Alpha Male Succeeds with Haircare, Skincare, Sunglasses

Aaron Marino says that he hates to read. He is bad at writing and grammar, he asserts.

But he is really good at making movies.

“I had a gym which didn’t work out,” he told me. “I began making YouTube videos 2008 with no thought that I could ever make a buck on that platform.”

Fast forward to 2020. Alpha , Marino’s YouTube portalsite, which concentrates on male grooming and fitness, has 6 million subscribers. It’s spawned multiple ecommerce companies, such as Pete & Pedro (haircare), Tiege Hanley (skincare), and Enemy (sunglasses).

He is an influential, serial online entrepreneur, in other words. My recent conversation with him addressed employees, delegating, and mixing lifestyle with work, among other subjects. What follows is our whole audio conversation in addition to a transcription, that has been edited for clarity and length.

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Eric Bandholz: Let’s talk business. Was Pete & Pedro your initial go-round into ecommerce?

Aaron Marino: Yes. I am 44 years old. I had other companies before finding my house online.

I had a gym which didn’t work out. I began making YouTube videos in 2008 with no thought that I could ever make a buck on that platform.

So I began to look around. I tried my hand in creating an information product. The issue is that I hate reading, and I am bad at writing or punctuation. I was more comfortable with video.

1 day I decided I was tired of using American Crew hair products. I love hair. I enjoy cutting hair, styling hair. So I went to my friend, Steven, who is a hairstylist. I asked,”Where would I get some products made?” He gave me a contact number. I vetted three or four private-label businesses. That is how Pete & Pedro started.

My initial manufacturing order for Pete & Pedro was five goods, 96 units of each. They sat in a spare bedroom of mine. The first year I had $34,000 in earnings. So, yes, that was my first ecommerce enterprise. Although I tried selling beaded bracelets. But I had been beading bracelets all night long. That model definitely wasn’t scalable.

Bandholz: Among those things I always admired about Pete & Pedro is how lean you maintain the business. It blew my mind the quantity of volume you managed to do with few workers.

Marino: I am still super lean. I have five workers. We will do close to $5 million this year. So that’s very good.

I am not opposed to hiring more. However, the folks that I have are so powerful and amazing. We use temporary agencies once we are in need of help.

A designer assists me with packaging and logos. Another contractor produces our newsletters. However, I have only five full-time workers that work exclusively for Pete & Pedro.

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Bandholz: How are you able to run a $5 million business with five employees?

Marino: Everything changed for Pete & Pedro once I hired a friend that I’d met through the grooming business, Mike Levy. He approached me and said,”Hey, I believe that you’re passing up an opportunity. Why not I come on board and help you?” At the time I was a control freak. I answered,”No, no. I am good.” At that stage, I had been growing. My numbers were doubling every year.

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But then it struck me. Pete & Pedro was around $2 million in earnings. I realized that it is a company here, and that I needed help.

That was one reason why I went on Shark Tank the next time with Pete & Pedro. I knew I needed help. I’m bad at lots of things. What I am good at is talking on camera. This is pretty much exactly what I have come to realize.

So I hired Mike Levy as the advertising manager. It has been a little over a year. He’s become the single most significant game-changer for our company — using a plan and getting into the numbers. So I give him lots of credit.

Bandholz: Among the most understated skills is being able to recognize talent and give them the freedom to succeed. What are your secrets in finding good men and women?

Marino: I am not that smart in identifying individuals. The proprietor of our marketing agency is my very best friend from high school. He happens to be an awesome salesperson.

The largest wild card for me was when I began Tiege Hanley, the skin care business. I was going into business with two men I didn’t know. I didn’t understand their history. I didn’t understand their work ethic. But I knew they wanted to do something amazing. So I chose to participate. We pooled our abilities. All three people believed in the business.

Everybody else that works for me is a friend. So most of my hires are friends and people that I’ve gotten to know through the years. I knew them before I hired them. So there is no real secret other than surrounding yourself with intelligent people who you trust.

Bandholz: Another word to describe your achievement is hardworking. Tell us what the normal day looks like for you and your workers.

