This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.


Firstly, tell us a bit about you?

I’m the founder of Phena London, a waste-to-wax circular candle brand. I actually run the business part-time outside of my job, and since starting it’s been an amazing journey. Having bootstrapped everything, it’s not only challenged me out of my comfort zone but also enabled me to be better in all areas of my professional and personal life.


Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?

Phena London candles are made from transformed waste cooking oil from the restaurant industry, 100% natural botanical blends and responsibly sourced ingredients.

I founded the brand in early 2020, when the pandemic first took hold of the world, but the idea started a few months prior.

I love to brainstorm new business ideas and having always been interested in sustainability, I started playing out in my mind products that could be made from upcycled materials but aren’t yet. Candles were something that seemed so obvious yet when I searched online for recycled candles hardly anything came up. That’s when I started to develop the idea of using waste oil from restaurants and making the connection between two industries.


What is your main inspiration and driver for your business and how do you create positive change in the world? 

The idea was to create something new but using what’s already circulating in the economy. With more and more pressure on the world’s resources, businesses will need to start getting increasingly creative about how we can reuse waste. But a major challenge will be to reposition how waste is seen, and that it can be turned into something beautiful and functional with the right processes. That’s the vision for Phena London—a luxury candle brand that puts less pressure on natural resources through reuse and repurposing.


What was the moment everything changed for you?

As I was prototyping and finalising my concept in early 2020 I was interviewed by Courier Magazine on the idea and product. That led to incredible feedback and interest from a major retailer. I knew I was onto something and despite the challenges of Covid, it gave me confidence to continue working on the business and towards my launch, and enabled me to make new connections to further the concept. Unfortunately shortly afterwards in-person launches and projects were put on hold, and I instead did a soft launch online. This was by no means a step back as it allowed me to test the market and take small steps to refine the way I worked.


What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?

Covid has been a major challenge in itself, but there have been a few others due to being new to entrepreneurship and e-commerce in particular.

Firstly, while I had had some experience in running small-scale events from a previous venture, I had had little experience in running a business. Entrepreneurship can be quite a lonely journey, especially when you go at it solo, so you have to be proactive in making new connections and learning from others. An incredible source of support was getting coaching through Business Launchpad, a social enterprise helping young people get business support.

I also had to learn candle-making and safety regulations from scratch. While I now work with a manufacturer, I started off by making the candles myself, working with local vegan restaurants to collect their oil and recycle it from my kitchen. This turned out to be a huge positive however as I am now well versed in regulations and I’m able to be a knowledgeable participant in the manufacturing process.

Lastly, I made a choice to bootstrap the company knowing full-well I wanted to keep it as a part-time project. While bootstrapping means you retain ownership of the business, it can bring cashflow obstacles as you’re relying on sales to fund your activities.


What has been your best investment?

My best investment has been hiring a professional photographer to develop high end visual content to elevate the brand. Photos and videos are the first thing customers will notice when seeing your brand online, so it pays to have visuals that engage them.


Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?

I wouldn’t say it’s been a mistake, but it’s been something I’ve had to learn while building a business and that’s understanding the financials. Many business owners might have a great idea but lack the foundations of finance. Understanding how and where to allocate resources from the start and how to manage budgets will help you make better decisions as you scale.


What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?

I’ve learnt that life as an entrepreneur is made up of one challenge after another – you essentially become a professional problem solver.


What has been your biggest learning of 2022 so far?

2022 has taught me to take a step back and look at the big picture to see if what I’m working on still aligns with my personal and professional goals. With the world being increasingly volatile for the foreseeable future, pivoting will not only remain an essential business strategy but also a personal necessity if life gets in the way and you have to prioritise other things for the time being, whether it’s mental health, relationships or other areas.


With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?

No matter what happens I will take everything I’ve learned from my business and channel it into my personal and professional life. Everything can change at any moment, but I know that I’ll keep wanting to learn and challenge myself to grow.


What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?

A book that I’ve found really helpful in helping to crystallise a marketing strategy and choosing what may work best depending on the type of business you have is Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. A podcast I’d happily recommend is the eCommerce MasterPlan, which explores how different e-commerce companies are tackling various challenges.


What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?

If you’re not sure about where to start, start anywhere. Learn and connect with like-minded people to talk about your idea and your vision. They’ll pull you onwards on your journey.


Finally, where can we find you/how can we support you?

Website | Instagram


Leah Williams

Leah Williams

About your author

Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.

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