Thinking out of the box is something Entrepreneurs do best, but some are able to take it to a whole new level

Secret to Success – Chris Stoikos


Secret Entourage Success Story
Chris Stoikos is the CEO of Dollar Beard Club, a subscription men’s grooming company. Since a young age Chris has had an entrepreneurial spirit. He has built up and sold numerous businesses and has even landed a deal on ABC’s Shark Tank for one of his products, the Coolbox. Chris is an out of the box thinker who is able to take small budgets and create marketing campaigns that go viral and can grow a business organically versus through typical paid means. By striving to entertain and taking advantage of his creativity, Chris excels at creating successful companies and thrives in that environment.

Can you tell us a little about Dollar Beard Club and how you came up with the idea?

It is a complete subscription model. You can buy items and onetime them. You don’t actually have to get onto a subscription, but majority of our revenue is recurrent. So, how we started was I’ve been growing my beard for a long time and it would be all over the place in the morning. I just woke up right now and it’s out of control. So, being able to put product in it, I was able to kind of shape it, hold it down, and make myself presentable. I started buying beard oil and there were two things wrong with it.

First off, it was very expensive. It was literally $20 for half-ounce bottle. Secondly, it had preservatives, chemical ingredients in it. So, seeing that those are the biggest problems in the market, we did some research on how we could create a high-quality beard oil at of a very affordable price, and that’s how we came up with Dollar Beard Club. I always say that when a bearded guy passes a beard guy in the street, there’s this sense of camaraderie. You give a head nod. It’s like this underlying brotherhood that just takes place organically. When a clean-shaven guy passes a clean-shaven guy in the street, they don’t look at each other and say, “Hey, nice clean shave, man.” So, it’s kind of cool to be able to have that sense of connectedness amongst everyone that belongs to our club.

What is Dollar Beard Club compared to some of your competitors?

So, Dollar Shave Club, they sell recurring razors and different things that groom the complete opposite type of a person in the way that they carry themselves. We did have a few competitors in the actual beard space like different companies out there, but we quickly grew within like six months to being bigger than most of them. I don’t have the exact numbers, but it was a very niche market in terms of which one you want to belong to. We gave a way for everyone to kind of belong to one spot, so I think we did a great job of kind of connecting all the different beards together. With Dollar Shave Club, they have Dollar Shave, they have Hairies, they have Gillettes and Razor Club, but those are kind of the spots where we love to convert members from guys that shave into guys that grow out their beards.

You’ve seen a lot of exponential growth in the first six months, what strategies or successes can you credit that to?

I’m a big believer in psychology, the way the human mind works, the way people are hungry for certain kinds of content. Obviously, with today having the Facebook landscape, when you’re scrolling up and down your page is a very competitive piece of real estate. If you are going to stop somebody and look at what you put up there and grab their attention, it has to be compelling and that attention-grabber needs to take place in the first 5-6 seconds. If you look at all the things, a lot of different for those that have been successful, they are very outside the box. A lot of us have absurd ideas, but to be able to create absurdity into something that’s tangible and conceivable for your audience, it gives a very refreshing look at everything that’s out there and it’s so basic for big companies that aren’t willing to cross lines or say things or swear to commercial, or do something that society doesn’t normally accept. That was kind of the strategy behind our growth, and also allowing it to just take off so quickly. Our first video went viral on Reddit. We got noticed by a bunch of different blogs. It went crazy on Facebook and that acted as our organic snowball to get rolling.

Was it difficult to jumpstart that sudden growth?

It was tough. You look at the amount of people that can go out into the wilderness and actually start a fire with their bare hands, just take all of the elements around you and put them together and start a fire to start burning, I’d estimate maybe 1% of the US can do that and if you look at the amount of people that could keep a fire burning once it’s actually burning, probably 95% of people could. You can grab a lot of different materials to put on in and keep the fire rolling. So being able to get this kind of nucleus started was the key and then you’re able to replicate other strategies, all growth is virtue, the same with your cost practitioner. What’s your lifetime value? How long? What’s your return rate? Where did you get your customers from? Let’s drive traffic from Facebook, from Google, from the street and you just start applying all these different metrics.

One variable that you really want to play into is the creative factor. That’s not something that you can have on the street. I don’t believe you can teach creativity. We just really try and bring out our creative sides. We like China. Again, we’re not perfect. Sometimes, I’m sure we put out repetitive content that guys are just like, “Oh shit. They are doing it again,” and then we try and take that feedback, adjust, pivot, and come up with something new and cool to be able to keep it refreshing for everyone who follows us.

