Magie Cook, salsa genius and entrepreneur with a purposeMagie Cook, salsa genius and entrepreneur with a purpose: How perfecting the game inside can unlock success — in life and business
Magie Cook made a discovery: You don’t find limitless success when you run a business based on fear. You find limitless success when you run a business based on purpose. She would know.
On her journey from an orphanage in Mexico, to founding a salsa manufacturing company with just $800, to selling that business for $231M, Magie Cook learned firsthand that sometimes if we want to accomplish big things, we first have to look within.
Listen to Magie’s inspiring journey to discover the secret to salsa, self improvement and success.
Magie Cook knows about success. But before that, she knew about overcoming adversity.
After 18 years of living with her 68 brothers and sisters in an orphanage in Mexico that was run by her parents, Magie seized an opportunity to play college basketball in the US. Struggling to find a job after graduating, Magie soon found herself homeless. Then everything changed. When she was given a gift of $800, she didn’t waste it. She used it to start a salsa business that went on to sell for $231M.
A lot of people would stop there. But not Magie. Today, she works as a motivational speaker and coach, sharing her hard-won wisdom with others who are hungry to become something bigger than themselves.
We were lucky enough to have Magie join The Entrepreneur’s Studio at the 2021 Heartland Diamond Conference to discuss her incredible journey and lessons she’s learned along the way about business and personal development.
Listen into the podcast to get an intimate look at this entrepreneur’s climb to something better and learn how a little mindset shift and self reflection can get you further than you think.
Below is an edited transcript of the conversation. In the episode, you’ll hear:
The journey from orphanage roots to $231M
Chris: Awesome. Let’s welcome Magie Cook to The Entrepreneur’s Studio. So good to have you here.
Magie: Thank you.
Chris: Thanks for coming. Wow. So, I got a little emotional just watching your story there. You said to me backstage that you’ve seen that video so many times and you still get emotional as well. Talk us through that. What’s the thing that really draws out the emotion of that video?
Magie: It’s part of going back to where I used to be, but knowing that I’m no longer there. It’s also about knowing that with what I do, I’m able to make a difference and not only inspire others, but also contribute back to where I came from.
Chris: Because you have a unique story where you came from nothing. Maybe less than nothing, right?
Chris: You went from an orphanage to selling a manufacturing business of salsa.
Chris: For $231 million.
Magie: Yes. I sold away the Garden Fresh. Yes.
Chris: So, tell us a little bit about why salsa.
Magie: If you asked me 20 years ago if I would be making salsa for a living, I would tell you, “You’re nuts.” But it was an opportunity, and I was really looking for something to prove my caregiver wrong. He told me that I would never amount to anything and that I would die in prison with AIDS. Because I came out to him as gay.
Magie: So, that was an opportunity that came through college when I would make it for people in the dorms. They would tell my teachers, and my teachers would have me bring it to class. And then I got entered into a salsa contest. So, several events took place. And once I saw the opportunity, I just decided to grab onto it and do the best that I could.
Rediscovering the power of purpose over fear
Chris: So you took a something-to-prove moment and then you hit this pinnacle, right? Did you feel like there was a stage before and maybe a couple of stages after in your life?
Magie: Well, one of the biggest things that I discovered was never to run a business based on fear. Always run a business based on purpose. Because when you run a business based on fear, there’s an energy there, and you’ll get ahead a certain amount — but then you’ll get stuck. You’ll be blocked from success. But when you move from fear to having a purpose, a meaning behind what you do, that’s when everything changes. That happened to me when my father died, because I didn’t have anybody else to prove. He actually wrote me a letter a week before he died telling me that he was so proud of me.
Chris: Oh, that’s amazing.
Magie: But it took a rediscovery for me. And once that happened, that’s when the company really grew tremendously. Then it sold to Campbell.
Chris: Wait a second, so you’re saying you had this foundation of fear, or this need to prove something, and there was a moment that the growth really took over when you started to identify your purpose in doing it from a different place.
Chris: What are some of the thoughts and feelings you had that helped you move over into purpose?
Magie: Well, I think that I was at a place where I knew that I couldn’t please anybody else.
