Tristan Walker has gone from oil trading to hawking shaving cream in six years. As an economics major at Stony Brook University in Long Island, Walker — who was at the top of his class — became enamored by New York City’s flagship industry: finance. “I knew I wanted to try it,” he said.
Walker liked how quantitatively the finance industry defined success. “In trading, your performance is objective; you look at your profit and loss statement at the end of the day, and you know that you’ve succeeded.”
While being a trader on Wall Street was literally a way out of Queens, it eventually lost its luster, and Walker then followed the traditional finance career path of applying to business school, getting into his only choice, Stanford, where he encountered the startup scene for the first time. He got as far away, literally, from Wall Street as possible.
“It really was the future of the world,” he told me over the phone about his first impressions of the tech world,” and I had to be a part of it.
I hustled my way through the Valley,” he said, referring to his first job as a business development lead at Foursquare, where he brought in the American Express deal among other things, and how it shaped him.
He still views Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley as one of his inspirations.
“Dennis at Foursquare is the brand,” he said, and that’s why the company has come this far. “That’s the one thing that’s really stuck with me, as [Walker's mentor] Ben Horowitz has said, ‘You gotta do the thing that you’re uniquely positioned to do, otherwise you’re going to be roasted pretty hard.’”
This mentality explains Walker’s latest endeavor, Walker and Co, a startup that he likens to a Proctor & Gamble for black people. Walker and Co is opening up direct orders of its inaugural product this week: Bevel, a shaving system that is uniquely suited to men with coarse, curly hair. The product will start shipping regularly on Monday.
Walker touts Bevel as the world’s first “end-to-end shaving system.” For an initial $59.95 a month and $29.95 each additional month, Bevel customers receive a set of 20 blades, a weighted holder, a shaving cream brush, primer, and an aftershave lotion. The kits contain a 90-day supply (60 blades in a replenishment kit), which amounts to about 90 shaves at a cost of a dollar a shave.
When asked what he viewed as his closest competition, Walker did not bring up Harry’s or Dollar Shave Club, or other VC-backed subscription shave services. Instead he mentioned razor alternatives like electric clippers and depilatory creams and, yes, a credit card, because black men have “just given up on putting a razor to their face,” he says. “All of [the alternatives] are just really bad,” he sighs.
Bevel is a single-blade razor, and Walker is really passionate about how the Keep It Simple Stupid principle is really the best strategy for shaving. He is deeply skeptical about multi-blade razors. “The fourth blade cuts the hair beneath your skin. The fifth blade will lift your skin, and the sixth blade will make you breakfast in the morning,” he jokes.
“All the irritation comes from the extra blades,” he adds on a more serious note, bringing up the fact that, in clinical trials, participants have seen a 40 percent reduction in irritation after using the single-blade Bevel razor for four weeks.
Walker argues that the proliferation of multi-blade razors is due to a razor-industry patent war. He holds that because you can’t patent single-blade razors, there’s no incentive for incumbent companies like Proctor & Gamble to invest in the best solution. There’s no patent on single blades. “If you can market [your six-blade razor] as the latest and greatest you can charge more for it. “
I tried Bevel over the weekend and did not cut myself. It’s pretty simple and it made me feel special even though I am not the target market — yet. Bevel’s design and packaging are beautiful, illustrating a dignity and sophistication that represents the next step in the evolution of black shaving products. It’s aspirational.
While $50 a month and $30 each additional month might be too pricey for many people, Walker holds that Bevel customers could just put a pause on the product through the subscription model. I think it might be really easy to swap out its safety blades with convenience-store ones if that’s all you need to refresh a supply.
We create products for mass” that’s what large companies say. But we say “mass will look very different in 20 years.
If Walker and Co gets it right, it’s a large market opportunity. The shaving market is $14 billion annually, and Walker has his eye on a formidable slice of it. “Every race has the [razor bumps] issue, it’s just that black men over-index on it,” Walker says. “And Bevel is not a black product, it’s an everyone product. The problems that we’re solving, folks of color over-index on, but everyone has.
“We create products for mass” that’s what large companies say. But we say “mass will look very different in 20 years.”
Walker has raised $2.4 million from Upfront Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, SV Angel, Floodgate, Collaborative Fund, Daher Capital, and angels like William Morris partner Charles King, Livingsocial co-founder Aaron Battalion, rap artist NAS, and Elizabeth Corrigan formerly of Bliss and LVMH.
“You have an entrepreneur who understands the customer base that he will serve very well, and out of that comes authenticity,” according to investor Mark Suster. ”I believe he will be able to serve his target customers better than a big company trying to market to that demographic.”
“If I can map someone with [Tristan's] attributes to a problem that they can uniquely solve, that’s my job.” Suster, who has known Walker since the latter was at Stanford, is excited about the potential for expansions. “I don’t know what direction he’ll take, whether it’s perfumes or soap, but you can build an amazing brand targeting people of color with products that are specifically designed for them.”
Walker holds that the future of Walker and Co will not be limited to men, and will not be limited to shaving. He’s interested in digging deeper on other specific issues like Vitamin D deficiency.
“Our vision right now is to make health and beauty simple for people of color,” Walker says. “In 20 years, we should be making health and beauty simple for everyone.”