- Jeff Raider is the cofounder and co-CEO of razor company Harry’s.
- Raider is also a cofounder of eyeglasses company Warby Parker, and brought its vertically-integrated, direct-to-consumer model to shaving with Harry’s.
- In an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success,” Raider explained how working himself to exhaustion across three jobs taught him the importance of balance and focus.
- He said that while Harry’s shaving business is profitable, it raised $US112 million this year to take its business model to a wide variety of personal care products.
In 2011, Jeff Raider’s friend Andy Katz-Mayfield approached him with an idea to take what Raider was doing with his cofounders at eyeglasses startup Warby Parker and apply it to shaving. And unlike Dollar Shave Club, they’d make their own razors and own every aspect of the business.
Seven years later, Warby Parker is a mainstay in its industry, and Raider and Katz-Mayfield are co-CEOs of a company that has about five million active customers, 800 employees, and has raised nearly half a billion dollars. Its shaving business is profitable, Raider said, but the next step is taking on consumer goods giants Unilever (which owns Dollar Shave Club) and Procter & Gamble (which owns Gillette) across its other personal care brands.
In an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success,” Raider told us that his passion is developing and then distributing products that become part of his own daily routine, in hopes that millions of other customers can do the same.
But before he was looking to change the way consumers shop, he was at Wharton business school, on a traditional path into finance.
Listen to the full episode here:
Subscribe to “This Is Success” on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or your favourite podcast app. Check out previous episodes with:
- Drybar founder Alli Webb
- Comedy icon Caroline Hirsch
- Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman
- “Million Dollar Listing” star Ryan Serhant
Transcript edited for clarity.
Jeff Raider: I had worked at an investment fund before business school. I love the people there. It’s a wonderful place, and they paid for me to go to school. And when we had the idea for Warby Parker, it was like an idea that was exciting to go build while I was in school. It was a thing I was going to do in school, on kind of a project.
Richard Feloni: Yeah, almost like a hobby.
Raider: That’s how it started. And then it evolved into being the thing that defined my experience in school. And when we graduated, I was always planning to go back to investing, because I’d promised them I’d come back after school. And I felt a lot of obligation to lots of people. I really liked the people. I stepped down full-time at Warby Parker. And two of my cofounders – there were four of us who started it together – two of my cofounders, who are amazing, stepped up to run the entire company. And then I was back working in investing, still spending nights and weekends on Warby Parker, and still loved it a lot.
Feloni: So you had a full-time job, which was probably like a big demand anyway, if you’re in finance.
Feloni: How did you figure that out? Like, were you even sleeping?
Raider: It was a really busy time. No, it was probably the time that I’ve been busiest, professionally. And I think why it was such a crazy time is, I was working really hard at my job in investing, also working on Warby Parker. And then on top of it, I was thinking about, “Well, what do I want to do next,” and feeling like I wanted to do something more entrepreneurial next. And then, my Harry’s cofounder, Andy, called me with the idea for Harry’s. And then, I was doing all three.
Feloni: You were doing all three, all at once?
Raider: Yeah. Now, at some point, we built out an amazing team at Warby Parker. We brought in incredible investors. And at some point, I feel like the sort of day-to-day demands there became a little bit less intensive. And I could focus more time on my day job at the time, and on Harry’s. And over time, obviously, I transitioned out of my day job to do Harry’s full-time, which has been an amazing experience.
Feloni: How long were you in that phase, where you’re doing all three ventures at once, including your full-time job?
Raider: So we had the idea for Harry’s in late 2011. And I left working in investing toward the end of the summer in 2012. I actually remember the weekend that I left. I was in Cape Cod, and I was at this amazing outdoor sort of bar and restaurant with some friends. And I literally like, passed out. I collapsed, just from exhaustion. And I was like, “OK, I finally hit my breaking point. Like, that is it. I need to dial it back.” And luckily I could go from a few jobs to a few less.
Feloni: So wait, when you got to this point of pure exhaustion, how did you know which one you wanted to dedicate yourself to?
Raider: Well, at that time, we were working on Harry’s full-time. And I had already left investing. So it was about really sort of taking a little bit of time, regrouping myself, and then rededicating myself to Harry’s.
Learning to be a co-CEO
Feloni: Then, when you and Andy were deciding how to run this, how did you decide on a co-CEO model? And what does that even look like?
