to help through that, a lot of people like won't even think that's even an issue. But if you're involved with youth wrestling, it's a huge issue. You know, and it's, it'll be a dandruff shampoo as well because it kills fungus.

Craig: What, you know, you've built a brand, you've, you know, obviously you and the wrestling, you see some of these copycat Guys and companies come and try to do what you're doing or, or, or act like a defense soap. And really, they don't really hold up. I mean, what, what sets you Guys apart from, you know, from all these other Guys and what sets you apart from defense soap? Just you know being that brand that, that is trusted by, you know, these athletes that we love.

Guy: I think there's a couple of things. We were first to market, we actually created, you know, the first bar of soap specifically for combat athletes. Everybody else is kinda jumping on the bandwagon, but we picked the best ingredients right off the bat. I did a lot of research. I just didn't then just go out there and grab and hey this looks good and this looks, I grabbed really good ingredients. So anybody else who came out after me had to either copy me exactly or grab a lesser ingredient. So, right off the bat, we were good there. A lot of these other companies and I, and I, I give them all credit. They're all trying to do something. They all came probably where I came from at one time or another, but none of them are making soap like, like we do, they don't have the triple mill process. They don't have the consistency, they don't have the FDA facility that they're making in or the FDA registered products and that, that really set us apart. But that's, that's what also is, is pulling us out of combat sports. That's what's getting us in front of, you know, that's why we're big on Amazon. That's why, Walgreens, I mean, Walmart's looking at us really good right now. We're ready for that next level. We'll never lose our wrestling roots, but, e, you know, we're, we're gonna move to the next level. Cause the other thing too is we're wrestlers and I think we're a little arrogant. We think we're the hardest workers. I'm going to outwork anybody. Anybody who tries to compete with me, I'll just, let's go It's a match. Let's get this, get it on you know.

Craig: Even if it's an email at a time, you'll stay up late.

Guy: One bar at a time, one email at a time doesn't matter to me.

Craig: You know, that's, that's what's been inspiring. And as you know, I believe your business is a step ahead of our business. You started with a product. If it's good enough for the ringworm, for these youth wrestlers, then it's going to be good enough for all of America. So, but your, your brand is authentic and you Guys give back to the wrestling community. You are a wrestler. You, you're and that's kind of how we are. So if we can make great protection, good enough to protect these fighters, then you know, we're seeing now our copy of major league baseball players are wearing, I mean little league baseball players and lacrosse and hockey and it's trickling in organically to other markets. And you know, there's an authenticity to your brand and your roots and I think that's helping you one make a product that's actually going to solve a real problem but also,you know, slowly get beyond the market. And it's, it's cool to hear that you're, you know, talking about the Walmarts and those big Guys and getting ready for that. And I think, kind of the backlog and bottles and some of the issues that you're dealing with now is, is great training, and growing pains for when you do get to that, you know, to, to compete against the real big Guys and, and your stuff is selling off the shelves there is to keep up with demand, you know, all across the country and the world. Am I right?

Guy: No. Yeah, that's definitely a learning curve. Scalability is a term that they throw around, can you scale? Can you scale? Well, you know, if I know it's coming, I can scale. Nobody saw this, this virus coming and to be honest with you, we've been going 80 hours a week, seven days a week. We had two days off since this thing started way back way back March 13th awhile.

Craig: Wow.

Guy: My crew's been gone pretty hard and we just now are starting to run into supply problems. So I mean we, we're, we're, we scaled, we're ready to scale already and we're already like recuperating for the next round. And that was a big question that so many suppliers had with us. Like yeah, will this little ruts and companies be able to handle, you know what we throw at them? They, they forgot that the first part was the wrestling company. Yeah. we were going to handle whatever you throw at us. You know, it might set us back a minute, but, well, well, well we are, we have a big deal going on with Ford right now. I mean, Ford motor Corp that's, that's a pretty big deal. That were, that were, we've already been approved to be used inside of their vehicles and we're looking to get into there plants now. So that little wrestling Bard, I began again, in my basement's about to, you know, partner up with one of the largest corporations in America.

Craig: Amazing. It's an amazing story. I know a lot of people that are gonna be watching this are entrepreneurs and they're building their own company and they're starting something new. One more question then we'll wrap up cause I don't, you're, you're busy enough. What would you say about the raising money aspect in a business? I know a lot of entrepreneurs, including myself in the early days, always was focusing on how we need to raise money to raise money instead of just selling products and getting customers. Did you have experience in that or have you, have you been bootstrapping it all along? What would you say about that?

Guy: Yeah, what was interesting is I was a Cleveland policeman. You know, I spent 25 years in a police department. So the first eight years that I ran this company, I didn't pay myself a penny. I just, anything I made, I put back into the business. I, I enjoyed the business. It was of part of me, so, and I already had a paycheck coming from the police department, so I was, I just kept investing in my company. And, and to this day, I'm not the highest-paid Guy in my business. I don't, I don't really put value on.

Craig: Me neither.

Guy: You know it happens. I like to tell my wrestlers and, and, and anybody that will listen to me. You know, if you don't enjoy the journey, don't take the trip, you know, and that's, you know, you have to have a passion. You have to enjoy what you're doing or else you're just going to work. And you know, if you're just going to go to work, why the hell do you want to start a business? You know, go work for somebody else, let them have all the headaches, you know, enjoy it, enjoy it. You have to enjoy it because the stress and the, you know, when you wake up by three o'clock in the morning wondering how you're going to pay your people, I'm sure you've done that before.

Craig: Yup.

Guy: You know, you better, you better enjoy what you're doing or else that'll kill you. You know.

Craig: Well, well said Guy. Thank you for coming on. Where can guys, you know, find you and follow you. Tell us about that. And yeah.

Guy: We have a pretty, we have a pretty active well right last month and we've done anything cause we're in here, but our Instagram, you know it's "@DefenseSoap", our Twitter's "@DefenseSoap", our Facebook page is "Defense Right Now" You know, we partnered with the UWW this summer, United World Wrestling. They're, they're the governing body of wrestling and grappling in the world. They govern the Olympics, they cover the U.S I mean the World Championship. They govern everything. We're the first and only product, they've ever endorsed for anything.

Craig: Wow.

Guy: Their information said, we will be using Defense Soap from here on out with our athletes and around the world. So you can find this on UWWs page. They just did a "Take The Defense Soap" pledge, on Instagram, so I mean we can be found and of course, we have our own website.

Craig: And if someone wants to buy your soap what's the best way to get it?

Guy: Amazon or Defense Soap or call my cell phone.

Craig: Okay Guy, It was awesome. You've been an inspiration. Seriously. You continue to be an inspiration and you know, I'm going to keep trying to grow my business the same way you did and you know, with passion and solving a real problem and needs for the athletes we love and and keep going. So thanks a lot for coming up and we'll talk soon.

Guy: Absolutely man. My Guys, you're like, Hey diamond, you know, they want to talk to you Guys and they were asking me and they're a company just like us started about the same time and just plowing through it. So I appreciate you saying an inspiration, but I kinda consider us equals and what we've been doing here.

Craig: Thanks. That means a lot. It really does. So go out, fill that soap, and we'll talk to you soon. Thanks for coming on.

Guy: Thanks, Craig. All right, stay safe.

Craig: You too.

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