Kevin, Garrett and Joe are the founders of Wax & Wick, a store that sells small batch, hand-crafted, 100% soy candles with wood wicks.
Find out how this trio of entrepreneurs managed to drive traffic from Reddit: home of one the most notoriously marketing-averse communities online.
In this episode, we discuss:
- How to delegate tasks to your team and ensure the work gets done.
- How to know if you should find a partner or outsource.
- How to avoid getting burned when posting your business on Reddit.
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Felix: Today I’m joined by Kevin, Garret and Joe from Wax and Wick, which is at waxandwick.co. Wax and Wick sells small batch, hand crafted, 100% soy candles with wood wicks and was started in 2015 and based out of Chicago, Illinois. Welcome guys.
Kevin: Thank you.
Felix: Tell us a little bit more about your store and what are these candles that you sell?
Kevin: We started in 2015 and the candles are all small batch, hand crafted, 100% soy and we use real scents instead of flowery scents, think woodsy instead of flowery. We just found the highest quality glass and the best manufacturer we could while keeping the costs low and the profits high.
Felix: Very cool. How did you come up with the idea for this product? Like you were saying, it’s different then what you typically find when you walk into any big retailer. You said wood scents rather then flowery scents. What made you focus on that specific angle?
Kevin: We started out trying to become a man candle company. We realized that there was a broader audience then just men buying candles. We kind of focused, instead of on manly scents, just real woodsy scents instead of the typical lavender and linen scents. We wanted to find something that was more realistic. We went on down the line and found the best fragrance companies we could and just picked through their stock and used our noses to find the ones that were the closest representation of what we were looking for. It was built for us and we just moved it out to the public.
Felix: You started out wanting to be a man candle company. I’ve never heard that phrase before but that definitely makes sense now that I think about it. How did you know or how did you find out that you guys weren’t going big enough, that there was anther big market that you didn’t tap into?
Kevin: I think a lot of what we found was that when we did our research to see what the demographics were of who purchased candles, we found that most of the time it was women who purchased candles. What we also found is that a lot of women actually do like the scents of woodsy smells or real scents, per say. Not all of our scents are woodsy, but they are definitely real scents. They are not made up names or made up fragrances that you see in a lot of different candle stores and out at your general retailer.
Felix: Makes sense. Did you guys have experience starting businesses? Are you entrepreneurs in your past? What was your background prior to coming together to start this business?
Kevin: Garret would be our head entrepreneur here. We all have day jobs currently, but Garret would be our head entrepreneur here. We all have side businesses that have failed and this is kind of our venture that is the most profitable for us. I used to run a record label a bunch of years ago, that didn’t work out. I’m an engineer by day, Garret runs his own company and Joe’s an IT professional, so we have a little bit of experience, but we all just wanted to have something on the side protecting our futures basically. Garret and I have children and Joe has a mortgage to pay. The real important thing is making sure we’re set up in the future for when anything happens you know?
Felix: Was the goal for all of you to just have some income of your own, like diversified income, so that you could be protected or you could pay for any upcoming expenses? What was the original goal when you got into starting a business together?
Garrett: We all wanted to get into the e-commerce field just because we see that’s where the markets are going. Wax and Wick was a good way to test that market and see how viable it was for us.
Felix: You said that you all had side businesses, or some of you had side businesses that did not work out, that did fail. What do you think was different about other businesses compared to Wax and Wick that changed things for you where you actually did finally start getting traction and actually were able to set up a business that was getting sales and that was a legit business and wasn’t a failure like the past ones?
Kevin: We originally tried to seek out a manufacturer for our candles and then we realized that we could just do it better. We found that when we started doing it ourselves, the product was 100% better then anybody else’s product out there. When we first received our samples from the company that we reached out to, everything smelled like leather. We kind of went back to the drawing bard and realized that we could make these candles in our kitchen and eventually ramp it up to actual production in a manufacturing facility.
I guess the failures of the past, for me, lie in … I didn’t have any support group. There’s three of us that are running this, so if one person’s lagging the other two guys pick it up. If two guys are lagging the one guys running the show. We can just separate duties and separate our responsibilities and cut it up so we’re all making strides forward and it’s never backward and there’s nothing ever falling by the wayside, nothing’s never missed. Our original failures for me were, just not having enough time in the day and just being a one man show. Having two other guys to help out is key.
Garrett: I think one other thing that’s helped to make us successful is we’re not bound by geographic region to our local radius of 20, 50, 100 miles. Breaking into the e-commerce space has really allowed us to branch out to people who have an interest in the same product worldwide. There’s not a country that we won’t ship to if there’s somebody who’s interested in the product. We found that we’ve had a lot of interest in the UK, Europe, and other countries out there. I think that also being able to sell online in the e-commerce business. Shopify has definitely empowered us to expand our global markets.
Felix: When you were trying other businesses in the past, those were all local businesses and not online? Is that what you’re getting at?
Garrett: That’s correct. We’ve all done local brick and mortar retail businesses. Not to say they haven’t had some success or been successful. Again, it’s much more limiting when you’re working in a local area radius of 100 even 250 miles, if some of the businesses have been service businesses. Being that we’re able to find customers worldwide or nationwide really is at this point what we really focus on has really been helpful. We found interest in all parts of the country.
Felix: For any other listeners out there that are in that situation where they have experience selling locally, or have local businesses or local services, and want to make this transition online. What skillsets do you think that you guys had to learn or pick up when you made that transition into e-commerce?
