Episode 68: Mariya Nurislamova, CEO and Co-Founder of Scentbird and Deck of Scarlet

Are we afraid of failure itself, or are we really just afraid of what other people will think of us if we fail? As a serial entrepreneur, Mariya Nurislamova has had to grapple with that question many times over, and more importantly, not let fear become the boss.

In this episode, the CEO of Scentbird and Deck of Scarlet shares a few of her most memorable failures and her techniques for moving past them. She also touches on the pros of being bi-culturally Russian/American how Scentbird is changing our relationship to fragrance.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® hosted by Jodi Katz, Founder and Creative Director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, welcome back to the show. I am sitting with Mariya Nurislamova, CEO and co-founder of Scentbird and Deck of Scarlet. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY®.
Mariya NurislamovaOh, thank you. I'm really, really happy to be here.
Jodi KatzIt's so exciting to sit with you. I want to tell our listeners how we met, and I think it was your publicist reached out, which is pretty typical. But, it's not really the whole story. I heard about you a few years ago from your friend, Julia [Maximova 00:00:40], who is a superstar commercial real estate person, right?
Mariya NurislamovaYeah.
Jodi KatzDo you guys go way back?
Mariya NurislamovaWe go ... Well we actually spoke about that the other day. 10 years. Yeah, as long as I've known her. She has totally flourished, but she's always been a rockstar.
Jodi KatzShe taught me so much about networking and she's a pretty awesome sales person, real estate. It's not really where I excel, so I love listening to her. Yeah, when I first met her I met her at a networking event. We sat down for lunch and she mentioned her friend who just launched a company called Deck of Scarlet. Like, oh that's cool. That was two years ago, and look at what's happening now. I can't wait to dive into the backstory. Let's start with something simple, how will you be spending your day today?
Mariya NurislamovaPlenty of meetings, calls. Yeah, that's basically my every day now.
Jodi KatzAre you on the move? Are you doing these calls from the car? Or, are you at your desk at the office?
Mariya NurislamovaMostly at the office unless I have meetings where I need to travel.
Jodi KatzSo you are eating lunch at your desk most days?
Mariya NurislamovaYep, all the time.
Jodi KatzWhat about dinner at your desk?
Mariya NurislamovaSometimes, but it depends on the day. Sometimes I also have dinner meetings.
Jodi KatzWould you say that you are working all the time?
Mariya NurislamovaI'm working pretty much all the time, and the work/life balance is amiss. Please [inaudible 00:02:03] my life.
Jodi KatzHow many years has it been like that for you where you-
Mariya NurislamovaAt least five. At least.
Jodi KatzWe're going to dive into that deeper, but let's start first with, which brand came first, Scentbird or Deck of Scarlet?
Mariya NurislamovaScentbird did.
Jodi KatzOkay, so tell me about its origin story.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, so Scentbird is a fragrance subscription service, and we like to describe it as we help people date fragrances before marrying them. It's a very simple concept that revolves around a one month supply of fragrance. There are a lot of other rental models if you kind of look out there at the shared economy of startups in general, so people instead of owning a car they now get an Uber. Instead of owning a vacation home, they book something on Air BnB. For me, Scentbird was meant to be bad for beauty. It's like bite-sized beauty, things that you can actually get through within a very short timeframe. That really helps with discovery of the category.
Mariya NurislamovaThe origin, the reason why I wanted to build this company is because I would always end up with the wrong full sized bottle of fragrance that would just sit there and collect dust in my drawer, just reminding me of how bad I am at spending money. It was not a sustainable habit. I didn't love shopping in retail for fragrance. I wished there was just a digital place I could go to, to discover fragrances from the comfort of my home. That was a journey in its own right because we started by building a scent recommender.
Mariya NurislamovaIt was a digital recommendation algorithm that would learn as much about the preferences of a particular around scent, and would recommend them other things to try. Then, the monthly supply fit right into that concept because not only did we recommend things, we allowed people to try them without breaking the bank.
Jodi KatzRight, so this was five years ago?
Mariya NurislamovaNo. Scentbird started officially ... this business model started in October '14-
Jodi KatzSo it's four years old?
