How Research, Research and More Research Led the Co-Founder of Billie to a Successful Launch Former ad exec Georgina Gooley had never launched a brand before. By getting to know the space she was entering -- and the consumers she hoped to serve -- she set out to disrupt the shaving industry.
In the Women Entrepreneur series My First Moves, we talk to founders about that pivotal moment when they decided to turn their business idea into a reality—and the first steps they took to make it happen.
Georgina Gooley had had enough. She'd long been purchasing men's razors from the drugstore, painfully aware that the same products marketed to women came with a price hike—something called the "Pink Tax," which is applied to plenty of female lifestyle products and can mean a 15 percent higher cost. She was equally frustrated that, while brands like Dollar Shave Club and Harry's had been created to provide better, more affordable razors to men, women were being ignored by this product category. She set out to create a better product and a better service at a fair price, and the idea of Billie, a shaving-razor subscription service for women, was born. The former ad exec didn't know anything about product development, and she certainly didn't know how to launch a company -- but she knew she could figure it out along the way. (And she did: Today, Billie's raised $6 million in capital.) Here's how.
1. Take the leap.
Gooley and her co-founder, Jason Bravman, had been circling the idea of launching a women's subscription razor service for some time, but in the summer of 2016 decided to see if they could turn it into a reality. And Gooley didn't waste any time diving in head-first. "I was working at the ad agency Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, and I quit," she says. "I left my full-time job, moved to New York and we got to work. It was the first startup for both of us." Gooley was excited about the project and had complete faith in it, but walking away from job security wasn't exactly a breeze. "It's a big thing, giving up a steady paycheck," she says. "Obviously your work life becomes very different and your personal life becomes very difficult. You're being super frugal on a personal level, not going out, not shopping, because you don't know when your next check will be. It's a big transition."
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2. Research, research, research.
Gooley and Bravman were focused primarily on two things in those early days: getting the business off the ground and taking care of all the paperwork and red tape that comes with it; and making sure they nailed the brand positioning of Billie. And that came with the big task of understanding the history of the industry they wanted to disrupt. "We spent a lot of time looking at the history of shaving, and of women shaving in America," Gooley says. "How did that come about, and when? What has been the messaging toward women throughout the decades when it comes to removing body hair? How are today's brands talking to women?" This research phase lasted for three months, and once they understood the world of shaving, they needed to figure out where Billie could exist within it.
3. Build the brand image.
It was time to start executing. "What's the name? What's the logo? How do we depict women?" Gooley recalls obsessing over these questions as they molded the brand, and she wanted to make it clear that this was a different kind of razor product, and a different kind of women-focused company. "This category still speaks to women in clichés, and everything is pink and purple," she says. "So we chose a company name that wasn't just a woman's name, it was a gender-neutral, unisex name. And 100 years ago, Billie was predominantly a man's name but today has kind of been taking over by women. And that's what we're trying to do with this brand."
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4. Be selective about your partnerships.
Creating a product as a newcomer to an industry is no small task. "The biggest challenge is finding the right suppliers to partner with to build your product," she says. She and her coworker leaned heavily on their existing network of professional contacts, and asked for connections and recommendations for both suppliers and designers their peers had worked with. "It's hard to jump on the internet and find great people," Gooley says. "It's just a big black hole. So we did a lot of due diligence and talked to a lot of people. Most conversations went nowhere, but one in 20 might lead you to the perfect partner—and that applies to industrial designers, manufacturers, graphic designers to help with branding, developers to build your website. It takes a really long time."
5. Get your customers' opinions.
Once the team was deep into product development, they wanted to be in constant communication with their target audience, and did seemingly countless focus groups to get feedback on their prototypes. "We used SurveyMonkey when we needed hundreds of responses on a query, so we'd just send it out. If we needed qualitative feedback, we'd do that in person, asking women to come in." A key finding that ended up truly setting Billie apart from its competitors isn't even about the razor -- but the holder. "We always asked women, if we provide a holder for the razor, would you use it? And the response was always, "Yes, we'd love to, but most come with a suction cup, and they always fall down,'" Gooley says. She sent a brief to her industrial designers, challenging them to create a functional home for the razor without using a suction cup -- something elegant and minimalist. "They came back with this magnetic holder that attaches to the wall with a power putty," Gooley says. "It's super simple, and it just works."
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6. Stand with your consumers.
Gooley created Billie because women were being left behind by this industry—and charged more. Billie's pricing is fair to level the playing field, but the company also committed to spreading knowledge in the hopes of ending the Pink Tax, and currently offers a Pink Tax "rebate" in the form of a one-dollar coupon for every friend referred to the company. "As a consumer, I was shaving with men's razors out of principle, because I didn't want to be charged more because of my gender," Gooley says. "So we're really using Billie as a platform to educate people about the Pink Tax."