Kevin: I think that there’s a lot that’s involved. A lot that we had underestimated. A lot that we really had to spend a lot of time figuring out that you can pay consultants to help you with. You’re really trying to figure out who your target market is, the best way to target them, whether it be through ads online or being able to really figure out how to get a good design that will capture your audiences attention.
When you think of a website and being able to capture your audience, you have just a few seconds before somebody decides whether or not the web page they’re on is something that they have further interest in and continue to browse your site for other products and services that you offer or if they’re going to move on to the next site. I think the one thing that we really had to spend the time to figure out is how to get a good, return on people that want to stay on the site and purchase something. We’ve done that through branding and through the look and feel of our website, so a lot of that is graphic design stuff, how to target your customers. There’s definitely been some uphill battles that we’ve been successful at winning at this point.
Felix: You certainly do have a lot less time to make a good first impression online compared to offline because like you’re saying, people are just a click away, they can come to your side and if they don’t like the way it’s presented, they don’t like the design, it’s very easy for them to leave. That’s different when you’re working people face to face in a local business selling local products or local services. People aren’t as likely to walk away as you’re talking to them like they would online.
What about the skill sets that transferred over well? What things did you take from the offline world that you definitely continue to use now that you’re selling in e-commerce?
Kevin: Just the ability to delegate certain tasks to people that are better at doing it then we are. We certainly have our skill sets. Joe’s good with graphic design, I’m good at copy writing, Garret’s a very good salesman and pitchman, but there’s just certain things that we are not very good at. We are not the best photographers, we are not the best marketers. We’re trying to be better then everybody else at that, but if we can hire somebody to do that work for us, we can take something away from it so that the next time we attempt to take that off the list, then we can handle it. Until then, delegation for us has been absolutely crucial.
Felix: Because this is all very new for you guys because you spent so much time selling and creating businesses offline. Now that this is the e-commerce space, what do you think it is then about the combination of you guys that allows you to be successful? Because the way that you talk about this it sounds like it’s still very much a learning process for all of you, but you have a business that’s generating sales. What is it that you think actually gives you the ability to create a business online even though it’s so new for you?
Kevin: I think one of the major things that allows us to be successful is that we really stick to our true core values. Number one being the type of product that we offer. Number two being that the product we offer needs to be the best. In picking out the fragrances that we have, we only have a small handful, where as if you go to a candle store you’re probably going to find a couple hundred if not more fragrances that they offer. We’ve gone through hundreds and hundreds of fragrances to narrow it down to the very select handful that we have. Everything goes through heavy testing to make sure that it is a product that everybody would like, a product that belongs either on a retail site or our website.
Being able to offer something that is really been tested in high quality and value has really allowed us to succeed. Making sure that anybody who purchases is going to get what it is that they were hoping for and I think that we stand behind our product. If anyone has issues we’re more than happy to work with them on that. We’ve really found that being true to ourselves, being true to the product and being true to our customers has really been helpful for us.
Felix: How do you make sure that comes across? I hear what you’re saying about having a great products so that when people do buy your products and do use it they really appreciate it and understand the value that you’re providing so they’ll come back and buy from you again, but for the first time visitor or first time potential customer, how do you make sure those things come across? Like you’re talking about the true values that you guys have. How do you make sure that actually comes across for someone that’s brand new to finding out about your brand?
Garrett: We allow all of our users to leave a review if they choose to do so once they purchase a candle. As you know, the market has really trended towards reviews, so if they see the reviews of other customers that have purchased the product, then a lot of times that’s going to help them in their buying decisions. I think the reviews have been very helpful in getting people to purchase the products.
Felix: Makes sense. Even though they haven’t experienced it yet, but because you have a great product and you put it into the hands of past customers, those reviews have convinced or helped you sell additional products to new customers.
Felix: Makes sense. One thing I want to touch on is that, just hearing you guys talk, you talk a lot about what’s been successful for you guys is that you’re able to work as a team, you’re able to work with each other. I heard a lot about delegation, about hiring, about obviously your three person partnership. Let’s start with the partnership first, what steps did you guys take early on to make sure that this would be a solid partnership? Because I think this is a real concern for a lot of new business owners, anyone that’s listening, that’s thinking about starting a business with a partner. They’ve heard the horror stories about partnerships gone bad, or they’ve heard about people not holding their weight. What did you guys do to make sure that you were set up for success in your partnership?
Kevin: When Joe and I started out, we’ve been friends for 15 years, so it was really easy to become partners. We hadn’t done anything in business before, but I have a tattoo shop, Garrett has his closed circuit television company, and Joe’s got a computer website on the side for helping with-
Garrett: With a help desk.
Kevin: A help desk, yeah. Choosing our partners was relatively easy because we’ve all been friends for 15 plus years. Our successes in the retail and brick and mortar space has just kind of been a catalyst for seeing the way we all can work together. If we can all run businesses separately, I don’t think there should be any difficulty running one together.
Felix: What do you think about people that do say that you should never start a business with friends or family because it could ruin friendships and relationships with your family. What are your thoughts on that statement?
Garrett: You’ve got to be careful, you can’t just get into business with any friend. It’s got to be a friend that you know you’re going to work well with. As you get older, it’s harder and harder to make friends, so the last thing you want to do is burn a bridge with a good friend. Really, it just comes down to knowing your friends and knowing you you’re going to work well with.
Felix: Makes sense. Obviously it worked out for you guys because you all have different skill sets that you bring to the table. If you’re to give advice to somebody that’s thinking about partnering up with one or two other people, are there things that you guys would answer together to figure out if you would make a good partnership?
