Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Hart Main

Wise Words

13-year-old Hart Main started his business with a $100 investment, making 'manly candles' in his kitchen after school. Now, having received thousands of orders and donating over 11,000 cans of soup, we spoke to the young entrepreneur.

Based in Ohio, Hart Main launched his range of “manly” smelling candles in reaction to the ‘girly’ scents produced by more traditional candles. To begin with, Hart would produce his candles in the kitchen during his free time, although with the success of the business production has now been outsourced.

The candles are made from old soup cans, which are cleaned and then filled with a proprietary wax blend made of all-natural food grade wax. The resultant ManCans are available in scents such as bacon, campfire, grandpa’s pipe, and new mitt, and all retail at USD 9.50. The candles are available from select stores in Ohio and across the US, as well as online. All of the soup from the bought cans is donated to soup kitchens, hospitals, churches, or other non-profit organizations.

1. Where did the idea for ManCans come from?

My sister was selling candles for a school fundraiser and I didn’t want to purchase any because they were all girly scents. I started to make a list of scents that I thought guys would like then went to the internet to see if those scents were available.

2. Has the success of the business come as a big surprise?

Yes, my family and I thought it would be a good idea for Christmas gifts and then it would slow down. The numbers of orders have grown almost every month since it started.

3. Can you describe a typical working day?

Now that I am on summer vacation from school I get up in the morning and answer e-mails. Some days I do this while cans are soaking in the sink to be cleaned and labels to be removed. Other days I have to print labels. We have outsourced the candle-making part of the business because when we were doing that at home I was still in school and with other activities we were working from 9:00 PM until midnight or later making candles, labeling candles, and boxing orders for shipment the next day.

4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on ManCans?

I like to run and ride my road bike. I am currently in cross country conditioning with the high school team getting ready for the fall season. I am also at the end of the baseball season. I enjoy all of these things that involve hanging out with my friends.

5. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

As a 13-year-old I’ve been very lucky to get a lot of free publicity to promote my company that has helped it be successful. There has also been a lot of hard work involved and I’ve received a lot of advice from other successful business people.

6. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Because we were not set up with an online cart on our website when we got started we were doing a lot of manual work to get orders placed and processed. In 48 hours we had over 1400 email requests for orders that we had to process by sending people PayPal requests then match that payment up with their original request for the order. This was a very long process that sometimes caused us to lose orders. This was very frustrating.

7. What motivates you to keep going?

The more orders we get the more opportunity we have to feed people that need help. Almost every candle is made in a soup can where the soup has been donated to a kitchen or homeless shelter that feeds people. To date we have donated over 11,000 cans of soup.

8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have set up a shopping cart in the beginning to help handle orders but I had no way of knowing it would get this big. We also changed the price of the candles three times. Originally we were making these candles in our free time. Now that I have to pay someone to make them for us we have to charge more.

9. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

We have just started to look at options for the future. The past several months have been so busy filling orders and working through the process of making things more streamlined that we have not had a chance to look ahead. I hope to have a better plan for the future by the end of 2011.

10. If you weren’t working on ManCans, what would you be doing?

Sleeping! I have taken away a lot of training time from both cross country and triathlons. I hope that once we get everything streamlined in the business we will be able to process orders faster for our customers and I will have more time to focus on training.

11. Tell Springwise a secret…

We have an idea for a Christmas gift this year that will still focus on feeding people and using recycled goods and producing a candle, but it will be completely different from what we do with our current candle-in-a-can product.

12. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Listen to people with lots of experience in business. Some of the advice you will not be able to use but some of it will give you good ideas or help you solve current problems in your business.

You can read more about ManCans in our article here, or visit the ManCans website here.