While traveling on her honeymoon, Melissa Fensterstock was a mosquito magnet in Southeast Asia. Tempted to try what the locals created and trusted, she started using a native repellent. Not only did it smell great, but it worked, preventing the usual bulging welts she experienced in the hot, sticky summer months. She found herself inspired by this surprising product, and with a rich background in business and biotech, she started to form an idea.
What pushed her to truly dive into her entrepreneurial calling, however, was that earlier that year, her then-fiance (and now husband and business partner) had to have emergency open-heart surgery. Today, they both see that as their wake-up call.
“He had been in top notch shape, even was a professional squash player just a few years prior. We knew we wanted to create a brand that had to do with healthy living,” Fensterstock shares. “We both wanted to have ownership over our careers and commit ourselves to creating something unique and of value. What better way to control your own destiny than to run your own company.”
Women often are more risk-averse than men. That being said, in order to grow, pivot, and evolve, we must all take risks and incorporate the learnings into our businesses.
Once they were back in the States, they pursued the start of Aromaflage, a company that specializes in perfumes, candles and oils, all of which fight against bugs, while smelling great.
Fensterstock took the time to talk about her company’s success and what’s coming next:
What a cool concept. What’s your background? How did you land in this beauty-meets-health industry?
“I was always interested in the intersection of science and business, in particular, commercializing science. I was on the pre-med track and in the ninth hour decided it was not for me. I couldn't tolerate the blood and gore!
My first job after my BA in Neuroscience from Johns Hopkins and my MPhil from the University of Cambridge, was at a boutique strategy consulting firm. It was a great way to learn a lot about the healthcare industry and work with senior leaders in the healthcare field. The problem I always had with consulting was that as the consultant, you're just thinking hard and recommending solutions, not implementing them. I wanted to operate a business.
From consulting I went to work at Stryker, the medical device company. As you may know, it is consistently rated as one of the top companies to work for. The people were great and the work was interesting. Although I already had a master's degree, many of the jobs that interested me required an MBA. I knew I needed to get an MBA under my belt and applied to the top programs. I was thrilled when I was accepted to Harvard Business School. It felt surreal and I still remember every detail of finding out.
If we could get covered in the New York Times or if we could get our brand into a major department store, our business will be revolutionized!
Aromaflage Photo Courtesy of CDN
Business school is a two-year program and internships are required between the first and second years. I always felt that finance was a weak point of mine, so I figured the most tangible skill set I could garner in a summer would be an investment banking skill set. I worked for the summer at JP Morgan investment bank in the healthcare banking group. I worked harder than I ever had and learned a ton. That being said, I certainly was far from the best banker, and felt similarly about banking as I had felt about consulting.
I really wanted to be in a business, making decisions, and creating something as opposed to recommending solutions or executing transactions.
For personal reasons, I wanted to be back in New York. At the time, and still to date, there are not a ton of life science companies in the area, despite the local development initiatives. I joined a health technology company called Elsevier in a general management rotation program. It was a fantastic opportunity to move across the various business units and work with senior leadership across the company.
One day I received a call from a former boss of mine who was running a NASDAQ, publicly traded biotech company. He wanted to know if I wanted to run corporate development for him (out-licensing and in-licensing of assets). I felt that I would thrive in a smaller, more intimate environment where I could have real impact on the bottom line. Biotech is quite risky and either companies crush it or implode. The company took a turn for the worse and it felt like the right time to leave.
It was then that I joined Michael at Aromaflage full-time. The company was growing and I wanted to give it my all, not treating it as a side project any longer.
What sets Aromaflage apart?
“Most perfumes are all about the celebrity and the packaging. We take quite a different approach with an emphasis on function and quality of ingredients. We have pioneered the category - fragrance with function.
Our products are free of harsh chemicals and carefully formulated based on science. Our flagship line of products are fragrances and candles that naturally repel mosquitos. They have been tested and are effective. Quite in demand these days!
We have also launched a sleep fragrance that is designed to help induce sleep and promote restful, deep sleep. In addition to our scientific angle, we have worked with fine fragrance houses - the ones that make many designer fragrances - to craft a well-balanced, sophisticated, yet effective line of fragrances.”
What’s surprised you most about becoming an entrepreneur?
“The ups and downs and the importance of securing many small wins. One day you feel like you're on top of the world. The next day you might be ready to quit. It is a cycle that never seems to cease. I've learned so much about resilience and persistence. My thick skin can get me through almost anything.
It’s all about amassing small wins that eventually will amount to something meaningful. There is no silver bullet or replacement for brute force and hard work. I always gave more credit to milestone events: If we could get covered in the New York Times or if we could get our brand into a major department store, our business will be revolutionized! While these wins do add up, there usually is not one thing that will transform your business. I really believe it's all about moving the ball forward, one roll at a time, and keeping your head up through the steps forward and steps backward knowing that you just need to keep continuing to execute on your vision."
We love that. What’s been the most rewarding moment?
