Brothers Jeremy and Kamil Banc are the duo behind Fragrance One, an online fragrance store. With Jeremy as the go-to perfume reviewer on Youtube with over a million subscribers, plus Kamil’s management skills, the two launched their multi-million business. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Kamil shares how they pre-sold one million dollars in sales before launching a single fragrance, what it takes to transition from influencer to business owner, and the intricacies of working with family.
For the transcript of this episode, click here.
How this YouTuber gained 60,000 subscribers in three months
Felix: Let’s start with the origins of the story. Where did the idea come from?
Kamil: Yeah, it started off very differently. My background was in industrial engineering. After graduating from university I moved to Hawaii, of all places. My brother is four years younger than me. He came out to visit me and he was inspired by the American lifestyle, even though I was a beach bum at that time. He saw the possibility so instead of going to university he started even earlier than me to become an entrepreneurial type. It was around 2014 when he started a YouTube channel that revolves around fragrances. That was the initial seed that was planted back then.
Felix: Did your YouTube channel take off quickly? What was the growth like?
Kamil: Yeah, it was surprising to me because I was following some YouTubers back then and I thought it might be really difficult even in 2014–let alone today–to grow a channel organically. He did find a formula that set him apart, and that was that he was focusing on people’s reactions to the compliments. Meaning there were fragrance reviewers before and they were all talking about the association with the fragrance, the ingredients, and obviously, the back story. But what people really care about, this is what we noticed is the complement factor. He went out and asked people in the streets, “How would you rate this fragrance from one to 10?” That’s really what set him apart.
Within the first three or four months, he went up to 60,000 subscribers which was very impressive, because he didn’t do anything besides that. Now he’s at 1.4 million on his American channel and the second largest fragrance reviewer by around like 60-70K, just so you get the split there. That really shows you if you touch on what people are curious about, then there is potential.
Felix: How did you brother discover this particular angle, in this particular niche? Now it probably feels obvious, but how did he decide that that was going to be the thing that set his channel apart?
Kamil: It was this typical story. He was looking for ways to better himself, just become a better person. He stumbled along style, how to do your hair, how to dress yourself, and then also fragrances. He was always interested in fragrances. He’d consider anything that addressed the question of, “Okay, if I go on a date, what fragrance do I wear to have the highest likelihood of getting compliments from that fragrance?” I don’t want to know the name that’s exotic and all that flair behind it, the backstory which is nice, but in essence he was looking for a way to discover fragrances that work and do what they’re supposed to in this specific situation. That’s basically what translated into Fragrance One down the road.
Felix: So the YouTube channel grew rapidly. At what point did you guys look at each other and think, “Maybe we could build a business out of this.”
Kamil: There were two answers to that question. The first realization was when he was going out, or when he had a girl in his office reviewing a fragrance with. It was this reaction type video where I saw the response from the people in the comments. They just really loved it. My suggestion to him was to review other products based on their complement factor. Let’s say, what’s the complement factor of these shoes or this car etcetera? I’m glad he didn’t take that idea, but that was the first fork in the road where we noticed if you really focused on that factor and visualized it to people, that there seemed to be something there.
Down the line he was growing his channel and I was working on some other startups. In 2017 I mentioned to him that he should try to turn his influencer career into an asset. Being an influencer aside, he also knows what really works. His market knowledge is there and it really helps. That’s one thing that I see with a lot of influencers and I work with a couple of other ones as well. It is really a long gig, and a type of a work environment for them.
If you can think of a way to somehow create an asset out of your influence that works for you, then that’s something really great. Obviously you have to create value for the customer along the line, otherwise it won’t work. That’s the one thing that a lot of people don’t realize. Those influencers look really nice on Instagram and YouTube, but it’s a tough life. They have no health insurance for the most part if they’re in America, in Germany they’re kind of covered. This is just one of those things. You always have to work. If you stop working, there’s no income, right? That was the basic idea.
I have to credit Jeremy with the concept – he really described Fragrance One as this brand that wants to lead the customer through the “fragrance jungle” as we call it. The concept is to make it very easy and simple and effective for them to purchase the fragrance that they need in a given situation.