Raider: I think having cofounders and co-CEOs in a company is great if you feel like you’ve got a great relationship with that other person and your skills complement each other well. You know, when you’re starting a company, early on, you’ve got so many things you’ve got to do. I mean, there’s all these different functional buckets, and then there’s 100 items under each of those that you have to think about, you know? Just to ship product, you have to find a distribution partner. You have to negotiate the right rates. You have to figure out the right protocols and processes. And so there’s just way too much for any one person to do. You’ve got to build a team that can help. And if you want to be excellent at a lot of those things early on, having amazing people who can drive different pieces of that is really valuable. And it was helpful for us to be able to kind of divide and conquer in that way; trust each other, in an implicit way, that we were going to execute well on our individual pieces, and then, obviously, align on the areas of intersection on sort of the general vision for the business.
Feloni: So, how would the co-CEO model be different from, say, one of you being a CEO and one being the COO?
Raider: We always felt like we were equal partners in this business. That’s how we structured the business, economically. That’s how we structured our sort of engagement with the team. It’s us, doing this together. And so we felt like creating unnecessary hierarchy would just complicate that dynamic. And it’s always been that dynamic. You know, Andy and I kind of joke that we finish each other’s sentences. We’ve known each other for 15 years. We’ve spent so much time together, and that, sometimes, our email should just be Jeff and Andy at Harrys.com, instead of Jeff at Harry’s or Andy at Harry’s. You know, like your grandparents have an email.
Feloni: Like a shared email, yeah.
Raider: Yeah. And so we feel like it is a partnership, and that our titles just reflect that partnership. We’re also not precious about titles. I’ve never been like, you know, “Oh I’m this title or that title.”
Feloni: If you have equal footing, have there ever been moments where you’ve butted heads?
Raider: There are times when we disagree, but we have a tremendous amount of mutual respect for each other. And so our disagreements are never personal. It’s always just sort of objective, like what is the right answer to this specific question. And then we usually use logic and reasoning to sort of solve it. The other thing that we’ve done a lot is, if we have really hard problems that we’re not sure of, we talk a lot about the fact that there’s not always necessarily a right answer. There’s probably an answer that takes you in direction A or direction B, but either of those directions are viable, or a 60% right answer and a 40% right answer. And when we’re struggling, usually where there’s a level of disagreement, it’s on really complicated questions. And so what we then oftentimes do is just get amazing advisers around us, and present those questions as a unified front, together, and say, “Listen, we’re thinking about this. We’re actually not sure. Here are the benefits. Here are the drawbacks. Can you just help us think through this?” And oftentimes their input is really valuable to our decision-making process as well.
Feloni: So it sounds like the way that you guys have figured it out is a matter of, like, setting aside your egos and just letting someone choose?
Raider: That’s right. And we respected each other’s perspectives and ability to sort of drive our parts of the business together. When it came to strategy, where are we taking the company, what do we want to build in the long term, I think that’s where we spent more time together. One of the things we always talk about is that strategy is what you don’t do, as opposed to what you decide to do, because we have all these opportunities. And so for us, it was about thinking about, “OK, what are the things that we really want to do, and the things that we’re not sure about,” and then getting input from our team, and board, and advisers, and other people at the right points in time, to help us where those answers may not be as clear.
Feloni: What do you mean by strategy is what you decide not to do?
Raider: So at Harry’s, we could go into new product lines. We could build out our own retail stores. We could expand geographically. We’ve expanded into retail. You know, we can do lots of different things. And we only have a finite set of resources. And we still have a pretty small team, relative to our competition, which are these giant companies. And so for us, we need to be really intentional about the things that we decide to do, and then, in turn, the things that we decide not to do. And sometimes, for someone like me, who’s so optimistic, I get carried away and think I can kind of, we, as a company, can leap tall buildings in a single bound. And that’s where it’s really helpful to have a cofounder like Andy, who is really thoughtful, and rational, and can think through some of the implications of the decisions that we make, and help us to sort of govern the types of things that we do.
