Mindy Yang - A Personalized Future
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Founder of a New York-based brand incubator, Mindy Yang is an advisor, investor, growth hacker, curator, and technical designer & creative director of fragranced, flavored, and functional products.
As an expert on sensory sciences, psychology, marketing, brand strategy, wellness, and immersive design, Mindy is passionate about incubating/launching brands/experiences/products by creating unforgettable, emotionally captivating signatures around the world... Making the invisible felt.
Transcript (Semi-automated, forgive typos!)
Tian: Welcome to AigoraCast, Mindy.
Mindy: Thank you so much for having me.
Vanessa: It's really great to have you here. Thank you. So, to start off, we would love to know something about your career path. Could you share a bit about your story, how you started and what led you to fall in love with fragrance?
Mindy: Oh, that's a very long journey, but it started in my early 20's and my day job, I was in brand experience and design, but actually for my own personal pursuit around wellness and being mindful, I was also learning many other practices including Reiki, which led me to becoming a certified aromatherapist. And at the time, I was 23 and it started to kind of catapult me into this rabbit hole where I was learning about raw materials, ingredients, and how it affects our wellness, our well-being being, and certain fragrance notes with the energizing versus calming lavender. So that impact was very important. But my day job, I worked in an agency and I was producing these really high profile events where we were paid a lot of money by our Fortune 500 clients to gather celebrities and produce really fun, immersive events that had no sense, which was always kind of troubling to me because I feel like that's not only a missed opportunity, it was also not totally immersive. So, over the years, I got very deeply into focusing on scent as invisible media for expression, really more from an art and wellness point of view. And then in my 30s, I got very deeply into professionally working within this space because I had the great fortune of working with some of the best fragrance houses, chemists, and master perfumers around the world.
Vanessa: That's very interesting. Yeah. Thank you.
Mindy: Of course.
Tian: Yeah. So we know that we share the same interest in the metaverse. And you talked about the immersive experiences and things. So I wonder how did you get interested in that? In metaverse.
Mindy: I was one of those very early adopters and all kinds of gaming, even when I was a little kid. When we had Atari and then Nintendo, I was definitely a gamer. But I'm also GenX, so this is probably incredibly boring to all the young gamers out there. I am definitely not an expert in gaming anymore. But following along and watching how everything has unfolded within the digital space has been really exciting to me because even in my day job nowadays, the Human Centric experience is really important in inclusive and immersive design. And it's so interesting to see how all kinds of from trade to consumers, how all of us are somehow really reliant on this technical world and to define the metaverse, I think it's anything that is really digitized, right? But as we get deeper into the world of the Metaverse, I define it as kind of like the movie The Matrix. So that is, I think the ultimate expression may be a negative way, but the ultimate expression of an alternate reality where we all will co-exist one day. But right now, the metaverse would include anything from your social media mechanisms zoom, like what we're doing right now, and of course gaming and anything that is interactive within entertainment platforms (AR, VR, and so on) So I feel like this is such an exciting time and we are at ground zero and we have the ability to really collaborate with each other, help steer with our experience, steer the design process and interaction process as the metaverse is essentially being born. Or maybe it's already born, I guess maybe it's more like the metaverse in the initial stages where preschool phase if it's preschool. It's like the three kindergarten phase where we still have a lot of say and ability to help steer what it looks like and what it means. So fun and so exciting.
Tian: Right. This is actually a very interesting point. So I was reading a book lately, it's called Spatial Web and it talked about the web3 and a metaverse like, originally in web three and web one world, we're doing everything on paper, on the book, and then in the web 3 world, it's trying to add your actual physical interactions with spatial, your physical world together with that. And that includes your emotions, your semitic sensor, your head tactic stuff and time, and your visual in 3D. All of those together as the metaverse and web3 world. So that is a very interesting point and I always wonder so both of us, I guess, Aigora and you are interested in fragrances like chemical senses, where's the spot for chemical senses into the metaverse? What do you think going to future?