Don’t overwhelm your audience with options, guide them to an answer
Felix: It reminds me of the world of wine. There’s a lot of variation and personal preference would play a big role. You need a guide for picking the right wine for a specific occasion. It’s similar to fragrances.
Kamil: Exactly. I’m basically the portal customer in that regard because I don’t trust my own nose. Now I’m a little better at this whole thing, but back then I would always just ask my brother, can you recommend a fragrance for me because you’re the expert. It’s not like I don’t know what I like, it’s that I don’t know how well it plays in a certain situation. There’s a difference between a fragrance that lasts long versus a fragrance that dries down and the opening note. A lot of people don’t really know. It’s almost like you shy away from it because it’s a little bit overwhelming if you’re not in it and that’s what we wanted to solve for.
Felix: It’s your job as the expert to not only present the options, but guide your followers toward the option that suits them. You mentioned 1.41 million subscribers. Give us an idea of the businesses growth since the beginning.
Kamil: We started with a pretty big bang if I can say so. Even though we didn’t really have to, we went the crowdfunding route. This is something that I was comfortable with from my previous endeavors. I also just wanted to gather a little bit more market data. That’s one of the key steps in our business that really makes it an interesting story. We pre-sold almost a million dollars worth of fragrance – which is, by the way, record breaking. The second largest campaign for a fragrance is around $60,000. We pre-sold it without anybody ever smelling it. We basically took the sense of smell out of the equation in a fragrance company, which shows you the power of the why basically. Why do I buy it?
This is something that I have from my design background. When people have a problem often they’re describing the symptoms of that problem, meaning I want a fragrance that I really like. But the actual underlying problem that they have, which is in our case, for our customers is “I want more compliments.” We took that approach and we turned something that looked like a huge negative, which is that nobody ever smelled the product before, into a big positive. The way we did it was by highlighting that quality comes first, right? We have no budget on the ingredients. We work with the best manufacturers in the world. We literally hired the Michael Jackson of the perfume world to collaborate with us. My brother, due to his years of experience in the world, was the creative director of the fragrance.
We used the best bottles from Germany. What comes next is I don’t know how that thing smells. We went around and we thought, okay, you don’t really need to know how it smells. The groundwork is done. It’s a good fragrance and you’re buying it because of the compliments you’re going to get. What scent was Office for Men, our first release. If you’re a guy and you want to get compliments in the office, this is what you wear. If you don’t like the smell, that’s okay. But that’s not what you’re buying it for, right? In the end people really liked the smell as well but that’s what helped us a lot.
Felix: First step was to uncover what it is people are actually buying. How did you land on the complement factor? What was it that said to you, “It’s not about the fragrance, it’s about what the fragrance can do for them.”
Kamil: It was basically based off of the response from people to the YouTube channel and the social media channels before that. We were thinking about how to create a brand that incorporates the secret sauce that really set Jeremy Fragrance apart from all the other fragrance reviewers. Then we tried to put that into a business idea.
Anticipate consumer pain points to launch a successful Kickstarter
Felix: The idea to launch with the product Office for Men on Kickstarter, how did you know to focus on that specific market?
Kamil: Office for Men is a very long lasting fresh fragrance, which is a safe bet. Everybody likes fresh fragrance, right? The problem with that often is that they don’t last very long. We tried to create the best product in that category with a very simple description. That’s why it’s called Office. Very simple, no extravagant wording or anything. I have to credit my brother. He didn’t really put more ego into the first scent. What I mean by that is he didn’t add a twist to make it recognizable to him. He really focused on the mission of that fragrance. He worked with Alberto Morillas who’s the perfumer. He was working on all kinds of fragrances that you know, the CK One, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Bulgari, all those fragrances.
Usually those big brands hire a perfumer like this guy and just give him free range. My brother–I don’t know how he did it–but they had literally 40 to 50 feedback loops to improve the fragrance to what he wanted to hone in on. That’s what it was in the end. That’s why we went with the fresh fragrance. It was a compliment getter that lasted very long. That was before COVID. Now we have this internal joke where we call it “Home Office” for Men.
Felix: Once you identified the problem you were solving, how did you incorporate that in your campaign for the Kickstarter?
