“You’re primarily going to be known in life for having founded X company, so hopefully you like talking about it!” Sandro Roco, the founder and CEO of Sanzo, tells me from his bedroom/home office in Brooklyn.
He’s recalling an event with a co-founder of Twitch, who he met a few years after Amazon acquired the live streaming service. At that event, Sandro noticed that despite the massive company milestone, all anyone could talk about was the road to creating Twitch.
Fortunately, Sandro doesn’t mind retracing the steps he took to found his company. “I was working at the time at Bombfell, a subscription commerce startup. One day I walked into an H Mart in Koreatown in New York, mulling over what to do next with my life,” he says. “I noticed a huge beverage shelf laden with all the familiar American ‘better for you’ products, and then halfway down, the Asian selection. There were imported sodas and juices from across the region — many of which I’d grown up loving, but at this point were too sugary for me to drink on a regular basis.”
Sandro decided to create a high-quality line of drinks that celebrate Asian flavors, like lychee, Alphonso mango, and calamansi, that added sugars had masked for decades.
Bridging traditional flavors with new techniques
For Sandro, the process of creating and marketing Sanzo has been a learning experience, from raising money with investors to consumer testing.
“Watching people hold different products, including ours, before they made their decision was so important. I began with the assumption that every customer would care a great deal about calories,” he says. “What I saw showed me that they cared much more about the constituent parts. And that’s when we started giving more weight on the front of the can, to the lettering showing that Sanzo is made from real fruit.”
The work that Sandro has put in has paid off tremendously; since Sanzo’s launch in 2019, Epicurious has hailed Sanzo as “your next seltzer obsession” and New York Magazine proclaimed their calamansi flavor as “the cure for your seltzer fatigue.” In a few years, Sanzo went from an initial launch in ten convenience stores to being stocked at Whole Foods and DashMarts across the nation.
I learned that spelling out your vision makes it real. It's a daunting exercise, but necessary because no one, least of all investors, can read your mind. And even if investors could, they still need to hear you — the founder — say it and live it.
“I don’t take lightly what we’ve achieved, or that we’ve gone from just me delivering out of my 500-square-foot studio apartment to 15 team members in 18 months. And by stocking Sanzo in DashMarts, DoorDash has enabled us to significantly increase brand awareness and the customers we can reach,” Sandro says. “As we’ve grown, I’ve increasingly enjoyed the transition from just being the founder, to now being the CEO of the company. Our team inspires me every day, and I’m driven to create a team culture that keeps people wanting to remain at Sanzo for the long term.”
Asian-inspired goods and stories
Sandro credits a part of Sanzo’s success to the exposure of Asian culture and products to more audiences. “We launched at a time when Korean cuisine and skincare trends were really taking off and as Crazy Rich Asians was the #1 film at the box office for a while,” he says. “Seeing the widespread resonance of Asian-inspired goods and stories was incredibly impactful to my journey.”
It’s taken the brand from Sandro’s start in Queens to the bright lights of Hollywood. “I certainly didn’t predict that two years later we would see the first Asian-led superhero movie with Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, that actor Simu Liu would come on as an investor, or even that Pixar would bring Turning Red to life — and with it a really interesting depiction of the Chinese immigrant experience,” he says. “Both of those movies offered us opportunities to tie our brand to cultural milestones that I believe will resonate for a long time to come, and fuel us to try more experiments with brand partnering.”
Sell retail with DashMart
If you’re equally inspired by Sandro’s journey and interested in increasing your retail footprint and diversifying your retail business, or know an entrepreneur who would be, learn more about DashMart, a convenience store platform where you can offer retail products and household essentials delivered straight to customers’ doorsteps.
We’ll continue to feature more stories on Unlocking Success as we learn more about these businesses and the people behind them.