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Lessons in Entrepreneurship From the $1B Dollar Shave Club Acquisition

Lessons in Entrepreneurship From the $1B Dollar Shave Club Acquisition

A few days ago, Unilever announced that they were buying Dollar Shave Club at a whopping $1B. This is big money for an online razor company that only earns a dollar from each customer subscription.

What makes it even bigger is that an acquisition reaching that amount rarely happens in e-commerce.

So, how did Unilever convince the Dollar Shave Club (DSC) to sell out? And more importantly, how did they reach that value?

First, let’s look into the history of the DSC.


Revolutionise How Men Groom

The idea for DSC stemmed from Michael Dublin’s observation that men spent an agonising amount of effort shopping for razors.

man shopping for razor

They had to drive to the store, find a parking spot, spend a long time deciding on a razor that matches their facial hair, then head over to the till to pay a hefty sum for something as simple as a shaving razor. With this idea, he aimed to revolutionise how men groom.

So in 2011, after working in his apartment, Michael launched a beta version of the DSC. For the next 8 months, he ran the site from his apartment.

Big lesson: Start wherever you are.

run your ecommerce store from anywhere

Anyway, you can run your ecommerce store from anywhere.

What you need is to be marketing savvy to get past the digital clutter.

Mike had a background in digital marketing, which explains why his first YouTube marketing campaign went viral.

If you are new to digital marketing, we highly recommend spending time learning about it with experts.


Don’t Just Build

DSC blades are great

The DSC identified a problem and provided a viable solution. But Mike and the guys who joined him later did not stop there.

In 2012, the DSC officially launched their product. Instead of an exorbitant press conference Mike and his team took to YouTube.

Their first video “Our Razors are F***** Great” has not only garnered millions of views, but was also responsible for bringing in their first 12,000 paying customers in just two days!

What made this video a success?

The marketing team does not just shoot videos promoting their products. The videos are relatable, laced with humour and original.



1. Content is king, and will remain so for a long time. With this in mind, your content has to marry your medium for distribution. Guys on YouTube crave for entertainment. The DSC has consistently provided that.

2. Don’t just copy and paste videos (or any other content). While content is king, originality is the king’s throne.

3. Don’t just sell. Tell a story. Today’s consumer detests being sold to. Consumers view advertisements as a waste of time.

4. Make a decent launch. Even if you are not planning to use video as a long-term digital marketing strategy, at least use video to introduce your company and products.


Videos are one of the most cost-effective ways to get the word out; and
You never know, you might just get lucky.

5. Timing is important: The DSC release piggybacked on a major funding announcement that was bound to get some press coverage. Give your content a fighting chance. You may not have a major newsworthy event in the pipeline, but have you thought about newsjacking?

But the DSC did more than just shoot videos, and pray that they will go viral. They had a very well-planned digital marketing strategy from the beginning.

It is the same with every other company that achieves incredible growth in a short span of time.

  • A solid digital marketing is behind Messenger’s current 1 billion monthly users. David Marcus did not just wake up one day and decide that he was going to force you, your cousins, and your grandmother to install Messenger on your devices. It was a well thought-out strategy that paid off.
  • WhatsApp knew their act. They aimed to become the best replacement for old school text messages.
  • SnapChat realised that millennials couldn’t get enough of fun video content. So, they pegged their product under that premise. And in just a few short months, the company’s value skyrocketed to $20 billion.

What do these examples tell you?

One, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But you must be well aware of what you are bringing into the market.

Here are more insights:

Offering a Tangible Solution

The Dollar Shave Club’s unique proposition is irresistible. And they captured it on their first advertising video.

Here is an excerpt:

What is DollarShaveClub.com? Well, for a dollar a month we send high-quality razors right to your door. Yeah! A dollar! Are the blades any good? No, our blades are fucking great.

Mike didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. He simply created a solution that is better than what was available in the market.

So, here is lesson number one for you.

If no one wants your product, you are wasting your time.

WhatsApp leveraged a similar principle as above. That’s why 1 billion people use WhatsApp, and absolutely love it.

But why do they love WhatsApp?

WhatsApp capitalised on a gap that telephony providers left open. Why should anyone pay for sending SMS when unlimited data plans are available?

Further, WhatsApp was better at sending messages, especially because you would know whether your message has been sent, received, and read.

A single greyed tick means your message was sent. Double greyed ticks indicate your message has been received. And double green ticks indicate that your message has been read.

With this, WhatsApp positioned itself as the best replacement for SMS services.

But you might be thinking, ‘Why use WhatsApp when Skype was there?’

Skype’s functions almost mirror that of WhatsApp. It allows you to send messages, receive files, share cute holiday pictures, and bombard your crush with suggestive cat memes.

So, why didn’t Skype take centre stage?

The main issue with Skype was it didn’t auto merge with your phone contacts like WhatsApp.

It is these seemingly small and trivial features that will be the deciding factor for your app or SaaS product.

Think about all the qualities and features your product must have, so you could give your audience a complete product to instantly fall in love with it.