Mariya NurislamovaAlmost four years, yeah.
Jodi KatzFor this to work you needed the cooperation of the fragrance companies.
Mariya NurislamovaYes and no. We originally launched as a pilot program. In the early days as entrepreneurs we don't always get believers, or we don't always get believers in the more established companies, right? You might have your mentors, you might have your co-founders, even your early employees are definitely believers. But sometimes it does take the rest of the world to catch on to your vision. We had a lot of that in the beginning. It was very much kind of like a little bit of an uphill battle where we had to put our stake in the ground and say that we believed enough in this business idea to invest all of our time and energy in it, not knowing whether the big companies would ever want to partner with us.
Mariya NurislamovaThen when we got to that proverbial product market fit that you hear a lot with tech startups, which basically means that people really wanted this. American consumers really wanted this. As we started showing growth numbers, that's when the brand started recognizing value, and what we're bringing to the table. That's when we started getting contracts.
Jodi KatzSo who were your early day partners? It wasn't the big guys, because they weren't believers yet-
Mariya NurislamovaNo. Niche. It's a niche brand, so it's the smaller companies like Nest, for instance, or Juliette Has A Gun. A lot of them, not all of them, but a lot of them with the European origins, because that's where perfume really comes from originally. Also, a lot of the niche, small, more artisanal, more interesting, if you will, fragrance houses, some of them made in Brooklyn. Those were the early believers. Then that niche category that is also now really successful, Sephora, Commodity and Nest. Those guys came around and really helped us broaden the horizon, and we started building case studies, getting really granular, what is it that we could deliver to the brands. That's how we signed up the first big ones like Guerlain.
Jodi KatzRight, so your first partners were the entrepreneurial brands because they understood the entrepreneurial mindset?
Mariya NurislamovaThe vision.
Jodi KatzYeah, right. I assume you would know that going in, when you started building the algorithm that the partners were not going to be a Kody to start.
Mariya NurislamovaWell, I think when building an algorithm, we really wanted to stay impartial. When you're building a company you always have to look five, 10 years ahead and imagine what should the company be if you are the market leader. When building the algorithm, we didn't exclude COTYs and Chanels of the world. Again, we wanted to be impartial and we wanted to serve the individual more so than the brand partners, serve the real people.
Jodi KatzSo serve the customer?
Mariya NurislamovaAbsolutely, 100% because perfume is an intimidating industry. It's hard to shop for. People don't feel it's easy to select their next fragrance, and we really wanted to take the intimation out of the category and make it friendly and fun, and very accessible for the younger audience as well.
Jodi KatzAre you personally fragrance-obsessed?
Mariya NurislamovaI am 100%, one million percent.
Jodi KatzAnd you always were?
Mariya NurislamovaI always was since I was like three years old.
Jodi KatzWhat were the first fragrances that you really remember being devoted to?
Mariya NurislamovaI grew up in the Soviet Union/Russia. In Russia there was not a lot of variety, I hate to say it. There's this one fragrance that everybody would ... it was like the go-to, the staple, called Red Moscow. I kid you not.
Jodi KatzOh, really? Okay. I have to write this down.
Mariya NurislamovaRed Moscow. It was a little bit like Chanel No. 5 on the heavy side. Heavy with a little spicy, and definitely not for a four-year-old, as you might imagine. That's the only thing that my mom and my grandma would wear, so I would sneak into the bathroom and apply it on my pulse points because I saw them do that, imitate that. I thought that ... obviously my mom didn't want me to use a heavy scent was I was four and going to a kindergarten or preschool. So I would emerge from the bathroom obviously smelling of her ... wreaking of her perfume and she would always know. As a kid, as a four year old, I could never figure out how come she caught me, although she didn't see me applying it. My mom was just very smart like that.
Jodi KatzYeah, and she could smell you coming.
Mariya NurislamovaShe could, absolutely. Yeah. One day, actually, my aunt, she came back from Paris with a few fragrance bottles, and that's when I think the whole world opened up to me because before that I lived in a world where there was just one scent and nothing else. Then all of a sudden there was a variety, something to discover and explore. I would spend days enjoying the bottles, just looking at them, touching them. It was a very visceral experience for me.
