Co-CEO of Harry’s
Jeff Raider, WG’10, has something unique. Others invited him to help create two of Wharton’s most successful startups — Warby Parker and Harry’s Inc., just purchased by Edgewell Personal Care Company, the owner of Schick, for $1.37 billion. Through Jeff’s experience working with and investing in consumer goods companies, he gained the insight to deeply focus on who his customer is and what the customer values. When I asked him how he perceived Harry’s, Jeff explained in elegantly simple terms: “Our mission is to create things that people like more. We think about building new products and improving our customers’ experiences with those products. We think about our team, our customers and our community. Our goal is, hopefully, to do good in the world by doing that.”
At Harry’s Jeff continues: “We started by focusing on shaving first, and then over time, we have expanded to a range of men’s personal care products, with the goal of trying to make it better for lots of guys to get ready in the morning every day. We built a second brand called Flamingo, which is a women’s shaving brand. We have an amazing team of women working on it.”
Talk about your background coming into Wharton and your experience at Wharton.
Prior to Wharton, I worked at Bain and Company and Charlesbank Capital Partners, a private equity firm. The folks at Charlesbank gave me the opportunity to come back after school, something that I was grateful for.
Regarding Wharton, I want to recognize what an amazing place it was, from the incredible professors whom I got to spend time with and learn from, both in and out of the classroom, to the amazing people in my classes. I truly enjoyed being a student at Wharton as it was very intellectually stimulating, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the experience.
One day, a good friend of mine and I were sitting around the computer lab, and another one of our friends came up and asked, “Hey, what do you think about selling eyeglasses online?” That one conversation changed my life and changed my view of my time in school. That conversation led to our starting Warby Parker, and to my taking classes and working on projects that focused on building and launching that company.
How did Wharton help you to build Warby Parker?
The four founders took an entrepreneurship class, where we wrote a business plan for Warby Parker. We also took independent study courses with professors where we focused on our marketing plan on activating early customers. We took operations classes and thought about the organization structure and models that could enable us to scale the company. We got to work with some of the most thoughtful people who were our classmates on those projects.
How did you pivot to Harry’s?
I had not planned on staying at Warby Parker full-time. After graduation, I agreed to return to Charlesbank. I had a great experience there, but what I was most passionate about was being an entrepreneur. I wasn’t sure what my next move would be, and had started to think about different ideas. Then, one day, Andy Katz-Mayfield, Harry’s co-founder, called me and said, “Hey, I went to a drugstore, waited for 10 minutes for someone to unlock the razor case, and spent $25 on razors and some shaving cream. I didn’t feel great about this. You think we can do better here?”
In the direct-to-consumer space, Warby Parker and Harry’s stand out. What differentiates them?
The most important thing for us at Harry’s is to listen to our customers, to make things better for them on an ongoing basis and to innovate on their behalf. What do they want? What can we give them that is different from what’s out there? Once you know what people want, you can create a mandate to make things that improve their lives and their experiences with the products. That’s what we’ve set out to do at both companies.
At Warby Parker, when we started, we realized people didn’t really understand how to buy prescription glasses online. We had in-depth conversations with them and learned a ton about them. Those relationships with our customers are the foundation of business.
Harry’s began as a men’s care brand and, within one year, bought a German razor factory. That is bold. What were you thinking?
The razor industry is unique. First, product quality is extremely important. Quality is important everywhere, but a razor blade is a knife that you take to your face. Second, there are only a few blade manufacturers in the world, including brands like Gillette and Schick. Lastly, making razors is highly complicated.
It’s complicated to make a razor?
The process to make a razor includes changing the molecular composition of steel, heating it to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and then cooling it to minus 100 degrees to achieve the right hardness. Blades are ground for sharpness and coated to prevent rust, and should provide a consistent shave from the first use to last. This must be done millions of times with complete precision. Since so few people know how to do it well, choosing the right partner was essential.
We ended up finding a factory in Germany that had been making quality blades for over 90 years, continually improving its products over time. We realized that it was the only independent manufacturer that Harry’s would be proud to use. Based on our customer feedback and a desire to grow, we saw a need to innovate and to make a lot more razors. We approached the factory in Germany and said that we wanted to make even more blades and make it even better. The owners said, “Well, that’s a big proposition. We’re a slow-growth, highly established German manufacturer.”
At that point, we realized that we would need to purchase the firm to provide the quality at scale that we were looking for. That move allowed us to control research and development, increase production, and create a vertically integrated company like the two huge companies we were competing with.
What did you learn from your parents?
My mom was an entrepreneur. My parents were divorced, and our family’s well-being rose and fell based on her entrepreneurial journey. I watched how many challenges she went through, and I thought, “I never want to do this.” To be an entrepreneur can be the best job in the world or the worst job in the world. I saw the emotional toll that it can take, and it was really hard. I’ve also come to appreciate how invigorating and exciting it can be.
What did you learn at Warby Parker that you’ve applied to Harry’s?
I learned so much at Warby Parker, because we created it at Wharton, that I applied to Harry’s. One lesson was that it is OK to screw up. We screwed up early at Warby Parker, being totally understaffed while we were still at school. Great companies come clean with their mistakes. They say, “We messed up, we’re sorry and we’re going to make it right.” We made those calls personally at Warby Parker and continue to at Harry’s.
What advice would you give to alumni starting a company?
You have to be all in. It’s really hard running a company and building a company from the ground up. You have to love what you are building.
You have been lucky twice with your co-founders!
Incredibly fortunate! When building a team, I’ve learned that it’s important to choose people who complement one another. Andy and I have similar backgrounds, but Andy is thoughtful and rational. I tend to be methodical, a little more emotional. I think about people first. We each have natural strengths, and we play to those strengths. Day to day, we think about where he will lean in and where I will lean in. He is a much better negotiator than I am. I approach negotiation thinking about who the person is, and how they are going to feel, whereas Andy thinks about what the right answer is.
What is the secret sauce for Harry’s and Warby Parker, as retailers?
Brands and retailers are converging. Is Harry’s a brand or a retailer? I think it’s both. Is Warby Parker a brand or a retailer? Both.
— by Kent Trabing