The Menswear Style Podcast

Derrick Webb, Founder of Bolin Webb

January 27, 2022 Menswear Style Episode 158
The Menswear Style Podcast
Derrick Webb, Founder of Bolin Webb
Show Notes Transcript

Design excellence is the cornerstone of Bolin Webb. They aim to conceive and develop razors and accessories that stand out in terms of appearance, handling and performance. Derrick Webb started with a simple idea: to create a razor that would be a pleasure to use. At the time, ten years ago, shaving tools were for the most part available on the high street in supermarkets and pharmacies, and they focused on cheap construction and differing levels of blade performance. Some more traditional and expensive “gentlemen” razors with wood and chrome handles were also available in specialty shops. No razor was available that was design-led, contemporary and appealing to the user for handling, appearance and performance. Derrick saw the opportunity to create a razor handle that was distinctive and eye-catching – something you would like to see on your bathroom shelf as well as use – not something to hide after your shave. The initial R1 razor was conceived as a razor to enjoy, and this ethos carries across all their range today. Over the past 10 years they've extended the Bolin Webb brand to all continents, looking to make products available to those with an eye for design.

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Derrick Webb, Founder of Bolin Webb about the founding story of his men's shaving brand which he launched 10 years ago. With a background in manufacturing he had the skills to bring his new razor product idea to market. Our host Peter Brooker and Derrick talk about exporting to new markets, design and innovation, working with product designers, raising capital for growth, pitching to investors, how men's shaving has changed over the past decade, product pricing, and their recent Mr Slowboy collaboration.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the menswear style podcast. I'm your host Pete Brooker and today on the show I'm talking to Derrick Webb, who is the founder and brainchild of Bollin. Web. Bali web is a British brand, bringing design excellence to shaving award winning razors made in England and fitted with Gillette blades. And here is Derek to talk about Bollin web in his own words. I'm, as you say, the founder of bowling web, which has been in business for 10 years. Now. In fact, last year, we celebrated a 10 year anniversary. And that times passed very quickly. And a lot has happened in those 10 years since I first launched the product into the UK market to begin with. I've got a background in manufacturing. So I'm not a product designer, per se. But I know if you like how to bring a product idea to market and get it made. And that was really a key part of my journey in the early days. I see I have no idea was mine originally for these design that raises. Right. So what what kind of manufacturing were you in? I was in aluminium and metals, manufacturing, and I spent the better part of 20 years in that area, working really all over the world was based principally in Europe, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, a lot of travelling with my family at the time. And were you it was a very interesting period, because I got exposed to a lot of different types of business cultures, a lot of markets, also working in Asia and North America. And I think that stood me in good stead, when it came to launching my own business and opening markets abroad, then I could really come to terms with what it takes to do business in a different country, how to work with different cultures, not just in a business term, but also in understanding markets, understanding people communicating with them. And I think that's really been important for Bode in web in those years to open new markets. So we export about, you know, 80%, of what we do now is going into different markets across the world. Oh, interesting. And were you when you're in manufacturing, were you always kind of looking for that great idea? Or were you always kind of on the hunt, knowing you were going to go into business for yourself at some point. Were there other products in the hat or other types of genres? No, there wasn't a master plan to be in somebody else's business in manufacturing for 20 years, and then start my own, I think it was just the transition towards the end of that period, that I would like to do something different, I would like to have my own business. Having said that, you know, in my manufacturing space, I did have a fair amount of exposure to product design, to introducing new ideas to market because I was working with mostly an iminium. And that's a product or metal that gets used in lots of different areas. And so it was Yeah, not too difficult to leap into. I've got an idea. Let's see how we can design it. Let's see how we can make it. And really that background, as I said earlier was was a great strength to me at the time. That was the that was the end of this period, you know, towards the end of that time to think Well, I would like to run my own business, I would like a new journey. And so you sort of, you know, subconsciously are looking for, well, how can you do things differently? How can you be bringing innovation to market and the idea of a razor handle dropped into into my lap if you like? Yeah, it's a story, which is quite funny because we were on a holiday