Magie: And I had to be in a place of, “Okay, why am I here? Why am I living, existing?” There’s a purpose for each and every one of us in this time and space. And if you are not walking in it, you’re not going to find that fulfillment in life. You have to truly discover that or rediscover in my case ... Because when you live a meaningful life, then life is worth living, truly.
Growing your entrepreneur family
Chris: That’s awesome. You said something backstage that struck me. And it was about the poll that you took. Can you tell us more about the story of the poll?
Magie: So, it is very, very important to understand that when you have a culture, but also when you are dealing with your customers and clients, you always want to grow and you always want to discover what their interests are and how you can make a more prosperous business in both ways. So, my brother and I conducted a poll, not only to our manufacturing plant but also to many other manufacturing plants. And the poll was based on what people care the most about. One of them was money. The other one was the environment. The other one was growth. And the other one was family. And guess what came up first?
Chris: Not money.
Magie: Family was number one.
Chris: That’s awesome.
Magie: They wanted to have a sense of family. The second one was environment. They wanted to have a good environment. And last was money. Last was money. And it was really a true eye-opening moment for me. My mother actually came to visit the manufacturing plant where we were really growing. And she was sitting in my office when one of my team members, his name is Lonnie, knocked on the door. I said, “Yeah, come in.” And he says, “Magie, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to let you know that somebody threw beer bottles at the building outside, and I cleaned them up for you. Okay?” And I said, “Thank you, Lonnie.” I gave him a hug and he left. And then my mother said, “Wow, they really care about you.” And I said, “Mom, that’s really a family.”
Chris: That’s awesome.
Magie: That’s when I knew that we were in the right track of understanding — the fact that she was able to see that. I think it goes back to a moment in the orphanage when I was living with all those kids, that there was no culture. It was just two caregivers and all of us, and we grew ourselves up. So, I always live by trying to see how other people live their lives and how I can make it better or try not to repeat other people’s mistakes.
Chris: That’s good. One of the things that we talk about a lot is how entrepreneurship is super difficult. Success is no accident, you’ve got to do the work. And one of the things that we talk about is that you need to have your entrepreneurial family with you. You and your business, going from $800 to this hugely successful salsa business, you have these stages. What’s your entrepreneurial family, your support system that you’ve had? Has it always been the same or has there been different families along the way? Talk to me about your entrepreneurial family.
Magie: So, part of building that entrepreneur family really goes down to my why. Why am I doing what I’m doing? And what’s the purpose behind it? I’ll tell you a quick story. When I started my salsa company, I actually got rejected by 90 different stores, and finally Whole Foods wanted it. So their ask was a ton of salsa. At that time I was only making like 250 pounds a week, and they wanted a ton for one week. I didn’t know how to hire people. I went to the SBA and they told me, “Go to the state and they’ll provide.” So I called them and the next day I had 20 people, exactly what I needed. And I was like, “Wow, this is pretty cool.”
I remember I put them in a room, and I got up in the center of the room and said, “Hey, guys, my name is Maria Magdalena De la Cruz Cook-Garcia. I have an awesome pico de gallo salsa. I know you guys would love it. And look, Whole Foods wants it. We’re going to be amazing. Guess what, we’re going to become the largest fresh salsa company in the US, and you guys are going to help me take it there.” And they were like, “Oh my gosh. Yes. We’re so excited.” So, I remember we started production, and every day I would buy them lunch. And we would always talk about how we could improve production. When we finished that little talk with everybody, everybody was always so excited.
We were sitting on the rocks outside and this African American guy stayed behind. And I said, “Hey, what’s up? What’s going on?” He said, “Magie, I just wanted to tell you thank you so much for hiring me, because nobody else would hire me.” And I said, “Why not? You’re awesome.” He says, “Well, I just came out of prison, and I did this, this and that.” And I was like, “La la la la la la. I don’t want to know anything. Listen, you’re awesome. Just go.” So, I was like, Oh my God, I have a convicted felon ... So, I went outside and called the state. I said, “Hey, you sent me a guy from prison.” He says, “Oh yeah, they’re all from prison.” But they were the best working people I ever had, because I took them with my why.
