jeff raider harrys

My biggest mistake: Jeff Raider, co-founder of Harry’s

The grooming entrepreneur tells us why it pays, at all times, to put the customer first

How do you disrupt something as fundamental and mundane as the morning shave? A blade or two, a handle, some foam — this isn’t rocket science, despite what the six-sabered, Bluetooth-enabled, Roger Federer-grinning-in-a-futuristic-mirror market leaders will tell you. But when Jeff Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield set up Harry’s in 2013, they weren’t hoping to re-invent the wheel — they were just trying to make a slightly better one. One that loved its customers and really cared about their faces. One that put results, value and convenience above gaudy endorsements and trifling gizmos. One that just did what it said it would do: nothing more, nothing less.

Turns out, most men rather liked the new tack — and the company has glided from a small but punchy start up to a serious industry player in just over five years. In May this year, Harry’s was acquired by Edgewell Personal Care (the owners of Wilkinson Sword and others) for $1.3 billion. Here, co-founder Jeff Raider tells us why it pays, at all times, to put the customer first.

“As an entrepreneur I’ve learned that things are never as good or as bad as they seem”

Our biggest mistake at Harry’s was saying we were “Direct to Consumer” first, as opposed to “customer first”. When we started out in 2013, our business was entirely online. The majority of sales came through the website, which was great — a great way to build the brand, a great way to get to know the customers better. As we grew the company, we realised there were lots of guys who would be excited to buy us in big retail stores. When we spoke to our customers we were told: “I’d love to see you on our Sunday shopping trip, in Walmart and Target.”

So we decided in 2016 to launch a partnership with Target, and in the UK we launched with Boots at the same time. That relationship significantly raised our expectations with its ability to connect with customers. We sold five times as many products as we expected to.

When people would talk to us, they’d ask us: “So tell us about your business — how much is sold through Target, and how much is DTC?” It all led us to this crossroads decision about how we truly want to think about the brand. Are we a DTC company? Or are we a brand that is a customer-centric and that is going to be wherever people want, and be exceptional in all of those channels?

jeff raider harrys
Jeff Raider with co-founder Alex Katz-Mayfield

It was then that we realised that being DTC first held us back in a lot of ways. We were focused on one experience the customer had, not the whole customer journey. We as a brand have the duty to do whatever is best for our customers, always, in every situation. This led us to a mission statement: “Create things people like more.”

I think Harry’s would be a lot different now had we stuck to DTC-first thinking. We wouldn’t have expanded to other retail in other ways; maybe the DTC part of our business would have been bigger. But crucially, we as a brand wouldn’t have reached as many people.

Another dark and troublesome moment early on came right after we launched Harry’s. We were super-excited — and then we got a lawsuit from Gillette accusing us and our factory in Germany of violating their intellectual property. They had no case at all, but we were afraid it was going to ruin us. We had just started working with the factory and we thought they might get scared and end the relationship. It was a scary time. But it persuaded us to do two things. One: to vertically integrate the company and acquire the factory. Two: to get enough capital and size for Harry’s that we could fight the lawsuit and stand up to the bigger competitors. Gillette soon dropped the lawsuit anyway as it was baseless and they would have lost.

"Being DTC first held us back in a lot of ways. We were focused on one experience the customer had, not the whole customer journey."

It also taught me that things are never as good as they seem or as bad as they seem. When you’re starting a company it’s always a bit of a rollercoaster. You get a piece of bad news, and you think: “This wasn’t the news I was hoping for.” But there’s always a way to work around it, and the question then is just what that is.

One of the things we say a lot is “buckle up”. It’s kind of become a mantra here. We’re going to shoot ourselves into the atmosphere and not really know where we’re headed — so buckle up.

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