in a skiing holiday at the time. And when you rent somewhere, it's pretty devoid of personal effects. And I walked into a shower room and all I saw was this really nasty looking old razor of mine and I thought, why am I punishing myself with this old tool? I've got to think there's got to be something better out there, you know, and that made me to think of well, what is in that market? Could it be different? And at that time, I did see an opportunity for bringing something which was more design led more appealing to the eye aspiration and really there was nothing in the market like that at the time. Yeah. I mean, and if you if you Sorry, go ahead. No, no, I was just gonna say you mentioned innovation there. And I felt like that was one word that really left the mind when, I mean, I've seen your raises before. But when I did a deeper dive on the website, today, the actual kind of the designs are magnet at the tip of the razor. So it looks like it's defying gravity, I think it's a sign it does, it looks very, very unique, almost something where you have to look twice at it. So how do you get those early steps in terms of the design element? Who do you look to to go and kind of flesh these ideas out for you? Okay, well, at the very beginning, the first time this idea came, it was just a very personal process of saying, Well, what would I like your razor handle to look like? And it's for first form, you know, what shapes what colours? What balance? How do they come across in terms of their appeal, their eye catching appeal. And that was a very personal process. But to bring it forwards, you need to I need to anyway, engage with product designers. And they're the people who take these first early formed ideas, and then translate it trying to capture your thinking into something that actually looks good and can be made. And that is where you need to sort of reach out beyond your own idea and take it to a professional technical designer and say, here, I would like to bring a design, can we work together? And that working together is really important in designing, bringing innovation, that teamwork, that creativity, it's a bit you know, wide ranging, it's a bit wacky, you know, you're looking at different ideas, looking at different approaches. Coming up with crazy ideas sometimes which which you know, ultimately don't work. But it's all part of that process you have with, you know, the people you work closely with on design. I'd love to see the ones that didn't work. We have some crazy levitated ideas. I mean, they were never gonna work. We knew it. But it was fun to talk about it. Yeah, I feel like that's hardly the next article on your site nearly raises? How did you go about raising the capital then director to get something like this off the ground? Okay, so in the early years, let's say the first three to four years, it was all self financed, you know, so it was a incremental growth, which you know, when you're an early start is quite important. And cash flow management is always very important when you're running your own business. Sure. After a period of some years, we went into the world of Angel networks, you know, where you start making your pitch to a group of investors who are all looking for an opportunity to make a good return on their investment. And I think we were working with three different investor groups and Angel groups and probably did maybe two or three pictures to different meetings that there may be 10 prospective investors in a in a particular meeting, and you have your 15 minutes slot stuck in between some other product and another service or whatever it might be and you you do your best and you try and pick up some interest which we did you know, we we have a good investor with us who's been with us over the subsequent years. And that's been a great strength to the business as well. And these I'm imagining Dragons Den just the format of Dragon's Den without the interviews, the guy downstairs with the quirky clocks in the background, is it? Is it something like that? Yeah, we were actually approached by Dragon's Den but we were, we had already done our, our fund raising by them, and I'm glad I didn't have to go on to Dragon's Den and get pulled to pieces, quite frankly, quite as publicly as happens there. Generally speaking, the angel investment community is very genial, you know, they're very nice people. They ask good questions. They're not out to get your skin or catch you out. They want to understand and they want to understand what your business model but also where you see the end game. And that's an important discussion to take with them. I find a lot of these being a lot of the pitches on Dragon's Den, people are looking to invest in the person as much as they are the product, did you find that as well with some of the pitches that you were making to the investors that they were also looking at you as if to say, Can we really invest in Derek, I think that's very, very important, because they've got a very short space of time to try and get to know you as a prospective partner, or a place where they're going to put their money. And that's not a lot of time to take measure of somebody, of course, it's not the only meeting you'll have with them, you know, you make your first pitch, they like the idea, they like the product or service, maybe they see you already got a position in the market somewhere, which is a good recommendation. If they do show