I've worked with companies like L’Oreal and Estee Lauder – Rachel ten Brink, CMO & Co-founder of ScentbirdFeatured

Hi Elpha, I’m Rachel ten Brink. I’m currently a startup advisor and in my previous role I was co-founder and CMO of Scentbird. I’m also a YC alum! Scentbird offers a monthly subscription service to make discovering new perfumes simple and affordable.In my role I led brand marketing, editorial, social, PR, events and managed strategic relationships as well as business development. I started the company in 2013 after working for over fifteen years in global marketing leadership roles at Elizabeth Arden, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal and Procter and Gamble.I’m passionate about beauty, consumer brands, product development, technology and entrepreneurship. Ask me anything about rising through the corporate ladder, entrepreneurship, branding, innovation, subscription services, team building, leadership, balancing a busy schedule or anything else!
Wow totally in awe of your track record & successes. Thanks so much for making yourself available for AMA. It would be great to have your perspective as a mature trailblazer in the beauty industry as well as your array of other accomplishments. I'm in mental health (this is a tuff nut to crack, as people don't want to be associated with this, when it actually it's a bad thing, it can become worst when you are not dealing with your issues or taking time for yourself). I want to position it in a unique way that incorporates beauty (self-care) : My two questions are:1. How do I reach out to large beauty corporations when I have no contacts in this industry to understand their interests - then later down the line possible collaborations/partnership?2. How would you recommend engaging and retaining early adopters?Thanks Rachel
Great questions DrJulz and thanks for the compliments1) In terms of big beauty corporations, it's a pretty tight circle of people and they tend to move around between company and company. It depends who in the organization you're targeting (operations? marketing? innovation?) these large companies can be quite siloed so it helps to plan up front on whom in the organization you want to speak to. Generally, for marketing I would highly recommend CEW (Cosmetic Executive Women) and WWD events, as well as Glossy events as you will meet a lot of people who work in these companies. Also- Linked In is always worth a try but be very targeted in your email so it doesn't feel like a generic pitch.2) in terms of engaging and retaining early adopters it starts with the targeting. An obvious first step is your immediate network but that will only take you so far. Think about where your customer is and where their mind is at. Sometimes the non-obvious places can work (eg. pick a workout influencer instead of a beauty influencer) because it's not as saturated.
Thanks so much for sharing your tips and insight.1. I plan on contacting marketing - as I believe that this can be the easiest route to entry in, based on the creative visual content I wish to create to stand out from the crowd. I know this will be causing me to narrow the playing field, as companies will have their own style of brand that they want to remain true to for identity as well as for retentions of customers.Right - I'm on to the events, but Linkedin - is definitely the way forward. So I'll most definitely take your advice.2. - Thanks for this - I never thought of that. You are a star & as God-sent-blessing. Thanks a million, Rachel - I wish you all the very best in 2019+.
thanks a lot for doing this. I have two questions for you- it's really hard to find manufacturers in the beauty space, that are willing to work with startup and have low MOQs. Any tips on how to find them?- how do you balance everything: family, business, etc
Hi Marie,1) For manufacturers there are a ton of private label manufacturers but you are right MOQ's are always a challenge. You have to plan smart to see if you can leverage an existing formula or an existing packaging to lower these. Sometimes it really pays to work with a consultant in the industry that has the relationships with the manufacturer and can negotiate/ pull favors for you. 2)Balance-- ha! never easy. I am not sure if I think perfect balance is possible but you do the best you can. For me it's about being present, being the best I can at work, but when I am home, really focusing on my kids. I try to set boundaries and work really smart and focused so I can get everything done. In the end, you also have to be forgiving with yourself. Sometimes you will be less than stellar at being a mom or at being a founder and you just have to keep on pushing through. I think grit and perseverance are essential for both.
Hi Rachel! Thank you so much for offering your time and experience in the beauty industry. My co-founder and I are building image analysis technology to personalize hair care for women with textured hair. I have 2 questions for you. 1. As a startup, what kind of metrics do we need to put in front of big brands to develop a business relationship? 2. How was your YC experience as a beauty company? Thank you!
Hi!1) When you think of big brands, you have to figure out what they are looking for- is it a particular demographic, channel, technology? I would highly recommend having a few exploratory meetings with your targets to really understand what drives them. In general, growth- even if it's from a small base - is impressive.2) Being at YC was amazing but I think it's become even better since we went through in 2015. YC historically has not done a lot fo consumer brands and definitely not beauty but now seems to be more open to these segments. I think having a truly differentiated product, unique go to market and traction really matter to getting in. Once you're in, take advantage of building skill sets that you may not already have.
