Entrepreneur Stories and Featured Entrepreneurs

Fabrice Penot: the Ultra-Persistent Entrepreneur

Written by Chris Martin for Gaebler Ventures

Fabrice Penot is the quintessential entrepreneur. He not only pursued his dream of independence on his own terms, but he also refused to quit after facing extraordinary adversity.

Generally speaking, entrepreneurs are successful for two reasons:

1. Independence - They don't follow the crowd. They blaze their own trail and don't care where everyone else is going.

2. Perseverance - They don't take "no" for an answer. And if they fall, they get back up, learn from their mistakes, and try again.

Using these criteria, Fabrice Penot is the quintessential entrepreneur. He not only pursued his dream of independence on his own terms, but he also refused to quit after facing extraordinary adversity.

Penot had spent six years in the perfume industry as a fragrance developer for Armani Industries, but was becoming disillusioned with working for a conglomerate and seeing what he called commoditization of perfume. So he and fellow coworker Eddie Roschi decided to start their own fragrance company. They dubbed it Le Labo, which in French means "the lab."

The name was largely derived from the business model which Penot wanted to pursue. He envisioned intimate boutique locations as opposed to large stores with mass-produced perfumes. Penot did not want to just grab a bottle of his perfume off of a shelf and sell it, but instead had visions of mixing ingredients by hand in front of each customer to create individualized blends of fragrances. The final products wouldn't even be sold in traditional packaging; they would be poured into plain glass bottles with customized labels which included the name of the buyer.

Furthermore, Penot swore to eschew advertising of any kind, and he wanted to limit the distribution of his products to his own stores. This would severely curtail their availability, because he only wanted to open a handful of locations around the world. And on top of all that, these fragrances would sell for about $200 a bottle - more than double the industry average.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Penot was practically laughed out of offices when he pitched his idea. The concept of Le Labo was called ridiculous by executives in the beauty industry, and he was unable to secure any capital from major sources.

So Penot and Roschi decided that they would launch Le Labo without any outside funding. They scraped together $100,000 of their own money and squeezed out another $30,000 from four friends. Penot left his fancy Manhattan apartment to sleep on the couch of Roschi, who lived in a single-bedroom, sixth-floor walkup unit.

Consequently, they were able to keep debt off their balance sheet and maintain cashflow through their fees they continued to earn by consulting in the perfume industry. That enabled them to secure a storefront in Manhattan, which they largely built themselves because they didn't want to fork over the $200,000 to architects and contractors to do it for them. The result was an inviting, airy space with lots of natural light and austere surfaces.

How has Penot fared?

In early 2010, Penot opened his fourth store in London to go with his locations in New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo - and plans to expand to eight storefronts by year's end. Le Labo also boasts 12 more counters inside some of the world's most chic retailers like Barneys. The brand is grossing some $4.5 million a year, and its fragrances are making a huge splash in the fashion world and celebrity circles - all without a single penny spent on advertising.

The phrase "my way or the highway" is often used in a pejorative tone. But for Fabrice Penot, it was a mantra which paved his way toward his dream of owning a high-end boutique fragrance company. Penot refused to give up when others failed to identify with his vision, and he took pride in turning industry norms on their head on his road to success.

That's why Fabrice Penot, co-founder of Le Labo, is the ultra-persistent entrepreneur.

Chris Martin has been a professional writer for the last seven years. He is interested in franchises and equity acquisition.

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