Jodi KatzYeah, so Red Moscow, was the scent an expensive purchase as an investment?
Mariya NurislamovaYes, more so than ... In the Soviet Union, there is not a lot of variety for anything, so even if you had the money, you didn't always have things to purchase. It was an investment; it was a good gift. So, men would always give it to their wives.
Jodi KatzRight.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah.
Jodi KatzIt's so interesting that your fragrance origin story is about a lack of choice and what you've ended up developing. Scentbird is the ultimate-
Mariya NurislamovaOpposite.
Jodi KatzChoosing opportunity, right? Like explore, choose, play. You go from one extreme to really opening the door to a lot of people for the whole universe of fragrance.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, well that was the definition of paradise for me. I think we all are trying in our daily lives build our own version of paradise for others.
Jodi KatzRight, that's really sweet. Thank you for sharing that. I would like to smell the Red Moscow now. I'm super curious.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, I'm sure it still exists.
Jodi KatzYour brand just made some news. Let's talk about the news. I'm going to read it from Women's World Daily:
Jodi Katz"Scentbird, a subscription-based fragrance company, announced today it has raised $18.6 million dollars, one of the largest series a funding [inaudible 00:09:43] secured by a direct-to-consumer brand, led by a female Chief Executive Officer."
Jodi KatzThat's pretty major.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, thank you.
Jodi KatzCongratulations, that's awesome. I need to know, and our listeners need to know, because many of them perhaps have this vision for themselves and brands in the future. What does it feel like to accomplish that?
Mariya NurislamovaIt feels good, obviously, but it doesn't feel like such an extraordinary accomplishment. I mean, I'm one of those humans that I always am very future-focused, and no matter how much I achieve, the best stuff is always in the future, and I think our work with Scentbird is just beginning. There is so much more we can still do to make fragrance more fun and accessible in the world. I mean, it's good to be able to have a real marketing [inaudible 00:10:38], and be able to hire the people that we wanted to hire all of those years, but we had to operate on a very limited budget. So now I feel like I finally have the resources to create the vision of the world I'd like to create. It feels good.
Jodi KatzIt sounds like you're saying more than making news, it just feels like the reality you always envisioned just happened.
Mariya NurislamovaAbsolutely. Before you can bring things into your life you kind of have to believe that it's even possible for you, that your business deserves it, that you deserve it, that you're good enough. I kind of have seen it coming for many years, and then for many months before the announcement came actually to put in the work. I did have to get on the phone calls, get into meetings, pitch. It definitely is not such a surprise that [inaudible 00:11:22] see it coming. That's why I kind of get used to that feeling. When it's finally close to done, it's definitely ... it's good.
Jodi KatzI love how composed, and poised, and calm you are about it because it's making me really understand how much you always believed it would just happen, and it's almost just like taking a train to work, to get [crosstalk 00:11:44]. I'm going to take the train to work, I'm going to go to my office, I'm going to raise $18.6 million dollars and go to my office and work-
Mariya NurislamovaExactly, I'm going to buy the morning newspaper-
Jodi KatzRight, exactly.
Mariya NurislamovaAnd my coffee.
Jodi KatzIt makes me think of this interview, I think it was Oprah with Lady Gaga several years ago, and they did the interview, I don't know, in her parent's living room or something. Oprah was asking Lady Gaga about what it feels like to kind of get to this height in her career, and her response was something like, "I always saw it. I always knew." That's how calm and centered she is around the theme.
Jodi KatzShe always knew that she would achieve this, and I'm getting that kind of same vibe from you, which is really inspiring for me because I actually let self-doubt creep in. I see my vision, I really do, and I believe it, and I know it's real, but the pathway to get there I clog it up with my own garbage, this own nonsense in my head.
