Welcome to episode 49 of the Launch Yourself podcast.
In This Episode
In today’s episode, Sarah Spitsen of Feya Candle shares how she turned a failed business around through grit, lots of hard work, and listening to her gut when making big decisions. She blazed her own entrepreneurship path while always keeping her mission of giving back to the community at the core of what she does, and shares how she stays so focused.
Sarah covers topics including:
- Overcoming a failed business to sticking it out over the long-haul
- Redefining what entrepreneurship means
- There is no one right way to grow your business
- Dispelling the entrepreneur dreams of grandeur
- Drop shipping partnerships with Kohls, JC Penney’s and more
- Being included in CauseBox (and how they got a People Magazine mention)
- When to follow a path that isn’t quite paying off yet
- Being agile enough to listen to feedback
Learn More About Sarah Spitsen
Sarah Spitsen began her first candle company as a hobby while at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. One year out of college she knew she had to choose between the career she started and candles – 3 months later she completed her build out on a brand new space and called the store Hallow Candle Co in the heart of Lincoln NE. One year into Hallow, she was divorced – penniless and had nowhere to live. Not ready to give up, she finished out her lease on her brand-new space, and closed shop on December 31st, 2013.
The very next day, on January 1st, 2014, Sarah opened Feya Candle Co from a friend’s kitchen table. Inspired by her Granny Faye & Aunt Pamela who had helped raise her and passed too young, Feya will always give back with food and aid to those who need it most. Feya has grown over the last few years to many of thousands of meals and soap bars given worldwide and will soon dig a well system for an all-girls school in Africa.
Sarah is now married to an amazing man, they have two beautiful children and are living happily ever after in Lincoln, NE.
Melissa Anzman (00:00): This is the launch yourself podcast episode number 49 with Sarah Spitsen. For more information and show notes, go to launchyourself.co/49.
Melissa Anzman (00:11): Welcome to the Launch Yourself podcast. My name is Melissa Anzman. I'm a best-selling author and the CEO of two businesses and employee experience company and launch yourself where I help entrepreneurs diversify and scale their business by launching digital products each week, you'll hear mind blowing interviews, where we peek behind the curtain of other people's launches, as well as actual tips and strategies that you can implement in your daily work life to create launches that actually make you money. Thanks for spending some time with me today. Now let's get started.
Melissa Anzman (00:47): I am so excited to share with you. Today's interview with my guest, Sarah Spitsen, we talk about some really interesting things and she is a product wizard. She sells amazing candles and is really rooted in her mission of not just creating amazing candles, but in giving back. And when I say she has grit, she has staying power. You are not going to believe the kind of grit that she shares with us today. Sarah began her first candle company as a hobby. While at the university of Nebraska Lincoln, one year out of college, she knew she had to choose between the career. She started and candles three months later, she completed her build-out on a brand new space and called the store Hollow Candle Company in the heart of Lincoln, Nebraska. One year into Hallow. She was divorced penniless and had nowhere to live, but not yet ready to give up.
Melissa Anzman (01:44): She finished out her lease on her brand new space and closed up shop on December 31st, 2013. The very next day, Sarah opened a candle company from a friend's kitchen table inspired by her granny Fey and aunt Pamela who helped raise her and passed two young. Faya will always give back with food and aid to those who need it most. Faya Candles has grown over the last few years to many of thousands of meals and soap bars given world wide and will soon dig a well system for an all girls school in Africa. Sarah is now married to an amazing man. They have two beautiful children and are living happily ever after in Lincoln, Nebraska. And I would just like to add on her company, Feya Candle is going strong. She shares some of the amazing partnerships, media mentions deals she's been able to make, but also how she has continued to use this business to give back for good. Let's dive in. Thank you so much for being on the show today, Sarah, I'm so excited to share your story with our listeners. If you could give us a little bit of background about your company.
Sarah Spitsen (02:59): Absolutely. So my company actually started as Faya Candle company. I founded it almost seven years ago and we started by making candles and for each one sold, decided to give a meal for someone in need that has grown now not only to additional products and additional gifts, but earlier this year, I merged my company with another called Akira who works with influencers on YouTube that have a high growth rate to design, create manufacture, and sell their own product lines. So I now still run Fayette and I'm also a part owner and CEO of Akira running those brands as well.
