Real Men Wear Makeup, Says DTC Co-founder

Jon Shanahan wants guys to wear makeup. He is a co-founder of Stryx, a direct-to-consumer maker of concealer and tinted moisturizer for guys. The organization launched in 2017. Shanahan joined shortly afterward, having created his man dressing station on YouTube.

“I woke up [in 2017]… to take video,” Shanahan told me. “I had a massive pimple on my chin. I had the Stryx pencil with me. It covered [the blemish]. You can’t tell I was wearing it at the movie. This was the first time it really set in that this is an interesting product and the ideal time.”

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Fast forward to 2020, and Stryx’s goods are in CVS Pharmacy shops nationwide along with Stryx.com. I recently spoke with Shanahan regarding the corporation’s growth and the future of advertising skincare products to men.

Our whole audio dialog is embedded below. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Stryx.

Jon Shanahan: Stryx is among the first companies to create cosmetics from the ground up for guys. Our first two products are concealer and tinted moisturizer. They are built around the assumption that each and every guy can gain from touch-ups, like pimples, under-eye bags, or razor burn. Women have a slew of options. Men are expected to live with this. We are out to change this.

Bandholz: You started off selling direct to customers from your site.

Shanahan: Yes. Everything, especially in the first year, has been completely DTC. Shopify is an wonderful platform for that. At the end of 2019, we did an in-store evaluation for CVS, the pharmacy retailer; we’re in the middle of a national rollout. But we are digital-first and DTC native.

Bandholz: You are a fellow content creator. Can you start on YouTube?

Shanahan: I don’t like writing. I had been on YouTube first. The station is known as”The Kavalier.” I have since backed into using a site to encourage the YouTube channel.

Bandholz: What’s your vision for Your Kavalier?

Shanahan: I wanted to model myself after Consumer Reports or the Wirecutter, with excellent independent information, and build a business of affiliate earnings. This was in 2015, 2016. I wish to provide the best advice and build trust. I only recommend products that I like and believe in.

I believed that I could cover the entire space by myself. I had no idea just how much that distance would burst between 2014 to 2017.

Bandholz: Stryx wasn’t your idea, right?

Shanahan: Correct. I knew the group behind Stryx since we were covering similar businesses.

The story is that. I moved to the Allen Edmonds [shoe] factory. I was encouraged by the CEO and the head of advertising to spend a day in the mill, meeting their executives, and put together a movie on my station.

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That morning that I woke up to go on the excursion and take movie all day, I had a massive pimple on my chin. I had the Stryx pencil with me since I just packed it before I left for the trip. I was not concerned about what was in my head because I had covered it, and the movie looks amazing. You can’t tell I was wearing it. This was the first time it really set in that this is an interesting product and the ideal time.

Then later in the summer, the men at Stryx stated,”We are interested in finding somebody good at content and branding and community. Do you know anyone?”

I had considered joining different brands before. Not one of them clicked, particularly from a team perspective, how Stryx did. And so I joined as a fulltime co-founder somewhat late in the business. From there, it has been a crazy ride.

Bandholz: In the early stages you worked on everything. What is your current role?

Shanahan: We are a small team. So I’m still concerned with everything. A enormous aim of ours is to overcome the stigma around these products. There’s a enormous education component for men. It’s a good deal of tutorials, the way to incorporate these products into your skin care regimen, the way to look after your skin generally. And so YouTube was a huge part of that. And just being a co-founder is all about raising money, investor relations, that type of thing.

And today, with the CVS retail rollout, I have assumed a few of those responsibilities also. Ultimately in-store retail is a function of advertising, like our electronic advertising channels. We make sure the entire brand is aligned.

Bandholz: The Stryx site is amazing, with fantastic photography. What was the vision for it?