Mindy: Well, I know they're amazing talent of people right now all over the world working on how to digitize scents. I'm on the board of the World Taste and Smell Association and many of our scientists, board member advisors, and sounding advocates are with the Monell Institute in Philadelphia. And I know that really they're working hard on digitizing scents by identifying primers. So the way to think about fragrance, even in my sense of design practice is I often compare it to lights and or color. So basically everything is energy and frequency, right? So there are a lot of ways and how that becomes also IRL in real life compatible with our brain and how we work as our body is also kind of a machine. So I think this whole space is very dynamic and so fun. But the challenge now is that, unlike color, the visual realm and even sound, the world of scent or chemosensory world is so much more dynamic and we have so many more variables that this is a very hard job. But I do think with the advance of AI and also now that so many amazing scientists and people in tech are collaborating with each other and funding is becoming available for larger entities and or private donors to get involved with the space, we will have a future where I feel like you will be able to smell. And the way they're working with it is scented can be printed and they're basically being diffused using nanotechnology and they're being mixed. So this is still very elementary and they are amazing. Companies are starting to demonstrate how they can be digitized. But there are mechanisms that make it extra challenging such as larger molecules or deeper fragrance notes like fire tend to be very difficult to reset, right? And if you get these larger molecules into your sinus and olfactor within your system, your face, and then in your sensors. They are not immediately going to just dissipate and they're not necessarily going to give you the ability to reset so quickly. So you get off fatigue or an accurate read of the next stimuli and it's not flawless whatsoever. So the "volume" and also how the choreography are critical so we can only really work with very elementary mechanisms right now. And part two of that challenge is people that who are working in VR or AR programming things in the Metaverse tend to be engineers or computer science, people that are more technically oriented, whereas designing a scent is really art and science, right? So you need a creative director or someone who's more artistically inclined to understand the chemosensory like the world to work alongside this very opposite way of thinking to bring the real full experience to life. It's a work in progress, right?
Tian: I think this is great. This is a great vision that you have that how in the future the chemical senses can really incorporated into our world. But also, I also have a follow-up question in this little area, is that in today's technology, most of the time when we design virtual events or even like a physical local events, we don't really incorporate the scent a lot and we rely on visual auditory simulations to help us imagine the whole experience. I know that you help brands organize a lot of events. So I wonder, in your experience, how do you design, like have this brand experience in the kind of metaverse or even just like in the local events how do you do this brand harmony part of the work?
Mindy: This is a really good question. We actually did many events, virtual and in-person that requires old fashioned way of mailing and supplementing the smell touch point during the pandemic because people couldn't gather right. So the way we did that, there are different ways to do it, the old-fashioned way, where we would deconstruct materials or compose something that is really extraordinary and we would make training kits. So we did this for the Shawn Dawn Garden spritz, for instance. This year we did train the trainer programs and then we also created events basically with their agency. We create all these events that allow their guests and the key accounts and partners to blend their own perfume that would smell like the composed flavor profile of the Shawn Dawn garden press as a way to immerse their customers into the actual key ingredients because this is a really unique botanical product that's actually really good for you and every ingredient was hand-picked to go into a very well thought out and delicious composition. And it's basically ready to serve the cocktail. So it required a little bit more explaining for people to really understand the product so they don't get taken for granted. And then before the pandemic, before we were able to do live events, this year we created a composed fragrance, but we also deconstructed each of the key materials as flavor profile training indicators. And we use nanotechnology again to encapsulate it into ink and so they had printed materials that were mailed to them instead of being able to do a real-life tasting. And there are many really amazing, more sophisticated technology in a way, delivery mechanisms for aroma. So I want to say that back in the day when you mail something that's scented, everybody thinks about this whole like, scratch and sniff cars way of interacting with the aroma. We were able to create very beautiful, true aroma profiles on printed collateral without this whole scratch and sniff mechanism. But we can also use heat induction. We can also use there's just so many exciting ways to really sense marketing nowadays. Again, I think this is something that people will also leverage for retail, and for brands. Brand logos will become a much bigger thing in the future in the metaverse. But right now we're working with many brands that are really excited to have their own scent logo. So corporate offices, for instance, will diffuse a specific scent that I create for them that is really in alignment with their brand and the scent will be very neutral to someone who works in the office because we adapt. Right, but for new clients that walk into a space, especially for a real estate environment or in a hospitality environment, they will immediately recognize this fragrance. Same with amenities. When we work with, I'm a technical consultant for the Amenities division, they do hospitality design for some of the best hotels in the world and we are helping some brands digitize and create scents logos that will also be the same fragrance that we use within all the hotel, including touch points, including shampoos, conditioners, things that you would see in the typical program. But that and beyond, right? It's the invisible way to make something unforgettable.
