How Dollar Shave Club Hit a 'Nerve Center' With Consumers

Three Questions With Razor Marketer and Ad Age CMO Strategy Summit Speaker Michael Dubin

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Michael Dubin, former NBC page, MSNBC news writer, improv comedian and custom video producer, wouldn't seem the likeliest candidate to take on the powers that be in men's shaving. But in launching Dollar Shave Club, where members can get modestly priced blades delivered to their door monthly, he's attracted attention of 4 million viewers in one week with a viral video and funding from venture firms such as Kleiner Perkins, Andreessen Horowitz and Forerunner Partners. Here, Mr. Dubin gives a little preview of the Dollar Shave story, which will be outlined in a presentation titled "How to Make a F***ing Splash," at Ad Age 's CMO Strategy Summit in Chicago on June 18.
Credit: Dollar Shave Club

Ad Age : How did Dollar Shave Club get started?

Michael Dubin: I met the co-founder Mark Levine, my friend's father, at my friend's housewarming party. He's South African and spent a lot of time in product manufacturing and retail. I don't know how we got on the subject of shaving, but we started talking about what a ripoff It is .

When I was living in New York in my 20s scraping by , I'd get to the razor fortress in the store, find the guy with the key to unlock it, and that guy was always busy texting his girlfriend or talking on the phone and didn't want to help me out. Then you get to the register and it's $20. Sometimes I would say, to hell with it, I'm just going to milk these sorry blades for a couple more weeks.

Mark knew where we could get some affordable twin razor blades. And we decided we would give it a go in September of 2010. We launched our beta site in July of 2011. And just quietly did proof of concept stuff, selling in bulk and by subscription and seeing which was more popular. And by October we had enough proof to take this business to the venture community.

Ad Age : What's your background?

Mr. Dubin: I spent a number of years at Time Inc. making custom content for big brand advertisers such as Gatorade, Nike , Nintendo, Xbox, etc. And then I was in the video-seeding space for a while, driving branded reviews on YouTube created by the likes of Ford, Capital One and Gillette, ironically. I've never worked for an agency, but I've always created content. Even before that I was in the media world. I worked for MSNBC in news writing and production for two years after I was an NBC page. And I also, as a hobby, studied improv for many years as part of the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York, where I lived for eight years prior to coming to California. And I think that comedic training certainly infused the commercial that you've seen.

Ad Age : How was the video produced and why did it work?

Mr. Dubin: We had no outside agency help. I wrote the ad myself. I worked with it, and it was directed by someone I did improv work with in New York City, Lucia Aniello. She was instrumental in helping me pare down the original script and adding a joke or two. We shot it in one day and spent $4,500.

One of the benefits or working in Los Angeles and having good connections in the creative space is that you can pull things off pretty easily and cheaply. That's not to say we won't engage an agency someday.

One of the reasons we got so many views on that video is that we hit a nerve center. For a long time the price of brand-name razors has been a major source of pain for guys who are on a budget. And we told that story in a very creative way, which is every brand's challenge.

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