The Entrepreneur: Will King, The King of Shaves Company

Growing Business catches up with the founder of the UK’s second-largest shaving brand

Founder: Will King
Company: The King of Shaves Company Ltd.
Website: www.shave.com
Description in one line: We shave lives better, forever
Previous companies: KMI (owned the King of Shaves brand until June 1st 2009), founded it in April 1993
Turnover: 2014: £10m

Within three bullet points, describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • To deliver the world’s best shaving and skincare experience, for men and women, bar none.
  • Unique and innovative products with strong and patented IP foundations and performance reputation.
  • One of only three companies to compete at a global level in the cutting edge world of men’s system wet shave and preparations. Lack of awareness is our biggest competitor.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Launching Hyperglide in January 2014. Developing a razor that we believed could beat our competitors by a stretch took time. We started work on it in 2009. It’s been a journey and we’re a long way from finishing it…

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

Sales, both EPOS and wholesale (i.e. into retailers). YoY trends (have been down, lotta beards about – now going UP). Then what’s going on in the social media space, on Twitter and Facebook. What’s being talked about by word of mouth – now ‘word of mouse’. Seeing what reviews are being posted online, engaging in digital dialogue with our fans, and being as ‘useful’ as I can be, whilst being CEO of KoS.

And, of course, what’s going on with product, development, NPD and other areas. I sit right near our design and IP team. I love seeing what we’re going to be doing.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

Historically, we’ve traded internationally in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. We’ve been ‘out’ of the USA for about 18 months though, following an ill-fated distribution deal with Spectrum Brands, Inc. – the owners of the Remington electric grooming brand. But we’re back in the USA in Target with our new Hyperglide razor from early February, other retailers will follow.

Describe your growth funding path:

£15,000 seed, plus credit cards, loans etc. in 1993. Factored invoices in 1995, then £250,000 via (then) DTI Loan Guarantee Scheme, took us up to £1.25m sales in 1997, self funding from there.

Since de-merging King of Shaves Co., out of KMI (which now handles marketing, distribution of Ted Baker fragrances, Fish Hairstyling) I have raised £7m equity + £2m convertible bond, as well as six figure sums via our ‘Shaving Bond’ issues 1.0 & 1.1, designed to ‘bond’ customers closer with the brand, whilst helping them s(h)ave money too.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

We’ve created and patented the world’s first superhydrophilic coating for razor cartridges, which allows you to shave without having to use a shave prep, i.e. just with water. Pretty revo-lube-tionary stuff.

It makes our competitors razors with their 1970s lube strips (the gloopy, thin bit of plastic at the top of each razor cartridge) look pretty dated. And, of course the whole technology and internet scene – we bought shave.com for $35 in 1995, got onto Twitter early (in 2007) and always try to keep ahead of the curve.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

It completely depends on the success of Hyperglide, and who and how we market it with, and who might partner with us in distribution. Anywhere from £15-50m I’d be happy with. We have a huge compression in restricting our growth from our monopolistic competitors, so we’ll keep things realistic.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Launch Hyperglide.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Signing a distribution deal for the USA with Spectrum Brands, owners of Remington. There was no fit, product wise or in culture. A horrendous experience.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

Probably red tape and bureaucracy around employment, rights, contracts and what not. When we started out, it was a page of paper. Now it’s a book.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Not thinking big enough, and not concentrating hard enough on coming up with a singularity of product (or brand) purpose. Other common mistakes are spinning too many plates and not focusing on the ‘big win’, and delivering.

How will your market look in three years?

Probably much the same.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Listen to you. Not others. (What do they know?! – but don’t let on you’re thinking like that).

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

My time, and my choice to do what I want with it. Oh, and probably being Number 74 to go up on Virgin Galactic…

Executive education or learn it on the job?

It depends, I think you do need to be good at English and Maths. But passion, drive, charisma, trait curiosity and belief probably matter more, and you can’t necessarily learn these!

What would make you a better leader?

To be a bit ‘tougher’ sometimes.

Business book:

Mine! How to build a great business in tough times – the King of Shaves story – on Amazon, check it out! Also read Maverick! by Ricardo Semler and I know it when I see it – a modern fable on quality by John Guaspari.

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