The beauty business is a crowded market from focused retail stores to department stores to online shops to subscription boxes. One might think there wasn't room enough for even one more player in the game. But Scentbird founders Mariya Nurislamov (CEO) and Rachel ten Brink (CMO) thought otherwise.
With a background in Applied Mathematics, Computer Science and Marketing, Nurislamov was COO of Neuvey, an IT outsourcing company and co-founded Beta Week, an invite-only IT conference based in Moscow prior to founding Scentbird with Sergey Gusev (Founder & COO) and Andrei Rebrov (Founder & CTO).
Brink, who holds an MBA from Columbia Business School, spent over fifteen years in Global Marketing leadership roles at L'Oreal, Estee Lauder, P&G and Elizabeth Arden before embarking on this endeavor.
Mariya Nurislamova. Photo Courtesy of ScentBird
They took a gamble in October of 2014 and they played their cards just right. Investors flocked and sales soared. Why, you ask? Because the brand considers themselves a tech platform first. An interesting position and one that has paid off “scentsational" dividends.
1. From where did the idea for Scentbird come?
Mariya Nurislamova: Scentbird was created with the simple notion of offering choice when it came to personal fragrance.
As a true fragrance lover myself, I oftentimes found myself wanting to try something different. I didn't (and still don't) believe in a “signature scent" because I like to mix things up – sometimes I want a floral scent and other times I want a musky scent, it's just the way of life. I then would embark on my search to find a new fragrance and realize that in order to find my next perfume I have to dodge salespeople at the department stores, sniff numerous scents until my eyes watered, and then pay for an entire bottle that I never finish.
Sticking to one scent feels stifling and outdated; however, perfume bottles are expensive, impractical for travel, and last forever. We had many conversations with women who found themselves in the same situation that I was in saying, “I like the scent but I'm so bored of it. But there's so much left that I feel bad buying something else." That's when we came up with Scentbird, a way that would make it fun and be engaging to try new scents in a small sized atomizer filled with a designer fragrance of choice that lasts 30 days for only $14.95 a month. We knew very early on that there just had to be a simpler, more pleasurable way to discover different fragrances so we used that as our fuel to create Scentbird.
2. Did you feel as if something was missing in the beauty market offerings?
Rachel ten Brink: Absolutely. Perfume is supposed to be an indulgent, sensory experience, yet we found that shopping for perfume to be anything but easy.
We knew very early on that there just had to be a simpler, more pleasurable way to discover different fragrances so we used that as our fuel to create Scentbird.
3. What made you think it would work despite the exceptionally crowded beauty and beauty box market?
Andrei Rebrov: Like many new businesses, we had identified an issue and created a solution. But only after trial and error did we eventually realize we were on to something special. Scentbird was developed with two major things in mind, the customer and the current fragrance space. There are no “one-size fits all" when it comes to finding a perfume or cologne and the marketplace didn't seem to grasp that concept at the time.
What makes us different from other subscription boxes, is that our customers have the ability to choose what they want. Every time. If they need a suggestion from us Scentbird's unbiased approach to recommending perfumes combines analytics with highly visual design to help direct them with recommended choices. There is some serious technology we developed called, TrueScent that helps pair the person with the fragrance of their desires.
4. What were your first steps in terms of getting Scentbird started? Technology? Product? Distribution?
Rachel ten Brink: Technology. We started Scentbird as a recommendation engine where we took 500M authentic consumer reviews. Instead of industry terms, we did a semantic analysis based on real consumer language (e.g- “I love it but it smells like grandma"- what other scents are consumers describing with these words?).
5. Where did you get your funding for Scentbird?
Mariya Nurislamova: We were lucky to be funded by Y Combinator in the early days and that really helped open up our network. Demo Day was instrumental in terms of meeting investors and getting our message across. It was reasonably straightforward from there.
6. Why do you think Scentbird has done so well in terms of funding?
Mariya Nurislamova: Truthfully, we have been very capital efficient, so didn't have to raise much. The strong unit-level economics and high margins really help tell our story and do most of the work for us. Recurring revenue stream and fast growth also help when it comes to raising outside capital.
7. How do you account for the speed at which Scentbird has taken off?
Sergey Gusev: The fascinating thing about Scentbird is that it appeals to a variety of people.
Scentbird is not only great for those perfume addicts who know exactly what they want or love trying new scents. It's also good for people who have no clue what they want in a fragrance and need a little help figuring it out.
Having an appeal to the masses is key. Our growth is due to a lot of hard work of course, but focusing our energy on consumer feedback and actually implementing their needs is what keeps us strong. That's one of the reasons we recently launched our own namesake line of scented hand creams and shower products. Our consumers wanted more fragrance and based on a poll including over 1 M consumer insights we created unique scents like Earl Grey & Blackberry and Rose & Prosecco into everyday luxury products.
8. What do you believe is the magic formula in terms of creating, maintaining, and managing a team that can create the kind of success you've experienced?
Mariya Nurislamova: As a startup, when things get tough, I always remind the team that the darkest hour is right before the dawn and we need to focus on the prize, not the hardships of getting there.
By staying in a focused, positive, and driven mindset, we have been fortunate to have grown rapidly and hope to continue to grow!
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.