“I think that’s part of the journey of being an entrepreneur is just learning as you go and I’m a big believer on jumping into the next platform when you can barely reach it, just enough to get one fingernail in that door to hop onto it, to explore the new land.”

– Chris Stoikos

Regarding marketing, if you’re saying you’re doing something very creative, where do you differentiate that creativity?

For sure, and that’s a great question. I’m more talking about all the content. And again, that’s the whole thing about Dollar Shave Club – they’ve been around for years. There are plenty of people I’m sure who tried to do something that was flattering it or mocking it. Maybe some were successful, but I’m sure most of them weren’t. So, you just have to do something very outside the box to be able to captivate everybody’s attention. I’m talking about the content that we push out there. Our very first video, there were five scenes. We did those all in five takes and we do a lot of stuff that is completely real. None of our things are fake, which I think is a very cool comparison. Take some of Dollar Shave Club’s content, where maybe their advertising were razors that crawl up the mirror. A razor isn’t actually alive, yet they are showing one that crawl up the mirror. Old Spice – we’ve been compared to. Those guys fly off screen and they do all their work on a green screen and this guy has wings and turns into unicorn.

All of our stuff is very, very real. We haven’t done any special effects. I literally dropped onto a camel from this huge platform that we built and I was two feet away from a massive lion roaring at me. We just do these long takes and we get them right. So, I think people appreciate that without even knowing because maybe somebody doesn’t understand the multiple takes behind film, but when you can do something that looks seamless and it looks fun, and it looks like it flows, I’m a big believer of energy and positivity and when you can carry yourself like that through a video then it’s going to catch on. Again, anyone can attempt to ride the coattails of somebody else’s success, but to be able to do it to the magnitude that we’ve done takes its own unique touch.

Did you have experience in marketing previously that you used for Dollar Beard Club?

Man, believe it or not, I didn’t know the first damn thing about paid marketing when we launched Dollar Beard Club. I think that’s part of the journey of being an entrepreneur is just learning as you go and I’m a big believer on jumping into the next platform when you can barely reach it, just enough to get one fingernail in that door to hop onto it, to explore the new land. Yes, all of our original growth was just attributed to organic virality through those different platforms that I mentioned. Afterwards, we were able to learn completely about paid traffic and how that whole network and industry in its own, I think it is its own industry, can really allow business to scale. Now that we’ve tapped into that, it’s allowing us to grow even better, but it still takes creative aspects. Like I said, Facebook is a very competitive landscape and you need to be serving up ads that people want to click on. Think about everyone else serving up their ads and it’s tough to have kind of the two things that makes every business successful. You have a ton of products that are complete shit, like a can of Pepsi. It doesn’t taste good. It’s a little poison to your body, but they put billions of dollars into it and everyone in the world drinks it or you can have something that is a very unknown product like the thing sitting on my balcony. They literally allow you to grow your own plants in four weeks. It’s a tower garden and this thing doesn’t have great marketing behind it. It doesn’t have a lot of dollars.

So, you look at having an awesome product and having awesome marketing, and that’s just what makes a recipe for a winner. Obviously, you can break down those two categories into 100 sub-categories each, but that’s the whole thing about exploring these new lands of opportunity, to be able to just seek out connections, do favors for people to be able to get a meeting, pick their brain on something, be able to take that, apply your own touch, reapply it, and just go through the learning journey. Yeah man, we’re really tapping into all the different proven growth strategies and even as we’re doing that, I look at something like a street team. Street sales are not covered anymore unless your job is on the street and you see the dude shaking their free gold sign, “Come trade in your gold.” It catches out of your peripheral but I’m talking real street team stuff where you go up. You engage with the person. You get some information. You meet with them. You give them value in return. This isn’t some greasy ploy to pull something out of somebody. You want them to be just as excited to give you their email as you are to approach them and to get their email. I think there are different ways to create traffic and again, that just comes back to putting your own personal touch and vision on the things that you try and expand.

What was fundamentally the hardest part of growing a membership service like this?

Fulfillment with respect to the tech, fulfillment with respect to getting the products into the hands of our customers, and manufacturing with respect to quality control and cash flow and timeline issues. To talk on each of those briefly, our tech, we weren’t expecting it to grow as quickly and rapidly and go as viral as it did. We had plenty of website crashes which started pushing stuff to our fulfillment and out of order ways where they were getting big batches in one day and then no orders the next. That was screwing up the product orders that we placed with our manufacturers. It was kind of a ripple domino effect where they all got kind of screwed up. I go back to just exploring things. If you don’t know how to do it, the best way to figure out something is to go do it. Everyone learns there. I’m not one to be able to read a textbook and learn something. I’ll just say, “Hey, we’re going to do this. Okay, I’m getting on the phone. I’m hopping on the internet. I’m just going to start going at it” and you learn as you go through it.