Shanahan: Our idea was if we present our products how Apple does — beautiful photos, fantastic design — then men will buy them. And that happened in the beginning, but that is not how to sustain an organization. We’ve got a new site that is going live in a couple weeks, working with an agency. It is a brand refresh, also, with a lot more men in the photos, far more lifestyle photographs, to demonstrate how the products work. Guys want results. And so our complete new funnel is about showing men how the products work.

Bandholz: There is that education component that is going to be this significant. In Beardbrand, the number one problem of building, basically, a men’s cosmetics company is the whole,”Men do not care about their skin.” Has that been a challenge for Stryx?

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Shanahan: Yes. It is a fine line. The politically-aware”awakened” audience does not have a problem with concealer. On the flip side of this, you have what could be considered conservative America. They will say real men do not wear makeup. They are often Trump supporters. However, the president wears something on his face each and every day. You can view it in all of his photographs. Does that make him less of a person? And the answer is no. Historically men wore makeup.

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Bandholz: You said that you are raising money. What is the long-term target for Stryx?

Shanahan: what’s discussed today in the direct-to-consumer community is your DTC 3.0. What are the classes of the DTC brands which grew from 2010 to 2014 if there was lots of capital increased, a great deal of arbitrage in advertising and direct channels? Where did that get them? We don’t find that path as being workable anymore.

So we are building a strong company with great unit economics. The main reason for the increase would be to build on the chance facing us. We’ve got a lead in this category. We’ve got products that are distinguished. They’re new. But our expansion finally is hindered because our products last a very long time.

The quicker we can expand the product line, the better. And the means to do that is with somewhat more capital to allow the unit economics workout. First of all, it is about building great products. Because if you are the first brand that speaks to someone in a class and the item is correct, customers will remain with you forever.

We take that extremely seriously. If a man is trying us for the first time, we’ve got an exceptional chance to listen to him for his comments. Our entire product roadmap is catering to the men which are telling us,”I wish I had this from you also.”

Bandholz: How can you create awareness around your brand and its products?

Shanahan: It was simple to get attention because we are doing something out of the ordinary. We did an exclusive with Bloomberg on CVS rolling out a men’s cosmetic brand in 2,000 stores nationwide. The first men’s makeup brand to go nationwide. That may get attention.

Bloomberg picked it up as did The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. And so today the challenge is to continue to lead this class.

Bandholz: You mentioned advertising channels. Is it organic or paid?

Shanahan: It is smart paid. Again, we are talking about DTC 3.0. If we are bringing in a client, we do not count on life value paying off down the street. We would like to bring these people in profitably.

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Our plateaus are around our average order value. We have two goods, three products as of June. The sooner we can expand the product line, the better. A higher average order value will help us scale. We’re now selling makeup to guys who buy for themselves. We have not pivoted our messaging to girls who buy for the man in their life. That is going to be a large one.

Bandholz: You are the only person I know who uses TikTok. You swear by it.

Shanahan: TikTok has a very youthful demographic. I had lunch with a buddy back in November who spoke TikTok. I will never forget how he explained it. He said the energy of TikTok isn’t in attracting an audience. It’s how you can edit and make super compelling videos inside the app. The power isn’t that it is a social network. The power is that it’s an editor that could spread your videos. So I came home from that lunch and posted a movie where I was mending razor burn on my throat. I didn’t even understand how the app worked.

The movie is still up there. It is only half done. However, it got 300,000 views the first time I posted it. I was like,”Whoa, there is something interesting here.” During the next few months, I just experimented with the various sounds on the platform.

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So out of a top-of-funnel consciousness platform, there is nothing greater than TikTok. I’m interested to find out what is going to happen with the supposed government-imposed ban coming. But from a fresh awareness standpoint, I have never seen a level of audience involvement such as this, except for a very few YouTube stations.

Bandholz: Are you still doing The Kavalier?

Shanahan: I intend to bring it back with one video each week and continue the audience. And I have a specific format of movie that I like on that website. It takes slightly more time. But there’s far more chance with Stryx and a whole lot more to be done.

Bandholz: How do people learn more about you and your projects?