From time to time, we interview the founder of brands we love in our What I’ve Learned So Far series. From fashion founder Janessa Leone to Honest Co’s Jessica Alba; The Little Market’s Hannah Skvarla to podcaster Jay Shetty.
Running a business can be as exhilarating as it is exhausting. Hearing about our fave brand founders’ experiences through the highs and lows of it all teaches us something new every time. Here’s Kristen…
P.F. Candle Co. Founder Kristen Pumphrey:
What I’ve Learned So Far
Name: Kristen Pumphrey of P.F. Candle Co.
P.F. Candle Co. in brief: We are an independently-owned home fragrance company that makes thoughtfully designed, high quality home fragrance at accessible price points.
How it started: I lost my publishing job in the 2008 recession and decided to leave NYC, move to Austin, and start a blog and Etsy shop. I ended up meeting Tom, who is now my spouse and my business partner, and we moved to California together. California is where the business really took off—including Tom officially coming on board in 2013 as my business partner.
How it’s going: We are now a team of 71 that still makes all of our products right here in the Los Angeles area. We have two storefronts—one in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco—and sell to thousands of stores worldwide. Tom and I also published our first book, At Home with Fragrance, that explores how to use fragrance in your home—and how to make it with DIY candle and incense projects.
What I’ve learned about business… Most people think business will be like climbing a mountain, but when you zoom in, you realize that mountain has a lot of rolling hills. There are going to be highs and lows, and it’s going to take a lot of stamina to keep going.
Favorite product lately: Wild Herb Tonic candles and incense.
Our all-time best-seller: Teakwood + Tobacco soy candles—it’s the unisex scent that put us on the map and continues to be our #1 to this day.
The first moment I knew things were going to work out: I remember once working at a local market (Unique Markets) here in Los Angeles. I shared a booth with my friend, a jewelry maker (Ax + Apple), to save money. Tom and I both had a line that was 30 minutes long of people waiting to purchase our candles—it was mayhem! That was the moment I knew we were on to something.
What I’ve learned about myself… I’ve learned that I’m resilient, creative—and I’ve learned that if I have to get something done, I work best on a timer.
What I wish I could tell every new business founder: Don’t try to be your business idol—try to be yourself. Solve problems for your customers and community and create value in what you do.
Proudest moment: In 2017, we started fully subsidizing our team’s healthcare. The future of insurance was uncertain at the time, and I wanted to make sure that that basic need was taken care of.
Scary moment: The past three years have all felt like the “scariest moment” of my business—it’s a challenge of constantly feeling like you’re bumping up against your experience level. Sometimes I have to give myself a pep talk and just tell myself “do it scared, but just keep going one foot at a time.”
What I’ve learned about adaptability and resilience during the last few years… I take inspiration from the ever-changing progress of nature here, like how water carves massive canyons over time, or how redwood trees can withstand fire and keep on standing. Sometimes surviving in difficult times is not about our ability to grow—but our ability to withstand and adapt.
Business books that were a game-changer for me: It’s between Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, and Kim Scott’s Radical Candor.
Radical Candor taught me a lot about direct communication, and I share it with my leaders because it balances caring personally about your staff right alongside challenging them to do their best. Let My People Go Surfing is a glimpse into a company that has grown with a lot of heart and consciousness. I admire Patagonia’s environmental commitment and their approach to product design and distribution and have taken notes for our own operational approach. Overall, I admire how Patagonia forged their own path.
My best tip for creating balance day to day: When it comes to work, I try to create work/life separation, not work/life balance. Balance sometimes feels like another impossible standard to meet, and as an entrepreneur, I know that there are always going to be times my business demands more. My goal is to be present wherever I am—so if I’m home, I’m home, not mashing out more emails and responding to pings. And I try not to talk about work when I’m with my friends to really build that identity of myself outside of the part of me that owns a business.
What I’ve learned about wellness amidst it all… Taking time to care for myself has been a huge benefit for my mental health. When we talk about building resilience—so much of that is mental. I schedule wellness like it’s a hobby until it becomes a routine, and then it’s second nature. I walk every day, commute to work on a bike, do weight training, try to eat pretty healthy (while still getting some wine and french fries in), look forward to my nighttime skincare routine, and I carve out time to get an inexpensive facial or do Pilates. I prioritize my wellness so that I can keep up with my daughter and my business for a long time.
What I’ve learned about this industry… I’ve learned that you can—and should—forge your own path. It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of comparison or thinking you must follow in the footsteps of “similar” companies, but people find success by doing something different, not doing everything the same.
What I’ve learned about people… Because fragrance connects closely to your mood, memories and emotions, we end up connecting with our community on a deeper level. We’ve had people use our scents on their wedding day, artists who use our scents to set the mood, and people who use scent for palliative care for a family member. I’m so appreciative when people take the time to let us know that our product has an impact for them in their lives.
What I’m most excited about currently: This year is all about collaborative work—we’re hosting pop-ups with other companies in our store, we’re creating candles for epic brands, and we’re looking to do pop-ups in other people’s spaces. For us, it’s about building community and bringing the fun back into running a business.
Read next: Living Well With Herbalist Rachelle Robinett: On Nervines, Nettles + Herbal Coffee
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