Cactus and Candles, an ecommerce business founded by Lundquist College of Business honors student Ethan Rife, is in the midst of bold and rapid expansion. And, it’s thanks in large part to a virtual, serendipitous connection facilitated this past summer by the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship.
Rife officially launched the business early in the summer following a direct-to-consumer model selling cactus- and candle-themed home décor online. But plans now include deeper market penetration and, eventually, pop-up shops and brick-and-mortar retail—growth spurred, in part, when Elon Glucklich, a second-year Oregon MBA student in innovation and entrepreneurship, joined the team.
Glucklich met Rife in August 2020 at a entrepreneur’s virtual networking hour sponsored by the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship. Intended for prospective entrepreneurs to meet and bounce ideas of one another, the networking hour was held virtually to comply with social distancing guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After being paired at random during the event for a short, 10-minute conversation, Glucklich and Rife immediately clicked. Glucklich quickly becoming interested in Rife’s vision. The two have worked together ever since.
“It’s incredible,” Rife said.
“We had never met each other in person,” Glucklich added.
For his part, Rife came to the University of Oregon interested in start-up culture, but he had no clear path forward.
Cactus and Candles was born out of simplicity and launched thanks partially to a Spark Grant (small grants awarded to students to test their venture concepts) from the Lundquist Center. Rife’s first products, sold on his website, were candles with a custom-made label. Cacti were soon added to the mix, procured from a Southern California farm. Over time, the venture evolved with new products, ideas, and services—all heavily marketed on social media.
Today, Glucklich handles nearly all the social media—a crucial cornerstone of the Cactus and Candles business model. He’s also adopted many responsibilities of a cofounder, Rife said.
More than anything, though, Rife and Glucklich said Cactus and Candles is about building community through social-responsibility. It’s patterned after the TOMS shoes “one-for-all” business concept.
“The TOMS model is only going to get more popular,” Rife said. “There is a premium on social good. I want to leverage that. And it’s pretty hard to build a sustainable business these days on anything other than technology and culture. With those, though, you need to differentiate yourself somehow—hopefully with both.”
One product-line Rife and Glucklich hope will set Cactus and Candles apart is sustainable candle refills, which they plan to launch in the near future.
“It’s what I was raised to do: care about the environment,” Rife said.
Both Rife and Glucklich agree they wouldn’t be where they are today without the support of the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship. The center has not only given the young entrepreneurs support in the early stages of their business, providing both support and feedback, but it also affords networking opportunities within the larger startup community—all things that will help Rife and Glucklich take their business to the next level.
—Will Kennedy, Lundquist College Communications