Mandy Aftel doesn’t have the typical baby-boomer-business-startup story. She wasn’t fired; She didn’t quit because she was ready for something else.
In the 50s, she found something more interesting.
The Detroit native has spent three decades or more in Berkeley, California, with her own therapy practice, which caters to artists and writers. (Author’s note: I wish she worked in the New York area.) Aftel has written several books on topics ranging from perfume, passion and medicine, to the life and death of Rolling Stone guitarist Brian Jones. (More on that later.)
Aftel, now 67, launched her Internet perfume company in 2000 after years of successful fragrances. (Neiman Marcus and others sold her products.) Mostly as a hobby, she decided to start an actual business.
“Thank goodness, I’ve never been in the corporate world!” says Aftel. he said.
More about her work, perfume and Brian Jones
How I started
“One day when I turned 50 years old, I took a local class on making strong perfumes. I immediately fell in love with the scents of the natural materials they used. I never thought about it. I started playing with them. I collected more than 200 old perfume books to learn about these wonderful materials and I loved the books! I taught myself how to do it and During this time I wrote 4 books on natural perfumes. I started selling some of my perfumes at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. I still enjoy doing therapy, but I didn’t have time for both. It was less of a ‘ha-ha’ moment, more of an ‘oh-no’ than 15 years ago. The moment I was forced to quit my practice, it all coincided with the rise of the Internet, which allowed me to do business entirely online.
My business structure
“I’m the sole owner, and my husband and stepson both work here. The business has taken over many rooms in the house. My studio is at home, so I work here, send everything from here and I love it! I make everything by hand and add a note with every order.
Measures of success
“I am profitable. I’ve always done better than broke. Funding everything from organic growth, I never borrowed any money. When my husband got laid off from the tech industry, he didn’t have to look for another outside job because he could help me full-time. Our revenue increases every year, and in the last 3 years our website has received over 1.5 million page views.
Bigger is not better, and I like it that way
We are still small enough that I can manage everything on my own. I have several offers for investment and expansion and am fortunate to be able to pass them up and keep just the size we need without having to grow. Big business isn’t always better business.”
Advice for beginners
1. “Keep your own counsel, do nothing or take any advice that does not suit you. There are many, many ways to run a business.
2. “Find a way that’s sustainable — and works for you — to keep growing more passionate about what you do.”
3. “Don’t waste a minute doing something you don’t like. Business takes a lot of time and you have to be like a love affair – whether you get paid for it or not.” 4. Think about what you want to do if you win the lottery and do it now.
5. “Do something or do something you want to buy.”
Is the customer always right?
“The most important thing in business is a repeat customer. Anyone can make their first sale, but you need people who love what you do and tell their friends.”
Why a book about Brian Jones?
“I loved rock and roll, and I was fascinated by how someone could have money, fame, talent, looks – so many good things, and die so young and in such a mess. Researching and writing about things was easy and different, I just started to find the answer, one thing led to another and I wrote the book over many years.