We were able to find the best platform that we should have on our tech. We were able to find the best fulfillment center and we were able to switch in two months after doing business to a completely new house. We were able to add a second manufacturer and put quality control processes in place. When we did all of these things, it just got smoother, man, and like any business, sure, we’re all talking about growth, but how many people actually talk about growing pains. Not that that’s not a talked about topic but to really get into the nitty gritty and the trenches of the situation. There are a ton of things that if I would have had the network and the extra techs I have now, it would have been tenfold, just smooth. So that’s what makes it awesome about the next business and that’s what makes you an adviser to future companies and why it makes sense for that. Just through meetings I’ve had this week with up and coming entrepreneurs and they are asking questions that I know that I’ve made mistakes on, it’s phenomenal to be able to give that advice and that wisdom to others.

Did you consider this business to be capital intensive in its earlier stages or did you consider it to be something that kind of required capital as you went or almost like just in time for it to work?

It could have been capital intensive if you go to the traditional startup route of hiring people for salary. Every single person who is on the team from day one, which were a bunch of us just working on the project, have equity. Every person I’ve brought in has equity and I’m a big believer of having not necessarily a small piece of the big pie but I don’t want a big piece of a small pie. There’s nothing better than sharing the love with everybody around you and having everyone involved. By being able to have that mentality and give equity to the people that were on board, we were able to get our website built, we were able to have guys produce, we were able to have manufacturers giving us discounts and all these sorts of things. So, we were able to get it off the ground for a small amount of money and because everyone I pitched it the business to shut it down. “Oh, it’s a small market. This, that. There’s only this many beards in North America.”

I started explaining to them, man. I’m like, “We’re going to create the market. We’re going to give reason to people to grow their beards.” No one wanted to believe it and now less than a year into our business, we’ve done over $10 million in revenue. A lot of people don’t believe me when I say that. I’ve done like other Skype interviews where I pull up my phone and I show our stripe data because people are just blown away that we’re able to do that. Like I said, man, that comes back to the positive energy, doing something good, giving people something to belong to.

Can you share a little bit about your past background before this and what allowed you to network with such people earlier in the journey rather than after you had a tremendous amount of success with this?

Networking like anything I think it’s just seizing opportunities. Everybody has opportunities. I played Pokémon growing up, Game Boy I’m sure like a bunch of other kids out there and you would run around with little character and patches of grass and you run into a wild Pokémon and you try and capture them. I had this running funny analogy amongst the guys where capturing somebody is like getting them into your network. We all run into people and it’s like, do you just run in and go up to someone and ask them for their autograph or do you say something that’s going to add value and want them to be a part of your network? You have to go and look for different patches of grass. You need to be able to fly to California from where I grew up in Toronto and then be able to go explore the world, to run into somebody on the streets of Europe. When you see these characters and these other people running around, it’s like, what are you running around doing on your own journey?

I think that we’re all the main characters of our own story, but when you can be able to have an open mind and you got to figure out with knowledge. You got to read books. You got to go out there and try different things so that when you do meet these people, you have value to add to them. I think everyone needs people. I think it happens all the time. I think every single person virtually in North America at one point or another can say they have run into somebody that they admire or they have run into a connected person but it’s like, what did you when you ran in? Were you star struck and scared to approach someone? Everyone is human, man, like I look at people looking at me now and they sit down and they feel kind of star struck like, “Oh my God. You’re the Dollar Beard Club guy. You know this person. You’ve done this. You’ve done that,” and I’m sitting there and the first thing I say to them is like, “Man, stop. Talk to me like I’m your brother or your friend or your cousin. I’m just as human as you. I get the same two eyes and mouth, organs in my body. I got the same brains. I experience the same emotions as you,” and you don’t carry yourself that way and you don’t walk in like fear or I need to impress somebody, then the people in the position of power are just naturally refreshed that they are not being treated the way they are used to being treated from having graduated to this new pedestal.

Do you feel people crave the need to be somehow connected to each other?

