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How many ideas fail because the person behind the idea was afraid to even begin? When was the last time you gave yourself permission to pursue a project – and see what happens?
Last year, I remember seeing this tweet from Filipina entrepreneur Dianna Allen about how she had an idea – to start a candle business. And she would set aside $100 and 30 days to make something profitable.
Dianna gave herself a timeline and a budget to pursue an idea, and see if it was viable.
Less than 10 months later, and Dianna has transitioned to working on TERRA full-time – after two months in a row of TERRA bringing in $5,000 of revenue!
I’m giving myself $100 and 30 days to make something profitable 😬— Diαnnα Allen (@diannamallen) December 23, 2019
I feel like this is a challenge everyone should try at least once in their lives. You never know what could happen!
It’s such a small investment that could lead to something massive. pic.twitter.com/D2zQNOIPVJ
As creators, we can get caught up in the finer details. Sometimes it’s so easy to fantasize about the bigger picture that we overlook starting a business from step one.
I’m grateful that Dianna took some time to share the story of how she started her candle business less than one year ago with just $100. Enjoy the interview!
You started TERRA with just $100 allocated to its growth. Tell us more about the idea and backstory behind this $100 challenge.
When I started exploring the idea of TERRA, I wanted X, Y, and Z. I began envisioning TERRA as what it could be: a physical store, a vast product offering, and overall, a beautiful brand that would remain classic as the times changed.
But all of that was getting way ahead of myself. I understand that early on in a business, it’s usually more important to take small strategic steps instead of jumping into everything all at once. And this is where the idea of spending only $100 sparked.
I decided that if I wanted to proceed with TERRA, and prove that it could one day be as successful as I imagined, that I would allow myself to spend $100. But the real challenge I gave myself was having a timeframe of 30 days to make this $100 back.
This small challenge would prove to myself that TERRA is a great idea, and that I am capable. And if I failed the challenge, then I would know that maybe this isn’t the thing for me.
With $100, I could only allocate spending on what’s truly important. Early on, this was towards building the shop’s website, a domain name, and candle supplies. I could only make two test candles with this budget, but it was enough.
Can you talk more about what it was like to create and sell your first candles?
I’ve never made a candle before. Never. And with my small budget and having only enough supplies to create two test candles… I was nervous.
But, instead of running through a constant trial and error process, I did my research. I spent nearly an entire week watching YouTube videos, reading candle making blogs, and learning from supply shop websites.
Eventually, you start to notice what works for everyone. I took those similarities and began piecing together a formula that I had faith would work.
You could say it was a simple base formula, but I used that for my initial candle testing and sure enough, it was golden!
I remember tweeting about my little challenge of having only $100 to spend on a new business, and it gained a lot of traction. So much, that someone out of the blue even asked where they could purchase.
I didn’t have anything set up yet. But knowing that I could actually make a proper candle, I decided to get some pre-orders going. There was no way I was going to miss out on my first potential customer!
Within 3 days, I made my $100 back and then some!
I’ve seen you reach incredible goals, like collaborating with your dream partner Greetabl. What are you doing behind the scenes to build that success?
To put simply: I am being seen.
I am not waiting for someone to come up to me and offer me an opportunity. No, I am seeking out the opportunities myself.
I think it is critical to put yourself out there. The more effort you put into something, the more people see your efforts, and that you are actually trying, the more likely a favorable result will happen.
Early on, I spent a lot of time in just my email.
Trying to form a network of local buyers, trying to get TERRA’s name out there and establish B2B relationships, and generally cold-emailing people who I think may find interest in what I’m selling.
And no, I’m not typing like a robot. I never used templates and I don’t think I ever will. Every email is written personally and in real-time. Some people choose the template route to save time, but it’s not meaningful to me.
These emails were my first impressions. Some evoked feelings of excitement and hope, some expressed love of our mutual city and small businesses, and some were a bit boring and straight-forward. But all-in-all, they were different and catered to each person receiving them.
What was the most difficult problem you faced in the first few months of launching TERRA?
Shipping and packaging costs. My god… this is something they really don’t tell you about starting a physical product business. A lot of the time the focus is on the cost of the creating the product itself, which don’t get me wrong is very important.
But shipping and packaging is the financial burden! This was a problem I faced early on. I wanted reasonable shipping fees for my customers, but the reality is that shipping is expensive.
I set my shipping to be a flat $4.95 for deliveries in the U.S., but behind the scenes the actual cost of my shipping is sometimes $7, other times $18.
And don’t even get me started on international. I’m lucky if I break even.
But, I’ve now refined my process and resources. I know exactly which size box to pack 1 candle vs an order of 5 candles. Sometimes my box for 3 candles costs the same to ship as 1 candle, and these are things I just have to accept.
Along with shipping, I also was learning how to provide eco-friendly packaging. A lot of trial and error there as well, but it’s all come together now.
There’s just so much more to selling products than that actual product itself.
You recently decided to take TERRA full-time, and end your freelance work. What had to be in place for you to feel comfortable taking this step? How has the transition been so far?
This was definitely a goal from the beginning – to make TERRA my full-time job. I worked endlessly every day on TERRA, whatever free time I had.
In the beginning, it was easy balancing freelance projects and TERRA. I gave myself a schedule of doing my freelance work until 5pm every day, and worked on TERRA until I got sleepy at night.
Soon, TERRA’s tasks doubled, then tripled, and before I knew it, it was June and I was having difficulty balancing TERRA and freelance.
I made it work for the next couple months, but the thoughts of wanting to have TERRA on my plate and TERRA only began weighing on me.
TERRA’s revenue doubled month over month during almost the entire year, and in August, I had my first $5,000 month. I didn’t think I could do it again, but in September, the numbers repeated.
This was when I realized that TERRA can provide for me. I actually can pay myself enough from TERRA to remove any other work from my life that isn’t related to how I’d ideally like to live my life.
I noticed every time I talked about freelance work, I began to feel ill. Literally sick to my stomach. I once was being complimented by my client, how everything I did was perfect, and I wanted to just vomit.
That was the moment that I knew I needed to get out. I’m on week 3 of TERRA full-time and I do not regret anything. I am terrified, don’t get me wrong, but I’m driving that fear into working harder and ensuring future success for TERRA.
And instead of feeling like vomiting every day, I am just so excited, so eager, and ready to take on whatever comes my way!
Something I’ve learned about DTC is that playing the ‘limited stock’ card just works— Diαnnα Allen (@diannamallen) October 8, 2020
I don’t really do this on purpose, but I always post on IG when there’s only 1 of X left in stock
And I have a 100% success rate of that product being sold within the next few hours
If you were to start from scratch, with $100 again, what would you do differently?
This is honestly such a hard question. $100 is a very critical amount of money, and I feel like I did the best I could on how I allocated it early on. I think I would just spend it on adding another test candle to the mix and initially offer 3 candle scents instead of 2!
Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs who want to start an ecommerce business?
Spread the word!
No one could ever possibly know what you’re offering unless you share it.
And educate people – that’s important. What sets you apart from others? What are the benefits of your products?
And just start. We all get nervous, but starting with a small risk investment (like I did with $100 and 30 days), allows for a lot of noticeable growth. I think that’s important in order to keep momentum.
First it was $100 for me, then $200, then I wanted $500… I just kept setting new goals and maintaining the determination to hit them. Be realistic, be hungry, and be appreciative.