Tech Is Transforming Careers Like Never Before. Just Ask Bevel Founder Tristan Walker

He applied data know-how to an age-old problem and revolutionized shaving

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A few years ago, rising tech star Tristan Walker—who’d scored business development gigs at Twitter and Foursquare even before finishing his MBA at Stanford in 2010—sought guidance from a retired packaged-goods executive. In what would end up being a career-defining exchange, the exec indirectly addressed a seemingly mundane problem of Walker’s: His years of cheek-to-chin irritation from shaving products that weren’t made with his mug in mind.
“She told me something interesting: ‘Look at photos of black men 100 or 120 years ago—they don’t have razor bumps on their faces,’” Walker recalls. “At first, I thought she was being facetious. But then after some time, I started searching terms like ‘black men in the 1920s’ or ‘Harlem Renaissance.’ I looked at around 1,200 photos, and I didn’t find one with razor bumps on their faces, which I found uniquely interesting.”

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Unlike today, Walker learned, men of that era typically shaved with single-blade, double-sided razors. He started researching the history of shaving commerce and examining the current state of the marketplace, learning that 80 percent of men who get razor bumps are African American. Walker zeroed in on the opportunity to serve the black demographic at scale better than perhaps anyone had previously by creating a shaving kit that uses single-blade razors, similar to the ones men had been using a century ago.
In 2013, he launched Walker & Co., which—in the grand scheme of things—aims to be the first Johnson & Johnson for people of color and could possibly even position as a modern version of shaving pioneer King C. Gillette. Walker’s introductory offering was Bevel, an online monthly subscription to shaving products that includes proprietary blades, shaving cream, priming oil and restoring balm for a little less than $30. “I created a [business] model with a system approach,” he explains.
Walker’s shift to ecommerce seemed like a risky career pivot. After all, his extensive tech experience could have eventually landed him an executive role at one of Silicon Valley’s heavy hitters. But he was unusually suited to make the move, given his keen sense of just how critical data management is for a business to succeed.

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So far, his efforts are paying off. Walker & Co. lifted sales by 200 percent annually in its first few years and expects to triple revenue this year (Walker declined to provide revenue figures) as offline distribution partnerships with Target and Sephora mature and Walker’s latest brand, Form—which specializes in hair products for women of color—gets off the ground. By utilizing personalization and remarketing systems, Bevel has retained 95 percent of its subscribers in recent months, with consumers spending an impressive $49 in ecommerce purchases on average, per retail researcher Slice Intelligence.
Bevel employs various programmatic networks to remarket to consumers who have recently visited the brand’s site, including targeted Google ads based on searches as well as Facebook campaigns utilizing interest-level data.
When it comes to personalization, Walker doesn’t just try to keep consumers in the fold with run-of-the-mill messaging. For prospects who have signed up for a newsletter but haven’t made a purchase, second and third email attempts will be sent out with direct mail-styled copy.
There is still a lot of room for growth: Last year, Bevel owned about 1 percent of the online shaving market, according to Slice Intelligence. Walker is now shifting some attention offline as well as he aims to capture a bigger piece of a $30 billion global shaving market.
Here, Walker talks about how marketing technology is transforming his career and ambitions to build his company into a global grooming empire.

This story first appeared in the July 24, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.