Interview With Mahmoud Aitelkatab
Describe your product or service:
“Areej Fragrance is a small family business founded one month ago in 2022.
Currently we provide the following products
- Royal Fine Frankincense (Green Frankincense)
- White Fine Frankincense
- Frankincense Essential Oil
- Fragrant Oils
- Fragrant Candles
- Fragrant Ouds (made of luxurious perfumes like Chanel, Gucci, Emperor, Fendi, and others)
Frankincense (also known as olibanum) is an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes, obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia. We bring frankincense from the Sultanate of Oman.
Read more about it on Wikipedia.
We provide custom gift sets for weddings and other occasions as per request, and we do branding development and marketing as founders as well.”
Describe your company values and mission:
Areej Fragrance was born out of one idea, several small boxes of incense, and two brothers with a plan to make mindfulness more accessible.
So at Areej Fragrance, our goal is two-fold: to leave the world a better place than we found it and people better off before they found us.
We focus on creating responsible experiences for people. We see every collaboration as an opportunity for change: rethinking and reinventing products to make great experiences through incense and frankincense accessibility and transformation. We believe responsibility must be woven into the core of a brand to create desirable products that are not only beautiful but useful and durable too for our community.
So we set out to create a considered solution to what we saw as some major issues around our mindfulness, productivity, and health.
At the same time, (at every step) we balanced quality, sustainability, function, and design.
We created Areej Fragrance with the purpose of [making] fine royal frankincense accessible for people through the natural resin itself (raw materials) for burning uses and its derivatives that we develop currently such as frankincense essential oils and creams, hair care, and skin care products — all made from green royal frankincense.
We care about the past, the present, and the future. Through Areej Fragrance, we want to keep you in touch with what’s important and in the meanwhile innovate in goods that existed thousands of years ago in many civilisations, so we craft our products attentionally for and around experiences that we all share in common: wellness, mindfulness, growth, belonging and community.
We support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals SDGs.
In 2015, all UN member states agreed on 17 global goals to end poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change by 2030.
We support all of the goals but feel we can make the most tangible difference by focusing on the following three.
- GOAL 1: Good Health & Well-being
- GOAL 2: Responsible Consumption & Production
- GOAL 3: Quality Education
Each goal will be supported by a set of actions that we will be implementing in 2022 and beyond. Our full action plan will be released later this year.”
How are you funded? I.e. type of funding, number of funding rounds, total funding amount.
“Areej Fragrance is an early-stage bootstrapped startup with two founding members.
We have a business angel friend from Montreal, Canada, who funds with cash flow of $8,000 CAD [$6,000 USD] in exchange for a percentage of the annual revenue.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them!
“Our team is made of two brothers, founding members, a self-taught marketer, and a generalist who are building their way thanks to experiments, consistency, community, and founder mindset to achieve high impact.
Mahmoud Aitelkatab is the eldest son — a maker and community solutionist at the insertion of innovations, logistics, and community development and growth. He worked on branding and marketing inside digital marketing agencies. He also worked in civil aviation and logistics operations as well. He founded Espace Logistique, a community-centric media startup since 2017 to bring innovation models close to the logistics ecosystem in Morocco and Africa. In 2021, Mahmoud started a new experience, which is building a community-first personal venture (personal lab) to experiment [with] creating products and startups. The first phase was completed by creating the Afterwork Club.
Abdessadek Aitelkatab is the second son — a marketer and ecommerce specialist who experienced self-taught and ‘do-it-yourself’ branding and advertising as well. He founded Moulaty Shop for general and female-centric ecommerce with his girlfriend in the hard times of COVID-19 and still today. Abdessadek is also a photographer and a gymnast.”
How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!
“I was working inside a digital marketing agency, and I approached companies and brands in different niches, so my brother Abdessadek was freelancing by building e-commerce stores and running advertising for small businesses as well.
One of the clients he worked for was called for a collaboration, so the company sent a few samples of incense, ouds, and frankincense. After a week of reception, he burned the incense in our house, and the smell was so good. As a curiosity, I started searching and benchmarking these goods here in the Moroccan market, and I was surprised that we didn’t find any brand for frankincense specifically, so I told Abdessadek we should make one, “at least one is here”! So I continued my work, and he kept ordering small samples to use and discover. Eventually, we ended up creating the social media marketing strategy for the supplier and made his company store as well.
The thing is, when we asked people and resellers about frankincense availability, the majority told us they lack it and prices were too high, I completely understood because of my previous market research, and I know exactly how difficult its supply chain due to the times where the tribes in Sultanate of Oman extract the frankincense during the harvesting season.
Eventually, where there is a demand, there is a market and we got the keys so that we validate Areej Fragrance Idea by ordering fewer samples, run ads, and share in networks and groups. As a result, we sold 20.000 dirhams as a net profit before thinking of creating a company and that was our sign to start.”
How did you come up with your startup's name? Did you have other names you considered?
“When I first burned frankincense and Emperor Oud I was like ‘WOW.’ I jumped right away to find descriptive names for my experience. I found the name ‘Areej’ (Arabic writing : أريج), which is a Muslim name. The meaning of the name Areej is ‘[a] fragrant, sweet-smelling, pleasant smell.’ So we called it ‘Areej’ (Arabic name) and added ‘Fragrance’ (English translation).
