Identifying a gap in the razor market, Michael Dubin staked his claim with the massively successful Dollar Shave Club.
If you’re not a member, you probably know someone who is. Or at least you’ve seen a commercial or ad somewhere. But the story behind this ubiquitous company goes a lot deeper than you might think. Michael Dubin changed the game with his revolutionary concept.
Michael Dubin saw what other razor companies were doing and thought he could do it better.
His many fans would say he succeeded. But what did he really do to bring people a commodity in a unique way? Let's explore his roots and where his passion for entrepreneurship began.
Who is Michael Dubin?
His mother likely played a role in his knack for numbers. Nancy Dubin said even snow days in their Philadelphia-area home were filled with math problems. That was how the kids were instructed to spend their time. And back then, she said it seemed like torture.
"They hated it," she said. "Michael, to this day, they make fun of me. 'You made us do school (when) all the other kids were out playing.' And I said, 'Well, it didn't hurt you any.'
Michael Dubin's mom said her entrepreneur son "would agree" in retrospect. "It really instilled the whole idea that work and play are both important," she said.
A biting sense of humor led him to pursue improv classes. That gave him a leg up when he was producing his very own viral commercial when Dollar Shave Club launched. Years later, it was his mother's counsel he sought when big companies were making big offers on his business.
What is he known for?
Michael Dubin is known as the wisecracking entrepreneur who set out to disrupt an entire industry. His strategy included guerrilla marketing touting quality razors for a cheap price. In the early days of his company, he starred in his own online videos. They were often tongue in cheek and meant to be shared extensively on the internet.
One of the most viral has received tens of millions of views. It gained widespread attention for an unusually indecent tagline delivered by Dubin himself. "Our blades are f***ing great," he declares from the company's factory.
What is Dollar Shave Club?
Strangely enough, Dubin compares his company to Starbucks. One sells coffee in stores while the other sends razors to your house. But for this innovative entrepreneur, the parallels come in how the business presents itself. He created Dollar Shave Club to be the Starbucks of the razor industry. Just like Starbucks reinvented a commodity -- coffee -- to be cool and fresh, Dubin saw the same thing for razors.
"They built a shared language around it and created space for it," he said of Starbucks. "They created a church for this brand."
He cited the frustration of guys who encountered the "razor fortress" at stores that had to be unlocked before purchase. Then, he said, they were hit again by the high prices of the products under lock and key.
"The whole thing is unnecessary," he said.
Instead of trying to enter the market that existed, Michael Dubin instead chose to disrupt it. Millions of subscribers have already signaled their support of his business model.
"Life can be monotonous and dull and nothing fun comes in your mail anymore," he said.
In addition to razors, the funnyman's company also includes some light reading material. The Bathroom Minutes, as it's called, includes witty articles and odd facts to help pass the time when nature calls.
How did he build his company?
It might not make sense to look at Michael Dubin's success from the perspective of a razor magnate. Instead, what he did to grow Dollar Shave Club could have been applied to almost any commodity. First, he started with his strengths. One of those is his undeniable quick wit. For eight years in the early 2000s, he studied improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade. During his time in New York, he honed his craft. That gave him leverage to use when promoting his business in its infancy. He said the experience taught him "what's funny or why the audience laughs." And he certainly seized upon that in getting his brand's name out there through funny videos. He said improv "trains your brain to find what's funny about a situation."
In turn, he said that "helps the advertising we do."
That knowledge also gives him a leg up in other corporate settings. In important meetings where "decisions have to get made," he said improv training comes into play. "It really helps to be schooled in a discipline of quick thinking," he said. "That's what improv really is."
What allowed Michael Dubin to break into an industry dominated by Gillette and other corporate giants?
First of all, he convinced a dubious investor to change her mind early on. Kirsten Green recalled a meeting at a time she would have been skeptical of any pitch to enter the razor market.
“If anyone else had brought me the idea, I would have said, ‘Well, it’s a tough category with lots of global competitors,” she said.
Instead, the tall, young, preppy entrepreneur was able to convince her. Green said that with the “first 10 minutes of meeting Michael,” she had been “completely drawn into his idea and vision and him.” Since then, he’s gotten countless others to buy in to his revolutionary idea.
But what was it about his Dollar Razor Club that resonated with so many subscribers?
For starters, there is the sense of reward found through tech subscription boxes. But beyond that, it probably makes sense to take a look at the man behind the idea. Michael Dubin already had a rich business history at a young age. And when he started to develop his big idea, it took off beyond almost anybody’s dreams. Anybody, that is, except for Michael Dubin.
The road to the top, however, has not been all fun and games. Gillette's parent company launched a lawsuit against Dollar Shave Club for patent infringement. Michael Dubin can even see the silver lining in that situation, though.
"It's a wonderful acknowledgement that you've actually cracked the code and found something of value," he said.
What does he credit for his success?
Michael Dubin backed up his funny side with an incredibly strong work ethic. When he sold the company to Unilever in 2016, it beat all expectations. Dollar Shave Club went for $1 billion, or roughly 5 times the company's annual revenue.
And even after spending much more than anticipated, Unilever still felt like it got a bargain. The company's president of personal care explained why Unilever wanted to buy the upstart competitor.
"Guys who sign up, stick with the brand," Alan Jope said. He cited reports that show more than half of subscribers lasted for more than a year.
He helped establish that loyal customer base with witty marketing that called out the status quo. Michael Dubin's early ads were low budget but effective at touching on frustrations about the industry.
A friend said "a hell of a lot more people" told him was "a foolish idea" in those days. He didn't listen. To hear his many fans -- and Unilever -- tell it, Dubin has been successful.
Dollar Shave Club's new parent company described the "cult-like" following. Jope said Michael Dubin is the driving force behind it all. He cited "Michael's extraordinary approach to marketing, his great sense of humor, and also his vision."
Michael Dubin is more than "the fun guy you see in the commercials," Jope said. The innovative improvising entrepreneur is "also a shrewd and committed business leader."
What are his plans for the future?
Michael Dubin has always dreamed big. His mom said that was clear when Unilever offered him a staggering sum for his company.
"Michael says to me, 'This is how the conversation went, mom,'" Nancy Dubin said. "'Oh, you want to buy into my company? OK. How much? Four hundred million dollars? No, I'm sorry, that won't be enough."
When he finally negotiated a price more than double that amount, his big bet paid off even bigger. While he's still known as the face of the brand he created, Nancy Dubin said the future remains unknown. That's just how her son looks at the world. When Dollar Shave Club's revenues started shooting up, she said he told her something.
"This is not what I'm going to do for the rest of my life," he said, according to his mom.
Nancy Dubin said her son is "too interested in too many things that he doesn't know what those things are yet."
So is Michael Dubin's big idea for razors right for you?
Millions of folks have ordered his box of razors. A significant portion remained loyal to the brand both for its product and for the unique experience. We hope you enjoyed a deeper look into the mind behind this company. In the end, his mix of humor and hard work led to a big payoff. He's also become a marketing and entrepreneurial legend for his unorthodox but successful strategies. To determine whether you might be one of Dollar Shave Club's loyal customers, consider the following:
- Do you enjoy the convenience and novelty of receiving scheduled packages?
- Are you frustrated by the way you are currently purchasing razors?
- Do you like to do things differently than they are ordinarily done?
If you answered yes to these questions, Dollar Shave Club might be for you. And if you have any Michael Dubin questions we didn't tackle, let us know in the comments section below.
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