Melissa Anzman (03:36): Oh, amazing. I love that. I love your mission. I love how you've grown it and really expanded, right? You scaled that, which is amazing.
Sarah Spitsen (03:46): Yes. This year I would definitely classify as our scale year. You know, we've grown year over year, but this is the year that we were like, Oh , what just happened? And we really truly are starting to hit our scale.
Melissa Anzman (03:59): I love it. So with that, I mean, obviously there is a bunch that we can talk about with all those leaps that you've made in your business, but we like to focus on this podcast on one specific launch. One moment in time, one leap that you took. So with that in mind, Sarah, which launch do you want to talk about today?
Sarah Spitsen (04:16): I want to talk about the launch where I lived out of my car to actually launch the business. It was about a year in to creating fan and I was doing pretty terribly. I was, you know, in debt had no finances had very little energy, even by that point. So, so exhausted from that first year trying to grow. And I decided this is it. I'm either going to do it or I'm not. So I sold all my belongings. I hopped in my car and I lived out of my car, touring the country to sell candles in a, you know, in order to get enough gas to go to the next place. But B as I would sell candles, I would work at the local missions and shelters giving back that many meals before I would leave town. And then I'd hit the next city talk to boutiques. So candles. And by the time we were done, we me, it was me living on my car real. Yeah. My car had a name, his name was Willie. We became very close and I, by the time the tour was done, I had sold to 80 stores nationwide and it told me, okay, I can do this, let's do it. Let's roll our sleeves up. And let's keep growing. And here we are seven years later still running the brand.
Melissa Anzman (05:29): That is unreal. I have so much, I want to talk about and unpack about it. But before we dive into those details, I'm super curious. Like when you got, when you started your business and you reached a point where you were like, I'm out of money, I have no options. Like how, how was your decision making process to be like, great, I'm going to keep doing it. Like, cause I just think of a lot of people I've worked with right in the entrepreneurial world that they're like, yep, Nope. Back to corporate. See you bye-bye, you know, or like, no, this just I'll just pivot or I'll try a different business, but you're like so committed. How is that? Where did you, how did you get there?
Sarah Spitsen (06:12): I, in order to answer that probably need a backup, just a little bit to what even got me to start Fayette and believe me moving on and living out of my car in order to do so was definitely against the general public's recommendations like Jennifer person.
Melissa Anzman (06:29): Yeah, I can imagine those conversations went
Sarah Spitsen (06:33): Mom, by the way. It didn't go well, but I actually started Fayette at the rock bottom of my own life. And about three years prior had started my own store. I was married at the time. I didn't know anything about retail. I had a candle shop in my home city of Lincoln, Nebraska, and very quickly started going down a Hill. It was very difficult work. I ended up getting divorced in the first year. I had no money, nowhere to live. I left my home that I had built and actually was pretty close to declaring bankruptcy by the end of that three-year lease for the store. So I remember actually I closed the store finally made that choice December 30, first, 2014 and on or 2013 on January 1st, 2014 is when I opened Fay and I named it Fayette for my granny fam my aunt Pamela, because they were extraordinary women.
Sarah Spitsen (07:29): They taught me how to cook, how to care for people, how to have just that unconditional love for others. And through that you know, I learned a lot of what I still hold true as my real self today. And so as I was really truly bottoming out as I was hitting my own rock bottom over and over and over in that time I leaned back on what they had taught me. And by this point in my life, they had passed a few years earlier. And so it was like building another life for them. I've always said that fail will always live how those women lived. We will give back, we will care and conditionally for others and we will have a lot of fun doing it, making really great products. So that is how I started. I let her go
Melissa Anzman (08:11): Like Jess, you were so focused on what you needed to do. I love that.
Sarah Spitsen (08:16): I was, at that time, I was a complete Rochelle, you know, I had, I had no money. I was a business failure. I was totally divorced. And just on my own, I didn't have any relive other than friends, couches. And so I was already, you know, what do I have to lose? It's like, I'm still alive and still happy to be doing the work I'm doing at the end of the day. So I have really nothing to lose. And I had found through just that self on a self discovery that comes with that point in someone's life that I truly loved giving back. And I truly loved being in business. And I, I felt that gut feeling to close my store, but I had yet to feel that gut feeling to close fair and give up. So I did it my car Willie and I have.