Mariya NurislamovaWhat has been helpful for me is focusing on the passion and why you're doing what you're doing. That's what really helps you get through the doubt, kind of discard that. It is very dangerous focusing on your fears because you can make yourself believe all the things that are really not true and don't have anything to do with reality. Every time I have that little lead that's starting to sprout in the form of fear or self-doubt, and I have them all the time, you have to catch them when they're early and not believe them and be like, "Sure. Thank you for your feedback, fear. I know you're trying to protect me, but I want to focus on my passion and what I'm here to create."
Mariya NurislamovaIf all of my thoughts around that creation and what else can I do to make that vision a reality, there is no room for fear because at any given time your brain can only focus on one thought. You get to choose whether it's a positive one or a negative one. If you don't ever allow yourself to think one negative thought, then basically all of your frequency, all of your radio program if you will, is only positive all the time.
Jodi KatzYeah, I like your reference to a weed, because I am a gardener. I call myself a farmer. I have a small backyard in New Jersey and I farm. I mean, it's not really farming, but I feel like I'm farming.
Mariya NurislamovaThat's wonderful, yeah.
Jodi KatzYeah, we picked our first raspberries yesterday.
Mariya NurislamovaCongratulations.
Jodi KatzThank you, it's so exciting.
Mariya NurislamovaThat's exciting.
Jodi KatzIf you pull the weeds early they're easy to pull out of the ground, they just pop right out-
Mariya NurislamovaYep.
Jodi KatzBut if I let them sit there for a while then I have to dig deep, and dig deep, and do a lot of work to get rid of them.
Mariya NurislamovaAbsolutely, and they could even harm your good plants, too, in the process-
Jodi KatzThat's right.
Mariya NurislamovaWhich is never something that you want.
Jodi KatzRight. Okay, this is cool. I can do this. I can practice. Okay, so let's talk about life as a CEO. Are you traveling all the time?
Mariya NurislamovaI'm traveling for work, yes, conferences, speaking engagements, things like that. I'm looking at factories as well for a line of product. It's fun.
Jodi KatzDo you have a lot of people on your team now?
Mariya NurislamovaYes, we have ... I mean, it depends, right? It depends on who you ask for a startup. Maybe at our stage we have almost 100.
Jodi KatzOh my gosh.
Mariya NurislamovaWe have a lot of remote people. They are full=time, our employees just not in the New York City headquarters.
Jodi KatzThat means you're operating in some sense a virtual business because they're distant?
Mariya NurislamovaIn some ways. I mean, we still have the New York City headquarters where most of the management is. Outsourcing is a way to build a tech business these days, especially ... I'm Russian, two out of three of my co-founders are Russian as well. Russian engineers [inaudible 00:15:16] some of the best in the world. We hire engineers only Moscow and St. Petersburg. It's really helpful because A. We get them. They're really rockstars in general for the global market, but a lot more affordable and they never leave, they retain perfectly. It's great. They don't even require health insurance. I feel like I just won a jackpot just being Russian, you know what I mean?
Jodi KatzRight, you already have your network. You utilize your network.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, absolutely.
Jodi KatzLet's talk about the fragrance business because for so many years it's been really, from my point of view, dull and stagnant. I don't mean that there haven't been beautiful fragrances that have launched, but the business model it seems really dated.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah.
Jodi KatzIt's just ... A few years ago around the time you launched Scentbird where I have met entrepreneurs who see that as a huge opportunity and don't care that it's been done in a certain way for decades. It must be so fun to shake up a really stagnant, old business model.
Mariya NurislamovaSome parts of it are certainly fun. Some parts of it are slightly challenging. The passion makes it all worth it. You're absolutely right. I think the industry, every industry, is being shaken up by digital.
Jodi KatzYeah.
Mariya NurislamovaFragrance is a little bit late to the game, and I think all of the more traditional brands, that they didn't have to [inaudible 00:16:46], thought they could just a traditional new launch twice a year and put another model as the face of it, and the consumer will keep buying. I think the consumer is looking for authenticity on the market, and it's actually an interesting shift. It used to be that, in fragrance, sex sells, and now I think we're seeing this whole new generation where sex and perfumery doesn't matter. People are [inaudible 00:17:12] with maybe sensuality, or empowerment. All kinds of different ... or just be new as opposed to being sexy for somebody else.
