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Consumer

Michael Dubin

CEO & Founder, Dollar Shave Club

In July, Unilever acquired Dollar Shave Club (DSC) for a cool $1B. The European legacy company that produces Dove, Axe and dozens of other brands hoped the purchase would help them challenge Proctor & Gamble’s Gillette. But what’s in it for the Marina Del Rey-based startup? Why sell to the exact type of company they were trying to disrupt?

“It was never our goal to be acquired,” says DSC founder Michael Dubin. “I didn’t get into this business looking to get out of this business. But when Unilever approached us—first about an advisory role for one of their key leaders, then about an investment—we realized acquisition would put everyone in the best position to achieve our vision in its fullest form.”

That vision, according to Dubin, is simple: create a complete line of men’s grooming products that can survive in “an Amazon world.” When anything’s available at the click of a button, he believes the companies that will survive are those that create an experience for their customers—build an emotional relationship through branding, service and, increasingly, through content. As part of Disruption‘s special Los Angeles issue, we caught up with the 38-year-old entrepreneur at his stunning open-air office.

Life after the $1B Unilever acquisiton

“I feel good… But it’s funny how our lives are perceived to be after the acquisition. A lot of people think that’s the end of the journey. They’re asking me, “What’s next for you?” What’s next is nothing different. We’re continuing on our journey and the acquisition simply put us in the best possible position [for that]. So, clearing up any misconception: This is just the beginning of the next chapter for DSC.”

So, how are you feeling post acquisition?

“I’ll say it like this: There are lot of companies focused on the razor business. We weren’t the first to sell blades on the internet, and we certainly won’t be the last. But the way we think about DSC is about building an experience… creating an emotional connection with our customers. One of the ways we’ve done that, for example, is with our editorial content—using our site to fill the gap in the men’s lifestyle space that falls between BroBible and GQ. Those kinds of things keep people engaged.

What it comes down to is being a brand that services both the male body and mind—that provides a sense of belonging and gives our customers a voice in creating the brand… that’s how companies are going to succeed in an Amazon world.”

And what might that chapter include?

Michael-Dubin-Dollar-Shave-Club-Disruption

“There’s a saying that I’ll butcher and that I didn’t invent, which is: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ That’s absolutely true. The best thing a founder can do… is be very self-honest and self-aware. Say to yourself, ‘Here’s where I’m good, here’s where I’m not good.’ Then go out and find people that complement your deficiencies.”

Would you say that's the most important thing for a startup? Connecting to customers?

“In the beginning, I interviewed everyone. And even though I wish I could still do that, we have 205 employees now. So, I obviously can’t meet every candidate. What I hope is that by having chosen great people in the first place, they’ll go on to hire even more great people—and then those people will hire even better people. We’re very careful about who we invite into the family.”

Does that mean you're very involved in hiring?

Michael-Dubin-Dollar-Shave-Club-Disruption

“In the very beginning, on March 6, 2012, we launched a video that’s still on our homepage. It generated more traffic than the site could handle, and we crashed; there were more orders than our inventory could handle. The next three months were a really trying time—among the hardest for the company—with a lot of questions from customers: ‘When would we get the servers back online? When would our product come back in stock?’ But fortunately I had hired the right people—engineers who could get the servers back online, for example—and they were able to get us through it. I couldn’t have done it myself.”

When has the DSC family come to your rescue?

“When I do interview people, I know they’re a fit in the way they talk about their experience—in their passion and confidence. I like when people take control of the interview and let me know things [they see] about my business that I may not… My favorite question to ask is actually, ‘What can you tell me or help me prepare for in my business that I don’t already know?’… I can usually tell right then if it’s somebody I want to work with.”

What makes someone a fit?

Michael-Dubin-Dollar-Shave-Club-Disruption

“DSC was founded about a year after I moved to Los Angeles… but I think the market [here] now is very different than it was when I started DSC back in 2011. It used to be harder to find certain types of talent… harder to get people to think about Los Angeles as a place to move for serious tech business. That’s very different now.”

Why found the company in Los Angeles?

So, I am an East Coaster—born in Philly, lived in New York City for eight years. I have that East Coast pace built in. I don’t often wear a t-shirt to work, for example. But at DSC, we take the best elements of California and weave them into our culture and our space—just take our beautiful open-air office. I will say that people work really hard here. In our office, there are employees who get in at 7:30 and who leave at 8:30 at night. I find that people in this city tend to do what they love and stick with it. I don’t know if that’s a California thing, but I like it.”

As an East Coaster, is it ever tough working out West?

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