Melissa Anzman (09:03): Yeah. Okay. So, I mean, listen, seven years ago, the online space was there and you didn't she's that route, which I love because so many people do or they choose that route because they think it's easier when in fact there's no easy route in entrepreneurship. Like you got to do that,
Sarah Spitsen (09:21): Right? Yeah. There's hard stuff in every angle
Melissa Anzman (09:24): At every angle. Okay. So you went from rock bottom and living out of your car. How did you go from that? Going, you know, city to city working to pay for gas and to work the community, which I love, how did you go from that to, okay. I have enough money to like live somewhere and grow your business. What was, what happened at that point?
Sarah Spitsen (09:53): Really the biggest transition was when I was done with the trip, it took about five months. I want to say when I was done with that time, I had my last stop. I decided to do a whole loop around the U S my last stop was my hometown of Lincoln. And when I got back here and I didn't feel an itch to necessarily leave, I had started dating someone at that point. So that was probably it. He lived in Lincoln too. And 80 stores, that was to me, I felt successful. And even though I still had zero or sometimes negative dollars in my bank account, I knew that if I could convince within a few months, period, 80 stores to carry our products, I could do something with this. There was, there was not enough pushback for me to say, no, I didn't make the right product.
Sarah Spitsen (10:41): Or I don't have the right messaging. I don't have the right, whatever it is. And I went through the next handful of years, really, truly struggling, still working two to three jobs at the same time to pay my own bills. And this is actually the first year I've had were almost seven years in first year with a real salary where I do not work any other jobs. And so it wasn't, you know, it would have been great. Had I rolled my car named Willie until Lincoln, Nebraska, and been like, guys, I'm loaded. I'm gonna get my own place. I don't need another job. Like I've never been, my success had to be determined a different way because starting a company in massive debt, you know, from the last failed company just doesn't afford you a lot of options. And so my option was to determine success in, in a, just a crowd responsive way, not necessarily by the dollars, because it took a very long time for the dollars to balance out the debt. And, you know, we're finally there now we're profitable, we're growing. It's great. But you know, there's a lot of, a lot of trenches that you kinda got to Wade through in order to get to the happy, fun pleasing bank account days, which still is up and down. So
Melissa Anzman (11:54): Let's be clear. It's always, it's always a ride. Yeah.
Sarah Spitsen (11:58): I'm going to be paying my bills and not be worried about paying my, but like, that's the place for it?
Melissa Anzman (12:03): That's the, that's the level, you know, I, okay. So this, this isn't necessarily what we wanted to talk about, but I love it so much. Like, because it's so unique and interesting, and it is such an interesting angle for our listeners because, you know, I do think there are a lot of people out there that say, here's how you do it. Here's how you become an entrepreneur and they don't get success that way. However, they define it and they're like, well, I'm going to give up or I'm doing something wrong or, you know, all those orders. Whereas you said, Nope, I really believe in what I'm doing. And I am going to test my product, test my process and check in and be like, is this still what I want to do or not? And you learned through your first business, I don't know if it was your first, but the one before this one.
Melissa Anzman (12:48): Okay. Like what not to do, right. Like not to be over leveraged, not to sign a three-year lease or whatever those things are. Right. so I find that really fascinating because when entrepreneurs struggle that I've talked to, which I talk to them all the time when they struggle and are able to spend the time, whether their business becomes a side hustle, whether it's their number one hustle or what have you, but spend the time working and validating their product and their process, the longevity in the game is so much longer than someone who's like, I'm just going to put a course online for sale and like, see that it happens. Right? Like, has that been your experience?
