What a difference five years can make in a life. That’s how long it’s been since Michael Dubin started Dollar Shave Club out of his Venice, Calif., apartment on not much more than a wing and a prayer—and, of course, a now-historic YouTube video that showcased Dubin’s own dead-on deadpan humor talking to dudes about an issue of utmost importance: shaving. Dubin brought a faux-religious intensity to the argument that there were better ways to get your shaving razors than standing by the locked case in a drugstore until somebody took pity on you, then getting fleeced at the register.
His pitch won many converts. So many, in fact, that the Samson that took on the Goliath—Procter & Gamble, owner of Gillette—was acquired to the tune of a reported $1B earlier this year by Unilever, the British-Dutch consumer goods conglomerate that owns more than 400 brands worldwide. While Dubin himself is reported to have pocketed a cool $90M, you won’t find the 38-year-old sleeping in and wandering around in sweats with a four-day beard growth.
Keeping the Blades Sharp
Ask Dubin what’s the biggest change in his life as a result of DSC’s acquisition by Unilever earlier this year, and it’s clear that he’s sticking to business.
“Fundraising for DSC used to consume 20 to 25 percent of my year,” Dubin told CSQ. “Now that we’re part of the Unilever family I get to spend that time running the business. It’s going to make a meaningful difference in our success.”
When Dubin released the now-famous YouTube video in March 2012, he could not have foreseen the megalithic splash that the subscription-based razor supply company outcome would make. The zany video went viral and an avalanche of orders ensued — 12,000 in the first two days. The company’s website, DollarShaveClub, went on tilt in the first hour. Dubin didn’t invent the subscription-based business model, but he certainly brought fresh insight into its potential. He joined convenience, price point, and an in-your-unshaven-face slogan (“They’re not good. They’re f****** GREAT!”) to a product that most guys regard as a necessary evil. This approach cut through the competition like a platinum scythe. In what seemed like a matter of minutes, Dollar Shave Club stood out from the big razor brands like Schick and Gillette.
“Getting into the locked razor case at the store is an inconvenient experience. That’s true, right? Then we take that truth and stretch it to the absurd.”
Let’s Talk About What?
DSC’s second video pried a bit deeper into men’s bathroom habits. Entitled “Let’s Talk About #2,” it set out to promote the launch of “One Wipe Charlies.” You have to hand it to a guy who can successfully market baby wipes to men, or for that matter even bring up the subject without getting taken out to the parking lot for a smack-down.
But all joking aside, Dubin attributes the company’s success to truth. “Getting into the locked razor case at the store is an inconvenient experience,” he says. “That’s true, right? Then we take that truth and stretch it to the absurd. This type of relatable humor we’ve developed has been translated across our brand on everything from our videos to our monthly box packaging.”
A Perfect Match
Dubin got the idea for DSC when he met a friend of a friend at a party in 2010. They talked about the high cost of shaving. Dubin decided to do something about it and laid the groundwork for the company in January 2011, bootstrapping Dollar Shave Club with $37,000 of his own money to pay for product, web development, and marketing. Then came a $100,000 boost from LA’s Science incubator. Three months later the brand was prepared to target select investors who together have invested $163M since the 2012 launch. The company’s main offices are in Venice.
Dubin’s nearly primal communication abilities were what impressed investors early on. He’d been a page at NBC and honed his content chops as a news producer for digital news properties. He also did an eight-year stint in improvisational comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City, background he has said underpinned his ensuing success. “People tend to remember things when they’re musically presented, and comedy is a form of music,” Dubin once said. “When you’re launching a new business and sharing a new idea, if you can get people to remember it, there’s obviously a better chance at success.”
Other than the massive cash infusion, Dubin’s plan for DSC is to stay the course. “DSC remains an independently run entity, so we’re going to continue on the growth trajectory we’ve been on: finding new and innovative ways to help guys take better care of themselves.” IPO, anyone? “Haha, no.”
Time to Shave?
Los Angeles is making its mark as a formidable tech hub, thanks to an abundance of success stories like Dollar Shave Club, Loot Crate, Dog Vacay, and many more. Dubin prizes his Los Angeles-area location for its combination of high tech know-how and the power of its creative energy.
“Los Angeles is a city of storytellers and creative excellence,” Dubin says. “DSC is a brand that needs to stand out by telling its story in creative ways, so there’s a fit.” Dubin believes the Los Angeles talent pool has reached critical mass, thanks to “the success of our peers.”
“Los Angeles is a city of storytellers and creative excellence,” Dubin says. “DSC is a brand that needs to stand out by telling its story in creative ways, so there’s a fit.”
One of Dubin’s favorite fellow success stories is Me Undies, online purveyor of fine underwear. “Their product is very comfortable, and I always appreciate the challenge of taking life’s basics and making them interesting again.” Also, he says, it’s easier to get talent to move here knowing they can make a whole career (and a life) in Los Angeles without having to worry about being stranded in a barren location if things don’t work out.
Things are definitely working out for Dubin. On such a large scale, in fact, you have to wonder what it’s like when the final contract on a billion dollar deal has been signed. So what’s the first thing he did after finalizing the deal with Unilever?
“I called a close friend, trying to comprehend what had just happened,” Dubin says. “Then I slept for a few days.”