A Specific Customer in Mind

Mike and his team knew who they wanted to be in the Dollar Shave Club. They were marketing to metrosexual guys in their twenties; guys who cared for their face as much as they cared for their wallets.

Narrowing your customers down is a bold and deliberate decision you need to make from the very start.

Never try to market your product to every Tom, Dick, and Harry.

By narrowing down their focus to twentysomething dudes, the Dollar Shave Club was able to decide the tone of their marketing materials and how best they would distribute their message.

Narrowing Down Your Target Market

You need to identify your target market before you write the first line of code for your new app, or buy web hosting for your SaaS product. This is necessary so that you would not waste resources that could have been used for other sections to develop your product.

How do you do that?

Create a profile of your potential customer. To come up with a buyer persona, answer specific questions about your customers:

  • How old is the potential buyer?
  • Is the buyer male or female? Single, dating, or married? Any children?
  • Where does the buyer live?
  • What is his/her level of education?
  • Does the buyer work? What kind of work? What does he do for entertainment?
  • Why does the buyer need this product?

By narrowing down your target market, subscribers and buyers, you’ll start connecting with them at a higher level.

Your marketing messages will resonate with them, enabling you to save time money and other resources.

Speak Your Target Audience’s Language

Two of the major mistakes are the use of jargon and unnecessary words.

Stop using corporate language unless your customers’ demand that you address them that way . Remove fancy words.

Instead, describe what your company is, what it does, and what you are offering your target audience.

Watch Mike’s video again. Listen to how straightforward he describes Dollar Shave Club. It can’t get more straightforward than that.

By speaking your customer’s language you will earn app downloads, sales, loyalty and create a strong brand identity.

There is one simple way to learn your customers’ language:

Listen to them. Every market demographic has their own lingo so it would be wise to spend time listening to them.

Customer Service

Dollar Shave Club revolutionised customer service.

From being introduced to the brand, you get a clear idea that this company is fun, smart, playful and stylish.

By the time you are signing a subscription, you would feel that you are buying into a certain class of society people that are cool and in the know.

It is these experiences that make customers happy.

If you are not ready to offer exemplary customer service, don’t launch your product just yet.

Ask anyone who’s bought from Dollar Shave Club. They provide their customers with a service that Bluechip companies can only envy.

For instance, not too long ago, a potential customer challenged the company that he will subscribe for a month if a Dollar Shave Club employee can solve Rubik’s Cube in less than 2 minutes.

The following day, Dollar Shave Club posted a video of one of its employees, standing in front of a framed “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” banner, feverishly solving the challenge. He was done in one minute and 25 seconds.

This video response reinforced the company’s self-portrayal of cool, comical, and willing to go the extra mile to please every customer.

How far are you willing to go to please your customers?

For this, you should remember that your level of service should not leave doubts in your customers’ minds.

They need to feel that you are there for them, not just there to take their money.

Thus, more and more e-commerce entities (think Zappos and Bonobos) choose an unscripted customer service. This feels more authentic, and helps humanise e-commerce.

You can take unscripted customer service to a new level, thereby creating an unpaid and unsolicited buzz on social media.

An example of this are the exchanges of members of the Dollar Shave Club with customers that they have posted on Reddit and Twitter.

Your Product is Never Really Complete

Whether it is an app, a SaaS product, or a startup, you cannot simply build it, deploy, launch, and be done with it.

None of the successful apps and businesses operate that way.

Successful entrepreneurs always think of ways to improve their products and services. Dollar Shave Club, for instance, would have been contented with the success of their shaving blades, but they didn’t stop there.

A few months after their mammoth launch, DSC was already adding other products in their verticals. Their goal was to become the best company for guys’ grooming products.

Apps like WhatsApp and Messenger did not launch and sit back to enjoy a million downloads. Constant innovation has given them a tight grasp on the market.

Hence, we regularly see new features to sustain the interest of existing users and appeal to new ones. Messenger, for instance, recently added an account switching feature, making it more attractive to families composing of members sharing a phone.

What are you doing to make your app great? Development is an ongoing process.

Make Sure your Infrastructure Can Handle the Traffic

Before creating a viral demand for your SaaS product or app, make sure your servers can handle significant number of traffic.

We’ve seen many companies and apps get grinded to a halt because their servers couldn’t handle traffic.

Set Yourself Apart

One of the biggest traps for startup owners and entrepreneurs is that they want to be like everyone else.

Don’t be a copycat. Brand yourself. Let your personality shine. It takes originality and innovativeness for a product stand out.

A large part of Dollar Shave Club’s instant success had to do with their uniqueness. On their first video, Mike was able to differentiate his product from his greatest competitor, Gillette.

His innovativeness went past marketing, going to sales, delivery, and basically every part of the business. For instance, for every delivery, there would be a surprise gift; a picture of their baseball team, a photo of one of their employees and a brief description, or a membership card to the DSC!

Everything about the company was unique, well-thought and orchestrated.


Digital Marketing Brings Success

From the Dollar Shave Club, we see the combination of the different elements of digital marketing bringing the company success.

Why do you think Dollar Shave Club has managed to carve a niche in a market traditionally dominated by its competitor?We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

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