How This Millennial Candle Brand Bucked the $50 Billion Fragrance Industry

Light ‘em up

otherland candles abagail stone mobile
Courtesy of Otherland

In Straight from the Founder’s Mouth, we ask entrepreneurs in emerging and fast-growing markets to share intel on what it took to launch their business, and how they’re continuing to thrive during growth.

Today we’re sitting down with the founder of Otherland, the D2C brand making fancy candles (think: Soy-and-coconut wax, killer packaging and fragrance-quality scents) that cost about half as much as the usual suspects. Launched in late 2017 by Abigail Stone, a former buyer for Ralph Lauren, Otherland is quietly disrupting the 50 billion-dollar home fragrance industry with its innovative but streamlined business model. Read on below to find out how Abigail got her business off the ground, then check out our recent Q&As with Maude, The Sill and Populum for more millennial-minded startup wisdom.

How would you describe Otherland in a sentence?

Abigail Stone: Otherland is a digitally-native luxury candle brand focused on the intersection of self-care and home decor with artist collections.

If we were potential investors or brand partners, what would you tell us about your business?

Stone: In our modern digital—and often seemingly superficial—world, candles are the ultimate analog. They represent those feel-good, offline habits and rituals that millennials are incorporating into daily self-care routines. Lighting a candle signals relaxation and instantly transforms your space and mood. It’s all about creating emotional comfort in the home.

We developed an artist edition drop model with endless possibilities, from a partnership collaboration with The Wing, to an edition with feminist artist Amber Vittoria and a best-selling, tennis-inspired 'Matchpoint' candle with notes of a tennis ball, grass and cucumber.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from running this business?

Stone: Build something people love. Stay connected with our customers. I’m obsessed with their feedback and looking at every piece of UGC [user generated content] daily on social is my North Star to weather the challenges of launching a startup.

What’s one aspect of your business you knew nothing about when you started it and how did you solve for that?

Stone: Fulfillment operations. It’s a big part of what we’re building through our gifting and personalization offerings, like printing gift notes on fancy stationery or building a custom three-pack box. Fulfillment operations are all about process—building and tightly refining, then re-evaluating and perfecting at each step in scale.

I didn’t realize the tiniest details can have a huge impact. For example, figuring out how to get the shipping label and packing list for an order to print on the same sheet dramatically improved efficiency and order accuracy, instead of printing separately and collating the sheets.

The key for me was to be aware that this wasn’t my forté and that I needed to bring in an expert. My business partner, Sayyid Markar, is a pro at all things ops from his experience at Dia&Co. He has done an awesome job building Otherland.

What do you consider this biggest milestone or breakthrough moment in your brand’s history?

Stone: Eva Chen unboxed one of our candles on Good Morning America this past December while announcing the first-ever official Instagram Gift Guide (Watch my full freak out here.) It was a huge moment for us: Our TV debut, getting recognition from Instagram and Eva (I love her) and it was our one-year anniversary! Surviving 12 months, four seasons, seven collections and 19 SKU [stock keeping unit] drops was also a major milestone, so it was an exciting and joyful moment to celebrate.

What mistake or challenge have you gotten through and how did you prevail?

Stone: The week before we launched, we discovered ten percent of the shipping boxes wouldn’t stay closed, the labels were crooked and bubbly and the magnetic flap wouldn’t close. Fully custom product and packaging are more challenging than I expected. We doubled down on QC [quality control], put in face time with vendors and established clear standards for all of our manufacturing partners.

What important projects or business challenges are you currently grinding on? Why do they require your time and energy?

Stone: We’re currently evaluating if we should pursue more of an omnichannel strategy like going into wholesale, retailing on Amazon and more.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start a similar business to yours?

Stone: Go for it! Share your ideas with everyone you know to get feedback and learn about what drives purchasing in your category. There is a lot of great content out there on starting digitally-native brands, especially podcasts and articles. Consume as much as you can to learn from founders about how they got started.

What has been your strategy for raising (or not raising) capital?

Stone: At the beginning, try to create a cheap MVP [minimum viable product] or prototype as a starting point. I learned how to make candles in my kitchen with supplies from Amazon and decorated them with stickers from Michael’s. Do as much as you possibly can before raising money. I was able to source manufacturing, line up vendors and lock in a brand partner. The less capital you can raise, the better. When you do, be as thoughtful as possible. We fundraised mostly from founders that we could turn to for advice and guidance like Lydia Gilbert and Nadia Boujarwah of Dia&Co and the founders of Casper.

diy candles
Courtesy of Otherland

How does your background—whether educational, professional or otherwise—contribute to your ability to run this business?

Stone: I’ve drawn a lot from my lifelong love of art, interiors and experience working in art acquisitions at Ralph Lauren into building our brand. We see candles as a consumable and experiential objets d’art. Our visual-first approach has differentiated us in the market as the candles become much more than just their scent notes.

What do you look for in people you hire, other than the basic “good employee” traits?

Stone: We look for people with incredible drive and positive energy. There has to be a willingness to help with anything. At a small company, we often need all hands on deck.

How do you take care of your mental and physical health as an entrepreneur?

Stone: Launching a startup is filled with uncertainty, so creating a structure through a daily routine has helped me. I meditate for ten minutes in the morning and try to get in some exercise, even if it is just ten minutes in my living room using a streaming service like Obé. As you might expect, I also love to create moments of me time by lighting candles, especially to wind down after work at my apartment.

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