Female Founders: Alicia Reisinger Of Wax Buffalo On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Today is not every day. If it was a bad one, it’s ok. It’s not your everyday. If it was a good one, hells yes… but be careful making decisions based on it. It’s not your everyday. Your days are cumulative of your everydays and it’s important to stop and ground that into your brain each day before making a decision that could change the trajectory of your company or your life.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia Reisinger.
Alicia Reisinger is the Founder/Owner and Artistic Director of Wax Buffalo Pure Soy Candle Co. Married and a mama to four incredible kids, Alicia is a documentary filmmaker and storyteller by trade with a deep entrepreneurial spirit. She started Wax Buffalo as the sole employee in her kitchen with $100 and a late-night work ethic to pour candles while her four children slept–and has grown what was once a side hustle to a million dollar+ business with 14 employees sold on the shelves of wholesale partners across the world, including Whole Foods.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My oldest daughter, Navy, was born with a cleft lip and palate. When Navy was born I was traveling the world as a TV producer and on-air host for a television show called “Footnote”. Navy turned my world upside down in a really beautiful way. Her birth forced me to pause and be still with her as Jon and I worked through Navy’s treatment, surgery and ultimately her healing. In the process, I slowly found candles again. Something I had loved doing as a child with my Grandma Ferne, the art of candle making. It was a great way to center and re-align with my own spiritual journey and make something safe and beautiful for my family.
So, with a whiskey in hand, I would pour candles at night after I put my four kiddos to bed. Slowly I began to make candles for friends and a close friend encouraged me to try selling them. Finally, I agreed and put a few in a local shop. They sold out pretty much immediately. I made $100 from that very first sale and invested that right back into my business…ultimately creating what Wax Buffalo is today. I continued to make candles in my kitchen until I opened our flagship store just over 2 years ago and now all of our candles are hand poured in small batches right here in the heart of the midwest. Wax Buffalo has since grown from what was once a side hustle to a million dollar+ business with 14 employees and sold on the shelves of wholesale partners across the world, including Whole Foods.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
A funny story. I can share a funny story. The day we got the news that Whole Foods wanted to partner with Wax Buffalo and put our candles on their shelves I was driving my kiddos to the zoo. I read the email at a stoplight and literally JUMPED out of my car and ran into some person’s front yard and then proceeded to run around screaming and jumping around. And then got back into my car and drove away. It was such great news and there was no way my excitement could be contained inside my car.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh gosh. Well, I decided without any market research that what we needed to get into a big box store (like West Elm) was to beautifully box our candles. We needed bougie boxes. So I worked with an EXPENSIVE designer and built out the most beautiful packaging. We spent oodles on it, and I just knew in my gut this was the ticket. The game changer. And shocker, it was not. The boxes were so expensive we had to up our prices to cover costs, no one really even blinked at them, nor did it get us into a big box store. We still have some and it’s been over 4 years and they sit in this room here at the studio and every time I see them I still cringe a little. It taught me that guts can be good, but going by your gut on something so expensive, that changed the ethos of your brand… no. No, don’t do that again.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The first candle I ever poured was a Christmas gift for my grandma Ferne when I was 14. We used to shop in this tiny market called the Haymarket in Lincoln Nebraska, long before I ever lived here. We would purchase fancy handmade votives from a local tea shop. Then we’d spend the afternoon laughing and drinking tea in a tiny café and eating these funny little cucumber sandwiches.
My grandma loved candles and Christmas. But mostly Christmas. It was her favorite. Her house always smelled a little like cinnamon no matter the month. I lost my sweet little Ferne a few years ago. And I think in my mourning and loss for her I reached back to my roots and began pouring candles again more steadily. The first candle I poured was cinnamon. Grandma always encouraged my adventures and nurtured my whimsy. In a way, I think she always will.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I am incredibly passionate about igniting change in the arena of working women, specifically working mothers. Creating a movement where women feel supported to challenge the status quo of when and how to work. And I was doing this long before the pandemic challenged working norms. I want to give women and moms a way to work differently that doesn’t only mean being a part of a Mid-level Marketing program. Working in a way that suits us as individuals rather than robotically pumping out work within an allotted time frame set by production-based standards in early century America.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Challenge the perceptions that were thrust upon us from the manufacturing world of early America. By creating an environment where we, specifically women, work differently in a way that celebrates us as unique humans with individual working styles and needs. And proving this model can and does work — in retail, in business, in life.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
That you work less than working for someone. You do not.
That you have to KNOW everything. You don’t. Tuck into google and seek out smart humans.
That you won’t spend every day getting just as dirty and into it as everyone else. If you’re a good founder, there is still a lot of grunt work that lands on your shoulders.
That you have to sacrifice your time, family, friends or adventures. You don’t. You have to fight for them, but you don’t have to sacrifice them.
That nothing happens overnight. My founder friends and I even joke, that even when something takes off or an “overnight success occurs” you can bet there were still years getting them to that point. We always say, “oh yeah… it only took 23 years to be an overnight success” ha ha. Hang in there.
That it’s ok to move on. (that’s a hard one right) but it is. It’s ok. Wax Buffalo is my fourth company. All were profitable, one is still going. But it took my fourth try to love it deeply, understand what I was doing better, and work differently.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
No. I don’t think so. I used to say yes! I used to be like, ANYONE can do this. You just have to believe. Cue Disney music in the background. But the more I get to know and learn from smart humans the more I understand there are what we call in our family, directors and assistant directors, and producers (we come from production) and some people have no desire to lead, but so much desire to come along someone and support their idea. To assist the lead, to give their gifts in a way a founder could never tuck in. It takes a community of humans so self aware of who they are and where they fit in to make a founder’s dream come true.
Knowing who you are and where you fit into the puzzle, can be absolutely life changing. A founder can dream up an idea, but it takes a team to build it. There is something really beautiful about being on that team.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Do it. Seriously. Don’t think too hard about it, just try.
2. Don’t spend a lot of money to get started. There is beauty and grace in the slow grow. Go slow and do it well.
3. Surround yourself with humans smarter and more talented than you.
4. Figure out your WHY and never waiver from that. Hold strong to your why even when it’s hard, scary or even unpopular.
5. Today is not every day. If it was a bad one, it’s ok. It’s not your everyday. If it was a good one, hells yes… but be careful making decisions based on it. It’s not your everyday. Your days are cumulative of your everydays and it’s important to stop and ground that into your brain each day before making a decision that could change the trajectory of your company or your life.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
As humans, so many of our beautiful past stories are re-engaged by the power of scent. Sitting around the campfire with good friends and strong whiskey, falling in love with your best friend in the crispiness of autumn, walking through the forest in the dead of winter…there is a scent that triggers a beautiful memory in all of us. If one of Wax Buffalo’s candles is able to transport you, even for a moment, to a time that brings a smile to your face or a nostalgic tear to your eye, I sort of feel I am helping make the world a happier place through the power of scent.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I go back to the philosophy of working differently — to creating an environment where women are more than their output in an office chair from 9–5. Penalized and stifled for staying home with a sick kiddo, not wanting to miss a soccer game, or generally not trying to cram all of their memorable family time into evenings and weekends. Our passions and drive are potent and we deserve a career path that supports and champions that energy.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would sit down with Estee Lauder. What a force to be reckoned with. A human that fought and changed the playing field for us, women. I’d pick her brain for hours.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.