Kamil: During the campaign, we focused on those key pillars: the perfumer, the ingredients that have no budget, the best manufacturers in the world, and my brother’s knowledge from being in the market asking people what works, what doesn’t, what works in what situation, what doesn’t. This package eliminated a lot of the questions that people would have prior to backing a campaign like that. You really make them feel comfortable. You try to answer all the questions they might have beforehand, and then you make it easy for them.
Felix: How did you know those were the kinds of questions people would have? What kind of research were you doing to understand it from a consumer perspective?
Kamil: Maybe it was because we were already in that world, but it seemed very simple. What is somebody asking? First we were looking at the demographics of our audience. That puts the fragrance into a certain price range that we can get away with, that makes sense. What can you do with that? The obvious thing people ask when you’re thinking of buying a fragrance, you’d ask will I like it? The thing is, you can’t answer the question unless you smell the fragrance. To be honest I didn’t even smell the final version because I was in New York at that time and my brother was in Switzerland working on the final version of the product.
We eliminated this basic question of do I like the fragrance? We transformed it into, do I want compliments? I’m willing to trust Jeremy and his experience with that. That was basically the number one question that people have when they buy a fragrance. Do I like it? It’s not “do I like the fragrance,” but “do I like what it does for me?”
How to transition your influencer career into a stable, sustainable business
Felix: That’s a great insight into an influencer’s career. At a certain point you need to pivot and use the influence to build some sort of business that doesn’t just rely on you as an online persona. How did you begin this transition? What advice would you give other influencers out there trying to level up?
Kamil: I always like to start with something that’s called a business canvas when I work on a new project. Maybe some folks can look this up. It’s basically one sheet that visualizes the entire concept, that you can adapt over time based on your findings. You make a suggestion of what you want it to be then you question yourself and all your resources that you have. Based on that, you adjust it and then get moving. One crucial thing that I can really recommend is, when you start a business, you always need to have either your own audience or work with some body or some entity that owns your customers. It’s easy to put ads up online and think that you’ll build an audience just like that, but it costs a lot of money and time if you really want to do it from scratch. That’s why I always recommend working with someone in some regard that already owns your customer base in some form.
“One crucial thing that I can really recommend is, when you start a business, you always need to have either your own audience or work with some body or some entity that owns your customers.”
Felix: Jeremy went back and forth working toward that final product. Was testing done entirely through him, or did you also do some beta market testing?
Kamil: From my background I’m used to this lean approach where you don’t build something until you test it a couple of times. Unfortunately with this thing–or maybe for the better–we completely relied on Jeremy’s experience. When you do that you really have to know what you’re doing because obviously you’re putting a lot of time and money on the line, but in this regard it was something that we really just wanted to get through, and we relied on his experience. When you are trying to help the customers with find something that they need in a specific situation, it might not be the best to get too much feedback, especially with something that’s so subjective like a fragrance. Oftentimes what can happen is, people might not really focus on the mission of the business, which is to get people compliments versus, “Hey, I like this smell. Maybe I don’t like the smell?”
You can never really satisfy everyone. If you try to satisfy everyone, you won’t satisfy anybody. We didn’t do this the lean way. We really had Jeremy and Alberto Morillas sit together and go back and forth, and do the feedback loops.
“You can never really satisfy everyone. If you try to satisfy everyone, you won’t satisfy anybody.”
Navigating the logistics of worldwide shipping
Felix: Post Kickstarter campaign, what did order fulfillment look like?
Kamil: Yeah, that was one of our biggest struggles to be honest with you, because Jeremy wanted to have worldwide shipping, which is a pain when you’re working with a product that contains alcohol. It’s considered a dangerous good. We had a lot of hurdles to jump over and oftentimes we had to pay more. We didn’t make a lot of money with the Kickstarter campaign because of that. We had a lot of duties to pay. Obviously certain countries don’t let you fly in that stuff at all, unless you have the right documentation. We really tried to run before we learned how to walk in a certain way because we wanted to push ourselves. We just knew that because fragrance has a big margin compared to other products, it was possible. We’ll figure it out when we get there. It was a little bit of a leap of faith, but we learned a lot. It was a little bit difficult to fulfill everything and Kickstarter campaigns can be a little bit problematic afterwards.