Kevin: I mean we kind of just are flying by the seat of our pants really when it came down to it. We started out really knowing each other, but not knowing each other’s businesses. The best advice I would say is, just don’t dive in too deep. You have to test the waters before you fully give up any control. If somebody brings something good to the table, awesome, but you got to makes sure you can let them out. If they’re not bringing anything to the table, then it’s just going to dissolve more quickly than you can imagine.
Garrett: I think one thing that’s really been helpful for us to make sure that we don’t end up in that position is, all of us determined where our commitment was to making this business work in terms of time involved, what was needed financials, and everything that we could possibly think of to make that happen, and also having an exit plan, if somebody wanted out, that that option was available and nobody would have hard feelings. Of course that’s hard to say, when somebody is ready to exit, but at this point it’s worked out well knowing what the commitment is to the company regardless of other personal things that happen in life that we do have a commitment to this company, to make it work. We’re all keeping to that commitment which has really helped us become successful at this point.
Kevin: We’ve also separated our tasks and responsibilities, so that way we’re not all stepping on each other because if you’re working on the same things, then you could cause some friction. We separate everything, and we know what our responsibilities and goals are, and we all keep each other accountable to maintain those goals.
Felix: I like the idea of exit plans to make sure that there is a way, even though you never use it, just thinking that far ahead, it makes I think, everyone feel comfortable getting involved in the first place knowing that if they had to make a decision to leave, it’s kind of already planned out, not planned out, but you already know the process for that.
I think another thing that you guys touched on that makes a lot of sense, is the priorities thing and about how much time commitment everybody has. I’ve seen a lot of partnerships dissolve or have really bad breakups because people don’t have the same priorities, where this might be a number one priority for one business owner, but the other business owner has something else going on and it’s a secondary priority. You can’t have that forever because eventually you get to a point where someone is putting in way more effort, is way more committed than the other, and that’s when resentment builds up. That’s when things really come to a head.
You also talked about the separation of tasks and responsibilities. I think that’s also important to lay out as soon as possible so that when the race starts and everything is going so quickly, you don’t want to spend too much time discussing “Hey are you doing this or am I doing this?” It just slows things down and also could end up in a lot of disagreements because it wasn’t laid out up front. How did you guys approach this? How do you decide, who should be taking on what from the beginning, and then as tasks, as responsibilities come in, how do you delegate those as well?
Kevin: I think it’s a matter of figuring out who would be best fit for the task based on what the task is and what our skill set is. Being that we do have a prior relationship to the company, we’re all in tune to what each of us are very good at. That helped figure out what tasks should be assigned to what person. I think that’s been one thing for us.
Joe: Yeah and we talk it out. We use [G channel 00:20:02] app or Google Hangout, and we just discuss what’s going to work best, who’s going to do this the best. Then we kind of figure out who wants to handle different things. We usually have a running drive or some sort of Excel sheet, so that way we all know, “Is it completed? Yes or no.” That way we don’t have to ask each other, we just know where we’re at with that project.
Garrett: We’re looking into the Pulse, different things like that, different project management solutions, just to make things a little more robust.
Kevin: I think that’s one thing that should definitely be notated. Although we’re all three friends and from generally the same area, there is definitely a 45 to an hour difference in time between where we all live, so being able to keep tasks organized online and being able to have a transparent view of what the other people are doing is really helpful in seeing where things stand, what needs to be accomplished still, and really helping us juggle the tasks at hand.
Felix: Now if I want to think way far out into the future, let’s say Wax & Wick has become super successful, and you guys are thinking about starting something new again, maybe you sold the company, you’re thinking about starting something new, based on your experience so far working within a partnership, do you, not so much would you want to, but do you feel like you would succeed on your own or would you feel, based on your experience so far, would you feel like you always would want to partner up moving forward? Is that almost like a prerequisite now now that you guys have experience in this, or maybe we’d love to hear from each one of you, what are your thoughts on that?
Garrett: Yeah absolutely. I would definitely want to go back in business with these two. Just because they have different things to add to the mix than I do. Joe’s great at graphic designs, web design, different things like that. Kevin’s great with social media, social marketing, so we all have different things to lend. I definitely wouldn’t want to do it alone because it just wouldn’t work as effectively. I would definitely go back in business with them again. We’re also talking about starting another company down the road, so we’ve already kind of started moving forward with some other things.
Kevin: I would agree with what Garrett said, I definitely would go into business with these guys again. It’s definitely, there’s difficulties in doing so, but at the end of the day, we’ve got three brains versus one. Being able to set our differences aside, and being able to determine what’s best for the company, what’s best for the future of the company, is really helpful in having other people’s views and being able to see we’re not selling to just ourselves, we’re selling to the public. There’s going to be different opinions and being able to figure out what it is that’s going to make us successful definitely helps by having other great business partners that put in their opinions and views and none of us are hurt by the other’s opinion, even if it goes against my thought or any of their thoughts.
Joe: To add to that, three brains are definitely better than one. When it comes down to it, having a single founder for a company, you end up at the end of the day spreading yourself too thin, and there’s really nobody to bounce ideas off of. If I have an idea in the middle of the day, I can just shoot a Google Hangout to these guys and just ask for an opinion. It could be 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’d get an answer, or I’ll get an answer the next morning.
If there’s any difference of opinion, we just talk it out. We’re three grown adults. We have a pretty good rapport with one another. We can just really move forward on anything with the tree brains working together. I certainly would continue doing business with these guys. The next ventures are coming around the corner, and when they do come around the corner it’s going to be the three of us, I think for the long haul here.
Felix: This is a question that’s actually come up a few times with entrepreneurs that I’ve spoken to recently, which is they are solo founders and they are trying to make it work. Obviously struggling because … not obviously, but harder because, again, they’re only one brain and you guys, like you’re saying, three brains are better than one.