Mariya NurislamovaIt's actually really interesting phenomena. We do a lot of research in our audience. Women wear fragrances for themselves. They want to make themselves happy, not their guy, not the person next to them, which I think is the epitome of female power. They're really comfortable in their skin. They think a fragrance is very emotional and act as a big source of their inner happiness. I certainly love being a part of that movement, but you're certainly seeing in general, in fragrance, outside of Scentbird, move toward smaller sized bigger collections as opposed to one signature scent.
Mariya NurislamovaPeople don't want to commit as much. They want to change fragrances with the seasons, try out all the new trends. They are also starting to see a lot of alternative forms in fragrance, like the little fragrance brushes that leave a deposit of scent, solids, or [inaudible 00:18:12] like sticks. All kinds of other fun things they can do around fragrance, scented hair mist-
Jodi KatzRight.
Mariya NurislamovaKind of like penetrating in all different kinds of categories. You're absolutely right. This is the time where ... it is a fun time to be innovating in the category and being part of that movement.
Jodi KatzYou mentioned the marketing aspect of fragrance, which is [inaudible 00:18:32], and I was actually just watching TV, probably the Real Housewives because this is what I watch, and a commercial came on for [inaudible 00:18:41], an established prestige fragrance brand, it was so drawing to me because it was so overtly sexual that it felt like weird now. It feels dated and old. It almost feels really uncomfortable to see that because it's sort of like what I think of in beauty as the Old Guard of a man's point of view on what women should be doing, or what they're doing, which is obviously so distant from my point of view and my agency's point of view, which is like we're a group of women, this is our original beauty. It felt so jarring, and I was so excited that it felt so jarring because it means that everything is changing. That brand didn't change, but everything around it has.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, it's very hard for the traditional large companies with a lot of legacy to switch gears. It's coming for them, they know it, but it will take them a few years to snap out of that, like selling using sexuality to sell to women.
Jodi KatzRight, and there's this ... We've seen this for many years, the legacy brands spending millions of dollars creating their film ... you know, their film that gets sliced up into a 15 second commercial with a Macy's tag at the end.
Mariya NurislamovaYes.
Jodi KatzThey're weird, and odd, and strange, and they're not really ... there's no narrative and it's almost like the director just got a budget and did whatever he wanted. It also feels so dated, and I'm so glad it feels so dated because it's so ridiculous.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, I think we're going to see a lot more authenticity with consumer goods in general, and fragrance in particular as well.
Jodi KatzYeah, it's really exciting.
Mariya NurislamovaIts real stories, and it's a lot more relatable.
Jodi KatzYes, relevancy. I think that fragrance for so long has been about fantasy. I do believe in many ways that there are fantastical aspects of it, but not to the detriment of me as a human being. I feel like that's-
Mariya NurislamovaAbsolutely.
Jodi KatzWhere we've been like, "Well I'm not here in this world that you've created in film, that's bizarre and strange," which means well, I don't fit in. Right? I think the world is asking for the opposite. I want to feel connected.
Mariya NurislamovaAbsolutely, and you want something for your daily life, something that can go ... like a scent that can go and workout with you when you're doing your yoga class, you know?
Jodi KatzYes.
Mariya NurislamovaAnd then it could go to the office with you.
Jodi KatzRight, but with Scentbird I can afford to have a fragrance wardrobe, right?
Mariya NurislamovaIn fact, you're encouraged to have a fragrance wardrobe.
Jodi KatzRight? I couldn't do that a few years ago.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah.
Jodi KatzI would be spending ... I guess now we're at $120.00-
Mariya NurislamovaA bottle, yeah.
Jodi KatzA bottle.
Mariya NurislamovaMm-hmm (affirmative).
Jodi KatzThat's a commitment.
Mariya NurislamovaIt is a commitment and they never run out. They'll go bad before running out.
Jodi KatzThat's right. That's awesome. So let's talk about life with partners. I run my own agency solo, with no one to ... well there's some good things and bad things, but the good thing is that I have no one that I have to share the vision with, so I can change it daily if I wanted to. So, there's four of you in total.
Mariya NurislamovaCorrect.
