On the 55th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, a show about the rapidly changing consumer economy, I talk with Karen Young, the founder of Oui Shave, a direct to consumer shaving brand for women. Karen started the company after she grew tired of using products built for men, and she worked to engineer a shaving experience for women from the ground up. Importantly, this started with the product and Karen worked to bring the best possible razor to market.

Check out the full transcript below.

Richie: [00:00:07] Welcome to the 55th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast, a show about the rapidly changing consumer economy. This episode is brought to you by Loose Threads Membership, which gives you actionable analysis, insights and events that drive growth, and Loose Threads Espresso, your energizing and high-pressure filter for industry news in context. We also have a newsletter that features the latest open letters to CEOs, podcasts with industry leaders and news from Loose Threads. Check it all out at loosethreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:34] Joining me today is Karen Young, the founder of Oui Shave, a direct-to-consumer shaving brand for women. Karen started the company after she grew tired of using products and buying from brands that were built for men.

Karen: [00:00:44] I just really feel as though they built into the culture these sort of attitudes around women and have never actually figured out how to talk to us.

Richie: [00:00:52] She worked to engineer a shaving experience for women from the ground up. Importantly, this started with the product and Karen spent months bringing the best possible razor to market. Here’s my talk with Karen Young.

Richie: [00:01:06] So, why don’t we start. Let’s talk a bit about your background and then we can work our way up to Oui Shave coming into existence.

Karen: [00:01:13] So, my background is in fashion. I graduated with a degree in psychology, a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and I took a very scenic route. I graduated from Fordham and, you know, I kind of thought to myself, “I’m not really sure if this is what I want to do with my life.” And in the last year of school I actually got the opportunity—I was approached by Ittierre, the fashion holding company for Dolce & Gabbana, Gianfranco Ferre and Cavalli, and they offered me the opportunity to intern and I did really well there. I had a fantastic experience. And then this was back in the day when jobs were still available.

Richie: [00:01:57] From internships too.

Karen: [00:01:58] From internships, yeah. And so I had, you know, some great opportunities waiting for me, actually, when I graduated. And that was one of them. So they offered me a position as an account executive. It was really interesting, actually, because I was very shy back then and I kind of wanted to push myself and I thought, “Oh, okay, so I’m gonna be responsible for talking to a lot of people and figuring out how to sell things to folks that they’ve never seen or touched before. That’s pretty awesome.” And so, you know, I kind of began the role as an account executive and I did that for a number of years in luxury fashion. When the denim craze came on, when Citizens and 7, and so on, were having their moment, I worked for a Japanese brand called Evisu as well. And so I’d just been within the sort of luxury fashion space for a bit and, most recently, I actually worked for Estée Lauder. So I took a little bit of a jump into beauty, in addition, and that’s where the idea for Oui Shave was born.

Richie: [00:03:01] What led you to take the jump?

Richie: [00:03:03] There was just so much happening in fashion, back when I was really in the thick of it, and I saw, in advance, the change that was about to happen from the middleman, distributor sort of relationship to the more direct-to-consumer relationship that’s big now. And I saw that happening because we were at the trade shows and, I mean, we would go from writing a million dollars, you know, a day at a trade show to absolutely none at all. At that time, it was also leading up to the crash, basically, and I saw that happening in the background but no one was really able to put their finger on it. And it just was really a fantastic opportunity at that time to make the move from fashion into something else and some people at Estée Lauder had seen my work and was familiar with the brands that I was working with and they offered me an opportunity there.

Richie: [00:03:58] So, you were working at Estée and then where did the idea come from at your time there? Kind of what were the initial sparks of it?

Karen: [00:04:04] I had been at Estée for a couple of years. I had everything as a female. I had everything at my disposal at Estée Lauder—mascaras, face creams, everything that you could think of. And so, you know, my friend said, “Let’s go do mani-pedis.” And I literally grabbed the razor that I had in the corner of my shower and I shaved because, I don’t know if you know this, but every woman shaves before she goes to get a pedicure and we do it for the person who is giving us the pedicure, for their benefit, not necessarily ours. And so I shaved and I had this big reaction, razor burn and so on, almost immediately. My friends and I started talking about it, came up very naturally, you know, female conversation just about shaving and how much we hated it and how awful the experience was. And I just believe all of the things that I was involved in at the time and sort of the ecosystem that was changing in the market with how brands were talking to consumers and how brands were evolving from, sort of, what we saw as traditional sales to new sales models, all of those things really started to click for me there a bit.

Karen: [00:05:15] And I thought about this experience that I had with shaving and then I thought about my experience and what I had come to know as luxury beauty with Estée Lauder—the opportunities and the type of products that were available to me and the expectations that I had of those products. You know, if you put a face cream out on the market and it caused something equivalent to razor burn, you would be in a lot of trouble. That brand, that product would have to come off the shelves immediately. And I just kind of started pairing those things together and it occurred to me that there was no luxurious experience around shaving for women, at all.

