Sramana Mitra: How did you get millions of bookings prior to having a product?
Jonathan Spier: A big portion of that was because of spending time upfront to identify a vision that the right people care about and then connecting with those right people.
Sramana Mitra: Where did that vision come from?
Jonathan Spier: My co-founder was our original visionary. It was the team overall. We had a great team. It was a joint vision between us and customers.
Sramana Mitra: How did P&G come on board?
Jonathan Spier: This was actually written up. They did a bake-off. They invited a hundred companies to tell them why men wear a stubble. If you think about it, there are all these reasons. You can get seven people in a room and they’ll tell you seven answers. What we demonstrated was that we could find all the things people were saying about shaving at that time. We can give them a clearly categorized answer. I named my price. They were super smart. They said, “We’re going to give you a piece of that price, but we’ll bring you other people.”
Sramana Mitra: Those partnerships are invaluable.
Jonathan Spier: I remember when we left the meeting, my salesperson said, “They’re complicating the deal.” I said, “No, they’re giving us a whole market.”
Sramana Mitra: That’s brilliant.
Jonathan Spier: That influenced me a lot. Another highlight with NetBase is, we had a huge partnership with SAP. We were the first company they ever globally resold a hosted product to. There were other things. The theme is to not try to be so internal and do everything yourself. I see too many companies that try to do every step themselves. They’re scared to partner.
Sramana Mitra: The early product design phase, working with customers is invaluable.
Jonathan Spier: There’s also tremendous value in getting folks to think through what it’s worth to them financially before you build the product.
Sramana Mitra: That is not the method you followed with your consumer shoe company, right?
Jonathan Spier: In a way, it is. What we figured out quickly is, in this connected economy, what’s so much better than pushing an advertisement is creating a community of common interest. We had a vibrant community. We got amazing help from our community in building the product.
At one point, we did a national agreement with Nordstrom. The product was an amazing fit of quality, function, and looks. At that time, it was a category-creating product. Your choices were sneakers that were functional but not great-looking, or more casual shoes that are good looking but not as functional. We created a super-stylish sneaker.
Sramana Mitra: Was the community a social media community?
Jonathan Spier: It was on social media. It began by enunciating the values of the brand and all the things we cared about. We had strong brand principles and we knew what we cared about as a brand. We invited people in who cared about the same things. We treated them as collaborators.
Sramana Mitra: Was that a venture-funded company?
Jonathan Spier: It was. We were backed by a few venture funds but also by some retail investors. Our retail-type folks were people out of Uniqlo and Rockport.
Sramana Mitra: What happened to it?
Jonathan Spier: It’s still going. I realized that I liked B2B a lot more. As much as I loved it, my business partner was a retail guy from Diesel, Puma, and Ugg.
Sramana Mitra: That’s a hardcore retail guy.
Jonathan Spier: He is. He was the chief designer of all those companies. He’s a lifetime retail guy. I handed him the keys to the company. For him, that was a big step up into the CEO role.