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Lighting the way – Interview with Liam FoldiI met Liam Foldi at a recent B1G1 event. He’s an amazing entrepreneur, doing business for good – raising money for various charities around the world, creating employment opportunities for minority communities in Melbourne – all this is great in itself, but add to that – he is 16!
with Emma Stephens As a young person growing up in a wealthy city like Melbourne Liam Foldi realised that most people honestly want to help others, but the hectic demands of life can make it hard to give back regularly. And so, two years ago Liam started Kenshi Charity Candles. As a Social Enterprise, Kenshi's objective is to make it easier for any person, club, school or charity to raise money easily. Kenshi also donates over half of it's profit to fund charities and worthy causes that make a real difference in the world.
After struggling to keep up with demand, Liam's solution was to collaborate with the Chin community in Melbourne. Refugees from the civil war in Myanmar, they are now earning much needed income by making the candles.
The impact that Kenshi is having, is amazing, not just with the local Chin community, but the list of causes extends across Australia, and includes Kenya, Uganda and Manilla.
I asked for some more insight from this inspiring young man…
Emma: Why did you connect with the Chin people from Myanmar? Why them particularly?
Liam: It was probably more circumstantial than anything. Someone who had received a candle as a gift got in contact with me, asking how he could help. And it happened right at the time when I was getting too big to be able to keep doing it myself in my garage at home. I’d been getting mates from school to help, and so on, but I was looking for a more long term solution. So he introduced us to the Chin refugee community here in Melbourne, and it fit perfectly.
After fleeing from civil war in Myanmar, these amazing people are now earning much needed income by making the candles. It really contributes to the social enterprise aspect of Kenshi, and enriches the whole story for all of us.
Emma: What happened before you started Kenshi, that had you inspired to do things that make a social impact?
Liam: Well, when I was about 10, I guess, we used to go to a caravan park for holidays, and me and my friends would go up to the front kiosk, and buy lollies, then go around to people and sell them. Like a delivery service. Then the next year, we went to a supermarket to buy the lollies, so they were even cheaper.
Emma: So more profit margin for you. Very enterprising!
Liam: That’s right; so we got a taste for it. That was probably my first steps in trying to find something that people want, then fulfil that. So then that went forward, a few years later, when I noticed that many people had these expensive candles in their homes. I combined the idea with the social enterprise side. I’d read Daniel Flynn’s book, Thankyou. That inspired me – especially that he was from here, in Melbourne. And Blake Mycoskie, who started TOMS Shoes – that also had an impact on me.
Emma: I’m impressed that you had access to all these great influences at such an early age!
Liam: Yeah, there are some great things happening in the world. And that’s what I brought to the idea of the candles; something that would stand them apart from ‘regular’ candles. Having the social enterprise aspect was the point of difference for something that people seemed to want anyhow. Like with TOMS shoes, where you buy a pair of shoes and that gives a pair to someone in a third world country. So that was where I got the idea that someone could use the money that they were already going to spend on these high-end candles to do good as well.
ONE OF THE CHIN REFUGEES WORKING AT KENSHI CANDLES So that was the first concept, I guess, and then it just kind of evolved from there.
Emma: Wonderful. And how do you feel about how your business has gone so far, and what it’s doing?
Liam: As a student it’s been pretty good, because I haven’t had to have rigid goals, as such. I haven’t had to have certain numbers to reach. And I haven’t had to worry about paying myself a wage, and so on – I’ve been able to grow organically. So overall I’ve been really happy with it. It’s been a lot of word-of-mouth. And now the main goal is to maximise the giving potential of the candles. And trying to automate it as much as possible. Make it easy for me – and also for anyone using the candles and buying them.
I’m going into year eleven in 2020, so that’s really my main focus at the moment! So I’m trying to juggle the business and my future… I’m trying to make it all as efficient as possible, so it can be running without my direct input.
Emma: That’s amazing. And it kind of runs into another question I had, which is: what do you see as the long-term goal for yourself, and/or for your company?
Liam: This is another thing that has evolved. At first I just thought I could make candles and a website and people would buy them, but I’ve found out it’s not quite that easy! It takes a lot more than that!
Today it’s evolved so that these are candles that charities or other groups can use as their own fundraising tools – probably easier than a dinner, or a walkathon or similar. So yeah; we’re working towards making it a system that other groups can use to raise funds for their specific charities. And have it be more sustainable than regular donation styles.
Emma: Why the name ‘Kenshi’?
Liam: Ha, well, it’s a question I’ve been asked a bit, but unfortunately I don’t have a great answer. I had been studying Japanese at the time, and I thought it meant something, but it turns out it doesn’t! But it’s a unique word, I guess! Emma: Well, really, it seems to me that it’s yet another example your creativity!
And how do you think your parents feel about your adventures?
Liam: They’ve always been really supportive of me. They’ve never really limited anything, which has been great. At the moment my Dad’s really helping me with my promotion; through his business, and through giving people candles as gifts, and so on. It’s also been great that they’ve stepped back quite a lot, and given me space to do things.
Emma: Really given you space to grow. Great. And I’m curious; many young people don’t have that much concept of things outside their own lives – not many really know about world affairs, or the state of refugees, and so forth. How did you get the perspectives that you have? How do you think that you became aware of wanting to do business for charities, not just yourself?
Liam: I’ve always been quite into reading – so I’ve read many things. The biographies about Steve Jobs and Richard Branson were some of the first influences in this. I guess that had a big impact on my thoughts. And, really, you can search anything on the internet now – you can find out anything you need to. And I liked the win/win of social enterprise; that I could do better in business by helping others, which felt more satisfying anyhow! And, you know, it’s really quite a practical way to do business.
Emma: I think it’s so great that you can see that the potential for everyone to win is the best way to do business!
And how do you think your friends feel about it?
Liam: They probably don't really care all that much! You know, it’s been a bit separate from school – except for when I’ve had some of my mates help out, which they’ve especially liked when they get paid! There hasn’t really been anything negative, which is good.
Emma: And how do you feel about people wanting to interview you?
//I LIKED THE WIN/WIN OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISE; THAT I COULD DO BETTER IN BUSINESS BY HELPING OTHERS, WHICH FELT MORE SATISFYING ANYHOW! AND, YOU KNOW, IT’S REALLY QUITE A PRACTICAL WAY TO DO BUSINESS// Liam: I think it’s great. It makes me more busy, but I’m really enjoying all the experience I’m getting. When I first started, there were many hours of having to do all these back-end things before I could get going, so now I really appreciate the opportunities. It’s amazing to have people willing to help. And I try not to take it for granted.
You know, I vividly remember when I first started being in a position where I’d made all these candles, but then didn’t know how to get people to buy them. You know; how do you get things from the idea, to actually getting them in front of people? So I guess that whole difficult process makes you appreciate when the opportunities do start coming in.
Emma: Starting to pay off your hard work! And have you got any final thing that you’d like to say to LivingNow readers?
Liam: I guess the main thing, which I took into the candles, too, is: just start doing something. You can talk about doing things for a long time, without it getting you anywhere. It’s really about starting. And putting things in action. That’s the main thing. Not being one of the people who is just going to talk about it forever. Be someone who starts something.
You know, I’m not immune to it myself, either – there were definitely months, when I first started the candles, when nothing was really happening. There’s the time when it’s all up to you; and it’s easy to fall into a trap of not really doing anything, just talking. But you’ve just got to do it!
Emma: That’s awesome advice; thank you!.
Emma Stephens is the editor of LivingNow magazine.