Cylinda woke one day inspired to create immersive tabletop gaming candles, then the hard work of building a small business began!
When you think about D&D and other tabletop games, many things come to mind. Minis. Dice. Books and maps. But Cylinda is out to add another dimension to her customers’ games–scent. She creates immersive candles with scents that will be familiar to any D&D player. The Tavern. The Grand Archives. River Ruins. And many more.
In this interview, we talk about how she started her business having never made candles before! And the very deliberate planning and choices she made along the way to build success.
Watch the interview above, or keep reading for the text transcription*:
*Text has been shortened and edited for readability. Check out the full video for all of the candid, uncensored banter!
Prefer to listen to the interview? Download the Geeks Who Get Paid Podcast version of this episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, or scroll to the bottom for a podcast player.
Q: Before we get into business, I want to hear a little bit about you! What you do, what your nerdy hobbies are. Who is Cylinda, first?
A: So many nerdy hobbies to talk about. Well, I’m Cylinda. I live in Decatur, GA, which is a suburb of Atlanta, and I’ve been here about 20 years. I’m originally from Texas and grew up there. If you know anything about Texas, you know you never quite leave it behind. You’re always a Texan.
I’m 46 years old, which I mention because I feel like sometimes on the internet, there’s an idea that anything over 40 or 30 is way past your prime, and you can’t do new things. This is a very new venture for me, and I want to advocate for people doing new things no matter their age.
Let’s see, hobbies. D&D is a pretty big one, obviously, and tabletop RPGs in general. I’ve only been playing them for about three, maybe four years. So it’s a relatively new hobby, but I kind of jumped in with a lot of gusto, I guess.
Once I started playing them, I loved them. You know, I think that’s a pretty common experience, and it really connected with me. I have way too many dice and way too many games that I’ll probably never play. All the typical tabletop problems.
But I do have other hobbies. I’m a beer geek or beer nerd, however you want to say it. For a long time, I planned trips around visiting breweries and I homebrew, although it’s been a while. Like, homebrew beer, not homebrew, you know, D&D content.
Q: What started the idea for Delve Candles? How did it come to be?
A: It’s a little bit of a journey. I was trying to think about how to answer this question and, it’s a little bit like it happened both very fast and it was also a very long process.
One night in November of 2020, so in the earlier days of the Covid lockdown, I woke up. I don’t think I actually had a dream, but I woke up with this idea like “Delve Candles.” I just have this name, and it would be great for candles. And I had this idea for the logo.
So, I got up and turned on my computer, and I started making my first label and writing down a list of scents I would make. I don’t know where this came from, and I don’t really know if it was just my pandemic brain needing something to focus on or something. That’s the part that feels like it happened like a flash of inspiration.
Once I started researching candles and getting into candle making, something about the process of it is very familiar to me and very appealing. It is actually really similar to brewing beer. You’re taking these raw components and putting them together in creative ways. You’re creating something different and new out of them, but something that is really personal. You can tinker with it and make all these adjustments. It’s creative in a way that speaks to me.
I don’t want to present myself like I’m the person who came up with the idea of immersive tabletop candles, because there are a lot of other companies out there doing it. I think it’s something in the hobby that’s growing. As people become aware of the potential for adding scent to your games, more people become consumers of these products, and more people are interested in making their own scents, right?
So, there’s been a great deal of growth in this really niche market over the course of the last couple of years.
I feel like some of that might be related to the pandemic. I’ve become immersed in the candle-making world, and there’s just been an explosion, not just of tabletop candles, but candle-making in general, which has led to some supply chain issues and other fun aspects of the business.
This is kind of like a long and winding answer to your question, but I had experienced tabletop candles before and thought, “This is a really neat idea. I love D&D, I love playing these games, and I love telling these stories. How cool would it be to take that and do my own version of it?” Then I woke up with the name and the logo, and I was like, “Oh, well, I really need to do this.”
I found–not a calling. It’s not that, but it’s something that I really enjoy. I really enjoy talking to people about it and adding that extra hint of immersion to people’s games.
One of my favorite stories was about someone who bought like eight sample sets to give as Christmas presents to their whole group. Their group was dispersed all over the country, and the idea was that when they played over Zoom or whatever they were using, they would all burn the same scent. It would bring them together.
I was like, “Oh, that’s heartwarming.” It was nice to hear.
