Episode: 029

Jeff Raider

Harry’s & Warby Parker

Phase 3
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Jeff Raider

Jeff Raider: Harry’s & Warby Parker

As far as German engineering goes, it’s – well – the gold standard. Have you heard the phrase? Volkswagen’s ads are famous for this: “That’s the power of German engineering”. From the scripts of car commercials, appliances, watches, and other consumer products, it is the unspoken moniker for all things thoughtful and richly designed in both form and function.

But, what about razors? Rigorously engineered by craftsmen and production workers to deliver an exceptional shave, when you’re using a blade – on your face, or your legs – quality matters.

Today, we’re digging deep into the world of Harry’s, co-founded by Jeff Raider. If the name sounds familiar, you may know him as the co-founder of Warby Parker, where he’s implemented design thinking and hands-on business leadership to deliver branded experiences that inject delight and B-Corp do-goodness. Still on-board with Warby Parker, Jeff runs Harry’s, overseeing scale, social impact, and brand personality to ensure the finest of experiences to men globally.

What is it like to run a household name brand catering to a critical, unique need, especially among millennial men, completely online? How has Harry’s $100 million acquisition of Feintechnik – its German razor blade factory – put it front and center beyond competing throwaway brands like Dollar Shave and in-store retail brands like Gillette? And, how must an exceptional user experience of the brand translate from the web…to one’s face?

If you’re listening, Tweet us with your reaction to this show at @Phase3mc, using the hashtag #OnBranding.


Episode Transcript

Amanda: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of On Branding by Phase 3. I’m your host Amanda Serfozo.

Amanda: As far as German engineering goes, it’s the gold standard. Volkswagen’s ads are famous for this. “That’s the power of German engineering.” From the scripts of car commercials, appliances, watches, and other consumer products, it is the unspoken moniker for all things thoughtful and richly designed in both form and function. But what about razors? When you’re using a blade, on your face or your legs, quality indeed matters. Today we’re digging deep into the world of Harry’s, co-founded by Jeff Raider. And if the name sounds familiar, you may know him as the co-founder of Warby Parker where he has implemented design thinking to deliver branded experiences that inject delight with B-Corp do-goodness.

Jeff: In many ways I think of a website like a highway in that you should be able to go to the site, drive forward in a very clean, clear, intuitive way with few barriers, and get to a point where you can buy product, checkout, that is simple.

Amanda: Jeff runs Harry’s, overseeing scale, social impact, and brand personality to ensure the finest of experiences to men globally. How has Harry’s $100 million acquisition of Feintechnik, its German razor blade factory, put it front and center beyond competing throwaway brands like Dollar Shave and in-store retail brands like Gillette? And how must an exceptional user experience of a brand translate from the web to one’s face? All that today on On Branding.

Amanda: Hi Jeffrey, how are you?

Jeff: Good thanks, how are you?

Amanda: Good! It’s like Memorial Day weekend, I imagine things are starting to wind down for today.

Jeff: Yeah it is. Things are great. I was in Europe for the last four days so I just got back last night. I had like one day in the office this week.

Amanda: Trying to keep up shop.

Jeff: Exactly. Excited for the weekend also.

Amanda: Exactly! Where were you in Europe?

Jeff: I was in Amsterdam for two days and then in Munich for two days.

Amanda: Awesome, very cool. I haven’t been over to Europe. My family is actually from Europe – my dad grew up in Hungary – but I haven’t been there myself yet so it’s on my bucket list. So Jeff tell me about Harry’s. You guys have been in business now for almost a year, a little over a year, is that correct?

Jeff: Yep. Harry’s is a men’s shaving and grooming brand. We make all of our own products. We make razor handles, and we design them ourselves here in New York. We make razor blades in our factory in Germany. And we make shaving cream that goes really well with our blades and handles, and it moisturizes your face in addition to protecting it during the shaving experience. We sell directly on our website harrys.com and we sell our products for what we think is a really fair price. Our blades are about half the price of similar products on the market. We can do that by being really efficient in the way that we go to market and wanting to treat our customers fairly so that they trust us and have a great quality experience with us as well.

