Aromatherapy has been used since ancient times, but remains a common form of therapy today. While candles are still widely used, diffusers have become more popular in recent years for their convenience and safety.
Pium is a smart diffuser that provides aromas based on factors such as place, time, mood and activity. CEO of Pium Labs, Ryan Kihm, says that people often only try and enjoy scents that they’re used to.
“If you only favor aromas that you’ve always liked, there is a limit to what aromas you’ll choose. To remove this issue, Pium recommends scents based on context,” says
Flagship aromas such as ‘Mentally Sharp’ which contains peppermint, is designed to wake you up and keep you feeling fresh throughout the day. Whereas “Sweet Honey” is designed to help you relax in the evening.
The smart diffuser contains three aroma capsules and capsules can be mixed to create your own scent. As you’d expect, it connects to an app which you can use to set timers so that you can walk into a scented home or office. The company also has plans to link wearable devices that detect your heart rate with Pium, which would release a soothing scent when stress is detected.
CEO Kihm says that in the past there was a lot less interest in aromatherapy and scented candles in general. Shops sold them, but consumers weren’t sure about the effects and were not used to the different aromas. He remembers the first time he came across a scented candle well, and wanted to others to experience the same feeling.
“A lot people of would just give up while looking for different aromas. It’s around then that I began to think it would be good if an “artificial aroma therapy” could help people find their preferred scents,” says Kihm, who has a bachelors and master’s degree in computer science.
While thinking over the idea for the product, he says that he had doubts about whether it was something that people would actually be interested in.
“I felt that even if you’ve meticulously planned your technology, if users ignore it then there’s no point.”
Wanting to get a deeper understanding of what users wanted, Kihm began a PhD in the area of user experience (UX). He soon became exposed to the startup community after seeing friends working at venture companies and using other startup services such as Uber.
Wanting to dip his toes into the world of startups, Kihm began an internship at FuturePlay, an incubator and venture capital firm. While working with patents there, he came across aromas.
“There’s huge potential for patents in the scent market. No matter how good your technology is, if there is already a patent on it then you get attacked and lose your work. Currently, we’ve already put down three patents for our scents.”
Kihm left FuturePlay in July last year to found Pium, and took Jay Hwang, former director at FuturePlay, with him. At the time, an early working prototype and patents were already in place. Kihm applied for Samsung’s Creative Startup which happened to be receiving applications at the time, and was successfully selected.
Pium may be founded by a team of Koreans, but they have chosen to set up their headquarters in Manhattan, New York. Here, not only do they expect to have a wider consumer base, but also the opportunity to collaborate with fashion brands and enter premium markets in the future. A number of top brands have recently joined the aromatherapy market, and Pium aims to take these competitors head on, with a number of new features planned for the product this year.
“Our goal is create an environment where aromas are connected to you and what you are doing. Personalized aromas is an area that nobody has attempted yet, and we want to become a leader in the industry.”
Content for this article was translated and adapted from VentureSquare’s interview with Pium, published in Korean by Seungho Choo.