A couple weeks ago I briefly mentioned the Indegogo campaign for BornSharp, a self-sharpening razor. There were a lot of comments about it so I had an email chat with Steve Worthington, the inventor of BornSharp, to discuss his brainchild.
Q: What was your inspiration for creating BornSharp?
A: Funny, I would like to say that I’ve tried every kind of shaving/hair removal process that there is, but I am sure that you, as the Sharpologist, have tried a few more than I have. Suffice it to say that as I have a pretty thick Nordic beard combined with baby face skin, I’ve been in search of the perfect shave for several decades.
I came of shaving age in the early 1970s just as the double edge Gillette Slim type models were being replaced by the Trac II and the Twin II from Wilkinson. I’ve never been a fan of plastic and I appreciated the mechanical elegance of my father’s Slim (I’d snuck in a few shaves using it).
Over the years, it just seemed to get more ridiculous with more and more blades. Back then, I bought the “second one catches the hair before it snaps back” (hysteresis) proposition. But when razor cartridges went to 3, then 4 and then 5 blades, my own experience as a shaver (and a businessman) enabled me to see the truth: More blades primarily produced more ingrown hairs due to the mechanical damage of more and more blades tugging and pulling at my face one right after the other – and seemingly, more profits for the cartridge manufacturers.
As the years went by, I started trying everything available including ancient and modern hardware. It became very apparent to me that a quality shaving brush and shave cream produced a great shave that was much closer, more comfortable and far less damaging. Once I realized these traditional tools produced lather so superior to that of foam from aerosol cans, I started acquiring and testing all kinds of traditional equipment, especially razors: single edge (SE), double edge (DE) and even older/lesser known stuff like the SE wedges such as Rapide, Gem and Empire.
What I saw with all of these great designs was that you could get a really good, sustainable shave. My search continued – there was a lot to learn. Sometimes I had the time to hone and strop my single edge wedges and regular SEs, and sometimes I was in too much of a hurry in the morning. I grew to really like the ritual of shaving – when I have time. I got hooked on the great edge of SE razors. I also occasionally enjoyed my father’s Gillette Slim (also James Bond’s preferred razor in Goldfinger).
It was on a business trip to New York, I realized that I had to shave with either a dull blade (that would likely get its pound of flesh from my face) or brave the winter streets for a new cartridge late one Sunday evening. I ended up in a grim 24-hour pharmacy filled with people who looked like something out of Creature Features. I parted with 25 bucks for several cartridges and knew I’d be lucky if they lasted a month.
It was then I decided: something has to be done about this razor blade craziness. When I was eight years old, I was pretty sure I was going to be either an astronaut or an inventor. With inventors and tinkerers in my family background, and my own degrees in mechanical engineering and business economics as well as some experience in both disciplines, I realized it was time for me to get to work on the problem and actually invent product that provides a better way to shave.
Q: Can you tell us about the development process you took for BornSharp?
A: My initial thoughts were to start with the best razor technologies, then automate them with electronics and firmware, just as other consumer durable goods have been reinvented with the latest computer technology (e.g., the electric toothbrushes and ultrasonic skin cleaning systems).
The razor was pretty straightforward mechanical engineering – a precision, extensible, hollow ground SE blade that can be extended for sharpening, all within the form of a DE razor for ease of use, comfort and safety. Designing, making and prototyping the Sharpening Port was the really interesting challenge. Our groundbreaking design was the result of applying revolutionary techniques from Makers: The New Industrial Revolution and seeking out experts to integrate it all.
Just because no one had yet succeeded with a fully automatic self-sharpening razor system didn’t mean it couldn’t be done. It seemed to me and our team that the existing entrenched disposable players had little incentive to offer something durable, given their margins, recurring revenue model, and a customer base with few alternatives.
Using the latest technologies and product design techniques enabled us to bring together leading developments from a variety of disciplines, more rapidly and effectively than ever before in the creation of a new shaving system. The availability of rapid CAD/CAM software like Solidworks and 3D printing equipment made it possible for us to go through four rounds of prototyping in a short period of time – of course, it was never quick enough for me. The BornSharp Sharpening Port has the same highly accurate microcomputer controlled stepper motors and field programmable Arduino chipsets as the 3D printers leading the maker revolution. Both use highly precise robotics.
As the team creates prototypes, we and a group of independent testers shave with them to get detailed, diverse testing data and feedback. Last year, I went to the Great Shave 2012 and showed one of our earlier prototypes to several experts. Feedback from that event enabled us to make a lighter razor with the same form factor, but only 2/3 the weight, providing exquisite balance and better performance. And we decided to make blades interchangeable, to accommodate various designs as well as replacement blades. We also decided to make the handles interchangeable as well. It was important to us that the razor be familiar in terms of form, feel and use and allow for a light pass, with absolutely no tugging. Equally critical was a fully automated Sharpening Port that was durable, easy to clean and enabled easily adjustable blade angle and sharpness.
To accomplish this, we engaged a well-regarded industrial designer, ran focus groups, engaged an award-winning production-engineering firm and were excited to connect with a brilliant software/firmware engineer. Rounding out the team is a leading specialty blade manufacturer whose senior level engineering team has over 100 years of experience working for shaving’s “Big 3”.
After two years and four rounds of prototyping with rigorous field-testing and user feedback, we launched our crowd funding campaign. Though we knew we’re on the right track, we’ve been delighted to see hear from many people offering us their passionate encouragement, ideas and assistance.