“The most rewarding moment was seeing our brand featured in a Daily Candy mailer just a few weeks after we launched our company. We had just started out and had no clue what the demand was for our perfumes. We had hundreds of hundreds of orders and had a proof point that people did in fact want Aromaflage! We totally weren't prepared for this spike in demand and hustled all night long for days on end to fulfill orders, even dropping packages off in person in NYC. All had hand written notes.
At this point in time, we have processes in place to handle this type of spike in demand such as a warehouse and fulfillment center with automation. Hearing all of the positive customer feedback and love for our brand has made it all worthwhile!"
What advice would you give to other aspiring female entrepreneurs?
“Take calculated risks. Women often are more risk-averse than men. That being said, in order to grow, pivot, and evolve, we must all take risks and incorporate the learnings into our businesses. When making decisions, I often ask myself: 'If I make this decision could it bankrupt my business?' If yes, I don't do it. If it's a risk that will provide a learning experience but we could financially continue should it fail entirely, I consider it.
Think about what type of business you are running. In a self-funded, bootstrapped company you must be concerned with not only revenues but profit. Profits are what will keep your lights on and business alive. Those who are venture backed can afford to focus on revenue and operate a loss. They are very different business models which impact the decisions you make on a daily basis.”
“We will continue to grow our retail distribution but our next focus is to invest in digital marketing and grow our e-commerce business. We are beefing up our content strategy as well, trying to provide a more holistic experience for our customers.
As for being a woman, I'm happy to be a new mom. It has been the most rewarding, yet challenging experience of my life. Given that I have been running Aromaflage, giving birth didn't give me a break from the business.There was no such thing as a real maternity leave. I was back up and running within days. That being said, I want to try to find the happy medium of continuing to push forward and prioritizing my career while also being the best mom I can be. I know that people talk about work-life balance. It is a bit of a myth. I think it's about staying focused on the task at hand at the moment and doing it to the best of your ability. Too often we are in one place but already thinking about what's next later in the day or what's on our to-do list. My personal goal is to stay focused on the moment and give it my all."
This post was first published 7/17
Personally, I am over the top excited that we are on the cusp of turning the page on not only a new year but also on a new 10-year window of opportunities and possibilities!
You may be thinking, whoa…I am just embracing the fall season…yikes… it is tough to think about a new decade!
Yet it is this groundwork, this forward thought that you put in place TODAY that will propel you and lead you into greatness in 2020 and beyond. Designing a new decade rests in your ability to vision, in your willingness to be curious, in your awareness of where you are now and what you most want to curate. Essentially, curating what's next is about tapping into today with confidence, conviction, and decision. Leading YOU starts now. This is your new next. It is your choice.
Sometimes to get to that 'next', you need to take a step back to reflect. Please pardon my asking you to spend time in yesterday. Those who know me personally, know that I created and continue to grow my business based on enabling the present moment as a springboard for living your legacy. So, indulge me here! True, I am asking you to peek into the past, yet it is only in order for you to bring the essence of that past forward into this moment called NOW.
One of the best ways to tap into what's next is to clarify what drives you. To design a new decade, ask yourself this question about the past ten years:
What worked? What were my successes?
Make a list of your achievements big and small. Don't type them, but rather use ink and paper and sit with and savor them. Move your thoughts and your successes from your head, to your heart, to your pen, to the paper. Remember that on the flip side of goals not attained and New Year's resolutions abandoned, there was more than likely some traction and action that moved you forward, even if the end result was not what you expected. Once you have a full list of a decade's worth of personal and professional accomplishments, think about how this makes you feel. Do you remember celebrating all of them? My guess is no. So, celebrate them now. Give them new life by validating them. Circle the successes that resonate with you most right now. Where can you lean into those accomplishments as you power into the decade ahead?
Now comes a tougher question, one that I used myself in my own mid-life reinvention and a question I adore because in a moment's time it provides you with a quick reconnect to your unique inner voice.
If it were 10 years ago and nothing were standing in your way, no fear or excuses to contend with…what would you do?
Don't overthink it. The brilliance of this question is that it refocuses purpose. Whatever first came to mind when you answered this for yourself is at its core a powerful insight into defining and redefining the FUTURE decade. Bring your answer into the light of today and what small piece of it is actionable NOW? Where is this resonating and aligning with a 2019 version of yourself?
Then, based on your success list and your answer to the above question, what is your 2020 vision for your business and for the business of YOU?
Designing a new decade begins as a collection of 3,650 opportunities. 3,650 blank slates of new days ahead in which to pivot and propel yourself forward. Every single one of those days is a window into your legacy. An invitation to be, create, explore, and chip away at this thing we call life. One 24-hour segment at a time.
While you have a decade ahead to work on design improvements, you have the ability to begin manifesting this project of YOU Version 2020 right NOW. Based on exploring the exercises in this post, begin executing your vision. Ask questions. Be present. Let go of 2019 and the past 10 years so that you can embrace the next 10. Position acceptance and self-trust at the forefront of how you lead you. One choice at a time.
Don't get bogged down in the concept of the next 10 years. Instead position clarity and intention into each new day, starting today. Then chase every one of those intentions with an in-the-moment commitment and solution toward living a legendary life!