Karen: [00:05:52] And I paired that and that experience that I had at Estée and what I was used to as a female beauty consumer with this newer model of direct-to-consumer, online experience, social interaction. So all those things came together really seamlessly to help me launch Oui Shave.

Richie: [00:06:11] It sounds like, in this experience, and tell me if this is true, that there was very little brand affinity for these products, from the shaving perspective. It sounds like they were kind of commodity, cheap things that got used, they did a purpose, but there was nothing more to them. One, is that a fair assumption, and two, why do you think that was?

Karen: [00:06:27] Yeah, I do believe so. I think shaving for women has normally just been about, you know, if we’re not getting the results then it’s usually just going to kind of come down to price, you know, like what’s available, what’s cheapest and then the products that go with that, the skincare products. They’re really just sort of a buffer between you and the razor. They don’t necessarily add anything else to the experience. So I think of it, potentially, maybe similar to even how we might consider laundry detergent or something like that. Like you may kind of say, “Oh, you know, well Tide doesn’t give me hives or any—”

Richie: [00:07:07] It’s like a means to an end

Karen: [00:07:09] Yeah, exactly. But if something else is on sale then you’re just kind of like, “Oh, maybe I’ll try something else.”

Richie: [00:07:14] So, a very traditional commodity market.

Karen: [00:07:16] Yeah.

Richie: [00:07:17] So the second question, then, is why do you think that has continued to happen?

Karen: [00:07:20] I mean, for me, I feel like it just kind of lies within the experience, you know, in and of itself. I don’t think that the experience lends to any sort of really strong brand affinity if every razor that you use kind of gives you the same reaction, every shave cream that you pick up, it doesn’t necessarily do anything different for you. That doesn’t build an experience that creates brand affinity.

Richie: [00:07:46] So you had this idea, you saw this space, you had this experience. What were the first few things you did that laid the foundation for the company?

Karen: [00:07:54] The very first thing that I did was I started doing research on razors and blades, in general, and just got a sense of how they were made, if we actually needed to have three, five, ten, twenty blades and what that actually means for a female customer and our experience. And so it took me back to the early 1900s, I believe, and I found a razor that was actually introduced to women back then. It was the first razor that they were making called the safety razor and I was actually very familiar with that because I had seen my uncles use it when I was growing up.

Karen: [00:08:33] And, interestingly enough, when I became an adult, whenever I wanted to gift a man in my life, like a really special gift, I would usually go to someplace like the Art of Shaving and I would kind of step their game up and introduce them to really beautiful shaving products and a really fantastic razor, and so on. And that was always like, “OK, I know you’ve had this experience but here’s your sort of next level.”

Karen: [00:08:57] And so, when I saw that this particular type of razor was introduced to women in the early 1900s, I was just like, “Oh shoot. Well, I wonder if I can figure out how to use it. It can’t be that difficult.” And I did a little bit more research and I found out interesting things like the aggression level and the type of razor and all of that, all sort of shave-nerd as I like to think of it. And I tried one and I had the most incredible experience. For the very, very first time in my life, I shaved without razor burn, without ingrown hairs and my mind was just sort of blown. I was still working full time and I said, “Well, let me see if I can sort of figure out how to create an MVP of this product and put it together and introduce women to it and see if they would purchase it.”

Karen: [00:09:46] And so, I contacted a company that I found in Germany and I was able to get a razor that they already made, on the market. You know, I figured out the aggression level and I figured out the education that I would have to put behind it in order to teach women and I put that together into a package with some oils that we had made and some skincare products, packaged that. We did some A/B testing with the pricing and we found the pricing that our customers were comfortable with and we took off like a rocket ship.

Karen: [00:10:18] So, you know, 2015 introduced the line and then 2016, we saw 300 percent growth in sales and we had editors that were just falling in love with the experience and just kind of like, “I didn’t know that it was actually possible to shave like this.” This year, we’re introducing what I want to call our Version One which we created using the feedback from two years worth of customer input.

Richie: [00:10:42] If you look at the market right now, there are, I don’t know, anywhere from ten to a hundred times more shaving products companies for men, it seems.

Karen: [00:10:50] Yes.

Richie: [00:10:50] The onus has been on, “Let’s figure the men’s problem out first.” From a surface area perspective, it seems that that makes zero sense. Guys actually have very little, generally, to deal with compared to what women do. Why has that happened, I guess?

Karen: [00:11:02] One of the things that I found, and I don’t necessarily know if this is the answer but this kind of gave me an inkling, as we were doing research, one of the things that I found was that shaving companies basically set themselves up to be as sexist as humanly possible. Quite a bit of the research we found was that these companies actually didn’t know how to speak to women about shaving as attitudes towards body hair changed over time. So quite a lot of it was actually around sort of shaming women for having body hair and talking them into shaving by saying that they would be unattractive and not worthy of marriage, and so on. And I just think that if you build that culture and that perspective into your positioning, from the perspective of marketing, it’s very hard to go anywhere from there. And I really just think that it was much easier for them to talk to men. And I’m sure there are a lot of different reasons but that’s definitely one that we found that was really, really striking.

