Walker And Company
Garage|April - May 2017

These Stories Didn't Develop websites. They started there

Jefrrey Philips

The world might be a mess, but look on the bright side: Men’s shaving products are much better than they used to be.

Thanks to several online shaving startups, razors, creams, gels and other paraphernalia are now cheaper, of higher quality and more convenient to purchase than ever before. Last week one of the upstarts, Dollar Shave Club, was acquired by consumer-products giant Unilever for $1 billion. For shaving behemoths like Gillette, it is the first skirmish in the coming guerrilla war for men’s faces, not to mention other parts. (Dollar Shave also makes bathroom wipes for men.)

This column usually focuses on the technology industry, an area that sounds far removed from shaving. But the Dollar Shave acquisition signals something bigger than a mere improvement in shaving — it also underscores a consumer products revolution that would not have been possible without technology.

Hilarious online ads passed along social networks allowed Dollar Shave to create instant customer recognition — in other words, a brand — far more quickly, and for far less money, than a shaving company could have managed a decade ago. Online distribution allowed it to get products into consumers’ hands without a costly retail presence. In fact, by cutting out on retail, and shipping products to people’s homes on a subscription basis, the company made buying shaving products more convenient than going to a store.

The same forces that drove Dollar Shave’s rise are altering a wide variety of consumer product categories. Together, they add up to something huge — a new slate of companies that are exploring novel ways of making and marketing some of the most lucrative products we buy today. These firms have become so common that they have acquired a jargony label: the digitally native vertical brand.

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