I keep coming back to like brewing, but there’s not just one brewery out there making one kind of brown ale or one kind of hoppy IPA. Everyone is doing their own thing. I think there’s plenty of room for however many candle makers want to venture into this area.
Q: Did you make candles before you came up with the idea?
A: I did not. I learned. I took a month and started gathering my supplies. I started doing research on what goes into making candles. Then, I think I ordered my first set of supplies in December of 2020, and it took me until October of 2021 to really nail down everything.
There’s a pretty big learning curve. It seems like it would be simple to make candles. Maybe. I don’t know if it does, but I think a lot more goes into them being successful than people may realize if you don’t make them.
The basic steps are pretty straightforward. You’ve got your wax, your wick, and your scent, but there are a lot of different variables that go into the final product.
Q: Well, let’s talk about it! I would love to hear a little bit about the process of creating the candle and coming up with the scent.
A: Back in my brainstorming phase, I came up with a ridiculously long list of scents that I would want available to me if I were playing D&D or DM-ing. I still have that list, and I hope to add more scents to the line eventually.
It was like 20- 25 different scents, but I needed to choose some to focus on. So I narrowed it down to a handful, and then it’s the same process. You have a scent in mind, and the first one I knew I wanted–it’s a cliche, but the Tavern, you know, I feel like you have to have a Tavern scent.
Ami: It’s where you meet.
Cylinda: It’s where you meet! You don’t have to meet at a tavern. There are a lot of ways you can start an adventure, but it’s classic for a reason, right? And my love of beer. I wanted to combine these things.
So you have the idea in mind, and then it’s dissecting what, in your opinion, goes into the scent of a tavern. I knew I wanted some alcohol notes, so I went with whiskey. Then there was the idea of smoke and tobacco, and an element of wood for the environment, so our Tavern has some red cedar in it.
It’s thinking about the scent that you’re trying to create and then breaking it down into components that you feel like you can actually find the raw scents for. Then you start experimenting with the blends.
All of our scents are custom blended because we’re trying to replicate very specific environments or specific moods. I think most D&D candles are made that way, but a lot of candles that you just buy at a market or wherever, they’re single fragrance candles. They don’t blend together different scents. It’s just, you know, lavender or whatever. It’s an easier process to make.
There’s a whole wide world of fragrances out there that are specifically made for candles. A ludicrous number of different options. So, it’s just a matter of time, resources, and testing. Like, is this whiskey note what I want? Or is this whiskey note better? Maybe I don’t want whiskey at all. Maybe I’d rather have something that’s more of a rum base.
It’s a lot of trial and error. It’s a lot of smelling little strips of paper. You never quite know as you’re developing a scent. Something can smell really good out of the bottle. You mix the blends and take a whiff of them, and they might smell good on the blotter paper, but then you put it in an actual candle with the wax, and it doesn’t quite smell like you think it’s going to.
And then is it going to perform well when it’s burning? Which is a whole other thing.
It’s all a process you can break down into its component parts, but patience is the key.
Ami: A whole year. That’s not an insignificant amount of time. In business, you can expect to spend a year getting up and running, but still, that’s a labor of love.
Cylinda: It is. You know, we only launched with seven scents. And I think some people launch with more than that. But it took a whole year to get those seven where I wanted them.
I didn’t want to put out anything that, first of all, I didn’t love, and, second, that I didn’t think was as accurate as I could make it. I understand that scent is a relatively subjective thing. Everyone likes different things and smells things differently. They evoke different memories for different people based on their life experiences. It’s not super cut and dry. What I think smells like a tavern might not be what you think smells like a tavern, but I at least wanted to believe it.
It took a while to get there, but I’m happy with the results.
I’ve done a few events where I’ve been able to sell in person, and it’s just gratifying to see people smell the test scents and be like, “Oh, this smell like a campfire!” And I’m like, “thank you.” Thank you for validating my opinion of what a campfire smells like.
It’s definitely a challenge when I can’t send the smells easily across the internet.
Q: One of the first things I noticed, next to the fact that my package smelled really good, was that your packaging is absolutely beautiful. You obviously spent a long time on the candles, but that must have taken some time and thought too.
A: I appreciate that. It did take some time and thought. Although, as I said, I woke up with the name and had this idea out of the blue. I made a rough representation of what I wanted and then iterated that quite a lot to get the final design.