If you already have an existing business and are struggling, and feel like the issues, because you don’t have someone to bounce ideas off of, or you feel like you don’t have the time or expertise to handle everything, do you think that it’s a good idea to partner up when you already have an existing business? Let’s say it is also a business that has some revenue, that is profitable, but just not to the point where you want it to be. What are your thoughts on that? Would you ever partner up, or bring on a partner if you started a business by yourself and are struggling or just feel like it should be bigger than it is currently?
Kevin: Absolutely. I think if you’re in business and the business is doing well, but there’s still certain things missing, I would say you should definitely get a partner, but just make sure you’re very careful on who you take on. Also, make sure that they have the skills that you’re missing. You don’t want to have the exact same skills because then you’re just going to be butting heads all the time. Not only that, what’s the point of bringing somebody on, if they’ve got the same skill set as you?
You’re going to want to find somebody who’s got different skill sets than you. Really do your homework. Make sure that they’re a good, honest person, and that they’re going to contribute to your success. The track record is super important. Essentially, you’re just going to want to make sure they have skills that you’re lacking, that are going to help your company succeed.
Garrett: If you just go and kind of pick a random person, or don’t flush out who they are before you take them on, you could certainly complicate any strife or problems that you already have.
Joe: Definitely leave an out, like a 90 day grace period, six month grace period, something like that, so that way if it doesn’t work out, you can just shake hands, walk away. If you’ve invested all your time and money into this company, be very careful on how you commit to that agreement.
Felix: I like that idea of having a set period of time. One thing that I was thinking about when you guys were talking about not going fully in too deep when you are just beginning a partnership, one approach that I’ve seen work well is just work on a small project together. It could be a little related or it could be unrelated to what you guys might eventually want to build together, but just to feel each other out.
I think this idea of finding a partner, is just like any other thing you do when it comes to marketing or starting a business. You want to try and test out how this can work in a small scale first, and if it does work then you try to scale it up, then you go really deep and invest everything into it. The way you do your marketing, the way you grow your business, should be the same thing, I think, when it comes to partnerships. Test it out on a smaller scale, if it seems to work at a smaller scale, then you start basically turning it into a real partnership.
One thing you guys mentioned was about not picking a partner that has the same skill set as you. Which is funny because a lot of times we gravitate towards people that are like us, that are interested in the same things, that are good at the same things, and we start to think since we already have so much in common, they must be a good partner. When it comes to business, when it comes to finding a partnership you’re saying this is definitely true, is that you want to find someone that compliments you, that fills in the gaps that you’re missing and you fill in the gaps that they’re missing.
How do you identify that? How do you take an objective look at yourself? What do you guys do, I’m sure there’s no process you follow, maybe uncover for us, what’s the thought process that you go through to find out what you’re not good at and what you are good at, so you know what kind of partner to bring on or what kind of person to hire even?
Kevin: Well, I know what my strengths are and I know what my weaknesses are. It really just comes down to being honest with yourself and just knowing what you’re not good at. Once you figure that out, then the rest is easy. You just got to find somebody who offers things that you’re lacking and take it from there.
Garrett: It’s really about dropping your ego. Anytime that we enter a room, the three of us, we leave the ego at the door and we can discuss things the way they’re supposed to be discussed. It’s not about who’s right, it’s about what is best for the company. I don’t remember who this quote should be attributed to, but it kind of goes along the lines of “If you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
Joe: If you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’ve got to change the room. Something like that.
Garrett: Whatever it is, we can leave here and we can think whatever we want about ourselves, but at the end of the day, it’s best to admit to yourself, if you’re just not good at something, find somebody who’s better than you at that, and make a friend. There’s nothing to lose by learning something from somebody else, and the only way to do that is to drop any type of ego you have … and just absorb any information somebody will give you and go from there really.
Felix: There’s also a dangerous area where you can get into where there is a task, a responsibility, that is a gray area, it’s something, a skill set that is required, let’s say a task comes out online, and some of you might feel “I could get good at that” or “I’m kind of good at it, I could get better at it.” How do you decide to say, “no, let’s hire somebody for that” versus getting someone to just spend the time to get better at it. How do you make that decision?
Garrett: We have actually had different projects where we’ve spent three months, just because our time, we don’t have a ton of time, so it takes a lot longer for us to do certain tasks, just because there’s only so many hours in the day. We realized that delegating is key. This one project, we spent three months on it, and then we’re like “You know what”, one night we’re all on Hangout, and just decided “You know what, let’s try and outsource this.” We outsourced it and literally it was done in three days. Something that we had been working for three months was done in three days.
It was a minimal cost to get it done, but we’ve really learned that delegating is key, so key. We can’t learn everything, we can’t do everything, so we have to delegate, and have people do what they’re good at and we’ll do what we’re good at.
Felix: How do you decide, again if you’re a solo founder, how do you decide if you have a task, have an area of your business that you just don’t have the skill set for, how do you know whether you should hire somebody to do it as like an outsource freelancer like you just talked about in your example, or bring on a partner that’s good at that thing. How do you make that distinction?
Kevin: I think if its’ one task, sure you can go and find it on Elance, or …
Kevin: Or oDesk.
Garrett: If it’s a one off project, you think you can’t complete it, then go talk to somebody and pay them an hourly wage. If you’re just not good at more than one thing, and you think you could really benefit from having another brain or another set of hands, or another set of eyes looking at it, then definitely look for a co-founder or 2 co-founders in our case.