Sarah Spitsen (13:36): I think the one thing I've learned from my entrepreneurial journey versus, you know, I help coach pitch competitions at our local university and I've gone into the high schools to help teach entrepreneurial classes. And what they're teaching right now is a business class, which to me, by definition, an entrepreneur is reinventing business. They're starting something new, they're doing something unique. Like the job of an entrepreneur is to do it outside the lines and to determine. And so with that, you have to determine your own success. You have to preset your values and what's going to motivate you. And what's going to allow you to move to that next step or test that next product or invest in this or that. And most of the time when you are scrappily, starting something and bootstrapping it, if you go by the normal definitions of success, you will be in that 90% that fail in the first five years because you'll have no other choice. Right. And so with that too, you know, I've been, I studied to be a psychologist. I have zero business, formal education other than Google. And I very firmly feel that that's a big part of my success because I had the to say, well, what if, and then I had the drive to go test it. Even if I was living out of my car. Yeah.
Melissa Anzman (14:59): A hundred percent. Like I I'm so glad you said that because I mean, I have my MBA, which seems snotty. I'm not throwing that down. But the reason, the reason I say that is because I walked out of school with my MBA being like,
Sarah Spitsen (15:16): I didn't learn anything. Like
Melissa Anzman (15:18): I had been, I had been working for years when I did it. I did it while working full-time in a corporate job. And I was like, I learned more in job, like on the job working, like what have you than I did here. And wasn't able to translate any of that to my own business. And so to your point, I've just like having these ways that we're supposed to do anything, like the whole point of being an entrepreneur is figured out, figure out what works for you. And I like exactly. Like, I don't know that I would ever be able to sell everything and live out of a car and be so like, so determined to make something work. But you did like, and we're still both entrepreneurs. Right? So the approach is so interesting.
Sarah Spitsen (16:09): Yeah, exactly. It's I think that's the whole point is that there is no one size fits all and there's no answer because we're supposed to make up our own companies with what we see as a lack in the world. So if we see something not existing, we think we can do it. Then, you know, if you're making something that never existed, you get to make the rules up as you go to a certain degree,
Melissa Anzman (16:29): Right. Within reason, but who cares? That whole money thing to survive, pay
Sarah Spitsen (16:39): Bills, roof, overhead, everything. Right.
Melissa Anzman (16:42): All the small things in life. Okay. So tell me over the over seven years, you've had a lot of stops and starts with one singular focus of
Sarah Spitsen (16:51): Growing this business. What has
Melissa Anzman (16:53): Worked really well for you, whether it's been over the years or maybe it was something you figured out this year that got you to a point of sustainability, like what is one thing that you're like, Oh, this was gold for my business.
Sarah Spitsen (17:07): Really asking the question of, does this meet my end goal? Or does this meet my mission for a lot of people, they call it their mission with what they want to do with their company. And I have noticed that over the years, every single launch, every single activity I've tried to plan. If I don't answer, if I can't honestly say, okay, if we do things this way, is that falling in line with our mission of creating beautiful things and, you know, making the world a better place on the other end. If I can't say that that lines up, those are always the things that fail. But if I can very truly say, okay, yes, this, this action will actually enhance both our, our product that we're creating on our consumer experience, as well as the way that we can change the world. Those are the things that somehow, always like the surprise me by working out, even if they're, you know, kind of off the wall, things like hopping in a car, you know, that tour, it really hasn't, it didn't financially pay off, but it got the company going and it gave me a why.
Sarah Spitsen (18:07): And it gave me a determination to say, I'm not going to have the time I spent living out of my car in vain. And so I'm going to be going through those hard times. And it's really, as long as things are aligned, because it's very easy. Once you grow, once you sometimes hit those hard times and try to scramble to grow those things that you throw together last minute often, don't actually meet your core. You're you're stretching too far. And when you stick to your core, when you stick to, to what you've set out to do, that's when things work, because it's already aligned with your original goal.
Melissa Anzman (18:40): I love that. So the flip side of that conversation right out, other than what you've already shared of what didn't work, what truly didn't work, what was one of those things, a tactic or a strategy that you were like, this is going to be the answer. And you're like, yeah, no, that was totally not the right idea. That totally didn't work for us.
