December 12, 2018

As a man of color, he couldn't find a razor he liked. So he created his own

Tristan Walker used to dread walking into a drugstore to shop for his shaving needs.

"Shaving irritation and razor bumps [are] issues some 80% of black men and women have globally," said Walker. "If you have curly hair, this is an issue that you're likely to face."

The problem for Walker was that drugstores predominantly sold multi-blade razors, which aren't ideal for removing coarse or curly hair and can often cause in-grown hairs.

So in 2013, Walker founded Walker & Company Brands, a startup focused on selling personal care products for people of color. "[My] company really started out of my frustrations of not having products that I could use," he said.

The first product line from his Palo Alto-based firm was Bevel, which includes a single-blade razor that Walker says works best for skin like his and mitigates the problems he experienced with other razors. It also includes a traditional shaving brush, shaving cream and other skin care products.

Bevel initially sold online. But just a few years later, the brand caught the attention of Target. In 2016, the same year Walker launched the new Bevel trimmer, the retailer started selling Bevel on Target.com and in some of its stores.

"It completely changed our business," said Walker. "Over 50% of our business is in retail right now. Target has helped us grow."

Last year, Walker & Company expanded its product line to include Form, a line of hair care products for women of color.

Walker says the company has been able to grow its annual revenue every year, but it is not yet profitable. "But we are well on our way to doing so," he adds.

Now Walker & Company is taking its next big leap. On Wednesday, the company announced that it has been acquired by Procter & Gamble.

"The combination of Walker & Company's deep consumer understanding, authentic connection to its community and unique, highly customized products and P&G's highly-skilled and experienced people, resources, technical capabilities and global scale will allow us to further improve the lives of the world's multicultural consumers," Alex Keith, CEO of P&G Beauty, said in a statement.

Walker & Company will operate as a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble and Walker will continue to serve as its CEO. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Walker has "zero worries" that his startup will clash with the global giant.

"Procter & Gamble wanted us to be in a position of autonomy, where we could maintain the agility and flexibility that we have always had to reach this consumer," he said. "I care very deeply about this company that we spent blood, sweat and tears on. I feel very comfortable and excited about this partnership. Everybody should get ready for what's next."

A long way from Queens

Walker, 34, grew up in the South Jamaica housing projects in the New York city borough of Queens. He was raised by a single mom, who worked three jobs to support her three children.

"I have an immense amount of respect and thanks to give her for that," Walker said.

It also fueled a drive in him to succeed early on in life so he would be able take care of his own family.

After graduating from Stony Brook University in Long Island, Walker moved to California to pursue a master's in business from Stanford University. While there, he worked short stints at Twitter and Boston Consulting Group. He later led business development at location sharing and social networking app, Foursquare, for a couple of years after graduation.

Walker joined venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in 2012, where he became an entrepreneur-in-residence and learned the ins and outs of Silicon Valley.

"If I [had] stayed in New York, I wouldn't have started this company," said Walker. "I wouldn't have known much about Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley has really taught me to be innovative, to leverage technology in ways [you can] separate yourself from the competition."

Prior to the P&G acquisition, Walker said his company raised $39 million in outside funding over four rounds, including $6.9 million in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

"One thing that was very important to me is that folks supporting me understood the problem that we were trying to solve," said Walker.

He has also won over celebrity investors, such as Magic Johnson, John Legend and Nas. "I think the reason why Walker & Company resonates with them is they shop down the same aisles I do," said Walker. "There isn't a special celebrity beauty shop that they go to. We're solving the same problems they have that I have."

Walker is ambitious, but he wants to be prudent about growing the business.

"I've learned a hell of a lot as a CEO. Once you have an ambition to build something that's global in nature, you just got to take some time," he said. "It's all about my reflecting on the fact that we got to have that 150 year vision."

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