Kevin: I think what it comes down to is really, sort of what we touched on earlier, is knowing what your good at and knowing what you’re not good at, and really leaving your ego at the door. You know, the truth of it is, nobody can be good at everything, and if you’re true to yourself and know what you’re not the master at, it makes it a lot more reasonable to want to go out and find somebody who can do the job and do it to the best of their knowledge or to fit the goals and needs of the company. I think we want to keep everything as strong and as good as possible and so that really helps knowing that it needs to be up to par, and if it’s not, we need to go out and find somebody who can do it up to par.
Felix: Yeah I want about outsourcing a little bit more because I think, again this is a stage that a lot of entrepreneurs get … they don’t get tripped up on this, but it does slow their business down. They get to a point where they have a strategy or they have a task that they need to get done, a project they need to get done, like the three month project that you guys talked about, and then they try to persist.
I think as entrepreneurs, what we’re really good at is persistence. Just sticking it out, trying to figure it out, trying to figure it out. Sometimes it’s better not for you to do it, like you’re saying you find someone else to do it for you. Do you always take this approach where you guys try to do it first internally and then hire out for it, or are you at this point now where you’re like "let’s just hire out for everything that that’s not part of our core competency?
Kevin: I think that’s sort of where the learning process comes in that we’ve talked about. Part of the learning process is that the first time around we spent three months trying to accomplish something that we could have easily outsourced and had done in three days, as we eventually did, so part of the learning process as any entrepreneur knows, no entrepreneur wants to believe that they can’t do something. Part of the mindset of being an entrepreneur is that you will be successful, you will make it happen, and you will make it work.
Some of the learning process is determining and figuring out that you may not be the best fit for that specific task, and being able to delegate that or get a contractor in for that specific task. I think that part of the learning process for us has been trying to figure out where the time needs to be invested, and whether or not our time is best invested into a specific project and if not, outsourcing it, and of course figuring out the cost of outsourcing and whether or not it’s financially beneficial to do so.
Felix: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting point to, about whether it’s financially beneficial or not, this kind of cost benefit analysis, because there are certain tasks that will clearly save you money if you outsource it, then there are others that are just saving you time. You can argue, obviously, that time is more valuable than money. How do you approach this? How do you decide or how do you calculate whether it’s going to be a good move or not to outsource something? Again looking at the time savings or the actual money savings.
Garrett: A lot of times we will try and do the task on our own. Then if it ends up taking too much time, or we’re just lacking the talent to do it, then we’ll just go ahead and delegate from there.
Kevin: It’s just being able to recognize that we can or can’t do something, I think that’s part of our … we can pick out our weaknesses. We see what we’re good at and what we’re bad at, and going through and … there’s a learning curve to it. When we first started out, we made the candles ourselves in my mom’s kitchen. Then it turned into Joe’s kitchen. Then we took it to somewhere else, to make sure that we could fulfill orders and it was perfect every single time. We recognized that we couldn’t do it, all hands on by ourselves, and then made the decision to outsource it. That’s kind of the first step we took into outsourcing. Before that, we didn’t do any type of outsourcing at all, but once we recognized our weaknesses, we could capitalize on that by hiring somebody to do it better than us.
Joe: It’s all hand crafted still, small batch, the process hasn’t changed in any way, it’s just moved from our hands to another company here in Chicago that’s going … they handle all fulfillment, they handle everything for us. Literally, now all we have to do is handle the marketing, handle the website, we can really focus on what’s important to us. We were doing everything, we were boxing the candles, we were shipping the candles, we were making the candles. At the end of the day, we just realized, we can’t do everything. We need to focus on what’s going to grow the company, and that’s not personally hand making the candles ourselves so we moved that out.
Since then, our numbers have soared. Everything has changed just because now we can focus on growing instead of … now we’re working on the business, not in the business. I think that’s a really important piece to grow.
Felix: Other than the manufacturing, the other part that you’ve outsourced, I think you mentioned, oDesk which I think they’ve re-branded now to Upwork. [crosstalk 37:42] What is the hiring process like? How do you identify, because I think a bunch of us have used companies like Upwork or any other marketplace like this. You put up an ad, all of a sudden you get 60 people replying to you immediately, most of them probably didn’t even read the job listing, how do you make sure that you’re actually going to have a successful hire when you go through these marketplaces that are often, I wouldn’t call them spammy, but they’re not … it’s the highest quality, I guess, it’s not like you’re hiring somebody locally, for example, how do you make sure that you’re going to get a good result?
Kevin: Basically we look at their skill sets, make sure that they’re qualified to do what we want them to do. Then we look at the reviews, we read the reviews, and then from there we’ll do a small task for them, kind of test the water, make sure that they’re capable. If we’re still unsure, we’ll do another task, just a small one, and then we’ll actually do the real test, which is going to be the project. Trial and error is really the way to go. You’ve got to try a bunch of people sometimes to get the right one. We’ve had a lot of success with it, and we’ll for sure continue to use it.
Garrett: It’s like, when we first started we were looking to save money because we’re completely boot strapped. We went through Fiverr to have our logo design. We literally got back things that people crafted up in word that we could have done, and laughed at ourselves.
Joe: Which we knew was going to happen, but you know. It’s still fun to have the idea of a $5 logo. At the end of the day it just was not feasible and how much did it end up costing?
Garrett: It was $2.99 through 99designs. There was one guy that sent us a design that blew everybody else out of the water, and we would just continue using them for any design work that we couldn’t do ourselves.
Felix: Let’s talk about 99designs, I haven’t actually had that brought up on a podcast at all, but I’m also a big fan of them. For anyone that’s listening that doesn’t know how it works, tell us about 99designs and how you guys used them.