Karen: [00:12:10] The other thing that we found was that the razors that are actually offered and sold to women are actually made for men. The multi-blade razors are actually designed in such a way that they are made to, with one or two strokes, provide a closer shave for a beard. And then, I think as shaving attitudes sort of changed and hair removal, and so on, picked up for women, over the course of 50s, 60s, 70s, and in and out of flux, they just kind of thought, “Oh well there’s a little bit of a market.” And then they just painted those products pink and started selling it to women a little bit more. But I just really feel as though they built into the culture these attitudes around women and have never actually figured out how to talk to us.

Richie: [00:12:57] Okay, so you found this company in Germany that made the razors.

Karen: [00:13:01] Mm-hmm.

Richie: [00:13:01] I assume it was good German engineering and you were confident in the product.

Karen: [00:13:05] Yeah, yeah. I had used the product and I had tested it on a few friends and then I started, very slowly, introducing it to the market and talking to bloggers, and so on, and having people test it and get their feedback.

Richie: [00:13:20] And was it the aggression levels, as you said? Was it that it was actually made for women? What was it about it that started to build this experience that was just far superior to what you had previously experienced?

Karen: [00:13:28] You know, the most superior thing would be that it had a single blade and, obviously, also the fact that it was a high-quality tool as opposed to the razors that we know now—less commodity and more tool. And so it had the single blade and the aggression level is determined by how sharply the blade is honed and then, in addition, the angle when you sort of put the razor together and tighten it, that depends on the angle at which the blade sort of meets your skin. And so we tested a few and we found that this one was a really good angle and just enough sharpness that it wasn’t too grating on women’s skin but it did the job and that it could last for a few shaves.

[00:14:08] So that was our very first, you know, like I said, our MVP and, from there, it was a matter of saying, “We can teach you how to use this.” So our job, after that, was educating women around it. I have to say, I think probably the first interesting thing that I learned from launching that product was, I thought that we were going to launch a product that maybe older women would sort of identify with, maybe like late 30s and early 40s and so on, and then we got this incredible surge of love and adaptation from a millennial audience and that’s when I was just kind of like, “Oh crap, we have to get back to the drawing board and figure out how to educate them because they’ve actually never seen this and never experienced or used it before.”

Richie: [00:14:56] So I guess if you take the idea that a lot of the commodity players have moved to all these crazy multi-blade systems, from purely a marketing perspective, it’s actually quite an interesting challenge for the single-blade folk who have to basically say, “No, no, no. All of that was nonsense. This is actually how it’s meant to be.”

Karen: [00:15:12] I actually have really, really liked the challenge because it has given us an incredible opportunity through conversations, through surveys, through direct interaction with our customers and then through creating content and teaching them how to use it, that has given us actually quite a leg up.

Richie: [00:15:29] Because you have something to position against, right. As opposed to just saying, “We’re better or cheaper,” it’s, “No, no. This entire way has been wrong or can be wrong.”

Karen: [00:15:38] Yeah. One of the things that I wanted to be really, really clear about in building this company was that we are not just going to create a prettier version of something just because we’re launching it to women. It’s actually going to be about creating a better version and problem solving. That’s a real core foundation of our company is problem solving.

Richie: [00:16:02] So you found this razor from Germany, you had some good test experiences, you mentioned there were some other products as part of that package. How did those kind of come about, and then, at what point was it assembled for the first time?

Karen: [00:16:13] So, one of the things that I wanted to do was introduce women to the concept of shaving with an oil. Coming from beauty, I know that many of the things that women suffer from include dry skin, and so on, and we thought, “Well what’s a great way to introduce a product that works incredibly well with the razor?” because we want to have a really fantastic buffer. This is your first time using an actual sharp razor and a real tool to shave with. We want to have a really wonderful buffer between your skin and the blade and teach them that that’s actually part of the necessity to experiencing a great shave that’s not irritating.

Karen: [00:16:51] And then also we thought, from our beauty positioning, which was, women, we’re using face oils and balms, and so on, so how do we kind of take that experience that we’re used to and bring it down to the level of shaving, in terms of, use it on your legs and your under arms, and so on, and just actually teach women and give them that experience of caring for their skin below the neck in an area that, normally, you know, just grab a razor and spray some foam on our legs and just hack away and it’s just kind of like, “Oh yeah, I guess shaving is irritating.” So, we introduced an oil with that and that was our very first product and those two things still are sort of our core product today. I could go on but I feel like I keep running through three years of experience.

Richie: [00:17:39] No, no. You’re good. How do you make oils?

