- Tangle Teezer CEO Shaun Pulfrey became a hairdresser at the age of 16.
- He developed a unique technique for detangling hair and came up with a product to replicate it.
- He pitched the Tangle Teezer on BBC TV show “Dragons’ Den” in 2002, but it was rejected.
- Now, Pulfrey is a multi-millionaire, with Tangle Teezer’s revenue hitting £24 million ($US17.7 million) last year.
- The Tangle Teezer has become a cult product endorsed by the likes of Victoria Beckham and Emma Watson.
Shaun Pulfrey became a hairdresser at 16. In 2002, he had a genius product idea rejected on the UK’s equivalent of “Shark Tank.”
Now, he’s the CEO of a company which turned over £24 million ($US17.7 million) last year – and the product that made him successful can be found in the handbags of celebrities all over the world.
Born in Grimsby, England, the 57-year-old told Business Insider that after entering the world of hairdressing, he trained in Manchester for two years before deciding to move to London to further his career.
He started working for Vidal Sassoon as a colour technician and educator, which allowed him to travel and work in the company’s salons in America, mainly Boston, LA, and San Francisco.
Along the way, he developed a unique way of detangling hair by using tools in an unconventional way. He would alternatively tap the hair with a brush and comb, which he said would loosen the tangles.
“After five years of doing it, the technique was very successful,” he said.
He added that there wasn’t anything on the market that could detangle hair in the same way – so he spent six months researching what needed to be done to make a product. He eventually came up with the Tangle Teezer, which he says replicates his technique.
The idea is that the teeth flex as they’re drawn through the hair, then return to their original position. This means they don’t lock into tangles, but flex over without any pulling or tugging. Working with a company called Data Plastics, Pulfrey brought the product to market.
The first sample was “far better than I expected,” he said.
He continued to work as a hair technician four days a week, then dedicated the rest of his time to Tangle Teezer. “I self-financed it, and paid it off using my salary by not having and holiday and going without,” he said.
Rejected by “Dragons’ Den”
After three years in development, Pulfrey quit working as a hairdresser in August 2007.
“My business plan was to take it to a trade show in London in October, so I quit work and spent three months full time on Tangle Teezer,” he said.
In the meantime, he said a friend in the entertainment business convinced him to audition for “Dragons’ Den,” the BBC’s equivalent of “Shark Tank” – so he took his shot.
“I was there with my doll hair and my Tangle Teezer,” he said. “I offered a 15% stake for £80,000.”
He said that he knew before going on the show that even if the dragons didn’t think the product would be successful, viewers could have a different opinion.
“Because my product is visual, it didn’t concern me too much,” he said.
“The reason I didn’t put a handle on it was the customer [would think] it’s an all-around brush,” he said, adding that he also wanted it to have a “definitive shape so you couldn’t mix it up with anything else.”
However, he felt “from the very first response none of them got it.”
The Dragons rejected his offer – but he said he never felt let down. In fact, he said that his Dragons’ Den appearance “turned out to be a TV commercial for us globally.”
He had a website live for the product at the time, and said it quickly received 1,200 orders – then crashed.
“The show was very instrumental in showcasing the product,” he said, adding that a lot of mums picked up on it. “The Dragons showcased it, and mums broke it.”
From Victoria Beckham to Chewbacca
While he knew tangles were a big issue for professional hairdressers, Pulfrey said he hadn’t realised how much they were a problem for everyday people.
“I didn’t know how many women weren’t able to brush their daughter or son’s hair,” he said. “People were looking consciously for a solution.”
It was also, clearly, a problem among celebrities. The company started sending samples to celebrity hairdressers, who spread the gossip when they travel, according to Pulfrey.
“I thought, ‘I wonder how long it will take for them to pop up in people’s handbags?’ And it took about four years from the first moment of launching.”
The Beckhams were among the first people to support the Tangle Teezer.
Pulfrey said that Victoria Beckham has mentioned she’s always got one in her bag, while Salma Hayek, and Emma Watson are also reported to be fans.
We love that Emma Watson is a celebrity fan of TT! pic.twitter.com/HS17BIi0Kh
— Tangle Teezer (@tangleteezer) August 1, 2015
“It works when you have so many celebrities popping up and saying they use it,” he said. “It was even used in ‘Star Wars’ movie – they used it on Chewbacca.”
It’s all about the tool
Pulfrey said there are many myths surrounding hair care, such as the idea that you should brush your hair 100 times before bed or never brush it when it’s wet.
“We’ve still got a long way to go on educating women who are brushing their hair,” he said.
He added that within the industry, “magic words” surrounding the tools themselves are starting to come forward – such as blowdryers that claim to give your hair shine.
With Tangle Teezer, he stressed that it’s as simple as knowing how to use the tool.
“It’s like a toothbrush and toothpaste, or makeup, and makeup brush,” he said. “The tool is going to do 80% of the work for you – that’s why you’ll be able to achieve the results you’ve never been able to achieve before.”
A £24 million year business
While it was The Original Tangle Teezer that became a success, the company followed it up with a number of other products, all aimed at helping customers either detangle, blow dry, or style.
Now selling in 75 countries, Tangle Teezer turned over £24 million last year – and Pulfrey says he’s aiming for an 8-12% increase in 2018.
“If you look at it now, I’m the most successful person on [‘Dragons’ Den’] to date,” Pulfrey said. “Where it is now, I’m in a very happy place. It will go on to be the success that I want it to be.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.