A flame lit within Ariana Silvestro when she started shopping for candles online during the pandemic. “I never realized how much emphasis I put on going to the store and actually smelling [the products] until I was forced to do it digitally,” she says. “It was hard for me to imagine what certain scents would smell like.”
Sensing a gap in the market, Silvestro, a former Bath & Body Works manager, launched direct-to-consumer, non-toxic candle company Scent Lab in September 2021. It debuted while Silvestro was working full-time leading strategy at a New York City healthcare startup. Scent Lab allows customers to pick their candle vessel and customized scent blend with the help of an online quiz.
Silvestro has launched seasonal scents alongside her year-round classic collection and in June, left her full-time job to focus on Scent Lab. In an interview with Mashable, Silvestro explains her decision and breaks down what went into building what she hopes will be a gamechanger in the fragrance industry.
How did you prepare to launch Scent Lab?
I spent about 10 months researching and developing. I wasn’t about to set up this huge manufacturing and fulfillment strategy — I did not have the means to do that — so I needed to learn how to make these products. I did the website myself, I did everything myself. This was completely bootstrapped. I put in $5,000. I took some [candle-making] classes. I did a lot of research around what kind of wax to use.
What kind of challenges have you run into while building the company?
Inventory management was a really big thing for me. I’m doing all of this out of my New York City, one-bedroom apartment. I don’t have a lot of space. Also, when I went live [on Instagram], I learned candles were breaking because I did not secure them right. I did test sending candles to Texas and California and it was totally fine, but I only tested it with one candle. I learned the hard way that with three candles, they were breaking every time.
How did you balance Scent Lab with your full-time job?
I’d wake up at around 7:30 in the morning, have coffee and do fulfillment. I would always make the candles the night before and then in the morning, I packed them up. I’d come home, do emails for Scent Lab — anything that was digital, like posting on Instagram — until dinner. My partner would make dinner and then I’d start making candles. I finished candles around 11:30, 12:00. At that point, I sit down on the couch and I start writing my thank you notes [that are included with the shipments] while I’m watching TV, so in the morning, fulfillment’s easy.
Which digital platforms do you use to promote your company?
Right now all of our growth has really been through Instagram. Influencer partnerships have been huge for us. A lot of influencers love our product and love supporting female-founded small businesses and don’t charge us, because we can’t pay. We’ve also had lots of success with Reels. I get so many people to our website whenever we go viral.
Why did you decide to leave your full-time job and go all in on Scent Lab?
I was an executive at a startup, it’s not like I could have grown two companies at the same time. My company was at an inflection point where I knew, in order to go where I wanted to go with it, I needed to raise capital. I had to make a decision and for me, it’s worth a risk temporarily for a bigger gain. I owe it to myself to see what’s here.
How do you plan to grow Scent Lab?
We are in the process of raising capital. I can’t buy in bulk or have access to some of the bigger manufacturers with our current capital. Right now, processing times is 10 days, because I’m doing that myself. But going forward, your processing time will only be one to two days. And we’re creating a new website, a new digital experience. Our scent quiz helps solve the problem, which is it’s hard to shop for candles online, but the way it exists today, it’s pretty basic. We want it to be a cool, immersive digital experience. You will be able to have scent profiles in the new platform; you could have a profile for your fall cozy night candle, or a profile for when you bought a candle for your best friend. I think Scent Lab has the ability to change the way people shop for fragrance, and I’m really excited about it.