Moonlit's In Bed With... Series is a collection of intimate interviews with tastemakers, core-shakers, and the people we love. We explore what keeps them up at night, in addition to their sleep secrets.
Moonlit co-founder Stephy sat down in Venice, CA to chat with Dulma Altan of Potion, a curated online store for natural perfumes. In addition to Potion, she’s the creator of Commerce Club, a group of 400+ women in e-commerce.
Location: Venice, CA
Current gig: CEO of Potion
Sum up the mission of Potion: The only store for 100% natural perfumes, hand-selected from the finest artisan perfumeries.
IG handle / website: @potionnaturals / https://www.potionnaturals.com
Dulma, you’re coming from outside the beauty world, how did you go from idea to execution?
I started Potion in late 2017 because I wanted to get my mom perfume for Christmas that was really luxurious and beautiful but 100% natural because she's had different health conditions over the years. I wanted to get something that wouldn’t trigger her sensitivities.
I found that it was really difficult to find because there are FDA loopholes around the fragrance industry where you don't have to disclose the ingredients. And so I thought, “Okay, that's kind of screwed up.”
And second of all, even when I did find things that were not well to look that good quality, they didn’t speak to me and weren’t complex and sophisticated.
I agree – I think fragrance was late to the green beauty party. OK so then what?
To begin, I made this huge spreadsheet of perfumers and different perfume companies and went through each of them painstakingly to try to figure out, “Is it actually natural? Are they greenwashing?”
I wanted to talk to someone who was more experienced in this world so I found that there was one blog, (just one!) from a mom in Portland that spoke about natural fragrances. We connected and after 15 minutes on the phone, she was on board and wanted to help. She was pivotal in the launch and I was able to get connected with her micro-influencer friends on Instagram and Youtube.
That’s amazing you were able to connect with someone who was already so knowledgeable about it. What other tools helped with the launch?
When launching on Shopify, I used StoreTasker and HeyCarson.
What a deep dive into the fragrance world!
Yeah. I've learned a lot about it. The more I learned about it, the more I love it. It’s such an art form. It's so complex. There's such history behind it. People should have safe, non-toxic options for perfume and cologne in general.
Now when I try to wear any synthetic fragrance, I just can't do it. I get headaches, I get nausea if it's subtle, but it's just persistent enough that it's not worth it to me.
Natural perfumes are different. The individual ingredients are much more complex, it has so many layers, and you can pick up on the dynamic scents. It’s a lot like wine.
Like the notes?
Yes! Exactly! The way it takes you on a journey: it takes you on a journey and tells a story through an arc. Like wine, you can pair it with certain things.
What’s a big misconception about the fragrances industry aside from the ingredients?
On average, if you take any sort of designer fragrance, only 3% of the price goes to the actual fragrance. With natural fragrances, a bigger portion goes to the ingredients.
Oh yeah, that’s probably why in the beauty industry you see these celebrities churning out 15 fragrances.
Exactly. The margins are so high.
What do you wish you knew before starting an e-commerce company?
I wish I knew how much money it takes to make money. You hear all these miracle stories but no one is talking about how much money it really takes.
How did you keep yourself centered and disciplined to execute this?
When I worked at Google and different start-ups, I always had a yearning to start something, be creative, and always had the desire to support women. Over the years, there was a feeling of all this pent-up passion.
I had to acknowledge my weakness of starting things and not finishing them because I get stuck with perfectionism. I realized that it was an easy way for me to delay so with Potion, I had to painfully cut myself off when it was 80% done and launch it. It felt good to build up that muscle though of not being obsessed with 100%.
Alright, let’s talk about time-hacking. How do you format your day and save time?
Paul Graham’s creative work vs. manager work theory has helped me a lot.
He says it’s best to dedicate the beginning of your day to creative projects (Maker Time) and the latter part of your day to more reactionary work, like answering emails (Manager Time).
Also, urgency does not equal importance so I’ve had to actually figure out what moves the needle vs. busy work. I try to make a list of what I need to do the night before. Trying to plan my agenda while working is really hard, it’s like writing and editing at the same time.
You work with a lot of entrepreneurs and hear from many e-commerce founders (400+!). What is the most problem people have in their first year or two?
What’s in store for the rest of 2019 with Potion?
I’d love to add a few more brands I have in mind.
Also, it would be really great if I could find someone to manage day-to-day stuff, like operations and customer service.
Tell me, what’s your perfect day?
My perfect day is for no one to bother me, me going to a coffee shop, and just reading – no business books, just whatever I want to read.
My ideal # of hours of sleep is: 7
Sleep season for me is: Winter!
How many pillows: Lots. Big fluffy ones all around me.
AM or PM?: AM
Favorite podcast: So many. Acquired FM, The Pitch by Gimlet, and the Y Combinator podcasts are ones I’ve been listening to lately.
Favorite books: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillad, a Pulitzer winner from 1974 that is this magical series of essays about the natural world. And for business I like Steven Pressfield, especially Going Pro.
Nightcap: Hot herbal tea!
Bad sleep habit: Going to bed too late.
Good sleep habit: Getting (mostly) enough.
Side/back/stomach sleeper: Side all the way.
Mantra: Eyes on the prize