Kevin: I discovered them through Tim Ferriss’ podcast, and I used the discount code to catch a break on that first order. Basically you [big 39:58] a description of what you want designed, and it creates a contest and people will vie for your attention and send you different designs. You can pick through them, and have them make revisions until you’re satisfied and then you end up with the final copies. They are your property after it’s been created and handed over to you, but you can flush out anybody by the first design they send over. I think we got 102 designs over the course of six or seven days and we knew by day three who we were going with and just had them make revisions until we were happy.
For me, I think it was the easiest design process we’ve gone through, just because of the competition aspect of it. Those guys and girls are hungry and they’re looking to get their designs out there, and we got first, A-grade quality work from somebody. They turned into a, not really a team member, but whenever we go … extension of a team member.
Garrett: If we need someone to design something for us, they’re the first person we call, after we go through our lead designer here Joe.
Felix: Yeah I think with 99designs, again just to recap, it’s like a contest you’re essentially creating for people to create the best or the design that you want, and then you get to pick from the group and say “this is the one I want.” Like you were saying, it’s not just, you’re buying the logo or buying the design as-is, you can continue to work with them to get revisions made. Of course moving forward, because you have their contact information and everything, you can continue to work with them, without having to go through this whole contest phase again because it could take a couple of weeks. It could take a week at least.
How do you make sure when you are hiring people or freelancers, whether it be for design or whatever you’re using Upwork for, how do you make sure that the work gets done? Because these aren’t your partners. These aren’t people that you see face-to-face. They’re not coming into your office. How do you make sure that the work gets done?
Kevin: For design work, we like to eye it before we buy it, but really, at the end of the day, I think Garrett has a pretty good idea of how we handle the Upwork guys and-
Joe: Yeah we just don’t pay them until they’re done. They do the project when we say that it’s fulfilled, then we pay them. Pretty straightforward.
Felix: That make sense. Let’s start talking about the marketing. I think in the pre-interview phase, we were talking about what has been successful for you marketing-wise. You mentioned a couple of things, but I want to talk specifically about Reddit. You use Reddit a lot early on to get, I think it’s your first customer, and you still continue to drive traffic from Reddit. Tell us a little about, how did you get first customer through Reddit?
Garrett: Our first customer was actually through Instagram and it was a kid from Canada, that for some reason believed in us. It took us one full month to fulfill his order, and he’s still a repeat customer today. Which, I don’t know if that’s a win, but I think that we’ve done well with we captured our first customer, took a month to fulfill, and he still busy candles from us.
Felix: I think most people would be wondering where their money is at, but they believed in you that much, stuck around, that’s amazing. I guess Reddit specifically then, it wasn’t for your first customer, but you’ve driven traffic and sales from there, what worked through there? Because I think you mentioned this a little bit in the pre-interview, and I think anyone that’s been on Reddit, or tried to market through Reddit has gotten burned if they haven’t done it the right way. Tell us about the process that you’ve taken that has been successful for you.
Garrett: One thing that we did was, in the beginning we weren’t sure if we wanted to do a gender neutral candle or a man candle, so we wrote a small little piece on man candle versus gender neutral candle, and we explained our story, “We’re looking for a candle that is more masculine because it’s been hard for us to find those on the market, so we’re trying to create something that will fill that void.” When we wrote that, it just kind of blew up. We got tons and tons of comments, because we were asking somebody to engage. You’re like “Hey should we start this business and focus on one thing or another thing?” When you get people to engage, I think that’s really what helps things, not necessarily go viral, but go big.
Felix: You’re asking them these questions, were you getting involved without ever asking them to buy anything? Is that the key point?
Garrett: We weren’t asking them to buy anything. We were just like “Hey this is our company Wax & Wick. Go to waxandwick.co, kind of check out the brands, see what you think, and do you think we should do man candles or gender neutral candles?” Because I want to say, I don’t know the exact statistic, but 80 percent of candle buyers are women. That’s a pretty big statistic, and you’re going to eliminate them from the mix, and we were trying to figure out if that was a good idea. Niche businesses are really good, but at the same time we don’t want to narrow our audience too much, so we went on Reddit to get everybody’s opinion. That was, I’d say we got $5,000 in sales in the first day or two. It was insane. A couple of months later, we’re still getting orders from it. It was huge.
Kevin: There are some reddits that I personally use, so I think being a member of the community first, and engaging, not selling, not asking for opinions, but throwing a comment in here and there, and just being a member of the community first, kind of proves that you’re not just there to spam particular subreddits. Being a member of the community first has been really helpful for us.
Joe: It helps to because we read other people’s articles. Reddit’s amazing.
Felix: One thing about Reddit for anyone that hasn’t used it, is that it’s very easy to see comments and post history by user. I think this happens a lot where somebody will come in and post something or post a comment, and then people will dig through their history and find out that they’re just on the subreddit or in Reddit just spamming and not really participating in a way that it was designed for. For anyone out there that doesn’t use Reddit, the subreddit is just basically different topics, or I guess different large topics that people an discuss as a group.
For you guys, what subreddits, if you feel comfortable revealing them, what subreddits did you focus on early on? Before you answer that, because I think there’s this idea or question … or not question, but I think a lot of entrepreneurs will spend time in the business focused subreddits. Did you do that as well or were you more, focused on candle specific subreddits?
Kevin: I started out looking in the subreddit r/candlemaking and then just kind of put in my two cents, and tried to learn as much as a could. There were a couple of particular members that gave me some advice through private message that were really helpful, and that pushed us to moving to getting our candles manufactured by somebody that’s better at it than we are. Even though we had finally perfected, they let us know just to hand it off when we were able to.