It’s part of building that family. And it’s putting that thought in, that idea of what would Magie do in any situation? It’s part of the bigger why, it’s taking you with me. So, out of that birthed enthusiasm. They were compensated for any new ideas, which made them want to create new ideas to make it better. And that’s really how it grew. I think with everything in a business, it’s all about energy. You do attract that which you are and that which you put out. So, you begin to manifest the people, places and circumstances to take you closer to your goal. And that’s really how you begin to grow a big family.
The value of perfecting the game inside
Chris: That’s amazing. Did you have any idea the business would have the exit or the wild success that it had?
Chris: You were just going after it.
Magie: No, but I did make affirmations. Sometimes I had to pinch myself, and I would meditate and manifest these things. When I manifested the Walmart contract, I was like, “The largest supermarket in the world’s going to call me.” I didn’t say the name, because I didn’t want to limit myself. And when they called me, I told my business partner. And she says, “It’s a prank, hang up.” So, it was Walmart. They’re like, “We looked at 10 companies online. We saw yours. We think yours is the best, you want to sell to Walmart?” So, I said, “Is this a prank?” They’re like, “No, we’re the real deal.”
Chris: They called you?
Magie: They called me.
Chris: That’s amazing.
Magie: A month later I was in Bentonville shaking the hand of the main guy for all the Walmarts and the Sam’s Clubs of the entire United States. And that’s really where everything began.
Chris: Man, that is amazing. What is the biggest business challenge you’ve ever had? Then, what did you do to overcome that business challenge?
Magie: I think it really goes back to feeling a fear of failure. That had to do tremendously with my father. That was a great challenge for me, because I didn’t want to fail. So, I was trying to figure out everything else that I could do to make it a success. But then I knew. I didn’t know at the time, but that fear was holding me back. And that is very challenging, because I could have been stuck. I do coach people, and a lot of people come to me and they say, “Oh, I have this block in business, and I can’t get ahead.” And nine times out of 10, it has nothing to do with the business. But something that is very personal to them that they haven’t fixed from an earlier time. So, sometimes we have to look within in order to work the great things outside of us.
Chris: That’s amazing. One of the things, the theme that I really picked up from you, is that there is a self discovery that it seems like you’re constantly doing.
Chris: So, you went from being able to prove it to living in purpose. What were some of the things you did that got you to see that self discovery, the things you were thinking, the mindset you had, the fears, the questions, the thoughts? A lot of us aren’t necessarily that self-aware. What was something that got you to that layer to start thinking and feeling that way?
Magie: I think the biggest thing that I had the realization of was remember to remember. We are so much more powerful than we think we are. Here’s the thing, every morning when we wake up, we forget. It’s like a control, alt, delete, right? So, every morning you have to remember to remember that you are so much more than what you see, so much more than what you think, so much more than what others think of you. When you live in a stage of knowing that you are just a spiritual being, having a human experience, then you become limitless in a way that nothing stops you — only your thinking. And nobody else outside of you can waver you because you’re so centered in who you know you really are.
Chris: That’s awesome. So, one of the things that I think is really interesting is just knowing our value as entrepreneurs, as leaders, whether you’re leading self, leading others or leading the business. What do you believe is the most valuable thing that Magie Cook brings to this world?
Magie: I think humility is important and always remembering where you came from. But also knowing that you have to put yourself in other people’s shoes. You have to listen to them to understand them in order to create that connection, in order to create that growth. Whatever it is, even in your personal life, even if it’s a business. So, it’s part of EQ, emotional intelligence, being vulnerable enough to accept that another person is real too, that they’re very real and they’re very much like you. Being able to listen to them, and put yourself in their shoes and see the world how they see it in order to be able to help them — I think that’s a gift that every one of us has.
Chris: Well, you seem to have learned a lot from experience.
Chris: I like something that you said about being able to learn from other people’s mistakes. What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s ever given you?
Magie: Best piece of advice? Ooh, that’s a tough one.
Chris: I’m asking some tough ones up here.
Magie: I think one goes back to when I was a basketball player in high school. I was told by my coach that it didn’t matter how nice our uniforms were. If we sucked, then we weren’t anything, right? So, it’s important ... What we are outside has nothing to do with what we are inside. So, if we can perfect the game inside, I think that can bring us limitless success.