And at the end of the day, we try to come to our team, then, with saying, “Listen, we’d rather do three things incredibly well than 100 things not so well.” And that’s allowed us to be pretty deliberate in the way that we’ve built the brand. Harry’s is now five years old. We sell in the US, Canada, and the UK only, as opposed to all over the world, which is a choice we could have made. You know, the idea that we had around Harry’s is that guys really value simplicity. And so rather than selling 12 different shave gels, which was a strategic choice we could have made, we sell one shave gel, but it’s the best possible shave gel we can make, and one post-shave balm, and one face wash. We just launched body wash. But we haven’t launched a million different men’s grooming products, because we care so much about the quality of each one of our products, and about the idea that we want guys to be able to really understand what we make, and how those products are different from each other.
Changing the shaving industry
Feloni: So even in the early days of Harry’s, what was remarkable is that you raised almost $US100 million within like, what, the first year?
Raider: Mm-hmm [affirmative].
Feloni: How did you pull that off?
Raider: We raised a lot of money early on at Harry’s. We didn’t do that without any purpose. Like, we had a very specific purpose to go raise $US100 million. And we raised it to go buy a German razor-blade manufacturer, who we think is the best independent razor-blade manufacturer in the world.
Feloni: And this was, like, what, a 90-year-old factory in Germany?
Raider: Yeah. So it’s a 90-year-old company. It’s an amazing place. And the process that they go through to make quality blades is incredibly complicated. You know, the first time we went there, we were blown away by it. I think we walked in as naïve entrepreneurs, being, like, “Well, we could probably just make our own blades some day.” And when we walked out, we were, like, “Oh my gosh. There’s a lot of special magic here.” And so we worked with them. They were our partners, to start, when we launched Harry’s. And we developed a closer and closer relationship with this factory, and started to innovate together, and realised, at some point, it was very strategic for both of us to unite forces and to combine the companies.
Feloni: Was part of your pitch to investors that you were going to acquire a factory that would make these razor blades?
Raider: That’s what we raised the $US100 million for. And we went to investors, and we said, “Listen, you know, we have this incredible opportunity to create the only truly vertically integrated razor-blade company in the world, and that we can talk to customers and sell direct to them, and understand their needs in a really deep way, and then literally do everything from that to grind steel to make the blades that we know these customers want.” And closing that loop is incredibly powerful. And we had amazing investors with tremendous vision for what the business could be, and were really supportive of us. And they committed the capital for us to go buy the factory. We wouldn’t have ever raised the money, though, if we hadn’t actually done that.
Feloni: And how did it feel when you finally closed that deal on this old company, and you’ve just been around for, what, like several months?
Raider: Yeah. I mean, it sounded crazy. It felt crazy. It was crazy. The first thing that we did after we found out that we closed the deal was, we went to Germany for a while to spend time with the team and get to know them. And obviously, we knew them as partners, but it’s different once you’re part of the same team. And I remember Andy and I, you know, our factory is in a really small town called Eisfeld, in Germany. There’s like a few thousand people that live in the town. And we employ 500 people at the factory. So we’re probably one of the biggest employers now in the town, and in the region. And we’re standing on these wood crates, overlooking the entire team. And our team in New York at the time was 30 people, so we didn’t really know what 400 people, at the time, looked or felt like …. And we’re standing on these wood crates in the factory floor, overlooking the whole team. And not very many people there speak English, so we’re speaking English. And the managing director of the factory at the time was translating what we were saying into German. And it was like this surreal thing, where we’re speaking, and he’s speaking, and we’re speaking. And people are sort of nodding their heads, and we’re kind of nodding our heads. And, at the end of the day, it did just feel like a crazy experience to, all of a sudden, have all these people as part of our team. I think there were two things that were important to us at the time, though; one is like, we felt a ton of responsibility to these people. I mean, the average person who’d worked there had worked there for 13 years. And we were now responsible for them, their well-being, their families.
Feloni: You’re now the main employer of an entire town.
Raider: Yeah. And we had to do what’s right by them and make this work. The second piece is, we felt a real obligation and duty to do what we said we were going to do. And what we said we were going to do was to buy the factory, and then invest in the people, invest there in Germany, build more capacity, modernise, innovate. And so, you know, we’ve made a real effort to do all those things.
Feloni: Yeah. And you built a customer base really organically, through online outreach, like some really interesting online marketing. And then, you’re also in retail stores now, too. Target, Walmart. How are you able to balance that, where you could be in a brick-and-mortar location, and not compromise the whole brand’s direct-to-consumer from online?