Jodi KatzI would imagine it takes a lot of time and effort to make the relationship smooth.
Mariya NurislamovaYes, you go through that in the early days of the business, though. There is that formation period, and not only do you have to have individual relationships with each co-founder, collectively you have to have a team-
Jodi KatzRight
Mariya NurislamovaThat works, and that can be productive on a day to day basis. If there is a lot of internal conflict two years in, it's probably not going to work. Yes, in the early days you learn each other's working styles, you learn each other's strengths and weaknesses as well. I think being a good partner, and know it is not just about recognizing what your partner is good at, but also recognizing when they need a helping hand. One of the things that I really appreciate about my team is we come closer when the times get hard.
Mariya NurislamovaI remember in the early days Scentbird prior to us launching this business model, everything that we tried failed. That was when we really formed a bond because I ultimately knew that these three people are going to be the last ones standing with me. If everybody else throws stones at us, it doesn't really matter because they will be there. So, I definitely felt very supported and I hope that they felt supported by me as well.
Jodi KatzThat's cool. Tell us about Deck of Scarlet because that has an interesting business model as well.
Mariya NurislamovaThank you. So Deck of Scarlet is a makeup brand, and a makeup subscription in one. Every two months we partner with the top YouTube or Instagram influencer and makeup artist. They become our Artist-in-Chief, and they help us carry the collection of makeup. Right now it comes in the form of a full-faced makeup pallette that would enable someone, our consumers, to create a full face of makeup, like a full look. So, each pallette would have three eyeshadows, two lipsticks, two cheek products, and liners or mascaras, whatever else is needed to complete that look.
Mariya NurislamovaThe reason this idea came around this brand was born is because we live in an era of social media, and I've always been fascinated with YouTube beauty influencers. I think they make ... For me, I used that as an education tool to teach myself how to do makeup when I was a lot younger. One of the things for me was I loved good makeup, but every time you're trying to recreate a video of a top YouTuber it would list 15, 20 products underneath that video, so it's a real, real splurge. Like, you would be out $1,000.00 if you wanted to try a particular look.
Mariya NurislamovaI was always wishing that somebody would just create a makeup kit that would be affordable, and Deck of Scarlet is $29.95 every two months, so it's under $30.00 for premium quality makeup. It blends well, one payoffs, all of the good things that you would expect from a prestige makeup brand. It's all color curated for you. Our Artist-in-Chief also comes up with tutorials, daytime looks, nighttime looks, everything in between.
Mariya NurislamovaThey show you all of the versatile ways you can use that pallette. It's also 100% travel-friendly because you basically just take one pallette and then maybe your foundation, your mascara, and you're good to go. You don't need anything else. It's been a lot of fun developing that product and the brand. It's been the light of my life.
Jodi KatzAre they short runs, like we [inaudible 00:24:42] unlimited supply in each [crosstalk 00:24:43]?
Mariya NurislamovaAbsolutely, limited edition everything.
Jodi KatzThat's awesome.
Mariya NurislamovaAnd every edition is numbered, so you can line them up on the shelf kind of like the magazines, so it'd be like addition one, addition two.
Jodi KatzThat's fun. How many editions are you up to now?
Mariya NurislamovaWe have 11 in production. So far we have launched eight.
Jodi KatzCool, okay so we have more to see.
Mariya NurislamovaYes.
Jodi KatzAnd you said it's every two months it's a different partnership?
Mariya NurislamovaCorrect, yes. The reason it's a different partnership is because every influencer we partner with, they help carry the colors, they help us ... they lead the production process. It's very much their vision. So, it helps us bringing something new every month, somebody else's vision, somebody's else baby, if you will.
Jodi KatzSo then when it sells out it's gone?
Mariya NurislamovaIt's gone, yeah.
Jodi KatzHave you noticed a black market for secondary sales?
Mariya NurislamovaSome, yes, yes. Some. Probably more to come.
Jodi KatzWhat were you doing before all of this? What was your career journey?
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, so before Scentbird I ran a creative agency/dove shop. We would specialize in creating apps, websites for new startups and small businesses. I was one of the two founders, so I was doing everything from sales to account management, creative direction. I did that for a few years. I had an event planning business. Before that I was in college, and in college I was a speed reading coach.
