I make no secret of my admiration of the Oneblade razor. I have tried a lot of razors over the years and I think the OneBlade might be the best of both worlds: a single-bladed razor but with a pivot. I am also lucky that the CEO of OneBlade, Tod Barrett, is not only nearby (well, a day trip anyway) but approachable and well-spoken. So in the spirit of the vendor interviews I’ve recently done both on Youtube and Sharpologist, Tod and I sat down for a chat about the razor and the company.
Where did the idea for OneBlade come from?
Great question! In my experience with new products and new product companies, there is always a story….some are made up, some are significantly embellished and a few are true. Ours is true. I know this because of how and when I entered into the story and by the first hand accounts that I have heard from three of the guys who were present at the moment of inspiration. Porter Stansberry, our founder, was with a group of friends traveling in Italy. One of those friends, Marco Ferri, who happens to be our corporate counsel, has family in San Marino. Marco suggested that they all go to the local barber in San Marino and get a proper straight razor shave. They did, and it changed Porter’s life, and became the seed of an idea that grew into OneBlade.
How did you become involved?
Porter Stansberry contacted me in early 2013 via a corporate recruiter. At the time, I was running another company in the consumer product category. I was contacted because I had the product development and manufacturing experience that Porter was looking for. There were four or five critical aspects to a job opportunity that were very important to me and the opportunity that Porter was offering me was a perfect match. At that time, the company had been registered, but there were no active employees. OneBlade was only a concept in Porter’s mind in terms of the product and the business was only in the planning stages. I was dramatically drawn to the opportunity for a number of reasons, but the key reason I have to admit was the opportunity to develop a completely new and innovative product to address a very palpable need, the need for men to be able to enjoy, relax, conquer, and focus all in the experience of achieving a close, comfortable shave with minimal to no irritation, nicks or cuts.
What are your duties?
My responsibilities at OneBlade as the CEO are fairly broad. Given the demands of managing a multi-million dollar revenue stream and given the breadth of our activities, from manufacturing to marketing to serving our OneBlade clients, my list of things to do is as broad as it is long – which I thoroughly enjoy. We have some extraordinary outside resources who have partnered with us as though they were owners of OneBlade, these individuals have made a huge impact on every aspect of our business. Key resources include our product design team, led by Mark Prommel of PENSA, Troy Stringfield, who has been critical in terms of developing our operations, including our ecommerce platform and overseeing our marketing team. Diko Daghlian and his team at Diko Creative, brought the overall creative muscle in terms of our packaging and overall look and feel of our site. The Wellington Group and Jenn Short, in particular, were really helpful with our overall PR effort this past year.
Who is the OneBlade designed for?
The ultimate question! Well, its you, its me, its the man who is working towards living life proactively vs. reactively. There is a renaissance of sorts happening in men’s shaving. Men are understanding, in many cases for the first time, that there are plenty of choices when it comes to shaving methods and certainly many options in terms of the products available. Most of the recent activity in the shaving category has been a result of the $100m+ dollars spent by Dollar Shave Club and by Harry’s along with big media spends relative infomercial products such as the Micro Touch One. Most of the current messaging is focused on driving men to save money when it comes to shaving. Our message is unique in that we are encouraging men to enjoy shaving. We aren’t asking them to choose it as a hobby, but to become proficient at shaving with our razor and enjoy both the process and the outcome. The best analogy for me is in the realm of cars and driving. In most cases, a Ford F150 will work just fine to get you from point A to point B. However, the potential enjoyment that you can have making that same trip in a Porsche, Mercedes, Land Rover or you name your favorite late model high end car, is dramatically greater. The difference is multi-faceted – the handling, the quality of the ride, the audio experience, the sense of control and protection, the confidence, and the distinction of choosing the best. Our customer is the proven adventurer, he is confident, inclined towards discovery and takes on challenges with the goal of experiencing the best that life has to offer. Our customer owns the very best tools and he gains satisfaction in learning how to use them proficiently.
What is the “philosophy” of OneBlade, both as a company and as a razor?
Our philosophy as a company is that by finding the right customers for our razor and helping them succeed in experiencing what a truly amazing shave feels like, we will gain their trust and loyalty.
Give me a feel for some of the engineering and manufacturing challenges. What was the most difficult part of the design (engineering-wise)?