Raider: As a brand have a duty to be customer-centric first. And if you take that to its extreme, we have to be where customers want us to be. And in being where customers want us to be, we have to sort of understand, well, where do people actually want to buy these products? Now, we don’t want our brand to show up in places where the brand experience is compromised. However, if there’s a place where people are buying products, and we can deliver an interesting brand experience, then we should be there.
Feloni: Yeah, so it’s like, I remember talking with Andy Dunn, cofounder of Bonobos. And he had wanted to keep it independent a long time, but he decided to ultimately sell it to Walmart. Was that something that has ever crossed your mind?
Raider: Yeah. I think, probably, two things there. One is, we always built Harry’s in a way that could enable it to be independent for a long, long time. And we’ve sort of set out with our team to build a brand that was going to be around for 100 years. There could be a situation in the future, and it’s not something that’s on our radar that we’re thinking about a lot today, where another company could partner with us to help us achieve that objective in a way that would be exciting for people in the world. And that’s just structure. And so, for us, it would be about finding a partner who could actually help us, as a brand, be more impactful in the world. And if that meant some sort of financial stake or ownership, great, that’s something that we’re obviously happy to do to align incentives. But the ambition of ours is not to sell the business, and stop trying to build the business. I think if anything, we would want to continue to build Harry’s for a long time.
Going well beyond razors
Feloni: And on that note of expanding, in February, you raised $US112 million for this expansion into new categories of products. And to date, you’ve raised, what, like almost half a billion, right? Like $US470 million or so? At what point do you want to be like, just self-sufficient, where you don’t have to keep raising?
Raider: Yeah. I mean, the Harry’s business is self-sufficient today. You know, we are profitable, so that feels great for us. And in some ways, we can continue to just build the Harry’s brand in a way that would be self-sufficient. For us, where raising incremental capital was interesting was the opportunity to invest that capital in building new brands, and CPG. So we look at a lot of different categories in consumer packaged goods. And they look a lot like shaving did five years ago, giant brands that dominate the shelf, reasonably low digital penetration, brands that are not bad brands, they have just been around for a long, long time. They’re our parents’ brands, or our grandparents’ brands, pricing models that we don’t think are sort of consumer-first. And we think there are opportunity to build new brands in some categories that are adjacent to Harry’s, leveraging some of what we’ve learned at Harry’s and at Warby Parker to, ideally, try to create better consumer experiences there.
Feloni: So it’s like the Warby Parker model worked with eyeglasses. You brought it to Harry’s, worked with shaving. Now it’s a matter of bringing it to a bunch of other products?
Raider: Yeah. That’s right, and other categories, and other consumer problems.
Feloni: Do you envision yourself maybe competing with Unilever, and Procter & Gamble, but on a more niche level?
Raider: I think we already compete with those companies, and not on a niche level. We compete with those companies in a way that is sort of significantly impacting the way that they think about their strategy in the categories that we participate in today.
Feloni: But as opposed to just competing with Gillette and Dollar Shave Club, it’s like the entire holding company.
Raider: Yeah. The whole holding company, yeah.
Feloni: So when you think about how much to expand, do you want to be a big company, but not giant, so that you can still have the giant companies be … Like, they’re not meeting your needs. We’re more specialised.
Raider: You know, it’s hard to sort of let that type of thing govern the ultimate outcome here. I think our general ambition is to reach as many people as possible, and to have the most positive impact on their experiences. And so I’m hoping that, in the future, we can reach more people, and make the experience around our products better. And if we can’t, if we’re not making people’s experiences better, than I don’t think that they should switch and try us. Like, they can just continue to do what they’re doing. And we recognise that we can’t make the best possible products for everybody, but hopefully, we can reach enough people, and make their experience enough better, where we start to have real impact on sort of lost of households.
Trusting instinct and finding balance
Feloni: When you’re looking at your entire career, what do you think the biggest challenge you’ve overcome has been?
Raider: I think the biggest challenge was probably a personal challenge around just listening to my own gut and what I like doing the most. You know, after we had started Warby Parker, I went back to work in investing. And I had a really great setup. I loved the people I was working with, and it was a really stable career path. I’d just had my son, so we were starting to build a family. And I thought a lot about, well, should I stop doing this? Like, this is a good job, and I know what the future looks like. But at the time I felt like there was an opportunity to do something that I genuinely loved, as opposed to something that I felt like I would be OK doing, or reasonably happy doing. And it was always pulling at me.