How do you typically go about defining a brand and producing social media content that is both engaging and useful to the consumer? I would also love to hear if there are any qualities you would recommend someone in marketing to have?And lastly, do you have any advice about working with branding companies/designers if you have had experience doing so?
Hi Felicia,On brand and social they are obviously intertwined, but are not one and the same. The brand needs to be the over-arching identity but the content you produce for social will address not only the brand but also the channel you're in. For marketers, I think curiosity is essential. I also think you need a good combination of right side and left side thinking- creativity, aesthetics but also being systematic and analytical so you can tease out learnings and scale.
Thank you so much for your insight and taking the time to answer my question. This was really helpful!
I'm pretty familiar with Scentbird and just joined Elpha a few days ago so was excited to see you here. I come from 8+ years of working in the fashion industry and have recently founded my own startup in the direct-to-consumer space. I have a few questions for you! - I'm sure you've had a lot of entrepreneurs reach out to you for advice over the years. I'm currently hoping to connect with successful founders myself and would be curious as to what type of outreach has been most compelling for you to reply to? Platform & approach would be greatly helpful as I think about how to best connect with founders in the dtc space - As part of my business plan I need to better understand customer acquisition costs of dtc brands and the struggles associated with retaining customers in a noisy marketplace. Are there any resources that you would recommend or people I could speak to?If you have time for a 3rd, I'd love to know how you got Scentbird started and convinced brands to partner with you (I realize that you come from the beauty industry and had connections but am curious whether you had an MVP / how you got things rolling in the early days)
Hi Jaclyn I'm very active on LinkedIn so it's probably the best way to reach me personally. There are also some good events where you can learn from On the business development side, even though I came from the industry, Scentbird is quite disruptive so it took some time to convince brands- particularly in a category as traditional as fragrance. You really have to listen to the partners and understand what is important to them (e.g for some brands, they wanted sampling, for others buzz and influencers and for yet others it was consumer insight data we could share).
Hi Rachel,Thank you so much for the advice, much appreciated! That's incredibly helpful. I'll find you on Linkedin as well! - Jaclyn
Good afternoon Rachel! I appreciate your insight. I would like to know how to find a great chemist in the beauty industry for hair products. I am also looking for manufacturers that work with start ups or a way to send sample products to big name companies to try out. If in fact they offer that option. I also am looking for a developer/coder for mobile applications in order to build my app or marketplace from scratch. Is there a special forum to search for manifacuterers, developers, chemist and other connections in the beauty industry for start up products and companies not yet inside of the walls of the industry?
Hi TamyraFor hair products, I would recommend CosmoProf in Bologna- it's a huge trade show and it has a whole pavilion on hair so you can find a manufacturer that way. In terms of "send samples to big companies" are you thinking you would develop the formula and let them sell it for you? They usually do not accept samples this way as they don't want the headache if someone claims their formula was stolen by them if they were already working on something. Mostly, you would need to develop not the entire brand and then present it to the manufacturer. Many of the top corporations (L'Oreal, Coty, Unilever) now have accelerator programs you can apply to so you could go that route.
Rachel, thanks for being generous with your time. I’m Noni Purnama. A newbie here. So excited to be a part of the community!I recently started GetWynston. We deliver personalized toiletries kit for business travelers every time they forward us their hotel confirmation. We have a small group of early adopters. They love the service and give us positive feedback. However, customer acquisition has been challenging. I put ads on Twitter (not effective) and I reached out personally to people via social medias to hear what they have to say about the service (got a few customers). I talked to people that shop at travel aisles (futile so far). I even put up some numbers on the website comparing prices at different stores and time spent. How did you gain traction with Scentbird? I looked at travel companies that launched on Product Hunt, Reddit and other channels. If you were running this, what channels would you target? Do you have specific advice about how I can gain exposure with higher conversion rates? What are some of the more under utilized channels you would recommend for a service like mine?
Hi NoniCustomer acquisition is always hard :) I am not super familiar with your space but would agree that Twitter ads are not at all effective. Have you thought of partnerships with either large companies where people travel a lot (consulting), airlines or other travel related business (Away?). I would also say that referral may be a good channel since people could "gift" a kit to their co-workers.Hope this helps!