Karen: [00:17:41] I read a lot. I read a lot and I did a heck of a lot of testing in my kitchen, and so on. And I’ve sort of always been a tinkerer anyway and I’ve always, actually, usually made my own beauty products, and so on. So, yeah. We just read up on a lot of different oils and formulations, and so on and started super, super basic. We made sure that everything was, and still is, the absolute highest quality available. So everything that we used was cold-pressed, like 100% essential oils. We have never had any additives or parabens or phthalates or anything like that. The development of the skincare portion to go along with the razor really took into play what women were used to purchasing in beauty—the very best experiences that we know and ask for now and our attentiveness to ingredients.

Richie: [00:18:34] Ok so you were tinkering around with some oils. From an aesthetic, branding perspective, what did you want to have at that point? Then what were you able to put together in this MVP version?

Karen: [00:18:45] So we had the razor, of course, and then in the oils, we just kind of went for a little bit of an apothecary styling— very, very simple. Our creative director actually worked with me for Lauder and she has incredible experience and I sort of handed everything over to her and said, “I want simple, I want easy and I want it to feel as if they were going to, I don’t know, ABC Carpet or something and picking up some sort of artisanal perfume.” So we just thought really about delivering it in a way that women, even when it came down to thinking about how women would apply an oil, you know, we use treatment pumps for the bottles, and that’s something that women are very used to using when it comes to face oils and so on. So those were things that we thought about. Once again, how can we take those things from the face, that concept of how you experience beauty and drill it down into shaving and just sort of bring this experience that you’ve never had before

Richie: [00:19:51] How did you release it and then what was the initial response? And then, third is, who was the first person to buy it that you didn’t know?

Karen: [00:19:58] That I didn’t know. That’s a really great question. So, literally, just put a Squarespace site up. I mean, this was just about proving a point. You know, we went in stages. Can we see if there’s a market that we can serve? Can we see if we can fit that market? Can we see if they’ll pay for it? And then after that, OK, let’s see if we can get a little bit of traction under us. So I literally built a Squarespace site myself, had a friend photograph it, put it up and every morning I would make products, or so on and get ready and then every evening, the same thing. But at the very beginning it was really about putting up some sort of presence, which for us was that basic Squarespace site, and then getting out from there.

Karen: [00:20:45] So we started to know the beauty blogger community and then one beauty blogger, actually, her name is Sarita Coren, I think her last name is, she reached out and she said, “Hey, I’d love to meet you and I think what you’re doing is really fantastic and we’ve got this little get-together happening, just a handful of beauty bloggers. Do you want to come by?” And I was like, “Of course.” So I left work that day and I went and met with a handful of beauty bloggers at a little spa and all went around and introduced ourselves and when I said what I had been working on, everyone’s faces just, like their mouths just dropped and I literally went home to orders that day from women. They were like, “Do you have a sample? Do you have anything?” And I was just like, “I have nothing!” And then I went home and I woke up and they had all purchased it and then they started writing about it, one after the other. And then they started buying it for their friends, and their friends started writing about it and soon we had a small following.

Richie: [00:21:45] That’s awesome. Just pure kind of hand-to-hand combat.

Karen: [00:21:47] Yeah, the only way to do it I think.

Richie: [00:21:51] So where was the price point? You said you did some testing on that but where did you land? Because this is a replenishment product, right?

Karen: [00:21:57] Yes. Yeah

Richie: [00:21:57] So talk a bit about that as well.

Karen: [00:21:59] We found that eighty-five dollars was about our sort of sweet spot, in the beginning. It actually ended up going up a little bit after that, just based on data that we saw coming in from our customers.

Richie: [00:22:12] And what did that get you, the $85?

Karen: [00:22:14] So that was a razor, an oil, and we included four tester blades.

Richie: [00:22:18] Right. OK. So, I guess, like a lot of single blades, you swap the blades out but the handle still stays.

Karen: [00:22:22] Yes, exactly. Yeah.

Richie: [00:22:24] That was your starter kit.

Karen: [00:22:25] Yeah, exactly. That was our starter kit. And then, after that, we still had very little to sell at that point. So we were literally just selling the oil in like one or two scents and then the refill blades.

Richie: [00:22:35] And was this something you would just buy? Or was it—could you subscribe at this point?

Karen: [00:22:39] So, at that point, especially with Squarespace, we didn’t have the right integration. So, we ended up moving to Shopify about a year later when we started getting some signals and, from there, we were able to add and start testing a bit on subscriptions.

Richie: [00:22:52] Okay. So you went to this meeting, it kind of started to snowball and you’re still working during the day.

Karen: [00:22:58] Yeah.

Richie: [00:22:59] So this was 2015, right?

Karen: [00:23:01] Yep, 2015.

Richie: [00:23:01] So, I mean, that sounds like you had an amazing response. Were there other people that were uninterested or doubtful or—what was some of the criticism or the like, you know, “Whatever” to it?