Q: How do you respond to those who are concerned with the relatively high price of BornSharp?
Yes, there is a higher upfront cost for BornSharp, but it’s for a system that provides quality consistent shaves for years, not a few days. The Shaving Industrial Complex has trained us to think in cost per month or cost per disposable blade – not total cost of ownership over a five-year period (about 2,000 shaves). We were looking for a long-term solution that didn’t use the “just sell them more blades as often as possible” disposable model. We’ve created a durable product designed to last for decades.
Traditional DE razor fans enjoy the fully-amortized low cost of those blades, and won’t see a comparative cost-saving benefit from BornSharp. That market niche is firmly established, and classic shaving enthusiasts aren’t our initial target market. That said, we look forward to the time when economies of scale enable us to introduce lower priced models that will make the cost saving benefits of BornSharp attractive to a growing target market, including traditional shavers.
Top of the line disposable cartridge shavers who change blades weekly will most readily recognize the benefits of BornSharp, particularly its cost savings. Cartridge shavers experimenting with traditional SE/DE shaving, but whose search is not yet satisfied, will also find the distinctive BornSharp advantages compelling.
Q: Who are you aiming the BornSharp product at?
A: People who take grooming seriously, prefer durable over disposable, and are willing to pay a bit more for a total shaving experience. They typically buy premium razors (single and double edge) for which they may also acquire specialty handles.
Gadget loving early adopters. There are quite a few people out there who embrace new technology and who really don’t like the rapid decline in their shaving experience that occurs in all cartridges after just days of use.
The environmentally aware. We’re targeting the growing number of people concerned with disposable waste. Razor blades were the first mass marketed product in America that ushered in the disposable age. A century later, 200 million disposable blades and cartridges are now thrown away every month in the US alone, Disposable razors and cartridges are among the non-biodegradable waste that poses an ever-greater global environmental threat, and have been observed in the nightmarish, vast and rapidly growing great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Seekers of high quality and convenience. People like myself, who love a great straight razor shave, and wish they could have one every day, but just don’t have the extra time to maintain the edge, and perhaps do not have the time or desire to invest learning how to use, maintain, and buy the equipment required for classic SR use and maintenance.
That said, what shaver doesn’t prefer a well-sharpened blade that can hold a great edge? With the traditional shaving and barbershop revival, more and more men are discovering the distinctive pleasure and real advantages of a quality, traditional shave with a brush, good quality cream and a straight edge razor. Our product allows customers to have that quality shave in their home the other six days of the week.
Lovers of sharp, customizable, dependable blades. The consistency, customizability and constancy of the BornSharp edge are qualities we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback about. People love that they can dial in the blade angle and level of sharpness to get exactly the shave they want – every time.
Men and women. BornSharp is not just for men. We’ve gotten quite a bit of feedback from women, are well aware of their distinct views on shaving and products, and have designed and are developing BornSharp to appeal both to men and women.
We’re confident of our target market. Of the several brands that have grown rapidly focusing on this market, none has done it more successfully than The Art of Shaving. My partner Marijana Sarich was one of the key team members who contributed to the growth and success of TAOS from inception to its recent acquisition by Gillette/P&G.
Q: Have you ever heard of the Rolls Razor vintage razor sharpening system?
A: Sure, we know the Rolls Razor, Ronson, Valet Auto Strop and a few other self-sharpening systems. While I didn’t know them well prior to starting BornSharp, we’ve looked deeply into their engineering, functionality, performance and durability – the later of which is probably their strongest feature, having stood the test of time. An interesting side story a lot of people don’t know is that Henry Geisman, founder of The AutoStrop Corp, ended up controlling Gillette in the early 1930’s. It’s an interesting story detailed in Cutting Edge: Gillette’s Journey to Global Leadership by Gordon McKibben.
It is key to understand that the BornSharp Self-Sharpening Razor System (SRS) is fully automated, not manual product. People who like technology and gadgets as well as people who appreciate the convenience of a fresh edge every day will appreciate that our product uses the same precision technology as that found in the latest 3D printers.
Q: What happens after the five year estimated life of the blade and sharpening system?
A: After five years BornSharp customers receive a factory rebuild of the sharpening system and replacement of the blade, at a price of less than $100 – guaranteed. The complete system is engineered to last decades.
Q: Although BornSharp is not an “adjustable” razor in the classic sense of adjusting the blade gap, can you describe how the razor’s characteristics can be changed?
A: The blade angle can be adjusted via incremental blade extension and the sharpness set via sharpening time. Incremental blade extension produces a similar result to the blade angle bending used in common DE razors.
Based upon tester and market research, we’re considering an adjustable blade gap as well. We encourage users to suggest additional features, and have been getting a variety of useful ideas… If you’ve got a shaving razor idea, dream, wish or suggestion, no matter how practical or feasible it may seem, we want to hear from you.
The enthusiastic response we’ve gotten just since our launch announcement has been tremendous. We’ve gotten quite a few emails with useful suggestions and offers of help from people who’ve become just as excited and engaged by the BornSharp vision as we are. Please do keep them coming!
Communicating with smart, passionate, knowledgeable shavers who’re willing to engage with us and our product intelligently and give constructive criticism, is invaluable. That’s part of why we really appreciate having the chance to talk with you, Mark. And we appreciate that you are sharing information about our product with your followers.
(Note from mantic59: I have no financial stake in the project.)