I think being able to kind of apply that natural mindset and just connect the people in a daily basis, everyone wants to be connected, man. In the movie, Crash, says, I think that we’re so longing and starving for this connectedness that we just purposely crash into each other to be able to feel something real. When you can just give that back to one another, then things just start making sense and once you open one of those doors, it is just a domino effect because you meet one person of influence, they know 10 people of influence. You go meet two of those 10, two of those 10 know 100. You go meet 50 out of those 100 and it’s a snowball effect down the road. I think as you do that, it’s just very important to stay genuine. Be who you are. Tell the truth. Be honest. People love truth. People love honesty. People love people being genuine. Again, man, I’m not appreciating anything that I invented. This is all starts and confined in any ancient book or looking back just on good ways to be a human being. I think when you do that, you work hard, and you put in the hours then you eventually get the life that you want.

You managed to get your Smart Tool Box on Shark Tank not long ago. Can you tell us more about that?

So, it’s a smart tool box. It has a lot of cool functionality built into it with respect to when you’re on the job site. I love building things growing up and you need a flashlight when you’re out there. You need an extension cord. You need a spot to be able to write notes on. Now with technology, it’s given you to be able to have your iPad and referring to different things on the screen, a set of wheels, it has USB port, it has awesome speakers built into it. So being able to put all of these different things into a cool toolbox like that which didn’t exist in any form really put a cool wave into the market and we were able to launch a very successful crowdfunding campaign that did well and now all the way to being on shark tank and putting the other licensing deal with Kevin Herrington. It has been a crazy journey. Again, it has absolutely nothing to do with Dollar Beard Club.

The idea was completely my partner and cofounder, Mike D’Agostini. He’s the guy with the serious construction background. He just builds things with such attention to detail. I think that’s a big thing that I look for in everybody that I hire or to work with is attention to detail and do things with integrity and my definition of integrity is what you do when nobody is watching. When we did that for the Coolbox, I think it’s built out in our first prototype. Everybody liked it and was able to jump on it and Shark Tank helped push it across. We made a deal on the show with Lori where she took a portion of our company for $500,000 and we didn’t end up closing that deal afterwards. Not everything you see on TV actually ends up closing in Shark Tank and the terms they were asking for we didn’t agree with. I think there are a lot of more novice rookie entrepreneurs that don’t have crazy experience so they can get taken advantage of with regards to a term sheet and things of that nature, and we knew we had other connections to make it go out there. So, we took Shark Tank for what it was in terms of integrating experience, made some connections, and ironically enough ended up putting together a licensing deal with a guy who was a shark on previous seasons.

What was the reason the smart tool box did really well on your crowdfunding campaign? What was the kicker? Was it the marketing or was it just that the product was something unique that they really didn’t have anything like it?

I think a combination of things. Yes, for sure the fact that the market didn’t have anything exactly like it and that we had a company at the time called projectcopilot.com which we were making videos for other companies and we had some great PR connections. Unfortunate as it is, man, it’s just a political world out there with respect to getting PR and like you said, we talked about at the beginning of this call, a lot of great ideas never get marketed, but if TechCrunch decides to write about one thing, you can have the world. You can have a pepper grinder on Kickstarter and this thing can bring you $100,000 if it shows up on TechCrunch, Huffington Post, New York Times, Forbes, or any of these things, but being able to land press, it’s all like that whole industry tries that if it’s genuine and authentic.

I read about this article somewhere but all of those guys are being paid and they have a friend of a friend that put it in. It’s just all bullshit so if you’re going to learn to play in somebody else’s world, learn the rules, play by them, get in, get out, and then do your own thing. I think that leads to the fact that we eventually want to have our own platform with Dollar Beard Club where we can launch lifestyle information, have our own social network of some sort. I think you can transition to anything because you look at Snapchat which launched by just doing nude pictures and now they are the world’s like largest curator of news. Uber is a taxi service. I saw them a couple of months ago delivering kittens. It’s like once you have this following and you have these loyal people that are looking at your stuff, you can transition to anything. Don’t be surprised if you see Dollar Beard Club boxes opening up with some of the best beef jerky anybody has ever tasted.

“The path to light is filled with darkness and the path to darkness is filled with light. If you’re able to do all these decisions that are hard and it feels like you’re in the darkness, eventually, you’re going to hit the light.”

– Chris Stoikos

Regarding PR, based on everything you’ve learned today on all these companies, products, and everything else… if you were to do it all over again, which route would you go?

