Fragrance One Co-founder on Selling without Smelling
Selling apparel online was once farfetched. Who would buy a suit without trying it on? Millions do, as it turns out. But fragrances? Who would purchase a fragrance without first smelling it?
I asked that to Kamil Banc. He is an engineer turned entrepreneur and the co-founder of Fragrance One, a direct-to-consumer seller of colognes and perfumes — all online.
“We don’t sell fragrances,” he told me. “We sell compliments. That’s why people buy.”
Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your business.
Kamil Banc: Fragrance One started on Kickstarter in 2018. We presold about $1 million worth of fragrance without anybody smelling it, including me.
Bandholz: Your brother Jeremy has a huge fragrance audience.
Banc: Yes, he’s by far the biggest fragrance influencer online — over 3 million followers on TikTok. He posts five videos a day. It’s crazy.
Bandholz: How did you two decide to go into business together? He’s flamboyant; you’re cerebral.
Banc: We are four years apart. I’m the older one.
He had a sizeable breakdancing channel on YouTube in 2007, when that site came out. Many people followed him, and then it was taken down for copyright infringement.
He migrated to other projects. He started a mineral water brand and an energy drink, for example. Then, around 2017, I told him, “Why don’t you go back to YouTube and do something fun?”
He took it to heart. Six months later, he was into fragrance. He never told our family. Suddenly he had 60,000 followers listening to him talk about the topic. He asks folks, “What does this fragrance remind you of?” Or, “What does it consist of?”
YouTube viewers wanted to see girls react to a fragrance and rate it from 1 to 10. Jeremy focused on driving compliments.
In 2018, he and I decided to turn the concept into a brand. We don’t sell fragrances. We sell compliments. That’s why people buy it. That’s why we were able to launch without anyone smelling it. We would say, “You don’t have to smell the fragrance if you want to get compliments.”
Our first fragrance was called Office for Men. If you’re a guy in an office and you want to get compliments, this is what you wear. That was the million-dollar product on Kickstarter.
The launch wasn’t without hiccups. Jeremy wanted to offer worldwide shipping. We had no supply chain or shipping partners. I’m surprised we didn’t lose money. We barely covered our costs.
Shipping alcohol, which our fragrances contain, is tricky with all of the legal restrictions. We now have two warehouses — in the E.U. and the U.S.
We’re now trying to sell into the Middle East and India. We have many requests in both locations.
Bandholz: I’ve seen many brands become reliant on Kickstarter. They have a big launch and then nothing until the next round. Has that occurred with your company?
Banc: No. We’ve had just one campaign. I think 80% of our Kickstarter backers were new to that platform. Also, our email list was roughly 20,000. So we didn’t have to do the Kickstarter.
We did it for a couple of reasons. One was for exposure. Kickstarter is very public. The other was to receive feedback — good and bad — to test our product-market fit.
I don’t see us doing another Kickstarter. Many of our original backers are repeat buyers. Roughly 35% of our customers are repeat.
Bandholz: Your fragrances are relatively expensive. Beardbrand manufacturers fragrances, too. Setting prices is so subjective. How did you settle on a pricing strategy?
Banc: Our prices sometimes anger folks. Jeremy and I argue over prices.
I’m not a fragrance guy. I focus on the business. But Jeremy is immersed in fragrances and how to price them, market-wise. I was initially looking at our demographic. But his point is that all fragrances cost the same to make; the only difference is marketing. Packaging varies. But the juice costs the same.
Over time we found a model where he and I agree.
We make sure our fragrances are of the best quality to generate compliments. And we have bundled deals to lower the cost. Since we sell online, we don’t have wholesale rates or pay in-store distributor fees.
Our high price makes us an easy target. Our brand is closely connected to Jeremy, the influencer. He’s very polarizing. Watching his videos, people love him or hate him. That translates into our brand.
Bandholz: The lesson there is having confidence in your pricing. Let’s transition. In 2021, a lot of ecommerce companies struggled due to the Facebook algorithm shifts. Did it affect your company?
Banc: No, it didn’t impact us. We once used Facebook ads. We worked with a studio out of New York. But we found we could reach the audience ourselves organically. So by 2021 we were not advertising on Facebook or Instagram.
Bandholz: Is Fragrance One only you and Jeremy?
Banc: It’s just the two of us. We have a lot of help from our logistics company. And we use good tools, such as for customer support, that save time. We typically spend only 15 minutes per day on customer issues.
Bandholz: The best customer support is well-run operations where consumers have few needs. How do you and Jeremy divide tasks?
Banc: He handles marketing, support, and product development. I’m more on the back-end with the website and operations.
Bandholz: Let’s switch gears. You’re experimenting with non-fungible tokens — NFTs — and the metaverse.
Banc: Yes. The metaverse could be a way for our brand to touch more prospects. Our value, again, is not necessarily the smell — it’s the ability to generate compliments. So we’re considering products in the metaverse to do that.
As for NFTs, I joined a Discord community called CryptoDads. It’s mostly a networking vehicle to connect with folks buying and selling NFTs and are interested in the technology. The members are primarily techies and forward thinkers. It’s been fun.
Bandholz: How can people reach support you and reach out?
Banc: Our website is Fragrance.One. We’re on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, too. I’m on LinkedIn.
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