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Matt Douglas, Founder and CEO of Punchbowl.com

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What Every Entrepreneur Can Learn from DollarShaveClub.com

A few months ago, the entrepreneur/tech world was rocked by the awesome launch of DollarShaveClub. Like many of my peers, I  was excited about the premise of the company. I shave both my face and my head (yes, bald is beautiful), and have often lamented the extraordinary price of razors. From the outset, it sounded like I was a perfect target customer of DollarShaveClub. I’m tech savvy, shave often, and feel like I’m getting ripped off from the razor companies. Without hesitation, I signed up for the “The Executive,” their top-of-the-line razor for $9 per month.

If you haven’t heard of them, or haven’t yet seen the launch video, take a moment to watch the clip below. What a funny, brilliant launch video. And it took the Internet by storm. As of this post, there have almost 4.6M views of that video on YouTube. And I’m sure many more have seen the video on DollarShaveClub.com.

Fast forward a few months. Just a few days ago, I cancelled my subscription. What happened? How did they lose me as a customer? What can all entrepreneurs learn from the launch of DollarShaveClub? Here’s a list of a few things:

1) Your launch really matters: Kudos to Michael Dubin and the team behind DollarShaveClub. They had one of the most talked about launches in recent memory. I loved the video, and I personally shared it with at least 35 people. The video created a firestorm of word-of-mouth marketing, and it propelled the company to early success. And apparently, it only cost $4,500 to produce. A great launch is very, very important to the ultimate success of your product.

2) Focus on your specific demographic: The video worked in large part because it clearly focused their product on a specific demographic. The humor was just right, and their site didn’t try to cater to all people. All of the language on their site appealed to men like me, and they carried their brand throughout the whole experience. Even the buttons on their site made me feel like I was just about to join a club that was perfect for me. (Example: on the ‘How it Works’ page, the call-to-action button is “Join Your Kind” instead of just “Join.”)

3) Have a plan in place to scale: The folks behind DollarShaveClub must have known they had a winner of a video. I imagine that the first folks they showed it to gave them a clear indication that it was going to spread like wildfire. And yet, their servers weren’t prepared for the traffic. Like many others, I tried for days to get into the site. I eventually succeeded in signing up for the service, but not before getting the strong impression that they weren’t ready for the launch. That said, in most cases it isn’t practical to launch your site with a robust back-end. Even so, DollarShaveClub should have had a plan in place that they could implement in 48 hours. From what I’ve heard, it took them almost a week to get things stabilized. Folks like me are patient and want new companies to succeed — but a week is probably too long.

4) Make ‘Sign up’ simple: DollarShaveClub does a great job of making the sign up process simple. They allow you to sign up using your Facebook credentials or simply by entering your email address and a password. The whole sign up process makes you feel like you are joining an elite club and the language reminds you that you’re making a great decision “Who’s the Genius?” Also note that the buttons are tickets — another subtle nod to the idea that this is privileged admission to an elite club.

5) Encourage viral sharing: When we started Punchbowl, we knew that sharing the service would be viral due to the nature of invitations and cards (one host sends invitations to 25-30 guests). DollarShaveClub doesn’t naturally have this kind of built-in virality, so they were smart enough to build in features that encourage sharing. For example, you can earn free months of the service if your friends sign up. Every time a friend becomes a member, you can earn a free month. They made it simple to share the service over email, Twitter or Facebook. And yet for me, I didn’t need any prodding. I earned zero free months, but told lots and lots of people about the service.

6) But, the best product wins: There are some people who say that the best product “doesn’t always win.” I think this is true for some industries — for example, it’s widely agreed that Windows OS was not the best product but it was just good enough for business customers. But when it comes to personal care products, for me only the best will do. And herein lies the problem with DollarShaveClub. As I mentioned earlier, I shave both my face and my head regularly. And I simply can’t get as good a shave with the top-of-the-line blade (“Executive”) from DollarShaveClub. Why? I’m fond of the ProGlide Fusion Power from Gillette. In my opinion, it’s simply a better razor. With its power vibrations, I always get a closer shave, without any cuts. Even though I used my “Executive” razor when I needed a quick shave, I never got the same result as I did from my ProGlide Fusion. And so I cancelled my subscription. For now, they lost me as a customer.

Will I ever come back to DollarShaveClub? I don’t know. Here are a few things that would cause me to re-consider:

•  One mistake that DollarShaveClub made with the “Executive” razor was to ship it with only 3 blades per month. When I was using it regularly, I did notice that with a fresh blade, my shave was considerably better. So if they changed the plan to 4 blades per month, I would reconsider. Why? Because then I would be trained to change the blade on the same day each week. And I think that would probably lead to better results.

•  If they drop the price a little lower, I would probably consider it. I just spent $47 for 15 razors at BJ’s. If I use 3 razors a month, that’s good enough for 5 months. With the current price of DollarShaveClub ($9/month) it’s about the same cost. Price is a small factor for me — but if the price dropped significantly lower than $9/month I would consider supplementing my ProGlide Fusion with a membership to DollarShaveClub.

•  I know my wife tried out the “Executive” blades — if she decided that it was a good option for her, I would re-start my subscription.

•  One more note worth pointing out: I just logged into my account to see if they implemented anything to try to entice me to join again, and I realized that I’m not able to re-start my account. I’m sure they are working on that feature, but now I know I can’t restart my account even if I want to!

•  I’m eager to see if they add on additional products to their service. I’m not sure what products would make me re-consider, but I’ll be watching their progress.

All entrepreneurs can learn a lot from the fantastic launch of DollarShaveClub. While they had one of the most successful launches in web history, their product failed to live up to its promise (in my opinion). If you’re starting a company, what can you do to create a successful launch for your service? And if you’re smart enough to dream up a successful launch, will your product deliver? Can you keep your customers for the long-term?

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