Tian: That's very interesting. Yeah, I was always thinking there's a connection between sensory profiles and how do you look at it. It's purely by the visual elements but you can actually put on the sense in incorporating into visual simulation and that's brilliant.
Mindy: Absolutely. If you think about how we are wired and I often say this to my clients, when we use the fragrance to train the clients and kind of we back it up with all the brand touchpoints so you know that the scent you're basically kind of the path labs with the dell kind of. You know that very Psych 101 lesson that we learn is basically you can train, you can pair stimuli and basically train anyone to recall all the moment in its full color regardless of whether you are present or not. And this is a way for someone that can travel in time. If you think about it, it's very romantic. I think it's the best way for you to really reset your mood, to recall something beautiful and to also just train your brain to really understand how to recognize something. You become wired with it so it becomes very intuitive and second nature. And there are millions of studies now on scents and more so now that we have gone through covid. The pandemic had somehow opened the doors for all kinds of scientists and psychologists and neurologists, all coming together to speak to each other and collaborate on all the things they've learned and now I feel like within the last three years we have more information than ever for this space and this is going to be really good data for us to continue to develop and invent new mechanisms are human-centric and very intuitive and hopefully, we can use this power for good.
Vanessa: Yeah, that's very interesting. Yeah. I have a question, changing a little bit, but more like related to personalize, like scents. While you were talking, I was remembering here there are some brands that they have like a specific scent, and one of my favorite brands, I can recognize right away, like their stores they have a specific scent and people even like to buy the scent of this brand and it's really awesome. Like when brands, have this personalized sense. And we saw that you offer a very interesting kind of private scents, master class, and perfume creation experience where you create a personalized scent at the end. One day I would take this class. It seems interesting and I was wondering if you could share a bit about your opinion on personalized scents or perfumes. Do you think this is somehow the trends in the near future? I mean, not for brands, more like at the consumer level where consumers, instead of buying famous brands, they will start looking into creating their own scent. And also how do you see the AI role in helping on that journey? As you said, nowadays sometimes you have clients like they are far away, how AI can play a role in helping you to develop a personalized scent, and so on.
