Have you ever wondered what you would look like bald? Join the crowd: HeadBlade's app is downloaded 1,000 times a week.
If its iPhone app is any indication, HeadBlade cares as much about making people laugh as about moving merchandise. But if that app, which lets users see what they would look like with shaved heads, is generating chuckles, it is also creating something you can't put a price tag on: buzz.
HeadBlade, based in Culver City, California, makes specialty razors designed for head shaving. The company generally markets via athlete endorsements and magazine ads. A few years ago, Todd Greene, the company's CEO, came across OfficeMax's popular Elf Yourself holiday campaign, which allowed people to upload photos and turn themselves and their friends into animated elves. Greene wanted to do something similar for HeadBlade, but he wasn't sure what -- until Apple's App Store opened in July 2008. Then it became clear: HeadBlade needed a head-shaving mobile app. "It was about creating new consumer awareness," Greene says. "Any current customer really wouldn't have a need for this app."
Lacking the tech chops to build the software in-house, Greene turned to a development shop. "I knew what I was asking for wasn't that tough technologically," Greene says, "but I didn't want to have to pay someone to re-create the wheel." With that in mind, Greene hired Styler Design, maker of the popular iStylist Makeover app, given that the company was experienced in the image-layering technology needed to produce a realistic head-shaving app. Six months and $30,000 later, ShaveMyHead was born.
The app lets users import photos, crop their hair, and then select one of more than a dozen bald domes. Users can also choose from an array of facial hair options, as well as eyewear and headwear. Skin color is adjusted by scrolling across a palette. When a new photo is saved, I got shaved by HeadBlade appears at the bottom of the image.
The app does a pretty decent job of approximating what you might look like with a shaved head. But that was never really the point. The idea was to build brand awareness by inciting laughter. That's the main reason the app is free and includes a screen that lets users share their photos via e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook. "For the money, we could have done a couple of magazine ads instead," Greene says, "but this is just much more engaging."
The app averaged 1,000 downloads a week in the two months following its August launch. During that time, the company's website saw a modest boost in traffic; most of the new visitors came via Facebook, where they had seen their friends' hairless domes. Greene hopes to break the 100,000-download mark within a year. But he also isn't concerned about measuring a direct return on the app's investment: "Here's the beautiful thing about owning your own company: You can make decisions you know aren't going to make you money in the short run because you don't have to answer to anyone, and you know for the good of the company, you should do it."
Download numbers should get a boost from print ads mentioning the app that HeadBlade is running in national basketball and mixed martial arts magazines. The company also plans to expand its partnership with the charity St. Baldrick's, which encourages supporters to shave their heads to show solidarity with young cancer patients. With ShaveMyHead, supporters who don't want to really shave their heads will be able to shave virtually. "This is just a real fun app, because people love joking about shaving their heads or being bald," Greene says. "It also gets our name out there, and if one out of 100 people who use the app say, 'I should go with a shaved head,' that's a bonus."
JASON DEL REY was a senior reporter covering technology, branding, and company culture for Inc. magazine. Before joining Inc., his work appeared in Newsday, The (Newark) Star-Ledger, and the Staten Island Advance, and on ESPN.com. He lives in New Jersey. @DelRey