Karen: [00:23:11] Yeah. You know, I think the biggest thing was how foreign this was. So it didn’t look anything like a razor that the people who ended up actually being our customers, it didn’t look anything like they were used to, in terms of a razor. So, I think it was very foreign. So we have had to understand how to build trust from the very beginning and it’s been a journey of figuring out what people need and how we had to learn to build that relationship.

Karen: [00:23:38] So, you know, the first sort of hurdles for trusts were these bloggers who were like, “No, I wasn’t even given this product for free.I spent eighty-five dollars on it and I’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s amazing.” After that, When we moved over to Shopify, we were able to start collecting reviews, for example and then that became the thing that sort of helped to push us over the edge.

Karen: [00:24:00] But, actually, I forgot one, even before that, editors as well. So we started picking up some really fantastic press. Some of our first pieces were in Refinery29 and then Real Simple. And these were editors who were like, “I have seen everything and I’ve never experienced anything like this.” And the type of press that we got, especially in the very beginning, what I really appreciated about it, that it wasn’t just, “This is a new product. Buy it.” It was like, “I used this for the first time ever and it changed my life.” So I think those three things began to snowball for us and by 2016 is when we hit a really nice hockey stick type of growth.

Richie: [00:24:43] One of the questions I generally will ask, if this is a case in—unfortunately this mostly happens when there are female entrepreneurs—is, why did it take you to do this? And I don’t mean that in a negative way. But if you said, “Hey, women have been shaving for a long time. There’s obviously a need, dollars get spent there,” many people would believe that capital in a capitalist society logically flows to the areas where there are opportunity. And I think, basically, the more I talk to female entrepreneurs, the more that seems like a total piece of shit, basically.

Karen: [00:25:09] Yeah.

Richie: [00:25:10] For a number of really unfortunate reasons. Is there a sense why this hadn’t happened or had other people done this and they didn’t do it just right? What was the synthesis there?

Karen: [00:25:17] I honestly think that we’re early. I highly doubt that we’ll be playing in this field by ourselves for a while. I think there are a lot of developments in economy, in terms of purchasing and accessibility, and so on, that will change that. But, in the meantime, I think I’m one of those people, I’m sort like, for lack of a better term sort of like a dog with a bone with a problem. I will keep going at it and just looking at it from different angles until I figure out a solution and this was not an easy solution. Not only did it involve a lot of research and actually learning and taking the time and space to learn about how blades are made and how razors are made and different tools and mechanisms, and so on, how they affect our skin, the history of them, but it requires a lot of work in terms of figuring out and understanding the mechanisms of razor blades themselves and safety razors and how they’re made and aggression level and all of that.

Karen: [00:26:18] And we gave ourselves the space and time to do that which was really fantastic, in addition, because we were bootstrapped, so we could do that, and I was also working full time. And then I think the other thing is just taking that time to find the right resources, you know. So, I just think it’s time consuming and it’s not maybe as easy a product to launch as one might think.

Richie: [00:26:39] Yeah. So, what I was just googling was Gillette takes anywhere from like a hundred to 300 million dollars of R&D to make one of their razors.

Karen: [00:26:50] I’m dying laughing. If only I had that.

Richie: [00:26:53] So this is what’s interesting though. They have all the money and time in the world.

Karen: [00:26:55] Yeah.

Richie: [00:26:55] Never did it. You, with less time, infinitely less money and probably a lot more curiosity was able to figure this out. And I think it’s just fascinating to me. I’m absolutely sure you worked incredibly hard on it but it’s also just interesting that, it took one person who was really curious and steadfast about it, but it’s not like a resource problem. It’s not a—you know, you have to kind of look and that’s kind of, for a lot of people, the hardest part.

Karen: [00:27:22] Yeah.

Richie: [00:27:22] So, we finished, basically 2015 was kind of the MVP year. You got off the ground, started to get this early traction, all that. Talk about early 2016 and then tell me when the razor development starts happening and then we’ll—I want to talk about getting up to that.

Karen: [00:27:35] Yeah, yeah. So early 2016, we took what I think was our greatest advantage, which was our customers, and we went back out and talked to them. Now, by then we had seen customers who had emailed us saying that they had not worn shorts or a skirt in over ten years because of how embarrassed they were as a result of the reactions they got from shaving. We had incredible reviews and response and so on and we just kind of said, “Okay, well I think we have shown that we’ve got some early product market fit here. How do I now go back out and talk to these customers and really understand, from here, how we can set this business up to scale, doing this sort of handmade product?”

Karen: [00:28:23] We were like the beauty version of a tech company starting in the garage. I was literally in my house filling bottles and packaging orders, and so on, and doing this all by hand. And the company was growing on its own legs at this point. It’s kind of like a toddler but it was pretty much supporting itself. But we knew that we’re early. We were definitely early to market. So it was time to figure out how we could command the market. And, for us, that meant figuring out how to be even more innovative.