I don’t have any training, but early on in my adult life, I worked for a publishing house. I did rudimentary graphics and page layout and stuff like that. So, I had basic knowledge, but it’s not an education. I’m not naturally artistic, but I was able to put together a logo I was really happy with and that appealed to me in a lot of ways.
And then, coming up with the colors was fun, and the little part on the lids. But it was a long process. It didn’t happen overnight, and I’m still like tinkering with them. I’m at the point now where I’m going to start hiring someone to do, I think, the art for my future labels because I would like to actually have a professional something at this point.
I was happy that I could at least get it to this point just using my resources.
Q: So, with all the stickers and like the bag with the stamp and everything? Are you doing that at home?
A: Well, the stickers I order. But I make the bags at home. I have a stamp that I ordered and I stamp them. That was fun when it struck me that I could put these in a little “bag of holding.” People seem to like them.
The website as well. I wanted it to look as polished as possible from a business perspective. Just being cognizant of the importance of branding and trying to make it as polished as I could, even with the limited resources of a start-up business, which is always a challenge.
People have been really complimentary of the branding. I’m thankful for that.
Q: I’d love to hear how the tabletop RPG community in general reacted to the idea. What kind of feedback have you gotten?
A: It’s been really positive, and I’ve been so gratified by the response. It’s not like we’re brand new, or this is like a brand new idea, but you know there are two camps of people in the tabletop community.
People who already know these kinds of products exist but have been very willing to give us a try. And have been very complimentary of our products, even knowing that there are other options out there.
Then, there is a huge population of gamers who have never heard of immersive candles.I love talking to them because their minds are always blown when they realize that scent is something they could add to their game session. It’s been fun meeting those people, especially at in-person events that I’ve done.
Talking to them about their characters and their campaigns, saying, “oh, this would be perfect for a session I have coming up,” or “we’re going to a library or an archive to research, and this is going to be great.”
Q: You mentioned doing some in-person events, but you also mentioned that you started your business in a pandemic. So, let’s talk marketing. How did you get the product out there in the first place, and how are you marketing it now?
A: Well, I’m still trying to figure out marketing. I think marketing is hard, and I wish I had the resources to pay someone to do marketing for me. But, I’m not there at the moment.
Obviously social media has been a key to letting people know we exist. That’s the crux of any business, is finding your audience and finding your customers. Because once you find them, selling the candle is fairly easy.
It’s especially apparent when you do a live event. If I can get my candles in front of people at a live event, people get excited about the product, and it’s often a pretty easy sell.
But finding those people on the internet is quite a bit more challenging.
So, I developed the website. I decided I didn’t want to go the Etsy route, which is fairly common for this kind of product. I think Etsy has a lot of positives in terms of finding an audience base because of it’s search functions, and a lot of people just know to go there. But, I wanted more control over the branding and the product. I ultimately decided not to do that. This comes with a downside: you have to find your audience. It’s more laborious.
Twitter has been a big thing, but I’m trying to get into other avenues besides just Twitter. I’m trying to figure out Tik Tok, if you know any secrets to figuring out what is going on on Tik Tok. I’m too old.
But again, it’s not just the tabletop role-playing community. It’s the same for candlemakers everywhere, regardless of your angle. It’s finding your audience and building that consistent customer base. Who’s going to not just buy your candle for the first time, but keep coming back?
We launched in October, and that was deliberate. I wish we could have launched a little earlier, but October was the latest I wanted to launch because it’s the busiest shopping season with the holidays. And the reception was really great. We were much more successful than I anticipated, which was nice.
I don’t know if anyone ever expects overnight success, and I don’t even know how I would define that, but I knew it as a long game. I’m just trying to create a product that I’m proud of and a loyal customer base who would be willing to come back for candles repeatedly.
Ami: I love the idea of the sharing candle, by the way. I’m bringing it to my DM so he can try it out because he’s going to love it.
Cylinda: Yeah. I’m just trying to get them in as many hands as possible. I’m like, “Please share this. Or don’t, you know, you can have an extra one, but I hope some people do share them and they have told me that they do, so.”
Q: So, what are the in-person events you’ve done?
A: I’ve done one convention, a local one here in Atlanta. We have MomoCon. It’s in the summer, and they had a winter thing for the first time right before Christmas.