Hi Rachel, Thanks for offering out your advice.Just curious how important paid social programs have been for growing Scentbird and for continuing to scale? I work for a 3rd party tool and am always curious on the value that a CMO will place on growing brand & ROI with paid digital. I'm especially curious because of the politics that have occurred in the last 6-9 months around FB.Would love to hear your thoughts!Jill
Hi JillPaid social continues to be a very important channel for growth. However, increasing CPAs as well as politics are making it much harder- I heard one founder describe it as "we are all hooked on Facebook crack". Most DTC brands are actively looking for additional alternatives to Facebook, Instagram and Google that are 1)deliver good CPA and 2)scaleable. You are seeing a lot more traditional, off line channels (OOH, TV, Subway, Direct Mail) as well as retail as a way to build brands.
How did you split your time day to day and how did you measure success week over week?
Interesting question. I wore 2 hats, business development and marketing and no day was like the other. Some days, my time was 50/50, other times more geared towards one side or the other. In general, I would set up a "to do" list on Monday, prioritize what needs to be done and then check off during the week. I also kept monthly KPIs for myself and my team.
What advice would you give to a first time, non-technical founder who is currently building a beauty-tech company?(In terms of fundraising and building a team).
Hi TashanahI think building a team that brings in the skills you don't have is super important as a CEO. I think for both other team members and investors, being able to articulate your value proposition, your go to market strategy, etc.In terms of investors- you really have to know who you're targeting, if they're investing in your space, etc
Hi Rachel, thanks for sharing. I am looking to switch fields. I’m currently work for an investment bank and would like to pursue a marketing role within the beauty industry. How should I accomplish this task if I don’t have prior marketing experience. I would like to become a social media manager.
One way to do it would be to build your own social media presence- show that you can grow an audience and engage with people. Something else would be to have a very targeted list of influencers or channels that you think could work for a specific brand.
I read that Scentbird went through four different business models before arriving at the one it has today. What criteria did you use to determine that a business model wasn’t working out? How did you come up with ideas on which business models to try next?
You have to really keep a close eye on the metrics. If it's just not growing, not improving after you keep on trying a million things, then there may be something broken and you need to move on. It's a little like "when you have product/market fit you just know..." We spent a lot of time brainstorming as a team, talking with advisors and also talking to customers/ benchmarking.
Hi Rachel, thanks for taking your time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions. My co-founder and I are building image analysis technology to personalize hair care for women with textured hair. I have 3 questions for you.1. Any advice on how to develop our questions and design customer development experiments with the goal of understanding of our the customer's problem or need? 2. Are there any general patterns of behavior that are prevalent when it comes to women and beauty that you think should we consider when developing our questions?3. What kind of systems do you all have in place so that tests can be built, deploy and analyzed quickly?
I'm sorry to say that this AMA is already closed. These conversations typically run Monday - Thursday. Please do post your question on Elpha though as there are likely other members who can give you great input.
Rachel, I’m so excited to speak with you. My company ( is a sexual wellness disruptor and I want to position my heat and cool vagina packs as a beauty brand. Do you have any advice on how I can do that? The product can be used after a Brazilian wax, electrolysis, childbirth, saddle pain from spinning and more. $35/each.
Hi! Sorry but this AMA is already closed. These conversations typically run Monday - Thursday. Please do post your question in the community though as there are likely other members who can provide input.
Having experienced the current beauty climate, do you think it’s a genuine reality to get funding for a beauty brand or do you think that we’re better off saving, looking at other financial options and building it ourselves? If you do think funding is a possibility, do you have any possibilites on to how to get started?
If you can figure out how to self fund- that is amazing (but not easy). It's really hard to get funded but if you have a really great, differentiated product, you could also look at the accelerator programs at the large beauty companies as an option.
Rachel – thanks so much for joining us for an AMA this week, excited to have you here!As a reminder: this conversation is part of our ongoing series with people in the Elpha community doing incredible work.Rachel will be answering your questions throughout this week. Please note that she may not have time to answer all your questions, so we'll be sorting questions by popularity based on most emojis 😊.
Hi Elphas, thanks for chiming in. This AMA is now closed.Huge thanks to the wonderful Rachel for sharing all these valuable answers with us 😊.
Hi everyone! I am here and excited to answer your questions
Hello Rachel! You are so amazing and extremely helpful. I would like you to know I appreciate this service and am so grateful for all of your help. Your feedback is priceless.