Karen: [00:28:53] And we were having a little bit of a hard time, actually, working with the manufacturer that we had sourced out of Germany. They were wonderful and they made wonderful products but they were used to doing things and servicing the customers the way that they normally went about it. And they weren’t ready to work with our little startup coming in there going, “Hey, now we want to take all this stuff and bring it back to you and let’s see if we can develop something specifically for women.”

Karen: [00:29:20] So, what we did is, we reached out to our customers and we said, “We know you guys have had a really great experience with the razor and you told us how you feel about the skin care products, and so on. That was also fantastic. But what can we do better? What can we change? What experience have you had? How’s the weight? How’s the handling? How is the feel? Can we do anything different with the oils? Is there anything that we’re missing, in addition?” And we got back the most incredible feedback and so, from that survey, we actually learned that we have an NPS score of 82, which is unheard of for a company this small and this young. So we were like, “All right, yes we’re onto something.”

Karen: [00:30:01] And so, we took all of that feedback and we corralled it into figuring out how to take the product forward. Now, from the beauty and inventory and packaging, and so on, perspective, it comes down to things like, well, are we ever going to end up on store shelves? And, if so, what are the things that we need to keep in mind? We’ve got to move from sort of hand-filling these things to actually using a fulfillment center and we need to get the manufacturer involved. So what are the things that we need to do, in order to figure that out?

Karen: [00:30:33] And so we just kind of went back and my designer and I reworked the packaging. We found an amazing family-run manufacturer who makes all of the skin care with us and so we basically take everything, all of the feedback from the customer, took that back to our manufacturer, sat down with them and just started testing. And we had to figure out how to translate language like, “I’d like my legs to feel silky,” we had to figure out how to translate that.

Richie: [00:31:03] Like reverse engineering.

Karen: [00:31:04] Yeah, yeah, figure out how to translate that into an actual product. So, that’s the beginning of 2016 and we started doing much of that work this summer, in terms of the actual product.

Karen: [00:31:13] And then the razor. This was probably my absolute favorite part because we took the experience that women reported in terms of like how it felt in their hands and the length and the weight and the distribution of the weight and everything and designed that into the razor that we’ll be releasing this holiday.

Karen: [00:31:34] And one of the things that we had to get around was the challenge of what you mentioned before. So, you know, we’re going to convert some women who come to the site and they see the reviews and maybe they’ve come over from a press or blog review or something. We’re going to convert them because they’re excited to try it. But what about the woman who maybe was still a little bit scared? How can we design so that we can convert her as well and offer her the opportunity to try it?

Karen: [00:32:02] And so the razor that we designed has such a fantastic aggression level, which is a weird thing to say now that I say it out loud, but it has an aggression level that is actually tailored to women’s skin and so it’s incredibly easy to use. You could use it with the same ease that you’re used to with a multi-blade razor. It’s made to go over curves and it’s fantastic to use—so gentle, non irritating. It’s an incredible experience.

Richie: [00:32:29] That’s awesome. So I think one of the interesting things is, probably if you go talk to, again, these companies spending hundreds of millions of dollars on these R&D products, they generally would assemble these panels and these focus groups that are limited by scale. You only can put a certain amount of people in a room, you can run these trials over and over again. As I look at what Glossier is doing, how they basically have open calls for product feedback, what you just described, it’s ushered in this kind of new era of feedback, if these brands want to listen. And so, was it obvious that this was the way to do it? And what are some of the benefits of just basically opening it up to say, “Hey, we’re an open book. Let us—help us improve this,” as opposed to keeping everything behind a curtain and then kind of this idea that, “No no, this has to exist, trust us.”

Karen: [00:33:18] I have the benefit of coming from a prestige company and seeing the challenges that occur when you are used to developing products in a marketing and internal kind of silo and then understanding that there’s nothing wrong with opening it up a little bit and getting customer feedback. That’s what we need. That’s the only way for us to develop.

Richie: [00:33:43] That’s the point of all this.

Karen: [00:33:44] It’s just like, I can’t think of doing it any other way. But I think most important is that, especially as a beauty consumer, female beauty consumer myself, and wanting to solve this very, very, very particular problem, that more women than not experience, I knew what it was like to use a product that obviously did not have my feedback involved at all. And I had been using it for most of my adult life because I didn’t have any other choice.

Karen: [00:34:12] And the very first thing, actually, that I said when we talked to our customers in this survey was that, we are not going to develop a product for you and assume that we know exactly what you need. We’re going to develop with you. We’re going to develop hand in hand with you. And we got such an incredible response to that survey, I think, in part, because that’s how we approached it. Women—we’re not used to hearing that. Men aren’t used to hearing that.

Karen: [00:34:39] You know, I just don’t think that many of these legacy companies think like that. When’s the last time you had a laundry detergent sort of pop up and say, “Hey, how are you doing? Are you feeling ok? Is this causing any reactions? Are you good? Do you prefer natural ingredients?? How can we change? How can we be better?” And that’s one of the cornerstones of our development.

