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Brush With Success: How 'Hello' Used Design to Stand Out Among Oral Care Brands

This story appears in the March 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Whenever Craig Dubitsky went shopping for toothpaste, he couldn’t help but grimace.

“This stuff goes in your mouth. Typically your reward is that you get to spit it out. Even the advertising is set up to convince you that the more it hurts, the more it works,” explains Dubitsky, who set out to launch a kinder, gentler alternative.

“The drivers in the oral-care category are fear and shame,” he points out. “‘If you’re not whitening, you’re frightening’ or ‘If your breath isn’t mountain-spring-fresh, you’re not going to get the job or the date.’ Take all those pictures of extracted teeth on products. That stuff freaked me out. I know what they’re trying to say—‘This stuff is so good it gets to your roots’—but it’s the last thing I wanted to see. If I go to the car dealer and you’re telling me about the safety of the car, I don’t want to see dead bodies on the floor of the dealership.” 

Dubitsky put his money where his mouth was and launched Hello Products. The Montclair, N.J.-based company’s toothpaste, approved by the American Dental Association, prevents cavities, strengthens enamel and freshens breath without the aid of chemicals like triclosan, an antibacterial agent found in some rival toothpastes and other household products that may cause liver cancer in mice. Hello’s mouthwashes and breath sprays are alcohol-free, with no artificial colors or sweeteners, and all products are vegan-approved and never tested on animals—hence the trademarked “Naturally friendly” tagline across the firm’s packaging. 

“I had an idea about making products that are friendly—friendly to the environment, and friendly because they actually taste good,” Dubitsky says. 

Dubitsky is no stranger to standing out on supermarket shelves. The former commodities trader co-founded Eos, a known for its spherical lip balms and other distinctively shaped personal-care products. From 2001 to 2005, he served as a and advisor to household cleaning supplies manufacturer Method, whose co-founder Eric Ryan reinforced Dubitsky’s belief in the importance of product as a differentiator. 

“When I was introduced to Eric, he said, ‘I think cleaning products suck. The biggest purchase you make is your house, but the stuff you use to clean it is so ugly that you have to hide it away, and so toxic that you have to lock it up,’” Dubitsky recalls. “I thought it was the most brilliant insight ever.”

When Dubitsky founded Hello in 2012, he followed Method’s lead, emphasizing aesthetics, functionality and durability in equal measure. The Hello design ethos is perhaps best exemplified by its “tottle” toothpaste package, an upside-down squeezable bottle that maintains its shape throughout its lifespan, unlike standard tubes that crinkle and contort over time. 

Dubitsky developed Hello’s design identity in partnership with DesignworksUSA, a Southern California-based creative consultancy owned by luxury automaker BMW Group. 

“‘Naturally friendly’ is the positioning that sets [Hello] apart, and we wanted a design language that reflected those brand values,” says Peter Falt, DesignworksUSA’s director of strategic partnering. “The other guys are very angular and very sterile. That’s why the silhouette and overall perception of [Hello] products are softer and more approachable. Craig also wanted a product that looked as good when it was ready to be recycled as it did on the day it was purchased. You can leave these products out on the counter.” 

Hello is already taking a bite out of the $31 billion global oral-care market: Two years after its products debuted across the Walgreens and Duane Reade chains, the brand is now available in nearly 20,000 stores, buoyed by retail partnerships with Target, Kroger and Kmart. Dubitsky has also fielded inquiries from prospective distribution partners in 67 countries. (The privately funded company does not disclose revenue.) Additionally, Hello has attracted attention from the international design community, claiming honors including the prestigious Good Design Award for Design Excellence and the Red Dot Award for Communication Design. 

“I want to create the Apple of personal care,” Dubitsky asserts. “Our products are fun, effective, highly natural and delicious. They feel good to hold in your hand. It’s art you get to live with and use every day—and who doesn’t want that?” 

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