TODAY is my last day at Dollar Shave Club. After almost half a month at the firm — first as the bear costume guy for our promo clip, then in the warehouse until last weekend, and since Tuesdsay doing a bit of phone and email stuff — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Dollar Shave Club is one of the world’s largest and most important shippers of disposable razors and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.
It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Dollar Shave Club’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always sending the right disposable razors to our clients. The culture was the “aftershave balm” that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for nearly two weeks. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love packing disposable razors for so many days. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
But this was not always the case. For almost a whole afternoon I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected out of a firm of more than 3 to appear on our promo video, which is currently playing in every wifi-equipped hipster coffee shop around the world. In the parking lot last Tuesday I managed the summer intern program in Envelope-Stuffing and Breaking Open The Big Boxes for eight winos who made the cut out of the many more who had applied.
I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look winos in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.
When the history books are written about Dollar Shave Club, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Alejandra, and the president, Mike, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.
My clients have a total asset base of more than a dollar a month. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. Five blades? Who needs them? We said it ourselves! This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Dollar Shave Club. Another sign that it was time to leave.
How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about a Five O’Clock Shadow, not needing a stubble-free face 24/7. Today, if you close enough 5 blade subscriptions for the firm (and are not currently on the rebound from Goldman Sachs) you will be promoted into a position of influence.
What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is DSC-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the disposable razors or other products that we are trying to get rid of quickly for cash because we got them free off our suppliers. Even though they are crap razors. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are going bald and considering a “Shaved-Bald” look, and some of whom aren’t — to buy razors for shaving their heads as well as their face! Call me old-fashioned, but “Shaved-Bald” sends out all sorts of mixed messages and I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to flog any plastic, shiny nonsense with a lubra-strip and a vibrating handle.
Today, many of these leaders display a Dollar Shave Club culture quotient of exactly zero percent. I attend sales meetings where not one single minute is spent asking questions about how we can deal cheaply with blade rash. It’s purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that the smoothness of a client’s shave was not part of the thought process at all.
It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last week and a half I have seen Mike and Alejandra refer to their own clients loudly as “muppets,” sometimes within earshot while I’ve been on the phone to the latest newspaper asking about our viral Youtube video. No humility? I mean, come on. Integrity? It is eroding. I don’t know of any illegal behavior, but will people push the envelope and pitch lucrative and complicated 5-blade products to bum-fluffed 14 year-olds? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.
It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If 14 year olds tear their faces open with a Quintessence every time they start playing with Dad’s shaving foam, they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.
Today, the most common question I got from Mike was, “How much money did we make off the client?” Duh! A Dollar! It bothers me every time I hear it, because it is a clear reflection that he rented Wall Street Part 2 last night, and now he thinks he should behave like Michael Douglas. Now project 10 days into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the new Goods-Out guy sitting quietly in the corner of the room licking stamps and hearing about “muppets,” “tearing throats open” and “getting shaved” doesn’t exactly turn into a model citizen.
When I was in the bear suit I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to use toilet paper to dry out a cut. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes, finding out what pre-shave exfoliation was, understanding why Turks need to shave more than Finns, getting to know our clients and what motivated them, learning how they defined value for money, a clean shave and what we could do to help them get there.
My proudest moments in life — getting out of the bear suit, posting out my first Dollar subscription razor, winning an argument with our suppliers in Shanghai over some delayed trial size sachets of Brut by Fabergé, known as the Crown on the King’s Head Of Shaves — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. Dollar Shave Club today has become too much about 30 Dollars A Month and less about 1 Dollar A Month. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.
I hope this can be a wake-up call to Mike, Alejandra and the new bear costume guy. Make the client the focal (follicle?) point of your business again. Without clients DSC will not make money posting disposable razors out to people who get themselves tied into monthly purchase contracts over the internet, a business plan that you seem to have swung some venture capital somewhere for, even though razors are widely available in lots of different kinds of stores, and forgetting to buy a pack isn’t really a big deal, or a problem that needs an added middleman to help “solve”. In fact, you will not exist. Well, you’ll exist of course, but you won’t be getting rich off the combination of goodwill generated by a mildly charming promo clip, and an at best ropey business idea. Weed out the morally bankrupt people, no matter how many 5-blade-with-balm-contracts they close. And get the culture right again, so people want to work here for the right reasons. People who care only about making money will not sustain Dollar Shave Club — or the trust of its suggestible, ironic clients — for very much longer.