Richie: [00:34:59] You could argue, kind of contrarianly, that the reason Tide doesn’t talk to anybody is because it’s pretty damn hard to talk to the millions of people that do that. But, on the flip side, again, if I look at what Glossier is doing, and other companies, there are these tools now that exist where you can collect, I don’t know what they do, 7,000 comments on it or something, among emails and Instagrams. And probably, I’m sure they get tens of thousands of pieces of feedback on individual products. It will be interesting to watch, how does a brand maintain that over time? Glossier today versus Glossier in five years, can they still be as open minded and all that?

Karen: [00:35:31] Sort of crowdsourced, yeah. I honestly think that it’s integral for scaling because one of the ways that we think about scaling is not only from the perspective of gaining more customers, but also from the perspective of keeping our customer as long as possible. And I think the way that you do that is by continually reaching back and saying, “Hey, how are we doing?” I also don’t think that it necessarily always has to be, “What else can we make for you?” but, perhaps, “These are things that you have told us and, from that, we’ve sort of, like you said, reverse engineered and this is what we’ve come up with.” And because we have the position to create products and test them and iterate and go back to the drawing board and so on, I think if we keep that in mind as we grow, I’m sure it will present its challenges, but I think that it can definitely still be a cornerstone of any brand’s growth.

Richie: [00:36:27] So, one of the interesting things about a lot of these direct-to-consumer brands, from my perspective, is, it’s fair to say that product quality is not the primary goal. I think if you look at a lot of the skill sets and the composition of these companies, they’re really marketing companies where product is a secondary or kind of third-level priority for them. An example of that would be a lot of people openly complain that Glossier products are not that great but I don’t think anyone really cares because it’s Glossier and they’ve built this community and vibe around the company. Another one could be Warby Parker glasses. They’re good enough, right. There’s been this kind of—can you make it to a quality that gets the job done? And beyond that, there are diminishing returns and, likely, your product costs will go up and it kind of makes this whole value thing fall apart. It seems that you are in a very different position, which is, you needed to make a product that was not good enough, because there was good enough out there, you wanted and needed to make something that was substantially better than everything else out there. Was that obvious to you early on? And what was that like knowing that you had to, from a quality perspective, basically outshine everything else out there for your customer?

Karen: [00:37:30] So, just based on what I knew was out there from my perspective, from friends’ and customers’ perspective, it wasn’t the type of environment for us to launch just, oh here’s the cheaper version or here’s just the prettier version or the better smelling version. What I sort of gave up, in order to focus on creating the most incredible product that we could, I gave up funding, for example, and gave ourselves the room, without having to worry about scaling super quickly or investor expectations, I gave us the room to offer, first, the best product that we could find and then go out and create the best product that we could actually, possibly, engineer ourselves.

Karen: [00:38:14] And I think that has allowed us to get here. It feels like forever. But I guess three years isn’t that bad. That’s allowed us to get here and I think, from here, we have the things set up in place now that we could scale and go from there. But, yeah, I gave up quite a bit that some of my other of women for women brands, the kind of growth that they’re experiencing, in order for us to make sure that we started with the most amazing product that we could.

Richie: [00:38:41] Has the company been self-funded up to this point or what’s the back end of that look like?

Karen: [00:38:46] We have actually been self-funded and profitable.

Richie: [00:38:49] Two rare qualities. Who would want that?

Karen: [00:38:52] I don’t know. It sucks

Richie: [00:38:54] The whole time or, I mean, up until this point?

Karen: [00:38:56] Yeah.

Richie: [00:38:57] Do you have plans to change that or not really?

Karen: [00:38:59] Yeah. I think, now that we have that foundation set and we have the things in place in terms of manufacturing to be able to scale, it’s time for us to go out and add some fuel to the fire. So, we’ll probably be raising early next year.

Richie: [00:39:12] One of the other things, I guess at a macro level, is, in this direct-to-consumer landscape, we’ve seen a lot of companies on the fashion, apparel, accessories, so many footwear, all of that. To me, it seems the landscape on the beauty side has been much slower. So, as somewhat of an outsider in the beauty space, although I’m increasingly, everyday trying to learn more, beauty, to me, seems to be about three or five years ahead of fashion and apparel, in terms of marketing and brand building and maybe even sustainability and just kind of where the general consumer is going. One, why do you think that’s happened? And it seems like a great time to be doing this just because there’s all this focus elsewhere, yet, beauty dollar spend seems to be just exploding.

