This is a story about a precocious little girl named Masha. She grew up in a dilapidated industrial town called Berezniki, right next to an infamous prison that housed some of the most dangerous criminals in Russia. Her father, a biology professor, had been stationed by the government at the local University. Growing up in Berezniki was tough. As the prisoners were released, they had nowhere to go and no money to support themselves. Masha would often return home from school to find her apartment burgled and stripped bare, and we aren't just talking electronics or jewelry--everything down to the pots and pans, the food in the refrigerator, even the cutlery would have vanished during the day.
While her parents struggled to provide a normal home life, Masha encountered trouble at school too. Her schoolmates teased her for her dark Tartar complexion and there were times she felt isolated. But, the resilient Masha found solace in all things beauty from lotion to lipstick to perfume. Her very first introduction came from her grandmother who wore the ubiquitous Soviet fragrance Red Moscow, which is generously described as "pleasantly hefty" on the #1 perfume review site, Fragrantica.
Red Moscow was OK, but Masha wanted to experience different scents. Luckily, she had a cosmopolitan Aunt Sveta, whose beauty and influence allowed her to occasionally travel to the West. To Masha's delight, Sveta would sneak back the most intoxicating perfumes straight from the lavish boutiques of Paris's 6th arrondissement. Masha was enthralled by the sumptuous bottles that came in every color of the rainbow embellished with silver and gold flecks, ribbons and chains. She inhaled the frosty jasmine of Chanel No.5, the fanciful florals of Joy Jean Patou, the mysterious amber notes of Shalimar by Guerlain. Covering herself in these luxurious fragrances, she would float away from her bleak surroundings. Scents could transform the person she was, the way that she felt about herself--instantly elevating her confidence and sense of self-worth. It was at this young age that she understood the power of perfume.
Fast-forward 15 years; little Masha is now the statuesque Mariya Nurislamova, founder and CEO of the YC-backed startup, Scentbird. Often described as the "Netflix for Perfume," Scentbird is employing technology to make smarter recommendations to clients and sell perfume at scale. But that's not all; the company is simultaneously building a beloved beauty brand, which is arguably even harder to do.
Here's How It Works: A customer signs up and completes an interactive quiz that helps the Scentbird algorithm to identify customer preferences. Does she like citrus or woody? Spicy or flowery? Aquatic or fruity? Based on the quiz answers, Scentbird makes perfume recommendations. The customer then selects the best options and places them in a monthly queue. For $14.95, Scentbird sends a month's supply of the each perfume in a cute and convenient purse-bottle. For September, you could get Flower by Kenzo. For October, Something Blue by Oscar de la Renta and so on.
Instead of heading to the nearest department store where attendants spray 50 scents onto a stick until you can't distinguish one from another, you can review Scentbird recommendations from the comfort of your couch. You can take a chance on something new because you are spending $15 for a month's supply rather than $120 for a whole bottle. This new buying method allows customers to try many different scents in a year, experimenting with fragrance for day or night, business or pleasure, week or weekend.
Scentbird is hitting a chord with beauty insiders and addicts alike. Over the past few months, over 600 Youtube influencers promoted Scentbird to their 40 million+ subscribers. Unsurprisingly, Scentbird is slashing through projections, growing 40 percent month over month. The company is propelled by its adoring users, some of whom are so smitten with the brand that they are painting the Scentbird logos on their fingernails or "tricking-out" the purse-bottles with custom gemstone creations.
While the average reader may be skeptical about the size of the fragrance market, it is 3x that of the razor industry--which has created companies like Dollar Shave Club and Harry's. Combined, those two companies have raised almost half a billion dollars at valuations totaling over $1.3 billion. By capturing even a sliver of the enormous fragrance market, Scentbird could easily be the next YC behemoth. The success of the women's side has encouraged them to expand into men's fragrance as well. And if even a percentage of men wear as much cologne as the gentleman sitting next to me on the bullet back from the Hamptons this morning, they have a lot of room to grow.