With that in mind, we created ‘Areej Fragrance’ simply.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“We lived in an entrepreneurship family and bootstrapping home environment.
Our father, Said Aitelkatab used to work for companies for a minimal salary and kept his side hustle of DIY works to sell each time, so we witnessed things as we were growing and learning to make our things. Once we made a few sales as kids and helped others to learn things, that was the call of entrepreneurship. My brother and I were learning marketing and social media by practice, so we started selling our skills to people on a budget for digital communication in exchange for a few bucks each month.
I started a community where I match make logistics companies and young professionals who are looking for a job, and I made some hundreds of dollars from it.
The best decision we made is to make our company and go fully on entrepreneurship, either we learn, or we win.”
What was the biggest obstacle you encountered while launching your company? How did you overcome it?
“We saved some money at first, but it wasn't enough, so I started to look for a business angel friend type to help us with an amount of money to cover branding and marketing budgets. Money is still an obstacle, but we are making a sales strategy to ensure cash flow for the company as we have launched recently in August 2022.”
Feeling inspired? Learn how to launch your company with our guide on how to start a startup.
Who is your target market? How did you establish the right market for your startup?
“Frankincense (also known as olibanum) is an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes, obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia in the family Burseraceae.
The frankincense represents a centuries-old practice that’s been used in ceremony, prayer, and ritual all over the world, in different civilizations both Christian and Islamic contexts (mainly in burning it).
Commercial exchanges started growing in the frankincense industry, and its uses in medicine and skin care started flourishing with tools development and cos
Today, and in this context, incense shouldn’t just be for crystal witches and patchouli hippies, so we took the initiative to make cosmetic products for skincare that solves problems and keep the traditional ways people use as well.
The Frankincense global market revenues are $190 million in 2018 and are expected to grow to $406 million in 2028. Our targeted market is 80% female, and the rest is the world. Frankincense-based products are few, and the main use of it is burning, so we are here to innovate the way frankincense is consumed.”
What's your primary marketing strategy?
“We are still an early-stage startup, and the marketing strategy will focus on the Moroccan market with a 70% focus, and 30% focus will be on the international market once we ensure the flow of providing frankincense essential oil and all the other products we set on our roadmap.
The marketing strategy will focus on delivering the key message we started which is accessibility. Our responsibility is to make Frankincense accessible and inclusive for the people and communities. The strategy includes public relations and press articles, community development, creating meaningful content in text, audio, and video, influencer marketing, running ads on social media, and making people-centric stories from our community. After this, we will expand to marketplaces and SEO articles.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“We are currently a month-born startup, but we have five customers and are working towards 100 customers, then 500 customers, then 1,000 community members as we believe in creating more than a customer base. The many-to-many game wins.
We got non-counted customers in the testing phase, we purchased around $5,000 of goods last year and sold them via Facebook ads.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“We have a few metrics we tend to keep our eyes to, like the following:
- Community engagement and participation
- Frankincense/brand quizzes
- Monthly sales revenues
- Monthly website visits
- Growth on social media
- How many relationships we bring to the maison Areej
- Customer satisfaction and expressions.”
What's your favorite startup book and podcast?
“My favorite startup books are:
- ‘The Minimalist Entrepreneur, How Great Founders Do More With Less’ by Sahil Lavingia, founder of Gumroad
- ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferriss
- ‘Tools of Titans’ by Tim Ferriss
- ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill
- ‘Atomic Habits, Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results’ by James Clear
For more visit my account on Literal.
My favorite startup podcasts are:
- ‘MFM My First Million’ by Sam Perr and Shaan Puri
- ‘Where It Happens’ by Sahil Bloom and Greg Isenberg
- ‘S*** You Don't Learn in School’ by Calvin Rosser and Steph Smith Formal
I should make a Notion directory for this — thanks for the reminder friends.”
What is a song or artist that you listen to for motivation?
“Sigma Rule song, Rockstar, 21 Savage, Maroon 5, etc. I prefer podcasts more.”
Is there a tool, app, or resource that you swear by to help run your startup?
“Yes yes, I use plenty of resources, apps, community platforms, and tools.
I use Pinterest for inspiration, Literal for books, Volv media for nine-second news (TikTok x Newsletters), Slack, Geneva, Twitter Communities, Uhive app for social Web3 exploration, Gmail, WhatsApp app, Notion, ClickUp, Depop, and others.
Discover the list [on Luma].”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“Exponential opportunities for growth and learning, mindset development and consistency to do more every time I fall.”
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“Visibility: planning my weekly important tasks on my notebook. Planning details on ClickUp for marketing ops. Document my journey and resources on Notion (directories). Have a time for each task (family, walk, gym, work).”
When did you know it was time to quit your day job to focus on your startup?
“Back in 2020, I was laid off from my job as a centralized load control in the civil aviation sector, I invested all that I have in the bank in learning and started my journey from March 2020, I met hundreds of founders online and offline and I was making interviews while testing, exploring and making. I ended up forming a small team of 4 amazing people and one roadmap for 2022-2023, and that was in December 2021.”
What was your first job and what did it teach you?
“First job was at a big market. I worked as an intern, then as an inventory and logistics worker. I learned patience, a lot of patience and perseverance, and always learn new things each day, I think that was the reason I left many jobs. I was always learning to exploit the resources I have and the money I saved.”
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