Let’s talk about money.
At Mogul Millennial, we believe that when we avoid the important conversation around money, it becomes a silent tool for oppression for the Black entrepreneurial community. It’s hard to learn about something when you’re discouraged or scared to talk about it, and as a result, cannot really learn in order to grow.
In our series, All About the Benjamins, we’re challenging Black entrepreneurs to give us the tea on their financial reality—how much money they’re making (or not making), if they are profitable, how they were really able to launch their business, and so much more.
In this edition, we were able to catch up with Denequa Williams-Clarke, the founder of LIT Brooklyn, a luxury, eco-friendly candle company. After deciding she wanted to launch a candle company, Denequa taught herself how to make candles, and since then, has been able to partner with top brands and has grown her passion into a profitable business. In our chat, we learn more about how Denequa launched LIT, and her financial experiences in the early days as a new entrepreneur.
An entrepreneur at heart
One of my first jobs was actually my start in entrepreneurship. When I was 12 or 13, I had a printing company with one of my cousins and I was selling greeting cards. There was this CD ROM, when they were a thing, called ‘Create a Card’, and I used that to create greeting cards around the holidays and business cards for people. The biggest thing that I learned from this experience was customer service. Even at that young age, I treated my business very seriously from how I packaged it, and even the time frame of how I delivered my products. But I think other than that, I have to credit my parents for teaching me about business. They were immigrants and a lot of things that I’ve learned in business came from them. As an immigrant, you have to be super-resilient, and that’s definitely a trait that you need in business. Also, you need to be reliable, trustworthy, and a person of your word. No business could have taught me what I’ve learned from watching my parents.
For Denequa, it was all or nothing
I’ve always loved candles and I think my love for candles and my love for making people feel good about themselves, inspired LIT. The lighting of candles and the ambiance that it provides, I love being a part of that experience. Back in 2015, I was literally in the living room watching TV, and I told my husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, “Yo, I think I want to start making candles.” The idea came easy to me because I love candles so much and I wanted to do what I loved.
When I decided to launch my business, I was doing it full-time. The money that I had saved from my last job helped me start my business. I literally just went all in. I know I had a lot of balls to do it. Looking back, I had a lot of balls and a lot of bills. Starting this business was probably one of the biggest risks that I’ve ever taken in life but I don’t regret it.
I will say a disclaimer and note that there is definitely a certain kind of love that you have to have for starting any type of business but especially a business when you’re investing your own money into it, because you have to have a mind frame of all or nothing and that’s not easy. You have to automatically go into it without even thinking that there’s going to be any loss at all; you have to fully believe in it 100%. I definitely experienced that a lot of that when I first started my business. I know people around me didn’t understand the importance of candles, but I didn’t let it stop me.
It took spending money to make money
My business was very expensive to start. Honestly, I never really calculated how much money I used when I first started. I do remember that there was a lot of trial and error, and testing involved. There was a lot of spending on things like tumblers, wicks, glassware, waxes, and several other things. I never really took the time to think about the money aspect. Early on, I was so obsessed and invested in the final product that I never really thought about everything else that was going on.
In my first year of business, I did do a lot of sponsoring products and that was an expense. I also did a lot traveling to make sure I was at different pop-ups and events in the city, which was a huge expense too. In the early days, it was definitely a lot of money that was spent, but I wasn’t tracking it like that.
Plant your seed, and then watch it multiply
When I first launched my business, my price points were a lot higher, and that was, of course, all with trial and error. About six months into my business, I did a whole rebranding, where I offered a travel-sized candle and I offered a different color jar. I found that the person that I was getting my supplies from was able to offer me a cheaper cost, so then in return, I was able to offer my customer’s a cheaper price. Once I did the whole rebranding, that’s when I started to see an increase in sales. My customers were getting the same quality product but just in different packaging.
I didn’t really see any real, consistent sales coming in until like a year, or a year and a half later in my business. Keep in mind though, that’s a part of the game. No matter what, you have to stay the course even when you’re not making a lot of money in the beginning.
In every success story, there’s a gap of trials and errors that is untold
To be honest, in the beginning, there was definitely no paying of a salary. I sustained myself because I was lucky to be able to still live at home with my mom.
After my first year of business, my mom started seeing people and brands writing about my business. For example, I was featured in Essence, and got to be in a Budweiser commercial. I think for an immigrant parent, my mom was like ‘I don’t know exactly what the hell you’re doing, but it has to be something because people are talking about you.’ From there once the traction started to pick up, belief started to come in. She knew that I wasn’t just sitting around, and that my business was a real thing. Being able to stay at home was a huge help because I was also able to save money.
Often times, people don’t really talk about things like this, and I think that’s why success stories are so jaded. It’s so many loopholes in everyone’s story. The reality is that when you have a business, what you make goes back into the business. Even if you have a $5,000 day, you don’t really have $5000 sis. That money goes back into supplies, back into your product, your tech, etc.
There is a lot of factors that go into the money that’s made as an entrepreneur and I don’t think people are honest when having that conversation. You don’t become a self-made millionaire overnight and people have to know this coming in. Entrepreneurship is hard.
Started from the bottom now we’re here
After all of the trials and long nights, I’m profitable now, but it didn’t happen until after the year and a half mark. Most of my revenue, and my profitably, has come from the help of my consumers, and their word of mouth marketing. The awareness that I’ve been getting since I launched from people that love my brand has been huge and impactful.