Jodi KatzWhoa, really?
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, and I loved it. It was really good. It was very fun, paid really well.
Jodi KatzYou taught people how to speed read?
Mariya NurislamovaHow to read faster, yes. Yes. And not just individuals, groups of people as well, so public classes. It was a lot of fun.
Jodi KatzThat is so fascinating. Okay, but you've been a serial entrepreneur.
Mariya NurislamovaYes, I've also had a couple of failed things under my belt, and I think-
Jodi KatzI want to hear about those.
Mariya NurislamovaYou do?
Jodi KatzYeah.
Mariya NurislamovaOh my God. One was supposed to be a startup in fashion that never really ... The idea was ... I think that I've always been fascinated with that idea of choice. In fashion obviously there is a lot of choices to be made in digital. I wanted to create a fun voting platform where people could get to what their personal style is by rating two images at a time. So, if you just look at the image on the left and the image on the right, and you're like, "Well, I would pick that, or I would pick that," and then you would rate about 100 sets of images and it would analyze your preferences and be able to build your wardrobe like a true stylist, like recommend things to you.
Jodi KatzThis is genius. Why didn't it take off?
Mariya NurislamovaI did not ... I don't think I was ready for it to take off on so many levels. I might not have had the right team. One thing about the team that I have learned over the years is you have to pick people who have another skill set, a skill set that you do not. For that business I really needed a tech co-founder that I didn't have. For me, I'm like more of a business co-founder [inaudible 00:27:47]. Not having a person who could build that algorithm is a recipe for disaster.
Jodi KatzRight.
Mariya NurislamovaWith Scentbird I started with two tech co-founders, one on the products and design side and one on the actual engineering side, coupled with my talents and the talents of Rachel, whose our CMO in [inaudible 00:28:06] relationships. That was a perfect match because we all kind of came from different worlds. That fashion startup was just ... I think I was too green. I didn't know those lessons. I had to learn them the hard way.
Jodi KatzRight, okay. So I think it's genius.
Mariya NurislamovaWell thank you.
Jodi KatzAnd I would encourage you to pursue it when you have some time. Really, because for someone like me, I mean I think I'm also like the beauty customer. I appreciate that there's a lot of choice out there, but it's super overwhelming to me.
Mariya NurislamovaIt is, yeah.
Jodi KatzAnd from a personal style perspective, I knew who I was in my 20s, and then I had kids, and my body changed, and my [inaudible 00:28:40] have changed, preferences change. I'm still trying to figure out who I am from a style perspective. It takes a lot of investment and I don't really have the time to invest in it. So, I love this idea. I want to hear about another failed idea.
Mariya NurislamovaAnother failed idea. Oh my God, so I wanted to build a consulting business to help American companies expand into Russia, because as a Russian immigrant, that's what you do. It was really early when I came into the US, and I was talking to an American hedge fun that wanted to open up an office in Russia. They had offices in five countries. It was basically ... my value proposition would be I will help you set up the legal entity, everything that you need, get you the right resources in the local market. That was one of my humble attempts. We were very, very close to signing a contract, and then it was basically ... Like the stock market crashed by 500 [inaudible 00:29:38].
Mariya NurislamovaIt was one of those years, it was 2008, and they decided the hedge fund ... I spent nine months to close on this consulting arrangement, decided not to expand into Russia because it was a risky thing and they were losing a lot of business in general. That kind of is the story of my failed consulting practice. It never happened because I'm like okay, and then it was a really, really hard time because the partner that I had for the business decided to quit, which was also my very good friend so it was a double heartbreak because the business didn't work, the friendship went sour for a year or two as we were living through that trauma.
Mariya NurislamovaThat was not fun. I guess the message here is it is okay to fail. Sometimes failure is the beset thing that can happen to you. You could still be on your path and fail, and I think as a society we have to get really, really comfortable with it. I think the US is actually really good at accepting failure as opposed to the culture that I come from. Russia is not ... That's why you're not going to see too many entrepreneurs because God forbid you fail. It's like a stigma in your family.
