Online startup Phlur is hoping to disrupt how consumers buy their fragrances without the need for a smell test.
The Austin-based company, which opened its online site to the public about 8 weeks ago, has closed on a $1.8 million convertible debt raise comprised of a continuation of commitments from existing investors who participated in its June 2015 seed round of $2.7 million. The round was led by Austin-based venture capital firm Next Coast Ventures, and from funding by Phlur founder Eric Korman. The aggregate raise totals $4.5 million.
Mike Smerklo, managing director and Next Coast Ventures cofounder, said, “At Next Coast Ventures, we look for exceptional entrepreneurs like Eric who are pursuing disruptive ideas in big markets.”
Korman said, “When we did that round, we had existing commitments to fund the company for an additional $1.8 million. We hit all our milestones and decided to do a debt round to give us some flexibility for when we do our future round next year.”
Korman added the new financing will be used to fund ongoing operations, as well as expanding into new fragrance-related products and scents.
Korman, a former president for Ralph Lauren digital and global e-commerce, said that humans are visually dominant, and he uses that trait to foster a new way of shopping for fragrances. In Korman’s world, “Scent is much more than about how it smells, it’s about how you feel. You tell a story from a mood, what it is supposed to evoke.”
At Phlur, customers essentially are given a visual mood board, with corresponding music and visual narratives that represent the inspiration and feeling of a particular scent. They choose the two that resonates with them most, and the company ships sample vials for consumers to “audition” on their skin.
A full-size bottle of the fragrance is $85, and the $10 fee for the trial vials are applied toward the cost of the full size. Korman said the fragrances are meant for testing on the human skin, contrary to the way most fragrances are tested, which is walking through a store and receiving the smell test on a strip of paper.
Korman said he came up with the idea after feeling disenchanted with the current shopping model: “I didn’t like the experience. The sales associate was speaking to me in opaque language, and if you’re new to the category, it can be intimidating. It’s about top notes and accords. The language used doesn’t help you. It’s as if they’re on the inside and you’re on the outside. And smelling something on a paper strip and having to make a decision in 35 seconds is high pressure. That’s not the best way to sample something.”
Phlur began developing its fragrance options last year, starting with 12 moods and then narrowing it down to six. All the fragrances are gender neutral. “We gave our perfumers creative freedom. We told them, ‘Do not worry about the cost of the ingredients and to not worry about the time it would take to develop each fragrance,’” Korman said.
Phlur also donates a portion of every purchase to a handful of organizations, such as the Central Park Conservancy and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Korman noted that in the few weeks the company’s web site has been up and running, it has already completed over 1,000 orders.