Mindy: Oh yes, this is such a great question and topic, really. I'll give you the short version because of time and then anyone who's interested in exploring this and going on a deep dive with me, please do reach out to me and you'll have my information later. But basically, I work with a lot of clients, especially nowadays virtually, and we are very lucky that there are tools that, first of all, we have a lot of science so we know what kind of questions that we can ask to really help tailor the experience of the client. So we do use tools like surveys and we do mail things as required. But we also can understand a lot from a virtual consultation with a client. When we ask questions like what is your favorite food, what are your favorite scents memories, what are your favorite perfumes, and what are things that you don't like. We always take the questions, the value of the answers for what are the scents or notes that you don't like into consideration. But not very heavily because people have prejudices around notes and ingredients. Even when we are in working with retailers for fragrance and I'm training a fragrance associate, for instance, someone who sells perfume. We usually discourage them from asking questions like what are some notes that you don't like because many people, especially in America, are not very confident with their factive language, so being able to describe what they smell and they also have misconceptions from previous scent memories and tainted and there's a lot of marketing misinformation out there. So bad memories can be tied to the word rose. And over the years we've learned that many people say oh, I hate the smell of rose. And I personally have observed multiple rounds of fragrance associates pulling fragrances as they have rose within the composition or even a prominent part of the composition and that become their client's favorite in the end because prejudices have happened and there's a lot of misunderstanding regarding different facets of say, notes even. So, with that said, we do virtual consultations. We use tools like surveys. Everything is always over multiple sessions because it's very personal. So when you really get to know someone, you're really peeling the onions. You want to know what makes them happy and there's a lot of process of elimination together. The process is very simple, though, in the end, because once you have a really good read regarding a direction, the way I work is usually the client or someone who's like a key decision-maker on the client side of the corporate account. They play creative director. I play technical director. And so I make sure that their vision comes to life and AI comes in to help me kind of understand what is going on. Using the rose, as an example, is the rose still a really good reference to work into notes? Do we not use a full body beloved to rose and just use more of a facet of a rose that's a little bit more fresh, dewy and twinkly and then over a few rounds, no different than designing a logo, usually over a few rounds, we would go back and forth. First, we start with a sketch and then we refine the formula, and then it goes into whatever the application needs to be. Sometimes it's perfume, sometimes it's a candle, sometimes it's liquid or lotion. And we start developing the products together. Private clients usually have commissioned me to do scents for their wedding. I'm actually working on one right now that's going to be for next month. And we really think about who these people are, where they are going, who the fragrance is going to be given to or is it going to be for just a bride? We kind of understand what the application usage is and we really take their goal into consideration when we create something. But it's very collaborative. And thank goodness for the metaverse. Thank goodness for zoom or FaceTime. This is the only way that we can really communicate. Right? And we still do. Yes, because the scent is not digitized the way we need it to be yet. So we still mail liquids back and forth and pre-production prototypes. And then I think what was the first part of the question? I don't remember, but I feel like I got into the process.
Vanessa: If you see that consumers in the future, they are going to start looking into creating their own scents instead of buying famous brands.
Mindy: Absolutely. I think a new article on the personalization was just published yesterday. I can't remember the magazine, but we have been getting weekly requests for personalization from consumers now. Right now, it's about the budget. So when I started scent commissions bespoke Perfume Creations about 18 years ago, I charged $20,000 for the process. $20,000, doesn't even give you the actual product. It's just this whole process. So it's kind of like hiring someone to do your personal, like your bespoke suit. So it was a very luxurious but very expensive process. Now, we can do blending sessions together for $300 to $500, depending on if it's a group private or completely private and what that format looks like. Because I have the material, so I just help the customer. So see them as semi-bespoke suits instead of complete bespoke fragrances. We are able to do something for an individual customer for a very competitive price. And then depending on the material, it may go up a little bit more to the final version of what they get. But we're seeing this as a huge trend and many larger companies are now backing ventures that are entrepreneurial and start-up phases so they just got their seed round, but they have little boutiques and other businesses that now use AI and also a limited material palate to enable personalization for consumers.
Vanessa: That's really interesting. I've never thought about that, honestly. And while you were talking, I was wondering, I have two or three favorite perfumes. It would be good if I could mix what I like the most in each of them, like the notes and the intensity to have like a personalized one. So it's really interesting.
Mindy: And I do think that this is the future. No different than the Metaverse and it's actually hand in hand. We are seeing generation shifts, right? So the younger generation, everyone is a more digital native, if you think about it, right? Little babies are very familiar with robots. They know how to work with them. I have nephews and nieces that can really interact with a new gadget more intuitively than I do because I think their brains are actually already wired and they're neutral so they can pick things up faster. So Gen Z, for instance, we know are very particular about value. And I love this movement of conscious consumerism, right? So people are becoming a lot more thoughtful around sustainability. And then also you're going to spend this money if you're going almost like an investment towards self-care and creativity, you want something that works for you. You want to choose something that makes your moment better instead of just being like everybody else. This is also why in the metaverse, we have all these alter egos and they don't even look like humans, but that's okay.
