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Speaking to a packed room in Hunstman Hall, Jeff Raider (WG’10) and Jason Semine (WG’10, Law’10) shared their vision for Harry’s, a 10-month-old shaving supply startup that’s raised $122.5M and recently purchased a German razor blade manufacturer. The serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Warby Parker, Jeff spoke to the Wharton Journal about launching a successful brand, working with close friends, and opening a barbershop in New York City.
Wharton Journal: What was the thought behind starting Harry’s? Why not stay with Warby Parker?
My co-founder Andy had a less than pleasant experience waiting at the drugstore to get razor blades from behind a glass case, paying a lot for them and feeling like the brands he bought didn’t connect with him as a customer. He called me to tell me about his experience, I empathized, and together we decided there had to be a better way. So we set out to build Harry’s and provide guys with high quality, simply designed products at a fair price, with the convenience of purchasing them directly online. In the end, we hope to give people a better overall shaving experience. We started Warby Parker while in school, and before going to Wharton, I had committed to return to the job I worked at prior to school. After we graduated I stepped down full time, however I am still on the board at Warby Parker and stay pretty closely involved.
WJ: Small startups don’t often have all the skillsets they need in the early days – how did you and Andy Katz-Mayfield decide on which tasks to do yourselves or contract externally?
First, we’re really lucky to have worked with amazing partners while starting Warby Parker, and I knew there were a few who’d be amazing in helping us build Harry’s. Beyond that, Andy and I try to be thoughtful about the entire customer journey, and in figuring out what we can do best in-house and where our partners might be uniquely positioned to do it better. In the end, we ended up building out many of the core functions of the company in-house (like design, engineering, customer service, operations) and work with specific partners who help us to be great at things like public relations, branding, shipping etc. We treat them like partners (not vendors) and they work very closely with our team to continue to build the brand.
WJ: You mentioned working with a brand agency. What was it like working with them and did their vision align with the vision you and Andy saw for Harry’s?
We’re very close with the team at Partners & Spade. They understood our vision for the business from the start and helped us flesh out specifics on the aesthetic, and story behind the brand.
WJ: What were some of the early marketing strategies that helped Harry’s and Warby Parker launch a successful brand?
Before we officially launched Harrys, we built up a strong base of support through a pre-launch campaign where people could spread the word about Harry’s and earn rewards. This really helped build buzz, and when Harrys.com went live on March 14th last year, we already had people who were excited to be our customers, which was really helpful and exciting. Just before launch, we also personally gave product to a number of friends; they then helped us to tell the Harry’s story to their friends. Lastly, PR has been very helpful in providing us with credibility. We love when our customers learn about Harry’s from the review of editors at amazing publications, as they are influential and trusted sources.
WJ: How has Harry’s been able to navigate the patent-protected and competitive business of razor blades?
How is it different from Gillette and Dollar Shave Club? Manufacturing razor blades is extremely difficult to do, and there are only a handful of razor manufacturers in the world. We launched Harry’s with Feintechnik, a German razor manufacturer that has been making some of the best blades in the world for nearly 100 years. Last month, we announced our acquisition of Feintechnik, making Harry’s the only vertically integrated shaving brand in the world, owning and controlling the value chain from manufacturing to point of sale to customer experience. We’ve built Harry’s with the aim of providing the best shaving experience in the entire world and every day we continue to innovate on product and experience to get even better.
WJ: So what’s this I hear about a barbershop in NYC?
We will always think of Harrys.com as our flagship store, but loved the idea of being able to interact with our customers in person so we opened Harry’s Corner Shop in October 2013. Located on a quiet street in Soho, Harry’s Corner Shop gives us an opportunity to immerse customers in the Harry’s brand, from skilled barbers who offer traditional services and grooming advice to interesting merchandise. It’s really exciting to be able to provide a comprehensive shaving experience for our customers from start to finish, and help them to learn to shave better in the process.
WJ: Can you tell us about how you and Andy set milestones (such as your 1st “MVP”, first consumer tests, product launch, to first sale?) for each other to keep moving forward?
From our early research and development stages leading up to launch, we had a clear plan set in place. We knew from the beginning that we wanted Harry’s to be a truly vertically integrated brand, owning the manufacturing process and customer relationships so we can directly use customer input to develop new products. We knew this was the key to keeping our blades at a fair price. We also wanted to create a true brand that customers continue to respect and love, one that would be around for 100 years. It’s exciting to only be in year one.
WJ: As an experienced entrepreneur, what did you learn from working in multiple co-founder startups? What was the dynamic like and do you have any advice for co-founders reading this?
It’s so much fun to work with your friends, especially on companies and brands that you’re extremely passionate about. With both Warby Parker and Harry’s, my co-founders and I made it clear from the start that our friendship was a priority, and we’ve made a real effort to be both friends and business partners. It’s also really important to be honest with each other, hold each other accountable and enjoy the journey together.
WJ: What were the 3 biggest challenges to get the initial product off the ground?
Our biggest challenge was definitely finding our manufacturing partner and creating a product that was high-quality and something we’d be proud to offer our customers. We also wanted to make sure that the site itself was user-friendly and easy to navigate, so we built a strong tech infrastructure. And lastly, getting the word out about Harry’s in a really thoughtful way is something that we always focus on.
WJ: What’s next for Harry’s?
We’ll continue to focus on making sure our customers have great shaving and purchase experiences. This year, we look forward to introducing new products and collections, expanding our retail experiences, and building an amazing unified company with our new German team.