Amanda: Absolutely. Tell me, for those that haven’t used Harry’s yet that are doing the snooping around checking what’s out there, tell us as detailed as you can what it’s like shaving with a cheap razor versus a Harry’s razor. What’s the difference, feel-wise?

Jeff: When we went to build Harry’s we spent six months shaving with everything in the market. And shaving with a cheap razor can be both a physically and emotionally scarring experience. On the physical side a cheap razor is just uncomfortable. And the whole experience becomes uncomfortable. It leads to tug and pull, you can cut yourself more easily when you shave, the blades dull more quickly, shaving cream can get stuck in the blades and then it doesn’t rinse out well which then degrades the overall quality of the shave. It ends up taking a little bit longer which just leads to increased discomfort because it’s not as comprehensive an experience – as the blades are rolling over some hair gets missed. All and all it leaves you feeling a little bit uncomfortable. You may have cut yourself which then isn’t the best experience in terms of wanting to start your day. It’s just experiences like that that we want to help prevent for guys. We would want them to have the opposite experience at the end where they feel great, like they had a really comfortable shave and they’re ready to go out and seize the day in a way that they’re excited about.

Amanda: Love that. Tell me how you got into learning about razors, getting up to speed ergonomically on how this all works. What was your experience transiting into that from Warby Parker and that kind of thing?

Jeff: I think first that what’s most important about an amazing razor blade, and what makes a Harry’s shave a really close and crisp and comfortable shave for guys, is that for a razor blade to be very good it has to be very stable at its base and very sharp at its tip. And that leads to a crispness at the time in which the blade cuts your face that is incredibly important. The factory that we own in Germany is one of the only factories in the world that can grind steel such that the blades are in that pattern, and that gives you a really comfortable and close shave. In terms of just the way that guys shave, we spent a lot of time studying different shaving behaviors and that lead us to make handles that rested well in your palm, handles where lots of guys shave where they grip the handles at the very top – it’s where you get the most fine motor control – so we put subtle ridges in at the top so that you have some traction there as you maneuvered the razor handle in your hand. And then we did things like rounding the bottom of the handle so that it can pivot in your palm as you’re shaving and manipulating it in different ways. I think a lot of the studying that we did around how guys tend to like to shave turned into product features that we wanted to create that made the experience easier and more comfortable for them and gave them more control in the process.

Amanda: To understand the $100 million acquisition of Feintechnik, we must understand that Feintechnik is a brand all of its own. A 93 year old brand that is. Harry’s bought the brand to introduce vertical integration into its online offerings. And for the consumer that means razors and shave products that are dramatically lower than retail shaving kits.

Amanda: It sounds very similar to designing a car and the term “German manufacturing” comes to mind so quickly. I’m wondering, just from a marketing standpoint, you acquired this German company – they have so much brand equity over the years. What does German engineering and being able to say that you acquired this German brand and have learned the ins and outs from them – what does that do in terms of telling a story to your customer?

Jeff: I think that’s a really good point. The first thing to note about shaving is that there are very few companies in the world that make high quality razor blade. And we think that our factory was the best independent manufacturer in the world of blades. And the reason that its logical that they were in Germany is because there’s a really amazing tradition in Germany of making incredibly fine knives and other metal goods where you actually have to grind steel in a pretty sophisticated way. That’s the tradition that this factory has grown up out of. And now that we have over 400 German team members, which is kind of crazy to think about – just seeing the way that they go about their work is incredibly inspiring to us. They’re very talented engineers and incredibly exacting in their process. And lots of people who work at this factory have literally worked at this factory for longer than some people on our team here at Harry’s have even been alive – 25, 30, 40 years – and just have a really innate sense for how you make a very high quality product, and take a tremendous amount of pride in their work. I think it’s that story that we like to tell to our customers. It’s that sort of ethic and genesis and real focus on amazing craftsmanship and engineering that we have a tremendous amount of pride in our company.

