As the former director of business development at Foursquare and entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz, Tristan Walker knew he could get people to invest in his company--if he came up with the right idea. He went through hundreds of concepts, from trucking to financial services, before landing on a subscription model for grooming products for people of color. He founded Walker and Company in 2013.
-- As told to Kevin J. Ryan
For the 14, 15 years of my life before I founded my company, I couldn't shave. When I started growing peach fuzz on my face, I got some multiblade razors and some gel. I shaved at night and felt like a man. I woke up the following morning completely broken out with razor bumps. Later on, my brother showed me this thing called a depilatory cream. You put it on your face, let it sit for six to eight minutes, and wipe it off. You don't have to use a razor--but it makes your bathroom smell like crap, it burns your face, and it contains all these harsh chemicals that can damage your skin. Every single hair-removal solution that I'd encountered sucked.
The shaving conversation is pretty common among African American men. I'll never forget speaking to a retired exec at Andreessen Horowitz one day, before I was even looking to start a business. We both joked about the pains we'd gone through to look professional, and I asked him if he had any shaving tips. He told me, "Look at photos of black men at the turn of the 20th century. They must have been doing something right. All of their faces were baby smooth." I went on Flickr, entering search terms like black men 1920s--Harlem Renaissance types. I went through 1,200 photos and did not find a single one of a man with razor bumps on his face.
I'd go to salespeople at places where you can get these superluxury shaving products and ask, "What should I use?" Many of them sold $300 four-blade razors, but they always took me to off-brand, single-blade, double-edge safety razors.
I started my research and discovered that shaving irritation is a problem that 80 percent of black men have--and 30 to 40 percent of everyone else. I said, here's an amazing opportunity.
We reengineered the single-blade, double-edge safety razor. We did clinical testing to make sure our razor, combined with our oils and creams, would be effective for anyone who wants smoother skin. It's all delivered in one package to your door.
I was right about it being an amazing opportunity. We closed a $24 million Series B round last September. Our products are now on shelves in Target. We're looking to launch a women's line soon.