The Hard Truth About "Soft" Courses

Branding and marketing are vital to establishing a skin-care line, a B-schooler discovers

I recently founded and launched a company called a|MEN|ity, which markets and sells high-end shaving and skin-care products for men.

By the time of my graduation from Babson, I had already completed exhaustive research on the men's skin-care market and product trends. I also studied customer-buying habits and believed I knew exactly who my customer was and why he would buy a|MEN|ity. I felt I had an exceptional product line, an influential brand, and a focused distribution strategy that made a|MEN|ity products easily accessible to men.

But I was wrong about having all my homework done.

I now spend the majority of my time speaking to customers, be it retailers who sell a|MEN|ity or end-users who buy directly from the Web site. I equate this to an ongoing customer research project.

When launching a company, no so such thing as a typical day exists. Weekends and weekdays blend together, and life turns into one giant business development meeting. Here's the snapshot of a recent workday:

5:30 a.m. -- I drag myself out of bed to blend a protein shake, read The Wall Street Journal, and glance over such trade publications that cover skin care as Women's Wear Daily and Happi, then do 40 minutes on the elliptical machine.

7:00 a.m. -- Work begins. Whereas many of my friends are beginning their commute about now, I'm walking across my apartment to my desk. I work in a 3,500-square-foot loft outside Boston. The loft triples as a warehouse, apartment, and office (much to the chagrin of my girlfriend). She and I have two bedrooms off the loft area, one of which serves as the warehouse where boxes of shaving cream, aftershave lotion, and badger-hair shave brushes are stacked ceiling-high. I try to keep the loft area as "apartment-like" as possible (minus the three desks, scattered whiteboards, and laptops).

8:00 a.m. -- In a futile attempt to manage large volumes of e-mail (150 messages a day and growing), I try to read the essential messages every morning and respond. I consider essential messages to be ones from individual customers, retail stores, investors, advisers, and press.

9:00 a.m. -- I speak with my team at the beginning of each day. At the moment, I'm working with nine other professionals -- a few paid, but most working for the promise of future riches. Projects range from development of hotel "amenity" programs to marketing and branding development. The common thread through everything is how to distinguish a|MEN|ity from the competition.

10:30 a.m. -- Sort through 10 to 15 requests for company and product information. Product presentation and personal touch are essential to each package we send out, whether to reporters, retailers, or potential brand partners. We've shipped nearly 500 packages in the past four months, and not one has left the "warehouse" without a handwritten note from me or someone on my team.

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