Amanda: Absolutely. It makes me think of why Germany has that culture of craftsmanship. Everybody knows Germany is the place to go to build a quality product and how different that is from American craftsmanship.

Jeff: It’s amazing. There are trade schools in Germany where you just spend time learning about a very specific craft, like metal working for instance. And then when we think about hiring people for our factory we think about hiring them out of these trade schools into internship programs and they just learn the inner working of how you make a product. It’s a pretty amazing culture that starts at a very early age for lots of people.

Amanda: That’s incredible. Really learning by doing. So you have these two sets, you have the Truman and the Winston. Which one is the most popular would you say?

Jeff: We sell more of the Truman set than the Winston set. I think in part because we offer it in a bunch of different fun colors that people really like. But we also have been really surprised by how popular the Winston has been. And specifically the Winston where you can engrave your initials on the back which is a feature that we’re able to offer with the Winston that people tend to really like, and it makes the Winston feel like your own personal tool that you’ll have for a long time.

Amanda: I’ve been wondering – because I know that this happens for women and women’s brands – have any ladies ever said that they use the Harry’s products or the Harry’s razors?

Jeff: Of course! We have lots of female customers. I think our razors work really well for all different surfaces and types of hair. And we’ve had lots of women who have bought razors for their husbands or bought razors for themselves and are now Harry’s customers. And we also hear lots of guys buying a second razor for themselves because they’ll have it and then their wives or girlfriends will start to use it and they’re like, “My girlfriend stole my razor, I now need my own!” So we see that as well.

Amanda: They need a spare pair!

Jeff: Exactly!

Amanda: That’s interesting. I was looking at the site, I’m like, “I’ve got to get these!” Because razors are just dripping in pink and neon and girl colors and I’m like, “This is not my thing.” So I’ve got to go get some Harry’s for myself.

Jeff: And we really admire clean design. We like the idea of letting the form of the razor really speak for itself and not trying to complicate it with a bunch of other stuff.

Amanda: Absolutely. Let the product speak for itself and let it do its job.

Amanda: Designing personas around Harry’s is an important component of how the brand targets, pursues, and creates magnetic content around its shaving products.

Amanda: One of the things we often talk about in agencies – and really anyone who creates things for the web and for people – is talking about personas and need states. Can you just tell me a little bit about who Harry’s persona is? What does a typical Harry’s user look like? Just paint us a story of what that average person might be.

Jeff: Sure. That persona is probably a guy who is really forward thinking and very considered. By that I mean he cares a lot about the products that he owns and that he uses, and they say something about who he is personally. And as a result he’s always out there looking for things that will really say something about who he is. And he’s not afraid to try new things. He enjoys that process. And when he finds things that he likes he is incredibly loyal to them because they speak to him as an individual. He’s the kind of guy who is probably pretty thoughtful and well educated but definitely not so elevated in his persona that he can’t just appreciate the basic fundamentals that really work well. He’s very much the everyman there. And he has a diverse set of interests in his life, largely so. He might work in an office but go hiking on the weekend and play an instrument. There’s this idea that he’s constantly exploring different things in his world that help him to be a well rounded person and that extends to all the products he uses including a razor. For us, for him, we are a choice that he hasn’t had before. He hasn’t had the choice of a brand or a product in the market that appeals to his sensibilities from a design perspective that’s priced really fairly, that he knows will work, and a brand that’s really open and transparent and honest with him about the value that we’re trying to bring to him – how we make our products – and the fact that we just want to make the whole process of buying and associating with our brand easier. And then hopefully make his whole morning experience shaving with our product just a little bit better.

Amanda: Absolutely. You mentioned being clean and transparent and open about what the product is. I go on the site and I’m just struck by how transparent it is, how much information you give, and that kind of thing. Tell me a little bit about your experience building the site. There are some similarities I saw between Warby Parker and just the way that you speak to the consumer. Do you guys do any testing? Do you do any A/B testing to get a handle on the user experience?