Vanessa: Yeah. We could spend the whole afternoon talking about that. That's very nice. It's great to discuss that. It opens our minds.
Tian: Exactly. So the Metaverse, eventually you have a physical bottle of perfume somewhere that's personalized and we have, let's say, an NFT that represents that and store in your wallet that incorporates the physical world and the digital world perfectly together, right?
Mindy: Absolutely. In the fashion world, using that NFT and the metaverse in a very creative way and kind of leading the movement around consumer goods, right? And it's really fun to see how people are really stepping up. So, right now, I know the whole world is still very new and not very stable, but I love what Gucci is doing with the metaverse Gucci bolts. I think it's so exciting that people are becoming more creative in how they can really leverage their brands and how to really more authentically connect with their consumer base. If done right, it's a wonderful way for a brand to tell its story.
Tian: So this is great. I feel like this is a good part, a good place to kind of winding down a little bit. We opened a new question for our audience to think more. This is a great conversation. I feel like we can talk forever, obviously. We usually do for Aigrocast, we ask you if there's somebody new coming to the sensory field or trying to work with the fragrance, do you have recommendations or some things to tell them for the young sensory scientists or the fragrance people who work for fragrance?
Mindy: I think in the traditional fragrance world of fragrance houses, people behind the scenes tend to be very traditional and almost siloed and I know many people are interested in the older generation. People like me that have been in this business for two or three decades tend to be the decision-makers right now. And I really want to emphasize that the metaverse is not a revolution, it's an evolution, which means that the older generation needs to hire younger people for their savvy and intuitive being able to guide the creative process to intuitively really bring what we know, our experience to life. So we have the experience, we have the know-how. We know how to mind the budget and do all the things that are important as a business. But we do need to mentor and or incorporate very experienced creators for the younger generation that is more comfortable within the metaverse to really bring everything to life. And it's a collaborative process. For the younger generation, you don't know everything. I'm sorry you know so much, but please don't dismiss the senior leadership because they have gone through so much and there are lessons that will be so valuable to you and I'm seeing myself and many of my clients have this issue right now. The younger generation kind of wants to really lead and I think people are not listening to each other and/or working with each other as much as they should. And without sounding like an old grandmother, I do think that there's so much value in collaboration and always think about how we can use this power for good, and be human-centric. We have the opportunity to leverage the missing sense, taste, and smell, and then we're still working on improving touch. Right? So if we can get everything together, then everyone will be living in this space. So the older generation will actually need guides and people to train them on how to use things. Like my grandmother who is 90 and she plays my VR module and I train her and we have so much fun together. I want to kind of PSA work together and then I want to do a shameless plug here too. We have established World Taste and Smell Association and there's going to be a grant around innovation. So for any of you that is working within the space, including you lovely hostess, please let me know if you would like to get more involved. And we want to also spotlight everyone that is doing amazing work within the space through just social media and simple ways. Everything is the age of collaboration and everyone that's working on sensory things, I think it's so important because this is how we also feel emotion, right? This is how we can bring the human experience to life. And it's digital and it's also IRL.
Vanessa: Awesome. Yeah, that's great advice. And well, to wrap up this nice conversation, what's the best way for people to get in touch with you?
Mindy: I'm very available but please don't be mad if I don't write back right away because I'm super busy. You can find me on social media and also available through World Taste and Smell Association and Perfumarie and I know you will share that information.
Vanessa: Yes, we will.
Tian: We'll put all of that information in this description of this episode. So thank you very much, Mindy. Thank you for coming to AigoraCast.
Mindy: Of course. I really appreciate your time. Thanks for having me.
Vanessa: Thank you.
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