Lazy Men: The Next Frontier In Online Retail

Dollar Shave Club's razor-subscription business model is a throwback to the dotcom 1990s
A shot from the Shave Club YouTube ad Courtesy YouTube

In the technology world, we have Moore’s Law, which posits that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every 18 months. In the world of men’s grooming products, there’s a little known (well, completely made up by me) corollary known as Hokum’s Razor: Gillette will add one blade to a razor for every high-priced pitchman it hires.

The global shaving market is about a $25 billion-per-year industry, according to a report from Global Industry Analysts. This is why Gillette parades Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Andre 3000, and Adrien Brody before the public and spends billions of dollars on research and development to defy the laws of physics and cram ever more blades on each razor. The company hopes that men will give into their primal urges and pay extra for a razor that promises more blades and more handsome.

Dollar Shave Club, a startup in Santa Monica, Calif., has decided to take the Razor Industrial Complex head-on. Earlier this week, it began selling razors on a subscription model. You pay $1 per month and have five, two-bladed razors delivered to your door. (For $6 a month, you get four-bladed razors and for $9 per month, you get six-bladed razors.) All the products feature aloe vera strips and swivel heads. Ooh la la.

Dollar Shave Club says it partnered with a large razor manufacturer to create its line of products and centers its pitch on the idea that it can give you a good razor at a low price. It also seems to want to capitalize on the idea that men are lazy.

“Do you think your razor needs a vibrating handle, a flashlight, a back-scratcher, and 10 blades?” the company asks in a very funny YouTube ad that has garnered it a lot of early attention. “Your handsome grandfather had one blade and polio.” If Hollywood director and manchild bromance specialist Judd Apatow were a business model, he would be Dollar Shave Club.

Without a doubt, Dollar Shave Club kicks off memories of such legendary dot-com boom fiascos as Kozmo.com, which promised to deliver just about anything to your door in less than an hour, and Pets.com, which seemed to base its business model on a funny puppet. But where Kozmo.com raised about $250 million in venture capital, Dollar Shave Club has taken only $1 million so far from such big names as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Andreessen Horowitz.

Another startup called Manpacks has done pioneering work on the lazy man grooming premise for two years. It sells razors, underwear, condoms, and t-shirts on a subscription basis, delivering a new batch of goods every three months. “Our customers don’t want to have think about these kinds of things anymore,” says Ken Johnson, the company’s 34-year-old co-founder. “Everything is built to be efficient and simple—the way men like it.” Amazon.com and other big names sell similar products but overwhelm men with choice, according to Johnson.

Johnson pursued the Manpacks idea after getting laid off from his job at a furniture store. He began selling underwear out of his parent’s house on the back of a $500 investment. “My mom was our first hire—and the first person we had to fire when we outsourced fulfillment,” Johnson says.

Today, the company is based in Silicon Valley, where it employs five people—two of them women. A partner in North Carolina handles the shipping to “thousands” of customers, 90 percent of whom are male. “The other 10 percent are women ordering stuff for men,” Johnson says.

Manpacks has taken $500,000 in venture capital money and harbors no ill will toward its new rival in the lazy man accessory market. “I think Dollar Shave Club has done a tremendous job with their launch,” Johnson says. “I am most interested to see where they go from here.”

With a name like Dollar Shave Club, the sky does not seem to be the limit.

It’s quite something to see prominent venture capital firms putting money into these types of companies. Once upon a time, Kleiner made a huge gamble on a company called Amazon.com. Now it’s making tiny bets on a company that seems an awful lot like an Amazon.com feature.

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