Jeff: Yeah we do a lot. And I think for us the mission is just to deliver a user experience that’s easier and more intuitive and better for our customers. And for me the goal with our website is first, to be able to tell our brand story in a really clear way so that people understand what they would be buying into. Second, make the shopping experience as easy as possible, literally eliminating barriers that exist to being able to buy our product that are possible. And then third, just make navigating and moving around the site as intuitive as possible. In many ways I think of a website like a highway in that you should be able to go to the site, drive forward in a very clean, clear, intuitive way with few barriers, and get to a point where you can buy product, checkout, that is simple while also having the chance, if you want, to go off and exit, do a little bit of exploring, come back on the highway, go off of another exit, loop around. But that’s a very conscious choice that you’re making. It’s not something that someone’s forcing on you.

Amanda: That metaphor is so brilliant! It makes perfect sense, I’ve just never thought of it that way so I’m gonna tell our developers about that. They’re gonna love that. One of the things I love – because I write and I do a lot of copy and content and strategy – is the brand voice. A couple things you have, “Worrying is overrated. Forgetting about forgetting. Give your tube crushing hands a break.” There’s so many good monikers like that. Who is behind the brand voice? Are there several people that have constructed the personality of Harry’s online?

Jeff: Our whole marketing team probably has responsibility for the brand voice. We think a lot about the words that we use. I think the way that we think about them is they should be really clear but we’re not afraid to have some fun with the brand or the voice or some of the imagery. It’s important that, while we are making a product that’s really serious and we’re very serious about delivering our customers an amazing experience, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We have a lot of fun here at Harry’s and I think we want to let the creativity of our team be expressed to the outside world. As we think about the voice of the brand, we have some high level guidelines that we follow, but then within those guidelines we want to write things that are really clear to the customer but also can be fun. “Forget about forgetting” was a line that this woman, who’s amazing, who runs our social mission just said one day and we’re like, “That’s great, we love it! Let’s test it in a couple different places.” People seem to respond well to it.

Amanda: I love how that happens. Someone says something in conversation and you’re like, “That it! We’re gonna run with that!”

Jeff: Yup exactly! And the thing that’s nice is that we’re small and nimble enough where we can do that.

Amanda: As digital publishing comes to the fore, we’re seeing a shift in how brands speak of themselves online. Harry’s publishes sleek, sharp, GQ-esque magazine style content that attracts audiences rather than pushes product. It’s like looking through a keyhole to see how other guys are using Harry’s accompanied by lifestyle portraiture of men in their natural habitat.

Amanda: You have something else on the site which is really interesting, it’s like a publishing platform. It’s a blog but it’s really more of an online magazine called the Five O’Clock and I spent so much time on that doing these question and coming up with research. I was pinning things and I got really sucked into it.

Jeff: That’s awesome!

Amanda: Tell me, why is it important for brands to have sections on their site like that that don’t necessarily push product, they just tell a story and give you a peak into the Harry’s lifestyle. Why is it important for brands to do that kind of thing?

Jeff: The answer is probably different for different brands. For us we saw this amazing opportunity to shed light on all these undiscovered moments in guys’ lives – shaving and the whole process of shaving and waking up in the morning being one of them. For us the modern guy is not just this guy who has kind of arrived but he’s this guys who is constantly on this journey of figuring it out for himself and making his world just a little bit better everyday, and as a result making the world around him better everyday. It’s that journey that we really wanted to capture in Five O’Clock and in doing so shed light on the specific moments in this guy’s life that he may not talk about to other people. And those things could be what he does in the morning, the types of conversations that he has with someone in a barber chair, and the grooming tips that he gets in the chair, or a funny mistake that he made that he’s learned from. Ideas and things like that we just found really interesting to ourselves here at Harry’s. We debate things like, “How often should you shampoo your hair?” which is a barber tip that a bunch of us have gotten in different forms or fashions. And guys don’t really talk about those things. Or for me it’s really inspirational to see super interesting people going through their morning routine which is a two hour long routine, where mine’s like a 45 minute routine, and seeing how relaxed and peaceful the morning time is for them is inspiring for me. It’s like, “Maybe I should take a little more time in my morning.” It’s lessons and ideas like that that hopefully further the discussion for our guys around how they should live their lives – and potentially how Harry’s could fit into those experiences – that we find to be, hopefully, compelling. As we want to be a brand that our guys can really trust, we felt like it was important to start to talk to them about those things that transcend the actual act of shaving.