Karen: [00:39:52] Well, I’ll speak from my perspective as a woman. You walk into a room full of other women. One of the easiest icebreakers, in meeting another female, is a compliment—her hair, her lipstick, something. Community has a very integral position in beauty and it’s a really fantastic place to build a brand from. And then, these communities now live on Facebook. I mean, there are entire groups dedicated to beauty and beauty products and niche within beauty—green beauty and organic beauty,and so on. And then you find the same on Instagram, and so on. If you just dig in a little bit, even if you just looked up you know, “eco-beauty” or “green beauty” or something on Instagram as a hashtag, for example, you see all this incredible content, but when you dig a little further you see this fantastic community.

Karen: [00:40:47] And these are women who are talking about their experiences and I mean, that’s to the point where it’s actually beginning to drive change in laws. I see brands like Beautycounter and, even some individual influencers, that have been to Washington talking about how they want to create laws that actually make it necessary for larger companies to be more clear and more transparent about their ingredients. I just think that it’s a really fantastic industry and community to be a part of. You’ve also got to be careful because if you mess around and say the wrong thing they will bring you down.

Richie: [00:41:27] A fast rise, fast fall.

Karen: [00:41:29] Yeah, you know, we’ve seen that with Honest Beauty, for example. I think they had a lawsuit recently about natural claims.

Richie: [00:41:37] Honest Company, yeah?

Karen: [00:41:38] Yeah, so like natural claims and the ingredients that they said they were using as opposed to what they were. And it’s a very, very thick community.

Richie: [00:41:46] What’s been the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned so far?

Karen: [00:41:49] Ah. The most expensive lesson is time, with regards to manufacturing. So, we definitely are pretty quick in terms of our ability to manufacture, with respect to some of the larger CPGs, we can do it in twelve to eighteen months as opposed to three to five years or whatever. But just getting an understanding of time and how that works with different manufacturers and then, for example, understanding European time, which I am quite new to.

Richie: [00:42:20] And holidays.

Karen: [00:42:21] Yes. Yeah, I was just like, “Oh, you have another bank holiday. All right. Guess I’ll catch you next week.” Yeah. So that definitely, probably, has been the most expensive because, at this small size, a week feels like a month to us.

Karen: [00:42:36] And then I think the cheapest has been just being transparent and available, especially when we have launched ourselves into a community. People really, really truly follow the horde, and I don’t mean that in a terrible way, but they are really searching for trust and transparency from brands. And that doesn’t cost anything to say, “This is why we chose to use this particular material” or “This is what we’ve done.” When we went to Germany to create the new razor, we actually took our followers along on Instagram stories and it was amazing. Our private messages were blowing up with women who were like, “Yes finally!” And that was pretty incredible. I don’t think you could pay for that.

Richie: [00:43:23] How big is the one time versus subscription side of the business? Or how do you kind of look at those two pieces together in terms of where you want to go with that?

Karen: [00:43:29] In order to really launch subscription, we’ll probably do it in full next year. We did a little bit of testing just to get a sense but I think the best way to do subscription is either to do it like 100 percent subscription or, if you’re going to do both, have a separate inventory. That’s part of building trust as well. When a customer knows, if my order is supposed to arrive on the 15th of every month, that’s going to happen without fail. So we have seen some really, really early strong indicators that we are ready to see about a 60-40% split in our business between subscription and regular orders.

Richie: [00:44:07] And then, where’s the name from?

Karen: [00:44:10] The name was actually really fun. So, I was on the train one day going into work, and this was right after I had had the shaving fiasco with my friends and the manicure-pedi. I was sitting on the train and I looked up and I saw an ad for a shaving company and I literally just said, “What the F? We shave too.” And I was just like, “Oh God, they’re talking about men again and here I am with my razor burn and this sucks and why is no one making anything for me?” And then I started laughing because it kind of evolved into—you know, it was obviously we as in w-e, we shave too, but then I thought it might be fun to put a little bit of a French spin on it. And the “oui” being yes, means yes to shaving. If you choose to shave as a woman, we’re here for you. And then the double meaning—o-u-i and w-e—is women, “we”, meaning community. It’s one of the best communities to be a part of.

Richie: [00:45:08] Very cool. If you look, I guess, one to three years out, where do you want the business to be?

Karen: [00:45:13] We really think that we are literally building a business that exists on our customer learning to trust us. We mean that in terms of the quality of the product that we provide and also, very literally, we are sending you a sharp object. You probably should trust us. What we’d like to do is to get a sense of how our customer evolves—what does this millennial customer look like in a few years? Is she married? Is she going to have kids?—and figure out how to travel with her. So, obviously, in order to scale we need to introduce new customers but also, how do we travel with her into her needs? So, without giving away too much, we’ve got some things down the line in terms of how we will evolve with this customer as well.

Richie: [00:46:00] Awesome. Thanks so much for talking.

Karen: [00:46:01] Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Richie: [00:46:10] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. Check out all we have to offer at loosethreads.com and feel free to leave a review on iTunes. We always appreciate it. Thanks to George Drake Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests, including Ryan Babenzien of Greats, Mariah Chase of Eloquii, and Luc Lesénécal of Saint James. Thanks for listening and talk to you soon.