The Entrepreneur: Life changed on a Dime

A day in the life of Michael Fensterstock, Founder of Aromaflage. Born and bred in New York City, Michael has pursued an aspirational path, taking on new adventures at every opportunity. He received his B.A. in Psychology and English at Bowdoin College, a liberal arts college on the coast of Maine. He concentrated his studies in search of an understanding of the human mind and what motivates people.“To me, the most important thing I do in my life is build relationships with people. Communication and the ability to articulate is critically important both in business and personal life,” Michael said.

While attending Bowdoin, he pursued his athletic endeavors and passion for health and fitness as an avid Squash player: he was team’s captain his senior year. Beyond the classroom, Michael opted to write his first crime fiction novel, centered on a gritty lawyer facing haunting hallucinations from an outer borough of New York City. It was the start of his ambitious and entrepreneurial roller-coaster life.

After college, he in fact ran an amusement park in North Conway, New Hampshire. The plan was for him to learn the operations and potentially buy it out. It was a seasonal job, and in search of a new adventure, Michael moved to the Virgin Islands to paralegal and teach squash at the Yacht Club. His time in the Virgin Islands chasing cocktails, squash balls, and dreams marked his free spirited years. Subsequent to that adventure, he cut off his shoulder length hair, put on a suit and entered the corporate world. With the help of a friend, Michael went to work in marketing and sales at Canon. His next step, a bit of a herd chasing move and anti-what he stood for, took him to the world of finance working in sales at Oppenheimer Capital. While he learned a lot in the position, it was not the life he had imagined it would be.

“If you lack passion and interest in what you are doing, it is unlikely you will succeed at what you are doing. If these things are not in alignment with passions, opportunity and what you’re really good at, you are likely to be like a salmon swimming upstream and life is difficult enough swimming with the current. Get the current on your team.”

A job in institutional marketing offered Michael the chance to understand the logistics and challenges of executing large sales. He always wanted work with his father, one of his esteemed role models, and thus approached him after the 2008 economic crash. Michael worked for five years as the Marketing Director at Fensterstock & Partners LLP, honing his marketing skills and golf game.

The next logical step was to earn an MBA, as an extension of his liberal arts education, and to get him to the next level of his career. With the strong support of his wife, Melissa, and his mother, Michael enrolled into the executive MBA program at John Hopkins, Carey Business School. Loving a challenge, Michael pushed himself to take classes he didn’t want to take (Truth be told, he did his MBA kicking and screaming but did it to further discipline himself). While he was in business school, he pushed himself outside of his comfort zone and forced himself to publicly speak at every given chance (something he hates). Only three months into the MBA program, Michael had a nearly cataclysmic moment: he suffered a heart aneurysm while working out. Following his open-heart surgery to repair the damage, Michael told himself, “I want to do something unique with my life. I want to create value and do something no one else has done before.” He ended up completing his MBA soon after his successful surgery at Mount Sinai.

A year and a half ago, while travelling to Southeast Asia, Michael and his wife stumbled upon a juice that they called “the natural bug spray”. It was the best bug spray they had ever used, and they saw it as a great opportunity. They created a new lifestyle brand, capitalizing on the bug repelling quality of the juice. Michael was ready to take the huge risk of leaving the firm he worked for, and was willing to take on an opportunity for something new, outrageous, and innovative. “Life changed on a dime that day,” said Michael about experiencing an aneurysm.

In their new venture, Mikey & Momo (Michael and Melissa’s nicknames) included a social impact which includes Shan women refugees from the Burmese Jungle. They partnered with a local NGO in Thailand where the women are employed, provided housing and education. The couple launched the first ever 2-in-1 fragrance and bug spray, and a candle thereafter to grow their product offering.

How was the first year?
“Amazing and eye opening. There is a sweet concoction sweat, tears, and pain. My apartment is used as the fulfillment center, sample factory, intern breeding ground, and prospecting headquarters. We are trying to figure out what to outsource so we can grow our brand. Year one goal was to prove the concept: do people want a fragrance that also repels mosquitos that by the way has a social impact? Year two is to build our brand beyond foundational. We are developing relationships with larger retail partners and outsourcing time consuming tasks. We want to develop our suite of product offerings for the outdoor, chic lifestyle. A highlight was having a feature on People.com. Zoe Ruderman did an amazing video about Aromaflage.”

What’s a memorable moment?
“Last July, Daily Candy did a feature on us and we had 300 orders in a weekend: it was phenomenal. We had to fill the orders right away. Melissa and I hand wrote notes and packed boxes for three days straight. We even hand hand wrote all the addresses since we were not printing labels yet. It was scary but amazing. It set up the expectations for us and our business. It taught us two lessons: predicting demand is difficult and be ready for the Oprah effect.”

What is your advice to recent graduates?
“Be present, ask questions, and most importantly, LISTEN. If you are unsure about what you want to do with your life, try committing to something. That commitment is temporary, it is not for the rest of your Work hard, and work with someone who will mentor you. Young people should really try to find a great mentor. Searching for mentor is difficult. If you genuinely care about what you do, you will be magnetic.”

What is your advice to people who have established themselves and received higher education?
“A group of my friends and I developed the True North group after the concept creator Harvard professor Bill George. One of George’s messages is to remain authentic to yourself. If you have a calling to do something, you should go do that. You may not be the wealthiest person in the world, but you will be happy. Your life will be fulfilled with good relationships and the necessary money will come. Do not chase other people’s dream. Do what you were meant to do.”

Edited by Megan Knaus