When one door closes…
Chris: Okay. That’s super good. Perfect the game inside. That’s amazing. What’s next for you?
Magie: So, right now I’m speaking. By the way, most of what is made off speaking and selling books goes back to Mexico, the orphanage and kids and all that, human sex trafficking. So, what’s next is continuing to speak on stages, and we are working on a movie.
Chris: Oh, wow. You heard it here, that’s amazing.
Magie: Hopefully I’ll be able to inspire and make a difference in a bigger way.
Chris: That’s amazing. We talk about success being no accident. You were talking about manifesting too. But what is something that seemed so accidental that happened, that was so amazing? And it could be personal or business.
Magie: That was accident?
Chris: Yeah. It seemed like an accident. Right? You stumbled into it.
Magie: So, when I was in high school, I got recruited to play basketball for the Mexican national team. And we went to Mexico City, they recruited me. Then I came back and waited for three months and never heard from them. Then my father introduced American football, and I broke my collarbone. He told me, he’s a doctor, “Your dreams are over.” I cried, but I just believed that there was something better. If this happened, there must be something better. That’s been the mentality. So, three days later they called, and I couldn’t go. And I was like, “Ah.”
Chris: Oh my goodness.
Magie: But luckily that summer my parents took a bus to the United States with all my 68 siblings. We got invited to a picnic in West Virginia. There was a basketball court and there happened to be the coach of the University of Charleston. She saw me play, and she told my father, “I want her to come play for me on a scholarship.”
Chris: No way.
Magie: That’s why I’m here today. But if I would’ve listened to my father as a doctor and said, “My dreams are over,” I wouldn’t have played that day. I wouldn’t be speaking to you today.
The secret to salsa and success
Chris: Man, that’s amazing. That is amazing. All right. So, we have this thing called rapid fire.
Chris: Okay? It’s going to be kind of fun. We called it lightning round yesterday, but it’s really called rapid fire. I have seven questions for you. Give me your shortest answer, and we’ll go through. Okay. Ready?
Chris: Number one, what is the secret to making really good salsa?
Magie: Ooh, I’ll have to kill you. I’m just kidding.
Chris: You signed a contract.
Magie: The secret to the secret ingredient, it’s you.
Chris: Oh, there we go.
Magie: Because there’s so many products out there. I think it’s the why, the passion to make something come true. The secret is you.
Chris: And doing that at scale, that’s the clicker.
Chris: All right. Number two, you provide a lot of inspirational content on Instagram. What inspires you?
Magie: What inspires me? Being able to make a difference. If I get a lot of messages of people saying, “Oh my gosh, this was right for me today.” That makes my heart sing.
Chris: That’s awesome. All right, number three, aside from Mexican food, what other culinary regions do you like to explore?
Magie: I’m vegan, so I just eat as fresh as possible. I just found everybody’s different and that’s okay. I just find that it gives me a lot of energy, and I feel more alive when I eat that way.
Chris: All right. That’s awesome. Do you still eat your own salsa?
Magie: Hell yeah.
Chris: All right. Couple more. Number five, what’s your pet peeve?
Magie: That is something that I don’t like, right?
Chris: Yeah. You particularly do not like, yes.
Magie: Do not like. I do not like to be around people who are negative.
Chris: Okay. There we go. There we go. Number six, what are your three core values?
Magie: I think, always treating others like I was treating myself. Always remembering my purpose daily. And always remembering where I came from and staying humble.
Chris: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Last question.
Chris: Let’s say you have a billboard on the side of a highway that only female business owners drive by. What is the single message or piece of advice that you would share with those ladies?
Magie: I would say do not compare yourself with anyone else. When you even compare yourself to say “equal to men,” you begin to lose. You’re already losing. I would say that you are so much more powerful than you know, than you think you are. And you become limitless when you have that understanding.
Chris: I love it. Awesome. Thanks for coming.
Magie: Thank you.
Chris: So glad to have you.
Magie: Thank you so much.
Chris: Yeah, absolutey.
Magie: Thank you.