Amanda: Absolutely. There was one – I forget what the subject’s name was but he goes to Dunkin’ Donuts every morning and gets a small coffee, and he pokes it with a fork. And I was like, “I’m using that for the rest of my life. This is fantastic.”

Jeff: Right he stops there in his drive on his way to work because there’s no one at that Dunkin’ Donuts.

Amanda: And he doesn’t even drink it, he just tosses it. That’s me. I like the idea of coffee and then it goes cold and I just throw it away.

Amanda: Jeff explained that, like Warby Parker, it’s important for the brand to exist in the physical realm. Customers must have an outlet to touch and feel physical products. And at the brand’s SoHo based barber shop, customers can come feel the difference for themselves in a cool, laid back atmosphere that other brands can’t give.

Amanda: Another really cool part of Harry’s is that you have a physical location. So first and foremost you’re an online retailer, keeping prices low. You also have this physical location, much like Warby Parker with 121 Green, that people can come in an explore and touch and feel things. How important is that in brand exploration for people that are based in New York – because that’s the location that you guys are at – how important is that to have a place to come and just hang out with the product?

Jeff: Our physical location is a barber shop called the Harry’s Corner Shop which is on MacDougal and Houston, and to me that’s probably the most intimate experience that you can have with the brand and with the people in the brand. It serves a few things. One, we hope that when you walk in the barber shop you feel like it’s the place where Harry’s lives. It’s a world that we’ve been able to create and a physical context that you can get around the brand itself and what we mean and stand for. It’s light, airy, really cleanly designed, with our products and other grooming products that we think highly of, because we want people to be exposed to the best things out in the market. And then some daily items that you might find in your life that you can pick up at the barber shop. Anything from a bike lock to a bottle opener to a white Hanes t-shirt that you can wear out of the shop if you get too much hair on your clothes. And then we give haircuts and shaves at the barber shop. And I think a really great and intimate experience in guys’ lives is these relationships they have with their barber in the barber chair. And in those relationships you can talk about life and everything, but you can also talk about how you take care of yourself and how you should take care of your hair, or how you should shave. And for us, having people on our team who are experts in men’s grooming and in shaving is just a really valuable and important thing. So if someone is not having a great experience shaving with another brand and they really want to try Harry’s, we might suggest that they go to the barber shop, get a barber shave, have the barber talk to them about their own facial hair and the way that it grows and the way that they may want to take care of it, and if they used a Harry’s razor how they should actually shave. And I think that creates a really important piece of education and a great intimate experience that someone can have with the brand that then sets them out on the right foot in terms of using our product.

Amanda: Yeah and it really pays homage to the old school American barber shop where that was a place you go and you hung out with people and you just talked, and that’s really part of the brand too.

Jeff: Yeah for sure. And we chose that location because, while it’s in SoHo, it’s also one of the most vibrant actual neighborhoods that are left in SoHo. We wanted it to feel like a neighborhood shop that was small and intimate where you can have really good conversations with the people in the shop.

Amanda: For Jeff, impact is more than a bottom line statement or an add-on that makes the brand look good. Warby Parker adopted the one-for-one model and now Harry’s is involved in some very special students’ lives through City Year. Collectively, the team donates one percent of profits and one percent of time to organizations that do good.

Amanda: You guys make it really clear on your “About Us” section that you donate one percent of profits and one percent of time to City Year. Is that the organization? Why have you chosen them as a partner? What is it about them that really resonates with you and makes you want to support them?