Then there’s a new subreddit that we focused on called “artists and gifts”. That was a good subreddit. Then we looked at “male living space” and r/ecommerce and r/entrepreneur, just to get advice on the site. It’s not really a spot to brag. It’s a spot to find out what everybody else is doing, and share ideas. A lot of people are very private with their businesses and won’t reveal much because a lot of them are kind of FBA businesses, where if a niche flows up they’ll lose their money. We try to be as absolutely as transparent as possible and any time anybody asks us a question about what we’re using, especially in those subreddits, what we’re using to gain traction and find traffic, we have no problem telling them.
Felix: Has this transparency ever worked against you? Has it ever backfired? I think this is another topic that, or not a topic, another marketing, maybe not intentional marketing, but another angle that a lot of businesses have started where they are super transparent, talk about everything, it’s key topic on their blogs. They talk about their business, talk about their numbers. Obviously there are potential downsides to it. What are your thoughts on that? Have you ever come across or had any downsides from being too transparent?
Kevin: I mean there’s always a limit to transparency of course. We shouldn’t say that we’re 100 percent transparent. Not everything should be given away, but really are you going to put your trust in a company that’s not willing to tell you how they’re getting their traffic drawn to their website? It’s really about just being honest. I wouldn’t buy something from a company that was dishonest or was shady, or seemed like they didn’t want to share something with me because they thought that I was going to take something from them. There’s no reason that I’m going to steal your idea if … we’re willing to share because not everybody is going to be able to execute the way we do.
Felix: Right, makes sense. Are you still driving traffic from Reddit today, or was it just those original posts?
Garrett: Yeah there’s a subreddit that we not frequently post on, but we post on every, I believe it’s every 60 days is the limit. It’s r/shutupandtakemymoney. Whenever we post our candles on there, we seem to get a really good interest. We do test posts between, like a long form post, or a very simple post, and I think simplicity in that space is key. People aren’t really browsing there to looking to read sentences, they just want to see what the product is, click on it and pay for it, and then tell you either how terrible you are or how great you are.
Felix: I like that you mentioned the simplicity versus long form, because I’ve seen both as well, and I wondered for the longest time which was more effective. I think it makes sense in certain subreddits and maybe Reddit in general. A lot of people just, there’s just so much content on there that if you take up too much time, people are always asking “What’s the TLDR?” What’s it, too long; didn’t read or what’s the gist of this. I think that’s a good point that you want to keep it simple and don’t make it a wall of text if you are posting on Reddit.
How do you balance, I think obviously you can use Reddit, which is what you guys have been doing to integrate with the community. Obviously some people might want to also generate some sales for me. Get some return for the time that they’re spending in that community. How do you balance between making sure that you’re giving something back to the community, and also setting yourself up in a way that people want to buy from you? Are you putting out some call to action at the end for them to buy? They say because that will be very much of a hard sale, like a hard pitch. How do you balance between creating value and not pissing off everyone on Reddit but also making sure you’re still getting some return on the investment that you’re putting into the community.
Kevin: We like to put up a coupon code, like a discount that comes with our posts. It is a lot about giving back. We get valuable information there, and I think adding value to the community is important but also giving them the opportunity to buy what you’re selling and get real world advice is huge. We made a test post, well I did, on r/todayilearned, and I used one of my blog posts, and it got shut down immediately. There’s no back door to Reddit. You have to be a member of the community, you have to give back. The moderators will see immediately that, I think it’s for every 10 posts that you’re putting in, you have to take them back to.
When you’re putting up a post about “We’re selling candles”, we also have to be involved the other way around to. We have to be willing to take advice and willing to give advice that’s not related or participate in the community that has nothing to do with what we’re selling. It’s not one big hard sell on there. It’s kind of easing our brand onto people’s faces here and there. You can’t just walk into the male living space subreddit and say “Hey our candles will look great in your living room.” You’re going to end up getting downwards to the bottom of the page. Not only are you irrelevant but everybody hates you too.
Felix: I think Instagram you said, was the other channel and I think that might even be more successful than Reddit for you guys. Tell us a little bit of the strategy there. What has worked well for you on Instagram?
Garrett: For us it’s been content and engagement. Typically when we ask people to engage, they will not engage whatsoever, but if we’re engaging and commenting and liking on other people’s photos and seeming generally interested, which we are, it comes back to us, i think, I wouldn’t say tenfold but it comes back in a greater volume. A lot of our traffic is definitely from Instagram. We’re not quite up to doing a post a day, or four posts a day, like some people suggest, but we try to do a post every two days or every three days with real relevant content. We don’t want to just fill our feet up with trash.
There’s some companies that put up memes and unrelated content to just kind of get eyes on their Instagram. We like to curate and cultivate good, in the field pictures, and create a look book, I guess I’d call it.
Felix: Yeah, to actually see the product in it’s natural environment.
Felix: Let’s say that you are on Instagram, you’re engaging with others and the community, you’re talking back to anybody that’s commenting your photos, you’re posting photos that people want to see, you have a strong brand on your Instagram profile, you have a lot of traffic towards your Instagram profile. How does that translate to sales? How do you drive people form your Instagram to your site and eventually get them to purchase?
Garrett: We have a discount at the top of the page. You know “Use Social25” to get 25 percent off of the candle at waxandwick.co, and once they click on a picture, through the various hashtags that drive the sales to there, we can funnel them to our website if they hit the main page. It’s not quite per picture, although we do put up the discount per picture. I think people end up landing at our website when they see the discount available at the top of our main Instagram, I don’t know if you want to call it a dashboard or a hub, but the front page of our Instagram shows the discount and shows our entire look book.