At the end of the day, I just had to sort of follow my own intuition and do what I felt like, emotionally, I was compelled to do. And that made me a lot happier. I mean, I talked to my wife after I started working at Harry’s, and I’d left working investing. She’s, like, “You’re a different person. You’re just happier and more excited because you’re doing something that you really want to do.” I learned this is what I love. And that’s a really personal thing for everybody. I wouldn’t overly prescribe the entrepreneur path for every single person. I don’t think it’s probably right for everybody. It happened to be right for me. And you know, there are people who I worked with in investing, who love investing, and that’s right for them. And there are people who like doing other things. And we have amazing creatives and designers. They love designing, and that’s right for them. And my job at Harry’s, I feel like, is to try to find the opportunities that are right for people, that they’re going to love, and hopefully, that they are going to love, and put them in those positions, because when they’re happy and engaged, they’re just so much more likely to be successful. And that’s probably what I learned about myself in that process. And that was a big emotional jump for me at that time.
Feloni: And related to that, how do you personally define success?
Raider: I mean, I tend to define it through impact, like how much positive impact can I, can the company, Harry’s, the brand, have in the world around us. I think about impact in concentric circles. So for me, sort of the center of the circle is my family, like how can I make sure that I’m being a good dad, and a good role model for my kids, and making my kids know that I love them, and that I’m there for them, and hopefully, always be there for my family. And then it’s our friends. Then it’s the people that I get to work with at Harry’s, and ensuring that they’re having a great experience working with us. Then it’s our customers, and then it’s like the community, more broadly; and then, sort of how businesses are being built, even more broadly. So there are lots of different layers of impact, and I try to positively influence all of them. And probably where I struggle most in my life is, like, where do you dial in these different things, because I tend to sort of like ideas, and like being around people. And sometimes, I can kind of get carried away in one direction or another, and have to kind of come back to that core equation.
Feloni: So learning to find that balance. And looking at all of it, is there some advice that you would give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Raider: I think the first piece of advice I would give is, you just got to love it. Starting a company is all-consuming. And you have to be deeply passionate about that endeavour and that idea, that you literally just can’t sleep at night, that you let it almost be all-consuming, and it’s good. And if it’s not that way, if it feels like a struggle, it’s probably just not the right thing for you. And find an idea that does make you feel that way. And I genuinely felt that way about Harry’s and Warby Parker. It was just so exciting for me to get to try to build businesses and brands that helped solve the needs that I felt and a lot of other people felt.
Feloni: You had worked yourself to fainting.
Raider: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I was so excited about doing it. I personally am always excited about ideas. I’m just generally optimistic, which, if you ask my wife, sometimes drives her crazy, because there’ll be like 10 things that would have to go right for something to happen. And I’ll be, like, just convinced that all those things are going to go right, to happen. And it’s, like, they’re definitely not going to be that way.
Feloni: That’s the approach you have to have if you’re going to be an entrepreneur.
Raider: I think so. And I also like a bit of ambiguity. I don’t mind kind of jumping into something without having everything figured out. I think the second piece, which probably correlates to work-life balance, is, sometimes when you get into this, it is so deeply all-consuming that you can kind of push off some other parts of life. And you know, I remember early on at Harry’s, I was, like, “Well, if I just get Harry’s to this point in a year, then things will change, and then two years, and three years. And then at some point, maybe, who knows?” Like, it just doesn’t. It’s sort of a consistently all-consuming process. What I’ve had to learn in the last few years is, how do I then create the balance in my life to enable this job to be sustainable for me.
And when you have your own company, you realise that the work never stops. There’s always more you can do. There’s always more you can do to push the company forward. There’s always more that you can do to be more responsive to the team. And what I’ve had to now do is sort of schedule personal time, because work just could fill every second. So I started to schedule personal time, and realised that that’s really important, both for my own psyche and sort of an ability to do this in the long term, and for my family, ensuring that I can spend a lot of time with my kids, because it’s something that I want to do for the next 20 years. And in 20 years, my kids are going to be grown up. And so I need, then, to be able to have built in the time where I feel like I can, hopefully, be a good dad to them as I go through the journey.
Feloni: Yeah. The challenges weren’t going to change. You had to change yourself.
Feloni: Awesome. Thank you so much, Jeff.
Raider: Great to be here.
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