With around 10% of the customers their bank didn’t work or their credit card was blocked or something like that. You basically take 10% off the top then Kickstarter takes another 7%. That was the biggest struggle. Once we had that figured out, we started working with the fulfillment partner that we have now. We have a warehouse in the Netherlands and one in New Jersey and from there on it was smooth sailing. We started our Shopify store in March 2019. And it’s been going since then.
Felix: Tell us about the transition between presale, fulfillment and then setting up the platform?
Kamil: We treated it like a two separate projects, because you have different obligations to the backers of the campaign both legally and morally. Logistically we just wanted to have this finished off and then we would set up a loyalty program, which we now have. We included the people that backed us back then into the Shopify system, and gave them compliments. We have this compliment club that they can trade in for dollars. That was basically it. It was really about finding the right partners. We were working with three or four logistics partners up until this point and the last one we’ve been sticking with them, they’re called Sales Supply. They’ve been really great. It’s important to find the right people.
When you have a product like this–because of the problem with the alcohol content–we really had to work with someone during the worldwide shipping phase that could just get things done. Meaning that they know how to label certain things just to have less hurdles along the way. We had enough orders to work with DHL in Germany for example. So they set up a meeting and we came together and the first thing they said was, “Oh wait a second, you guys ship fragrance. We can’t ship fragrance.” Like what? It’s kind of weird in that sense. You really have to do your due diligence with the partners that you work with.
Responsibly using your platform to organically grow your ecommerce business
Felix: How do you acquire new customers? Is it strictly through YouTube, or have you developed other marketing strategies?
Kamil: We’ve done paid advertising, we were working with a really cool agency out of New York. The problem is–and it’s a good problem–that every time Jeremy posts a video that mentions the brand or we have some sort of contest or something to engage customers, it completely wipes out all the results from any paid advertisement campaign. We’ve been mostly going organically. We’re also on TikTok. We have a newsletter that converted really well during the campaign. We use that every once in a while. I started a discord–which is the biggest fragrance discord now–the fragrance army. We’re trying to grow as organic as possible just because of the fact that I could either pay for a pre-roll video on YouTube or I could just edit a video for my brother and squeeze in like a five-second pre-roll myself. Right?
Out of all things that we tried, one of the best magnets right now is this “before you buy” series. There’s a playlist on his channel where we’re basically just talking about other fragrances, and then we mention our brand before or after. It’s really just giving people more value. We have this little “sponsored by Fragrance One” on the top left. That’s pretty much what it is.
Felix: How do you maintain a balance when you’re advertising on the YouTube channel, so that people don’t think you’re delivering biased reviews?
Kamil: The one thing that Jeremy clarified from the beginning is that he will compare our brand directly with other brands. Meaning when he has a top 10 best fragrances for the summer, he might mention Fragrance One somewhere along the lines, but he’s not putting it in a top 10 list. That way he can stay out of this because like you say, you only have one reputation and obviously you can’t be tainted. You have to be transparent. He’s very transparent with the brand. He talks about the pricing of it. He talks about how much it costs and also every once in a while he throws in the Bogle or some other discount that really works well.
Felix: How do you encourage repeat purchases on a product that would typically last months, maybe longer?
Kamil: I’m actually very surprised we have about 30-35% repeat customers so far. When my wife and I buy a bottle of fragrance it will last for a long time. Jeremy is just very energetic. He’s eccentric in a way, very polarizing. He has all these spray routines. He says spray it five, six times, seven times if you want, so the bottle ends fast. We’re always keeping the people engaged. We’re also not shy with discounts and all kinds of announcements. We released a lot of fragrance in a short time. We have six and a half products. One is a deodorant based on the Office, which is a lot because we are only in the market for a couple of years.
Every launch is quite expensive and brands typically take much longer to refine what they already have. They reformulate it in a certain way, but we really give our customers something new every once in a while. They’re always excited to stay on track. Obviously it’s important to stay on their mind. That’s why I like those content pieces like the “before you buy” videos because that always reminds them, “Hey, I was interested in that fragrance and Jeremy also has his own thing, so I might check it out, see what’s going on.” The other thing that helps a lot is recently we started this compliment club, which is a loyalty program. That’s one of the apps that I wanted to mention.