Marino: They operate differently. Not one of them punch clocks. I don’t care if they work or do not work. I care about implementation. I care that they get the work done. If things are getting done without errors, then I am good.

For me, yes, I work a lot. I really like it. I don’t have kids. This company is my baby.

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My day begins at about 6 a.m. I operate one way or another until about 10 p.m. That is Monday through Friday. The weekends I take off.

I have assembled my entrepreneurial area around my life. I exercise twice a day: morning and evening. I create time to see my mother-in-law at a senior center who’s suffering from dementia. I see her on my lunch break.

Bandholz: Let’s discuss Tiege Hanley. Pete & Pedro sells one-off products. However, Tiege is a subscription box.

Marino: We are in year five with Tiege Hanley. It began as a subscription service. We developed custom skincare products — level one, two, and three. We laid out precisely what product to use, how much of it, and what time of day. We attempted to take the guesswork out of skincare for men.

We did that for a little while. We had tremendous success growing it organically through my YouTube videos. But we had somebody to bring it to another level. I will only do so much. My audience is limited.

We understood we’re trying to force people into a particular routine. We’re telling them how to use our products. But that wasn’t necessarily how our clients were using them.

So you have got to be ready to alter your strategy. You have got to listen to feedback. When we did this, we understood that we will need to provide a more flexible choice to keep customers longer. With any subscription company, the key is how long you can keep these clients.

Bandholz: a great deal of entrepreneurs fall into the trap of murdering a job when it is not working.

Marino: For sure. Having ways to analyze this data has been incredibly valuable for us — recognizing that certain customers are more valuable than others.

We treated every client the same when we were beginning. We finally realized certain clients spend more money with us. We had to deal with them differently.

We created a retention platform which we have nicknamed Sequoia that provides free products. Seventy percent of new clients now provide their t-shirt size as in box they get a complimentary t-shirt. We are trying to keep the great customers happier. Trying to obtain, acquire, acquire is a losing battle.

Another thing that worked incredibly well was carrying the Dollar Shave Club approach. The first box is a starter system at a lower price to get people in the door. It is a $15 offer.

But we are still making a profit at $15, even with shipping. We have also discovered that giving individuals the ability to add products at checkout raises the average purchase amount from $15 to $22.

Bandholz: You came out with a pure lifestyle product known as Enemy. It sells sunglasses.

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Marino: The narrative with Enemy could not be simpler. I was in Chicago in a Tiege Hanley assembly. I went for a run near the lake.

A friend there owns a shop named Glasses Limited. He had a sign on the window which read,”Good is the enemy of good.” I thought, man,”enemy” could be a superb name for a sunglass business.

I love sunglasses. I was spending $500 on high-end brands. I began thinking about creating high-quality sunglasses that don’t cost $500.

So I called a man who has sourced custom products in China. I had no expectations other than to determine if we can do it. So we did. It was a excellent experience.

But it’s more challenging than our goods at Pete & Pedro and Tiege Hanley, which can be both manufactured from the U.S. Attempting to coordinate shipping and customs and language — it is challenging. But we did it, and it has been successful.

Bandholz: Let’s discuss Ollie. Was that company a sorrow?

Marino: Ollie was a lesson for me. Ollie is a teeth-whitening subscription business. I got excited about the company, but not for me . It was because I feel this enormous amount of responsibility to look after my friends. In cases like this, it was my friend Terry.

So I went to that business with the intent of helping my friend out. We got the stock. We did a launching. The first day we did approximately $30,000 in sales. We were amazed.

Then we started getting complaints that the stock was poor quality. It disintegrated in your mouth. The samples we had before launching did not do that. So we had to make a choice.

We had approximately $80,000 in stock. What do we do? Can we sell the subpar item, or do we simply shut the business down? Since my reputation was on the line, the choice was simple. We shut down the business for around three months.

Then I made the tough decision I can not be a part of the business .

Bandholz: I remember that video of you carrying a box of stock and throwing it in the trash to notify your audience.

Marino: Yes. We filled a dumpster with boxes of stock. It was horrible. The manufacturer gave us a little charge, but we still needed to come out of pocket to keep the company going. We have since sold the business.

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