interest, they're going to meet you again, you know, they're not, they don't put some money on the table and say, right, there you go, is whatever it is, or not, for whatever share, you know, they come back to you. And they then you enter, what can be quite a protracted negotiation of how much you're looking for how much you're prepared to let go for that share. And you have to get into a serious negotiation. But like speed dating, in a way, it's very one one way speed dating. I mean, you're just making a pitch to a lot of people who don't know, right? So I imagine that was in person back in the day, I guess these days would be Oh, yes, yes. No, there was nothing on zoom at that time, maybe there is today, that would be really speedy. It would be difficult actually. Because you've got to meet your investor to you don't want just their money. That's the mistake that many make, you know, you need to partner with somebody you can work with, as a business owner, and what role will that investor play in your business? Now we're very fortunate that we've got a single investor who is interested and informed and challenging. You know, this is the one person who asks me the most difficult questions. And it frustrates me sometimes, but he's absolutely doing the right thing to do that. Yeah. It's almost like the check to your balance. Pardon the pun, when you came away from investments, Derek, over the last 10 years of brands been going could you know, any real fundamental changes that you've seen in men's grooming over that time that really stick out? Yes, there have been a lot of profound changes to men's grooming on the tool side, not even to talk about skincare, which is very complicated. Well, its own within the world of tools. When we started, the market was fairly straightforward. It was the disposable razor. It was the technical category of the blade with the Gillette's and Wilkinson swords. And then you jump to the the more exclusive badger brush gentleman, Ebony ivory shop. So there was nothing in that middle space we were looking at, which was contemporary design, affordable luxury, with a sort of eye catching and aspirational twist. So we've, in a way, plug the gap there. Those were early days. But since that, of course, the big moves you've seen are the emergence of subscription services. And back in 2015, or there abouts there were a large number of new entrants which came in to that market on the back of Dollar Shave Club and Harris in the US. And particularly the Harry's story is remarkable where they launched the subscription service and then were bought out an hour, a much more mainstream brand, which you can buy in a supermarket. So that's I don't know what the future of subscription will be as a, you know, mainstream shaving area, or whether it's just an evolution. We'll see but that that world is very much about capturing the blade market competing with Gillette for example. We We'd like to be supplying blades to consumers, not the handle or the shaving set. So that's a very profound change. Another big change is the emergence of the safety razor as a much more popular tool for shavers, you know, in, in Western markets, not really in Asian markets. And do you think that people are now using safety razors more? Let's just say in the last half year with what's going on with pandemics, etc? Maybe they want to go out a bit more now that the restrictions are easing? And do you think like people are now wanting to have the pleasure of shaving again, for events? And going out? Yes, I would have thought so. But it's difficult for me to, to measure that I would say I mean, clearly the, you know, the beard, the emergence of their beard wasn't there to the degree when I started the business. So again, that's been a disruptive trend to shaving tools, if you like, and it's had to force the major players to address the question of how to men with beards, shave. Okay, so even if you are with a beard, you're likely to want to have a razor you might not be shaving as often as if you're clean shaven, like me. But you know, you're gonna have a a razor of some sort in your toolkit. I always find that a bit wacky, to be honest with you, Derek. I mean, I, I've seen a bunch of se influencer friends with full on beards. And then they're kind of endorsing razors. And like, how you guys even using this? Are you using it for like the tiniest bit on the cheekbone? I mean, it's just something that they're just saying yes to because it's another opportunity to, you know, do a partnership or get some money. And probably that to about, you'd have to really ask a man with a beard a wide razor. But yes, certainly trimming a line, you know, certain blades have trimming blades on them, too. But also, you know, they're parts of your face or your neck or indeed, you know, other parts of your body that you want to, to take a razor to. So yeah, I mean, just round up here, so maybe go. Well, Derek, what, what about the state of play with Bollin? Web now? So like we say, 10 years on? I assume this is more than nine to five or a way of life as it were? Don't imagine your pencils down at 5pm. But what what kind of position is the company in now? How many people are working for you? Well, we're a small company, very small company. So we're only four people in here. Oh, wow. Yeah. So what we are doing is working with a network of different partners that may be product designers, or graphic designers or