Jodi KatzRight?
Mariya NurislamovaIn the US it's a lot more open, and that's why it's a lot easier to create here, to be an entrepreneur here, that's why you see a lot of people who are freelancing here. They're having their own projects because they think as a society it's a lot more susceptive. But I still think we can still take it on a personal level. Sometimes you don't want to fail and you're like what are my friends going to think? What are my family going to think. I think we have to get it out of system and knowing that failure is actually just a learning curve.
Jodi KatzRight, I think that the challenge for most people here is when you're on a track in sort of like a competitive, really ambitious group of friends, cohorts, peers, whatever, the idea of failure feels like all your stock just dropped. At least for me, allowing myself to be vulnerable and say I tried it and it didn't work, it does feel like daggers to the heart and the soul.
Jodi KatzI've always been more concerned about ... less my feelings around it than what is everybody else going to feel. That social pressure, and I think it's kind of another self-doubt thing. If I felt really proud of myself and confident that I tried, I wouldn't really care, but I wouldn't even [inaudible 00:32:09] say I knew it would be part of my journey because I'm so obsessed with other people's point of view, at least I have been. I'm trying to evolve out of that. Being vulnerable is really scary.
Mariya NurislamovaIt is, but you know what I've learned? When I failed my first business, my community ... actually, so a lot of people had no idea I even had a business, so there is no way they could have had an opinion about me failing. Then the people that were in my life were actually really supportive in helping me out. So, I thought that failure feels a lot scarier than it actually is. Having gone through so many times, I actually welcome it because people are really a lot less judgmental. I mean, we are all really kind of stuck up in our own little world. To even get outside of your zone and get into somebody else's to even have an opinion about their failure, that's a lot of work.
Jodi KatzIt's so interesting. I haven't thought about it that way. But I love that. So my last question for you, and we started talking about this before. You said that raising $18.6 million just kind of felt like part of a day's work, or many months, or years worth of work. But, there must have been some celebration, some acknowledgment between you and your partners. How did you honor that raise?
Mariya NurislamovaOur investors did take us out to dinner. They were the ones that wanted to celebrate. Again, I'm one of those people where every time I get to a certain level I feel like there's nothing to celebrate, we're already here, what's to celebrate? Sometimes my partners ... I need my partners to remind me that it has to happen. I mean we had a little toast with the team as well, because they worked very, very hard. Everybody on our team did. I don't think that ... It's not an accomplishment of one person.
Mariya NurislamovaI mean, we are shipping to thousands and thousands of people and it's from contribution of people who are packing the orders, contribution of people who are running the ads, contribution of people who are building the site, debugging it. People who are dealing with complaints because that's the growth a business. You will get complaints. So yes, I guess there was a little bit of a celebration but it was back to work the next day.
Jodi KatzRight, so I've been practicing ... let me share this with you and our listeners, the art of honoring these moments because I have a tendency to just move on to the next thing, but to work my way out of perfectionism and self-doubt, I really need to train my brain and my heart to feel those winds in a bigger way so that when I'm having kind of a shitty day I can look back at that feeling, and channel that feeling to get me out of the hole.
Jodi KatzSo, I've been trying hard to ... When we get wind of a new client that we're really excited about, we stick a candle in a muffin, whatever it is, just to have that moment to honor it because I need those feelings, I need those good feelings on the days that kind of stink.
Mariya NurislamovaYeah, thank you for sharing that.
Jodi KatzYeah.
Mariya NurislamovaThat's a good habit to adopt.
Jodi KatzYeah, so I mean candles and jumping and dancing. [crosstalk 00:35:15] jump around and dance. Yeah, for like five seconds-
Mariya NurislamovaI like that.
Jodi Katz10 seconds.
Mariya NurislamovaI like that, yeah. I like the candles, too. I'll adopt it.
Jodi KatzThank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today. It was so fun to have you here.
Mariya NurislamovaOh, thank you so much for having me. It's been a lot of fun.
Jodi KatzFor our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Mariya. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes and for updates about this show, follow us on Instagram @WhereBrainsMeetBeautyPodcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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