Did you know that out of all five senses, scent is the one most closely tied to memories? Today’s podcast guest knows a thing or two about how to create memorable scents, and she also happens to be a savvy entrepreneur who’s turned her creative hobby into a full-time business. Katie Daly Weiss is the founder of Big White Yeti Candles, a small-batch candle making company based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
I’ve been obsessed with Big White Yeti ever since I received one of their candles at an event years ago, so it was a real treat to hear Katie’s story! From a life-changing Pinterest pin to navigating the ebbs and flows of a product based business, she had so much valuable insight to share.
Press play for the full interview or keep reading below!
Although Katie always saw herself as an entrepreneur, she ended up working as a corporate trainer at a large hospitality company. She traveled often and loved her job – so much so that she rarely took time off, and ended up with extra PTO to use up.
A staycation seemed like a great idea, but without work to keep her busy, Katie found herself bored and cruising Pinterest. That was when she stumbled across a pin about candle making.
Soon the one-bedroom Milwaukee apartment she shared with her boyfriend was overflowing with candle-making supplies, and what started as a fun side project grew into a full-blown business. “That one pin on Pinterest changed the trajectory of everything.”
Almost 10 years later, Big White Yeti is still going strong.
While a mythical snow monster may seem like an unusual mascot for a candle company, that’s exactly the point. Katie and her boyfriend felt like traditional candle companies were too serious, and they wanted to do something playful and fun.
So they each wrote out a list of things that made them laugh. The one item they had in common…you guessed it: Himalayan snow creatures. The name stuck, and 10 years later it still makes Katie (and her customers) smile.
Looking back, Katie says there was no big aha moment when she realized her candle-making hobby had business potential. “It was a series of little steps along the way.”
The most powerful factor behind Big White Yeti’s success was Katie’s enthusiasm. She and her boyfriend (now husband) said yes to every opportunity that came their way, from maker’s markets to donating candles to local Milwaukee events.
“Saying yes was very beneficial to us in our early days. But the other side of that coin is that sometimes we said yes to things that we had no business saying yes to.”
For instance, they quickly realized that consignment wasn’t the best sales route and that their product was better suited to wholesale. But they only learned that lesson by saying yes and trying both options.
Naturally risk-averse, Katie chose to stay at her day job for six years, until she could confidently replace her full-time salary. That side hustle mentality led her to be very intentional with her spending.
For their first three years in business, Katie and her husband kept all of their profits in a savings account while they relied on their full-time salaries to support them. This approach took the pressure off making sales and allowed them to focus on the creative aspect.
“Being able to focus on why we started this without worrying about the financial side of things was such a luxury and I’m so thankful that we were able to grow that way.”
Katie has always been frugal in her personal life and she carried that mindset into her business. “I don’t buy things that we don’t need until we absolutely need them, and that’s always served me well.”
One investment Katie did make early on was outsourcing their accounting to a CPA. “In the beginning, you don’t know what you don’t know. Having a financial professional on our side introduced us to things that I had no idea existed.”
Whether you choose to work with a CPA, bookkeeper, or CFO, it’s important to find someone you trust and feel comfortable with.
Can’t afford to hire a dedicated numbers person just yet? Check out my beginner-friendly resources to help you get started! Even after outsourcing to a professional, it’s important to keep a pulse on the financial side of your business.
Four years into business, Katie reached a point where she had to choose between her day job and Big White Yeti. When she found she was pregnant, it felt like a sign to take the leap. She decided to jump all in to her Milwaukee based candle company.
Katie went full-time the same month she had her son and quickly realized she needed to hire help – either at home or in the business. “It was a lot of new hats to wear all at once.”
Rather than hire a nanny, she chose to hire someone to help with events and shop work at Big White Yeti so she could spend more time at home.
Like most entrepreneurs, Katie was hesitant about making that first hire.
“It’s hard to take your hands off of the day-to-day tasks, especially when it’s your baby. You always assume that you know how to do things in a way that other people won’t be able to, and it’s just not true.”
Katie realized that with her background in corporate training, she could easily teach other people to make candles and run the shop. “There’s a lot of empowerment in taking your hands off of the process and putting that in somebody else’s hands that you trust.”
Katie is very open about the challenges they’ve faced selling a non-essential product during an economic downturn. With the rising cost of goods and Covid-related supply chain issues, these last few years have seen a major shift for product based businesses.
“We’re not seeing the same margins that we saw for years, and that can be intimidating. It’s definitely made me, as the leader of this company, change my focus.”
Instead of dwelling on the negatives, Katie has used this as an opportunity to get more strategic. She’s refined their product suite to concentrate on their bestsellers and added in a new revenue stream creating custom scents for brands.
“The climate of the world right now is affecting product based businesses. It’s not a bad thing, it just requires a different mindset. ”
If there’s one thing Katie has learned from a decade in business, it’s that things will always work out the way they’re supposed to. “I can only steer this ship so hard, but sometimes there’s going to be currents that I can’t control and I have to be at peace with that.”
From market changes to supply chain issues, there will always be factors you can’t predict – but you can control how you respond.
Katie’s advice to new entrepreneurs? To stick with it and enjoy the process. “This ride is going to be so much cooler and so much better than you can even imagine right now.”
To hear the rest of the story and what Katie is up to now, press play on the player above for the full interview or click here to download the transcript.
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Katie is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin based lifelong candle making entrepreneur currently focused on her company, Big White Yeti. She’s a mom, a wife, relentless researcher, and chaser of process improvements. She’s been running Big White Yeti since early 2013 and has grown her small business from making candles on the stovetop of a one-bedroom apartment to a thriving home fragrance company focused on making seriously good smelling products for direct-to-consumer, wholesale, and private label clients.
February 9, 2023