Jeff: As you mentioned we donate one percent of our sale. We hope there that customers feel like that by purchasing at Harry’s they are also giving back along with us. And then we donate one percent of our team’s time, which this year is going to be over a thousand hours of time total, to organizations. City Year is our main partner. And City Year is an organization that I got to know right after I graduated from college. At my first job I worked on a project with City Year in New York helping them think about their growth strategy, and I was just blown away by the impact that they were having in the local communities that they were working in. And maybe even more importantly on the impact that they were having on the volunteers, the core members, who were working for City Year. City Year is an organization that takes people who are just graduated from high school or just graduated from college and they give them a year of service in a relatively underprivileged community helping younger kids. And they really focus on helping kids stay in school and being highly engaged to avoid them dropping out. And when you think about the fact that you can take an 18 year old man or woman and put them in that situation and make them a real leader in the community, it was so clear that it was having tremendous benefits on the community and on those people in terms of their personal growth. As we think about Harry’s and supporting this journey of a guy from waking up to going to work, a really important thing is being prepared and being personally and professionally ready to take on what’s next. And we felt like City Year’s mission tied in so well with that, helping people to become personally and professionally ready to take on what’s next and really help them grow. I’ve been tremendously inspired by the organization from the moment I had the chance to work with them and I think our missions tie in really well with one another. And they’ve been an amazing partner of ours. We’re really excited about the impact that we’ve been able to have on the organization from a monetary perspective but also we’re working on a bunch of really cool projects with them where we use the skills we have here at Harry’s to really push the organization forward in meaningful ways.

Amanda: What a beautiful story. That is amazing. You have some experience working in the B-Corp space. Warby Parker is one of the most famous for being a B-Corp. What do brands, specifically commercial brands, need to realize today about the impact of giving back and the customer’s eyes? What does that mean when they see a brand that is doing good in the community?

Jeff: First and foremost it has to be genuine. You have to actually really want to have impact in the world and do it in the way that is most compelling for your brand and for your team, and most relevant for the people that you’re trying to help. For us, from the day that we started thinking about building Warby Parker and then the day that we started thinking about building Harry’s it was always about doing good for lots of different stakeholders, which is really what being a B-Corp is all about. It’s about doing good for our customers and delivering them an amazing product at great value, it’s about doing good for our employees making sure that they have incredible experiences here and they can grow personally and professionally, and that we have policies in place that reinforce that. And then it’s doing good in the community more broadly and making sure that we’re not just about selling razors, and we’re not just about educating customers on the journey of their lives and showing them other journeys, but we’re also about doing good in the community in what way we can. At Warby Parker we donate a pair of glasses for someone in need for every pair of glasses that we sell. And there I think the impact is so tangible in that when you give someone a pair of glasses and they’re able to see for the first time, it literally changes their life. A farmer can now see the seeds and count them in a way that he couldn’t before. At Harry’s, what we found really early on was when we were talking to all these organizations here about helping them, what they said was, “It would be great if you could make a monetary donation, we also appreciate it, but equally important – we have all these projects and you guys have all these amazing skills as a startup, could you help us with some of these projects? A web engineering project or a design project. How do we market our organization? Or how you think about serving our core members in the way that you serve your customers?” So we got really excited about volunteering alongside them and felt like, by doing that, we could have the biggest impact. I think it’s about having that as part of an ethos for the company from day one and then figuring out how our company can have the most positive impact in the world around us.

Amanda: That’s fantastic. Well Jeff I am such a fan of everything that you do. It’s so clear that you have such a heart for everything that you touch, whether it’s a brand designing for experiences or touching the life of someone that you help benefit through that brand. I’m just a really big fan. So just personally, thank you for what you do and thank you for painting brands in a positive light. I feel like they get a lot of flack for just being corporate behemoths and you’re really changing that. Thank you, from me personally!

Jeff: Thank you. We get inspired by other amazing brands every single day. And it’s been an amazing experience to get to build both Warby Parker and Harry’s. They’re still young so hopefully we will be able to have a lot more positive impact as we continue to grow.

Amanda: Absolutely, there’s a lot of life in both of them.

Amanda: Thank you loyal listeners for tuning in. While you’re listening we’d love if you would give On Branding a rating or review on iTunes. And don’t forget to visit us on the Phase 3 show page at phase3mc.com/onbranding. No matter where you go you’re brand is always on, so take On Branding with you.