That was a geek convention and had a lot of folks who played tabletop games, and it was great to talk to them, get the candles in the hands of people and see their reactions. That was nice to connect with a big geek population in that way.
I also did some non-geek-specific events that were very successful because geeks are everywhere, right? And geeks have family members who might not play D&D themselves, but especially during the Christmas season, I had a lot of people come up and say “Oh, my daughter plays D&D,” or “my son plays D&D,” or whoever. “I’m going to buy them a candle,” you know?
So, one thing I would say is: don’t limit yourself. Think outside of the box, because some of those shows were wildly successful and it could just be a neighborhood artists market.
Ami: No kidding? I wouldn’t have guessed.
Cylinda: I wouldn’t have either. It was surprising to me but in a good way. I think D&D particularly has become such a phenomenon in the last few years that everyone knows someone who plays at this point. I’m trying not to limit myself to just geek spheres.
Q: So I did notice on your website that you identify as a queer Latina woman. Has that shaped your experience as a business owner at all?
A: I don’t know if it’s shaped the business. I mean, it shapes my life, all of those identities. Coming from a family who has, in the not too distant past, immigrated to the United States, there’s always a lot of entrepreneurship with immigrant families. It’s definitely true in my family as well. Trying to carve out your own little business or something that is yours. I think that aspect of my Hispanic heritage comes into play a bit.
And it’s important to me to put that like on the website and my other social media profiles because historically it seems like the tabletop gaming space has not always been super-inclusive or welcoming to other people. I think queer folks or minorities have always played games, but perhaps they’ve been less visible, or not welcomed by the majority of players.
I just wanted to say, “I’m here. This is a queer-owned business. It’s a woman-owned business. It’s a Latina-owned business, and we’re here in this space taking up room and being who we are.”
I try to, when I can, support those kinds of businesses myself with my dollars too. So, if customers feel the same, I just want them to know who’s behind this company.
And obviously, I want to make an inclusive product. Our company ethos goes into wanting to make the tabletop gaming community as inclusive a space as it can be, and it should be. We’re just doing our tiny little part to help in that.
Q: What has been the biggest win you’ve had with Delve Candles and the biggest challenge?
A: Honestly, the biggest win was launching. Because it was a process, right? A year-long in a pandemic. I was just really proud because you come in with an idea, you get excited about it, and then you learn the work and expense that’s involved.
People who have primarily digital products have their own challenges and their own sort of expenses to deal with. But, with selling physical products, it’s not just the work, but it’s like the capital, the expense, and planning for all that.
It took discipline, foresight, and planning. I felt proud to even get it off the ground, and then to have a really positive reception felt good. So that would be what I would classify as the biggest win.
I think the biggest challenge is marketing. We’ve already talked about that, but when you start a business like this, there are some things you can do yourself. You just don’t do them as well as if you hired a professional. Then there are certain things that you just can’t do yourself. I can’t be my own wax supplier, and I can’t make candle tins. There are certain business expenses I have to outsource.
But marketing is something, unfortunately, that people can do themselves, even though they would be better off hiring someone.
I think the bigger picture is prioritizing your financial resources and figuring out where to reinvest the income from the business. What makes more sense, not just a business perspective, but what am I most excited about?
I do have the support of my family. They helped me out a ton. My wife and even my son have done a lot for me, but at the end of the day, it’s my business. So, I have to be excited about the idea, but then ask, does this make business sense? Because if it doesn’t, it becomes unsustainable. It’s a lot to think about.
Q: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to someone, not specifically starting their own candle business, but wanting to create a product and put it out there, what would your advice be?
A: If they do want to start their own candle business, they would always be free to reach out to me! I would legitimately be happy to share what knowledge I could.
But in terms of any business, I think planning is super important. Have a roadmap for the steps that you need to take to get from your starting place to where you want to be, and then break it down into as manageable of steps as you can.
Accept that it’s going to take time. It’s going to take patience and perseverance. There are going to be setbacks. There are going to be things you don’t anticipate. But if you kind of go in knowing that it’s going to happen, hopefully it doesn’t take you too far off of the path, you know? That would probably be my best advice.
Thank you again to Cylinda for taking the time to talk TTRPG candlemaking and small business success! Don’t forget to follow her on social media, and even pick up a candle or two for your own game.
- Website/Shop: https://delvecandles.com/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/delvecandles
- Instagram: http://instagram.com/delvecandles