Now, I have a network and so now I have my connections that I can call inside those places like, “Hey, check this out,” but those people get a million emails a day saying the same shit so they are not going to open the ones from somebody they don’t know. I used to be someone they didn’t know so they didn’t open mine. It’s just tough. It’s just kind of clawing away at things and I don’t even have like a great answer to that. I think it’s kind of like creating a viral video. There’s no formula. A lot of it is just hit and miss. You try your best and some take off and some don’t, and some just naturally gets picked up. You look at this Yoda chick and I don’t know when this episode is actually going to be aired but Yoda or whatever. Did you see that thing on Facebook where the girl wore the Chewbacca mask? So, you look at that. She didn’t buy any PR and she’s on Oprah. Certain things just take place organically.

Sometimes it is 100% genuine and people just put something up. Sometimes, it’s you and I having a conversation going, “PJ, I got this really sick idea for someone to be riding a bike upside down and a guy is going to come out of nowhere and clothesline them. We’re going to turn it into an act of happiness but let’s film it super amateur with my iPhone and let’s pretend that it’s not staged. We’ll put it online and we’ll give it to Buzz Feed and they will share it and it will go share on this blog and it just goes viral. It’s just like again, bullshit. There’s no goodness behind that, but some of them are real. I guess kind of the best advice I’d give to that is just have some willpower. Have motivation. It’s so easy to do the things that are easy to do.

The path to light is filled with darkness and the path to darkness is filled with light. If you’re able to do all these decisions that are hard and it feels like you’re in the darkness, eventually, you’re going to hit the light. You’re going to get to a place where it’s like, “Wow, my grinding paid off. I never stopped. I stayed up late. I sacrificed a little bit of sleep, then I gave the sleep to my body and I rejuvenated my health. Then I went and took this meeting that I had no business taking. I said I was in a place where that I wasn’t actually in just to make myself getting to that meeting a lot easier and then I spent $600 that I didn’t have to fly across the country to go take that meeting and that meeting went somewhere or maybe it didn’t go anywhere. It’s just like, don’t get discouraged along the way. Just keep going and as long as you have that desire to succeed, it is a proven fact that you will succeed.

What advice can you give to our followers and young entrepreneurs?

A couple of things, the first thing you want to do is a lot of entrepreneurs get stuck on thinking they need a lot of money to start something up. A lot of times, you just need connections and like I said before, being able to give out actually for something. If you have a good idea, talk to people about it and see what their feedback is, unless you have an iron gut and you just listen to your own kind of way and then you want to go for it anyway, but a lot of people that have already been there, done that, and succeeded, they are flattered when they are asked for advice and approached in the right way. I think you really need to tap into whatever your personal network is and if you have no network at all of anyone who has ever succeeded, look at the local entrepreneur gathering. Be able to go get in there and ask people that have succeeded how they can make something happen.

A lot of times, it’s just a phone call or a phone number that you need.” Hey, I need to order this many units from this spot in China. I need this PR guy’s thing. I need a guy to code a website.” If you have these connections, you can make stuff happen. If you’re 17-19 years old and you don’t know where to start, go send out not 10, not 100, go send out 1,000 emails. Send a heartfelt message to every big entrepreneur that you’ve seen succeed and everything just comes down to conversion rates. You’re going to get somebody reply to you and even if you do send 100, I’ll bet you two people are going to reply and those can be two little nuggets of gold that you just take to the bank. Those are things that it’s just like, “Wow, I’m going to harvest what I just found and be able to harvest even more out of that piece with my own manner.”

If you’re looking to create some quick cash, jump into the internet marketing world. There are great ways to just drive traffic on different offers of different things to be able to make money. Stay genuine when you do it. Pick something that you’re passionate about. Pick something that makes sense and you can start generating some capital that you’ll be able to dump back into your own stuff, but think big. Don’t listen to anybody else. Everyone will just try and drag you down with their own misery because we all have dreams. If you go out to the streets right now, 99 out of 100 people if you ask them the question, “Do you have an idea? Give me an idea about a business you want to start. Give me an idea about a product.” Everyone has an idea, then ask them a second question. “Have you started your idea yet?” The same amount of people that told you that they have an idea, it’s going to be 98% of that say no. As long as you’re going to be willing to try to do it and not listen to other people’s opinions, that will just go back to what I said about success is imminent.

We want to thank Chris for sharing his awesome story. You can follow him at the links below:

If you have a good idea, talk to people about it and see what their feedback is, unless you have an iron gut and you just listen to your own kind of way and then you want to go for it anyway, but a lot of people that have already been there, done that, and succeeded, they are flattered when they are asked for advice and approached in the right way. I think you really need to tap into whatever your personal network is and if you have no network at all of anyone who has ever succeeded, look at the local entrepreneur gathering. Be able to go get in there and ask people that have succeeded how they can make something happen.”

– Chris Stoikos