Felix: The biography [crosstalk 55:00]
Garrett: The bio part of it.
Felix: Cool. In terms of running the store itself, what kind of tools or apps do you guys rely on to keep it running?
Kevin: We don’t really rely on too many tools. We have a bar across the top now that’s a free shipping countdown. We use MailChimp for integration. We haven’t really done too much email marketing. The couple of campaigns we’ve run haven’t been too successful. People are opening them, but they’re not really clicking through.
Joe: We’re using Printful for our t-shirts, and different merchandise like that.
Kevin: Shopify really has a whole host of integrated applications, which is something that really drew us to the Shopify platform in the first place, is that Shopify really does have a handful of different tools for metrics and other things that help us really understand what pages are being clicked on, where we’re getting conversions from to our website.
Garrett: Time spent on site.
Kevin: Time spent on site. Shopify really has offered a ton of different apps that they allow, which is againa big reason we did go with the Shopify platform from the beginning is because, there’s a ton of third party apps that can be used at little to no cost that do help us understand our customer base, where they’re coming from, how we’re making conversions, managing reviews, that sort of thing. Those have definitely been very helpful in helping us understand where our customers are coming from, how we keep them, and of course reaching out to them in the future with other promotions or products that we may release in the future.
Garrett: One that helped me … I write the content for the site, and on app that helped me was Plug in SEO. They kind of just run a live insight into what your SEO looks like, and it noticed and told me that I wasn’t doing enough blog content. I ramped up the blog entries, I was doing two a week for three months, and that really drove some traffic. There were a couple that hit 5,000 views and were bringing some quality customers to our website.
Then we used Receiptful. For every transaction they’ll get a survey, “Did you like the service?” We get a lot of smiley faces which is very good. Live Chat 24/7 was a really good app. It’ll pop up at the bottom and we can immediately talk with a customer if they write something and leave an email. Unfortunately it doesn’t really save their information automatically, so we may lose one or two here or there but the amount that we save from that has been great.
Felix: You mentioned earlier in the podcast about how important product reviews are for your business. Are you just using the Shopify product reviews or is there a specific app that you’re using for that?
Garrett: We just use the Shopify product reviews.
Garrett: That was the first app we installed, I believe.
Felix: Awesome. Yeah definitely social proof will go very far, especially if you’re just brand new and no one has really heard of your product and hasn’t really used it. It’s really important. People look out for what other people are thinking about your product, or what they thought about your product after they have used it. Definitely getting social proof you can get up on your site.
What are the plans, I guess we’re already halfway past the year, what are the plans for the remainder of this year? What do you guys have lined up for Wax & Wick?
Kevin: We’re just going to continue doing what we’re doing. We’re going to try, we’re getting into retail space …
Joe: Offering some new scents. We want to launch two to three new scents by the end of the year.
Garrett: I think the big thing at this point is actually trying to penetrate the wholesale space, in terms of getting into boutiques and stores that would be interested in selling our product. We’ve had a lot of interest through our Instagram and other methods of social media where people have been interested, have small businesses that they do sell other products similar to ours. We’re finding that, at this point now that we’ve built somewhat of an online presence and are drawing traffic, that we do want to penetrate the retail space, though we don’t have plans to open our own retail store, I think we definitely see the benefit to getting our product in front of other people’s faces, though many people do purchase online. There’s still a large group of people that don’t purchase online, and I think that it’s important.
One other thing that makes it worthwhile to get into retail, is being that the product we’re selling candles, and unfortunately there’s not a way, of course to smell the candle …
Felix: Not yet.
Kevin: Not yet, right, exactly. Maybe that’s something -
Garrett: That’s the new tech we’re working on this year, like Smell-O-Vision.
Kevin: That’s another thing that’s definitely been challenging that, I don’t think we recognize of how big of a challenge it would be from the beginning, but why is somebody going to buy a candle that they’ve never smelled. The only way that we’re able to accomplish that is by doing the best we can to give them an idea of what the smell will be like, our descriptions are very strong, and very accurate in terms of how we display what the candle should smell like or be like.
Again, going back to the retail side, we’re definitely trying to get into the retail markets. Sell to wholesalers who can then have our product in store for the people that do want to see the product locally, to smell the candles, and pick out which is going to be the best fit for their home.
Felix: Very cool, it sounds like you guys are ready to scale this up.
Again, thanks so much Kevin, Garret, and Joe. Wacksandwick.co is the website. Anywhere else you recommend the listeners check out if they want to follow along with what you guys are up to?
Kevin: Definitely. Instagram, Facebook, I’d say Instagram is probably going to be our biggest revenue of new photos-
Garrett: Or of course check us out online.
Kevin: The handle for out Instagram is wax_wick. That’s probably the best way to see what we’re doing. We do a lot of behind the scenes photos, and we like to share and be transparent, so you’ll see us making candles, you’ll see us putting the candles up in the retail stores that we have currently, and just putting our candles in particular areas. Garret likes to get up in the trees and shoot the candle with his fancy camera. We use that as a catalyst for our look book.
Felix: Awesome. Yeah, we’ll link all that in the show notes. Thanks again so much. Again, wacksandwick.co, wax_wick on Instagram. Again that will all be linked up in the show notes. Again, thanks so much for your time guys.
Kevin: Thank you.
Garrett: Thank you.
Joe: Thanks Felix:.
Felix: Thanks for listening to Shopify Masters, the e-commerce marketing podcast for ambitious entrepreneurs. To start your store today, visit shopify.com/masters to claim your extended 30 day free trial.