Best practices for being in business with family and friends
Felix: Based on your experience of working with your brother, what are some of the pros and cons of being in business with family?
Kamil: It’s really important, just like with other partnerships, to set the right expectations. The communication needs to really flow. It’s hard to have these implied contracts that happen much more often within family. Meaning, I do something and then I expect something else to happen without really communicating it. That’s the crux of the problem oftentimes. Obviously you have a clear role. My brother is this very energetic, open, creative type of person. I’m more in the background. I like to pull the strings and strategize and plan ahead. I’m always pulling and he’s always pushing and it’s a good thing if you can contain it, but it can also lead to some internal problems sometimes. When he wants to go with a crazy discount, but I’m like, “Wait man, you have to also consider the people that bought the product before that.”
You have to create a balance where people are not upset. We’re always structuring our bundles in a way where people are okay with that. That’s basically it. It really comes down to communication and understanding what’s the outcome for each individual in there. Also keeping yourself accountable. Oftentimes when you work with friends and family people tend to slack off after a while. It’s very difficult to have that conversation with them because they’re family, right? You don’t want to mess up the relationship, and that’s something that the expectations part really plays a big role in.
Felix: It seems like you face the same challenges working with a business partner versus a family member, but it’s the boundaries that are a bit more blurred. How do you make sure you’re maintaining communication and boundaries when in business with family or friends?
Kamil: It’s really about the roles and routine almost. It even comes down to sending each other invoices. It sounds simple, but it really is part of the thing. I have this media company that basically sends him an invoice every month and we’re basically going through okay, this is what we’re doing. This is what I did. This is what you did in a very informal sense. You need to have those routines to keep you on track and make you realize, “Hey, we’re working on a business together here.” On the other hand, there’s huge upsides when you work with somebody that you can really trust because you can trust them. When the business doesn’t do so well every once in a while you know you have each other’s back and that’s huge in business.
Mistakes are only bad when you don’t learn from them
Felix: You mentioned that a mentor said this to you one day, “You can go broke as often as you want until you’re 50.” Tell us about what that means to you.
Kamil: That was back in Germany and things changed now. I don’t recommend that to anybody, but it was just something where when you grow up in Germany you have a very different mindset. You don’t really have this entrepreneurial mindset. What he was basically saying was to go out in the world and see what you like and try out different things. Don’t worry about it because in the end, if you really stick to something that you like, then there’s a high likelihood that you’ll figure out the money part. That was the idea. Coming from this upbringing where once you leave school, you almost have your entire life planned out. Going off in the world and doing something on your own is a very strange journey from that perspective.
That really stuck with me when I was living in Hawaii and I was a beach bum and I was trying out different things. I was working on really big startups, big companies, but also I was always happy to try out new things because I knew I still had some time and it worked out.
Felix: How do you make sure that you aren’t so focused on the rear view mirror or the failures? How do you make sure that you can pull yourself back on the path?
Kamil: If you frame it in a different way where you’re almost like a video game character that creates some new skill by failing, right? You need to learn from what you did, what worked, and what didn’t. The only problem I have is when you don’t learn something from your mistakes, then it’s a waste of time. That’s really how I frame it. That’s why I would not want to change anything that happened in the past because it really led me to where I am today. It’s something that’s important and it’s valuable. You can’t get to your finish line without hiccups. That just doesn’t happen.
“When you don’t learn something from your mistakes, then it’s a waste of time.”
Surround yourself with the people you want to become
Felix: One thing you had mentioned previously was how you make sure to surround yourself with the people that you want to become. What does that mean for you?
Kamil: It’s really that simple. When I moved to the states, I never really spoke English before. It’s a very simple example, I learned it in school. But speaking it and applying it is different than just learning it. I was a student and there were a lot of other German students, but I would never hang out with them outside of school because I really wanted to learn how to speak English properly. I still tried to keep a little bit of my German accent, but I did pretty well compared to my other friends from Germany that were just hanging out with the other Germans. That’s just based on language, but the same thing really applies to any other area in your life. If you want to become an entrepreneur, then join networking meetings with other entrepreneurs.
