What does small business smell like?


3 min read

what does small business smell like

Table of Contents

Mailchimp’s CEO and Co-Founder Ben Chestnut says that small business smells like “cigarettes and hair spray.”

Growing up, Ben’s mom operated a hair salon straight out of their kitchen. To this day, the smell of perms and perfume is synonymous with small business for Ben. For Ben’s business partner and fellow Mailchimp co-founder Dan Kurzius, small business smells like “bread” due to Dan’s upbringing with a father who ran a bakery-deli in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

What does small business smell like? 

It’s an interesting question that we thought to pose to the Terkel community. The answers we received were pretty interesting. 

Here are ten things that small business smells like to the entrepreneurs of today. 

  • Freshly Shredded Paper
  • Disinfectant & Popcorn
  • Hustle
  • Strong Coffee
  • Takeout Food
  • #2 Pencils
  • Budding Flowers
  • The Turkish Bazar
  • Teen Spirit
  • Server Room

Freshly Shredded Paper 

Growing up my dad owned and operated Santa Rosa Paper Company. The company mainly sold janitorial supplies and other paper products out of a warehouse. Growing up, my job was to shred paper for hours on end. To this day, the smell and warmth of freshly shredded paper brings me back to the beginnings of small business. 

Brett Farmiloe, Terkel

Disinfectant & Popcorn

My father is an OBGYN and my mother runs his private practice, so growing up most of my afternoons were spent doing my homework in the breakroom with my older sister. I distinctly remember the strangest combination of disinfectant (as one would imagine for a doctor’s office) and popcorn! It was all his employees’ favorite snack that they came to the break room for every afternoon 🍿

Nikitha Lokareddy, Markitors


Small business smells like hustle. You can spot a true entrepreneur and business by just how they act and talk about themselves. Small business smells like happiness. It smells like passion. You can tell immediately what businesses have this and what don’t

Trevor Rappleye, CorporateFilming.com

Strong Coffee

A small business smells like strong coffee brewing all day long. Small businesses are leaner in talent and therefore wearing many hats is a standard and everyday practice. In addition, small business owners should supplement the lack of talent via AI technologies that are available to them; based on business industry and need. AI can and does help any business improve agility in servicing customers and clients alike. Coffee is the fuel behind accomplishing all of this and more.

Bianka Castillo, Recruiting Maven

Takeout Food

When you are at the grind, day in and day out, cooking and self-care can take a back seat to getting work done. Solo entrepreneurs and small businesses may choose to order takeout instead. As the pizza boxes, sustainable salad containers, and Chinese food boxes parade through the office, the familiar smells become part of your memories of the business. Pro-tip: Every office is better with an air filter and indoor plants to help clean the air.

Tasia Duske, Museum Hack

#2 Pencils

Small business smells like freshly hand-sharpened #2 pencils, a steaming cup of your favorite locally-owned coffee in a ceramic mug from your favorite diner (the kind with a thick handle), and hard work.

Betsy Hauser, Tech Talent South

Budding Flowers

Small businesses have massive potential in which their growth and development can go. As such, I relate their smell to budding flowers—a flower that’s about to unfold its greatest assets to the world. SMEs can focus on brick-and-mortar domination, online platforms, or a mixture of both depending on their preferred growth.

Yaniv Masjedi, Nextiva

The Turkish Bazar

Small business smells like the Turkish Bazar in Istanbul. Imagine all sorts of wonderful aromas; spices, leather, coffee, fruit, pizza, doner kebab, anything you can imagine! Some smells are very familiar while others are new and ready to be discovered. One thing is for sure once you’ve been there, you will want to come back.

Sonja Talley, Principal HR Consultant

Teen Spirit

To quote Nirvana, I think small business smells like teen spirit. As entrepreneurs, we never really lose the drive, creativity, and ambition that most of us had as teenagers. We find a way to channel it into ways to serve the marketplace.

James Pollard, The Advisor Coach LLC

Server Room

I’ve always had my fingers in the tech industry and especially in SQL. Even though I’ve been working remotely for over 15 years, there is truth to the fact that the sense of smell triggers memories. For me, small business smells like the smell of a server room. They are climate controlled so there’s almost a cold smell coupled with the smell of warm electronics. I can’t really describe it but, whenever I catch a whiff of it, it takes me right back to when I started out.

Mark Varnas, Red9

What does small business smell like to you?