Sarah Spitsen (19:01): So I had this grand vision when I hopped in my car that I would be lining up, you know, press announcements and different cities that I would be able to turn this into national true national awareness of faith, not just through the sales, you know, getting little candles seen here and there, boutiques nationwide. But I thought that I could really tell the story of what we're doing and get people excited and sell t-shirts along the way I bought a lot of t-shirts before I left. And it did not work. I love it. It did not work one bit. We had a few little write-ups and articles and things like that. And it was great, but it was that moment of literally compared to the entire us of a, nobody saw anything we were doing other than my friends and family and the maybe thousand people that were following us on Facebook at the time. So that was a big flop. And honestly, I think it was a little bit of the, the idea of grand jury I had in my mind. And I was like, man, if I love it, whole world automatically, they're in, I know it, Ellen, she's going to invite me when I'm in LA to have the show, like, entreprenuers have some of that. I don't know.
Melissa Anzman (20:16): I don't think that's the right word. Cause I don't think it's a bad thing, but it's like, we truly believe is so much in what we're doing that it's like, of course other people are going to want to talk
Sarah Spitsen (20:25): About it and they're going to find us
Melissa Anzman (20:27): And seek us out. And they're going to just want to share the word in message where like friends that doesn't happen.
Sarah Spitsen (20:34): Let me just be super clear. Turns out
Melissa Anzman (20:40): Back, back way back in the day, but that does not create a sustainable business in nor press shall we say? Yeah.
Sarah Spitsen (20:48): Yeah. Faith has yet to experience a viral post from our end or have a, you know, we've been in people magazine and we still stayed at the exact same social following as we had the week before it came out. It takes a lot, it takes a lot of bits and pieces to come together to, to create that long lasting awareness.
Melissa Anzman (21:09): I love that. Where and how do you, like, how do you find your customers now or how do they find you and where do you like create the nurturing sequence for them? Like where do you, where do you hang out as your business? So we
Sarah Spitsen (21:23): We're on the normal social platforms. Instagram, since we are a pretty product is definitely our best. And that's where a lot of our customers are living socially. However, we have our website that we sell goods on. We also have accounts on things like fare.com to sell wholesale, you know, tinder.com, those types of things. And then we have started partnering with stores like JC penny Kohl's Kirkland's to do drop shipping online. So we're not yet in store, that's a goal, but we've started the entry-level selling, you know, as a verified brand through these larger organizations. But beyond that, our biggest break this year came from, and I worked on this deal for two years. So don't be fooled. It was really hard a deal with cause box. And in March we signed with cause box. They launched us in the summer with a Reed diffuser from that we actually hadn't even designed yet.
Sarah Spitsen (22:17): So we designed it quickly along the, along with the PO and that launch and that verification and that influencer notification that came with it really launched us into a whole new level. And we've actually you know, signed some smaller deals with that, that fun, as well as some other, you know, just a really good platform to talk about our goods, finding larger organizations who not only believe in what you're doing, which is doing good, but also have the same end customer has been our best success for a product based e-commerce business that we've seen so far.
Melissa Anzman (22:54): That is amazing. That is so brilliant, like and exciting. And also it's a really hard way in like I'm going to just be on it. It's that is not the easy path. Yeah. but to your point, it's worth the effort because you got, you increased your visibility, you increased your following, you created sales that weren't there and you influencers that now, you know, once they're in your sphere of influence, right. Or your, your buying center or what have you, like, they can buy other things and they'll follow you up from out. That's amazing.
Sarah Spitsen (23:29): And with that, we also launched a subscription program on our own site so that when we did have that influx of cause box followers and people who saw the other influencers revering our brand, then we could at least have a hope of turning those one-off into recurring customers that are more lifelong. So that's been a big success for us, as well as getting into how we start that nurture program. We've been actually in 2019, we took the giving out of, technically out of the corporation and made an actual verified foundation. And so we now have the FIA foundation that can also partner with other corporations to give back more and faster. So the Fayette brand, as well as now, Akira, the company we merged with always gives back with every single purchase every single time. So we always filtered out through our own foundation that I'm also president and board member for.
Sarah Spitsen (24:25): But we now work with like, we've worked with Zillow. They brought us in to have a 10,000 year old packing party and we can nurture from both sides. Now. we can nurture from the product side, which if you ever see any of our products, if you go to Fayette, candle.com, you'll see every single bit of our goods is covered in our mission. So every sticker, every box, every explanation has what we do to give back. And we've found that our repeat customers are the re the repeats because they believe in our mission and we just simply make a good product so that we don't have to talk about it. No one has to complain about it. No one has to return it. We just make it the right way so that our mission can be our marketing. And we can get people excited about how much they're giving, because giving is fun giving, you know, it's the way that we're going to move our, our world into the world that we really want to live in.