The best answer to your question lies in understanding the whole premise of our R & D effort, and that is that we took a ‘no holds barred’ path to build the world’s best shaving tool. A tool that would deliver the very best shaving experience. We did not limit our design budget, nor did we limit our design with any type of cost of goods sold or target retail cost constraint, which are all very typical parameters in most any product development effort. The research part of our development effort took about six months and really set the stage for a number of challenges on the engineering front. The list of challenges is long due to the fact that we did not assume any product aspect of existing products in the category. Initially, our product design efforts allowed for a completely new blade design. The freedom of having our own blade design, coupled with the extraordinary challenge of achieving our ultimate goal, with was to have razor that was all at once mild, forgiving and yet delivered a BBS shave. – this was easily the hardest challenge.
Manufacturing: Wow, another big question…there are over 50 major manufacturing steps involved in producing our razor so the answer is ‘everything’ is difficult. We could spend a whole day on this question, but I can say that the more difficult steps in production are the machining steps on the handle and head parts, the hand polishing and brushing process and the matching and final assembly of the head parts as well as the process of matching and assembling the head assembly to the handle. I can easily say that the last 50% of our manufacturing process/effort is on par with the challenge of producing fine jewelry.
There has been a lot of discussion in the wet shaving community about OneBlade’s choice of blade, the Feather single edge. Why was that blade chosen? What concerns do you have that there is only one manufacturing source for the blade? Why did OneBlade become the exclusive North American distributor of that blade?
I will take your word for it that the discussions have been numerous. We certainly have customers ask us about the reliability of supply. The answer to the question about why we chose the FHS blade is simple: it fit exactly with the parameters that we had specified in our own proprietary blade design. We did not discover the FHS blade until late in our process and as we were having trouble getting a supplier in place for our own blade design, we found the FHS blade and most importantly it was an amazing match for our head geometry.
Our goal with Jatai, and ultimately Feather is to continue to grow a closer and more strategic relationship with them. Feather is a very profitable company that has been in business for over 70 years and is fairly diversified in their business activities. About as stable of a supplier as one can get these days.
On the other side of the coin, can you give us an idea of how the visual “look” of the razor was conceived and developed? How long did the process take?
This is a very appropriate moment to give credit to the team of guys at PENSA New York who definitely deserve the credit when it comes to the look and feel of the razor. The process of getting to the appearance of our final product was definitely an iterative one.
We went through 4 -5 main steps in the development of the look and feel of the razor. I would say that the most influential step in this process had to do with what I call the storyboarding part of the process. Before there were any renderings or drawings, there was a meeting room at PENSA that had three walls completely covered with pictures, lot of pictures. It was a chance for us to all see what the key factors of the design that we had been talking about might look like in terms of pictures of other products, places, buildings and people that conveyed the ‘words’ that we had all been talking about. This was both an exploring and narrowing function in the overall process. The outcome of this process set the stage for a very efficient 3D exploration
OneBlade has been on the market about a year now. How has the market responded to the product? What development or reaction has surprised you the most?
Admittedly, the level of very favorable responses has actually caught me off guard on a number of occasions. I knew that we were going to not only need to introduce our product to the market but also, we needed to educate the market that there was a need for and an opportunity to enjoy a premium shaving experience (the hardest part)
The development that has surprised me the most is just how naive men are when it comes to all things shaving. I can comfortable say that more than 90% of men under 60 years old have never experienced a proper straight razor shave from a barber, let alone a barber that actually knew what he was doing. There are an equal # of men in the same age bracket that don’t know the difference between a cartridge razor, a safety razor and a straight razor! There is a huge opportunity here because you and I both know what an amazing experience it is to lay back in a comfortable barber chair and have a skilled barber give you a shave with a straight razor.
How did the “lifetime” guarantee come about?
Frankly, it was an easy decision. The design, construction, and materials that we use to make each OneBlade Razor really dictate how we were able to look at the reliability and durability of the razor. Our QC process is extremely rigorous and reliable so as a result, our confidence in the product and its’ ability to last a lifetime made the conclusion obvious.
What’s next for OneBlade? Are you planning related hardware (like a less expensive version) or other men’s shaving/grooming products?
We have been continuing our development efforts in three areas, Razors, Blades and accessories. We are planning to announce additional products in each of these categories for 2017. The key for us as a very new company is to stay focused on our passion. Certainly that means we have to continue making sure that each OneBlade Razor that comes off of our production line is completely consistent with our specifications. Being focused on our passion also means that we place a huge emphasis on helping men around the world to learn about our current OneBlade Razor. We are very excited about our results to date, however we know that our message has only reached a VERY small # of men. We can’t wait to expand our marketing efforts to effectively share our opportunity with a much larger audience.