I worked on a startup ecosystem in Hawaii back in the day where I would meet a lot of VCs and people from Silicon Valley and China. Really it’s that simple. If you want to become someone, or you have this persona with a certain skill set that you like to approximate yourself to, then just try to reach out to those people and create a value exchange. Don’t just hang out with them, there’s always something that you can do that they can’t and you just have to figure out what that is so that you’re becoming part of that group.
“If you want to become someone, or you have this persona with a certain skill set that you like to approximate yourself to, then just try to reach out to those people and create a value exchange.”
Felix: In some cases you just have to work through the obstacle as it comes. What’s an example of something you just had to figure out along the way?
Kamil: A lot of the time in today’s world people are looking for the shortcut type of approach to business. I’m not saying that you can’t be lucky or anything, but counting on that is a little bit difficult. I’m not a big fan of working hard, but I’m a fan of working smart. What I mean when I say there’s no magic trick, is that everything–especially in today’s world–is available to you. People should read more books and biographies, especially because that basically helps you go through the journey of somebody else and avoid some mistakes. Maybe you get the inspiration from what they did. That’s what I mean when I say there was no magic trick.
Some of my previous projects that I worked on had included gadgets that we put on Kickstarter and all that. We didn’t really build them but we were more a front for another manufacturer to sell it. That almost felt too easy and it was in the end because you don’t really have any say about the manufacturing process and the quality control and all that. It might seem easy, but then there is a hiccup because the product hits the customer and you’re just sitting there and you can’t do anything because you’re the face of the company. That was one of the things that I wouldn’t do again. That’s why I’m happy that we’re with Fragrance One. It’s not just Jeremy’s face on something. We’re sourcing every little detail of the product.
Boosting retention through bundles and loyalty programs
Felix: Let’s talk about the loyalty program and the website. What apps are you using to optimize?
Kamil: The loyalty program is relatively new. We’re using the one that’s called Smile Rewards. It has a really nice interface. I like how you can set up what people get rewards for, and what people call the currencies. We call the currency “compliments” in our store, which makes sense with the brand. We’ve been doing pretty well with that. The biggest impact that we had in terms of apps was really the bundles. That made a lot of sense, because our fragrances are relatively pricey, especially for the audience that comes with Jeremy’s subscribers. Since it’s a direct to customer business, we’re happy to give discounts here and there. When you’re following the brand and following our social media outlets, then there’s always a good chance that you’ll be part of a giveaway or a buy one, get one free.
That’s also enticing for people to stay in touch with us on Instagram or elsewhere. The bundles were a big deal because that basically helps to justify spending a couple 100 dollars on a couple of products in that regard. For that we use the one from Thematic and a UFE Cross Sell. Upsell is something I just started a couple of days ago. I really like their interface. I was always wondering why you guys at Shopify don’t have a bundled function that’s integrated.
Felix: What’s your strategy for putting together these products? How do you know what to bundle to appeal to the most people?
Kamil: It depends on whether there is something like Valentine’s Day or International Women’s Day, or maybe a date bundle where we have the Date for Men and Night for Women fragrance put together. It’s more situational. How can people apply it? What makes sense in their eyes? We also have fragrant candles. One is called Movie Night, and then we have the Date for Men, Night for Women, and the Movie Night candle. Right? Those are the thought processes that go in when we decide on the bundle. We’re open for suggestions. For example, we are asking people and we get all kinds of requests and we have a couple of bestseller bundles that were generated by our community.
Felix: What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned over the last year that you’ll apply moving forward?
Kamil: I can’t stress enough to really figure out what the customer is trying to solve. That’s been said many times before, but it’s really so important. That’s the essence of why our business is working because we’re focusing on, why am I buying this fragrance? It also goes to show you that during this last year that you would think, why would people buy fragrance? It really is not even just to compliment, but a new thing that we found out–we actually grew by 40% last year–is people buy fragrances because it makes them feel better. When you put on a fragrance even if you’re at home, you’re getting into a different mode. When you’re at the Zoom meeting, you put on a suit. Even when you just work from home, I suggest to really dress up nicely as if you would go to the office and it puts you into a different mode.
If you can tap into that emotion and the real problem that your product may solve for the customers, then you’re good.