Melissa Anzman (25:18): So dang amazing. I'm so impressed, Sarah, like such a hard road and you've chosen, actively chosen the hard stuff. And I love that. Like, it's especially hard when you're not making money for six or five and a half years to be like, I'm still going to give back. I don't feel like it's still, I'm not going to cut corners. I'm going to do things right, because that, I'm so committed to that. And most companies don't do that. So I'm really impressed by that for you, what would your one best piece of advice be to someone who is obsessed with their own product and like just struggling. So want to keep it like more product based since you do sell physical products, which I love, like, what would you tell them to do or focus on? Or what's your best advice?
Sarah Spitsen (26:15): I'd have to say. It just goes back to trusting your gut. I have now closed a business. I've closed a few non-profits that I helped start and we just weren't running them well. And it's a really hard thing to say no to something you care about. And I've found that when I said, no one, my gut told me to say no, it was always the right choice because the next open door was a really great one. And it was a really well-suited one. But also use that gut to keep yourself saying yes, when everybody and their mom was telling me, okay, well, it's nice that you tried this candle thing, but don't you think you maybe need to, like at the end of this year, call it and I wasn't ready. I trusted my gut. I knew I was onto something. I knew it was bigger.
Sarah Spitsen (27:01): It could be bigger than what I had been able to make it so far. You know, I I'd said plenty of nos in my life at that point. And they were good ones because, you know, they opened up doors to the things that I knew I was supposed to say yes to. So when it comes to a product, don't be afraid to overanalyze it. Don't be afraid to say, no, don't be afraid to put it in front of someone and have them tell you, all right, well, this is great. This is not. And then readjust don't have too much pride to where you can't say no to certain things, but really rely on, I, I do feel that if you're creating something that has worth and value and you internally know it is, it is still on, it is still worth. It is still great.
Sarah Spitsen (27:41): Then keep it going. But I've, I've been in those moments where I've stubbornly put my foot down and kept saying yes, when I should have just been like, no, what Sarah, just back off. So it's, you gotta really have that internal understanding you as an entrepreneur, you know, you're going to have a lot of gut checks and because it is a hard thing and it is a struggle and it is a grind and you know, really high highs, really low lows. So having that honesty with yourself is going to help you drive forward. Even, even if it's tough. And even if it takes awhile
Melissa Anzman (28:13): Such good advice, such good advice. And it's also, I love that. You're saying don't be tied to what you think is right. Either, you know, like listening to some experts, taking it in, not being so stubborn as he said about it. Cause I mean, less than I'm, I'm guilty of this at times, too, of being like, no, I, I know what's right. I know what's fast. And my audience is like, no, we like the other one. I'm like, who are you? They're like, we're the ones paying you, dude. We're the people hanging out with you over here. Right?
Melissa Anzman (28:42): I'm like, okay, fine. You're right. Even though stubbornly, I'm like, no, I'm still right. But it's being able to let go of that attachment to it, I think is really smart, but keeping true to your full-blown mission. And at the core of like what it is you want to create and why you want to create. And I think all the other pieces are probably interchangeable, movable negotiable, perhaps. Yeah. From there on out. I love it. Absolutely. Where can people find you online, Sarah and buy some product,
Sarah Spitsen (29:13): Feyacandle.Com is always the easiest place to go one stop for all the goods.
Melissa Anzman (29:19): Amazing. We'll be sure to include that in the show notes, along with a little bonus in there. So be sure to check it out, Sarah, it has been such an honor and pleasure having you on this show. I love so much your background and your story and your approach to entrepreneurship. It is such a breath of fresh air and such a dedication to your that. It's something that our listeners can absolutely hang on to and learn from and grow. So thank you so much for being on the show today.
Sarah Spitsen (29:50): Thank you for having me on to join you.
Melissa Anzman (29:53): Join the Launch Yourself workshop where you'll learn why your digital products aren't selling nearly as much as you planned for and how to diversify and scale your income by launching the right way. Text launchyourself, all one word to: 44222.
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