web, internet, people, PR, distribution partners. So I really built the business on the back of having good strong relations with with external partners, not by employing people, people within the company itself. When it looks on the website, which is Bollin web.com. By the way, it looks a lot bigger company than for people. I don't know if that's a compliment or not. But it's, it feels like a much kind of a more global brand where more people should be involved behind the scenes. Yeah, no, we are a small company. I think the coming back to your question about which direction we're going, I think the important thing is to bring newness to our product portfolio. So we have quite a lot of new products in the pipeline, which we're looking to introduce later this year. And collaborations as well. We've done some collaborations. We had a collaboration last year with a Chinese artist called Mr. Slow boy. He does a number of different brand collaborations which are rather fun. His artwork is a sort of cartoon, Tintin type genre, which is eye catching to he. He was a collaboration we worked with because, you know, it's an appeal in China, which is one of our biggest markets. I like that there's a gentleman in a pinstripe suit, who holding a mobile phone with a briefcase on the handle, kind of like it like Hand Drawn cartoon like you're saying, Are you? Do you plan on doing any more of these? We might do a second version of this later in the year. The one you refer to we call him the man from Mayfair. He was only came to market last summer. So we don't want to repeat it too quickly for for that China audience. What about? Is it possible for people to do their own designs? And then maybe have them on your razor? So something that they could even personalise themselves? Yeah, great idea. Personalization, if only with initials would be great as well. But because these products are painted and lacquered, it's a very complicated process to modify them beyond what's on offer. That product you talked about the cartoon character of the man in this pinstripe is a very special technology, which is essentially tattooing that image into the razor handle. And we couldn't repeat that on an individual basis. I see. Well, maybe maybe an idea for the future of some kind. But I think it's, that's one of the big standouts, and there's many that you can find on the Berlin web website. Different colours, and again, the Union Jack one there that's on there. Also there. When I when I was going to go onto the site, I was expecting to pay a lot more for these are really accessibly. Price. Yes, I think we've always tried to bring a premium product, which was affordable luxury, if you like, not out of reach. And I've always kept that close to me. It's still a lot of money for razor, of course, you know, it's not going to ever compete with a with a supermarket shop. But somebody who's looking to find something different. Somebody who's got an eye for design likes to have their eye set beautiful products around them, well designed products around them. It is a a, a tool, which can sit in your bathroom and is eye catching is, you know, look looks great. And many people find that that's important to them. And I understand that completely. That's what's driving me, you know, unlike the tools I use, or the things I buy that, that do make a difference that do stand out and look good, no well designed, well thought through and last a good long time. And especially for guys, I mean, I think living with my partner, she's got the entire cabinet to herself. And pretty much the entire drawer. Now I might have a little tiny part of that, for that a bit of shape. And, you know, a bit of my own kind of creams and whatnot. But having something in there that is like the standout that's yours compared to the rest of the junk that's going on the other side. And so it's quite important for for guides. I should have said that. I agree with that. And I think your partner would probably agree that if you had a bone in way whip raiser in your bathroom, she would allow you to let that take pride of place. And you've got to be careful that she doesn't start using it when you're not looking. Yeah, like she does with most of the aftershave. Well, Derek, been a real pleasure having you on the show. And what's next for you. But Bollin web, are we looking at any new releases and the anniversaries? Well, as I said, we're working on a number of new products which we want to bring to market I think there is a something of a release of the COVID where we can step up our product development game now. So we have been working through COVID with designers on newness on races and accessories, which I'm very excited about. I look forward to these coming to market in the months to come without going into detail. Excellent. Nice teaser, though. Well, we can. We can find out more when it's coming out on Bollin web.com And we'll put all the links over on the show notes over at menswear style. But in the meantime, Derek, great fun talking to you. Thanks for taking the time out today. Thank you very much Peter. You've been listening to the menswear style podcast be sure to head over to menswear style dot code at uk for more Menswear. content and email info at menswear store dot code at UK if you'd like to be a future guest on the show. Finally, please help support the show by leaving a review on iTunes or wherever you're listening to this podcast. Until next time