King of Shaves' Will King on relishing the battle with P&G

Will King: founder and chief executive of King of Shaves
Will King: founder and chief executive of King of Shaves

The founder and chief executive of King of Shaves on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of leading an innovative challenger brand and maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit.

It's pretty surreal writing this in Marketing (where I started work in October 1987 as a fresh-faced, bushy-tailed display ad sales executive). From a degree in mechanical engineering to making more than 200 cold calls a day to get deals done to challenging the global shaving duopoly. Who knew?

I have never worked so hard as I have done these past five years, let alone these past few months, and had so much at stake on product strategy calls taken years back, to deliver a better razor than Gillette. Yep, better than "The best a man can get".

My team at King of Shaves has had a tough ride of it, especially all of last year, when we were not only well behind schedule on our Hyperglide launch, but also £1m deeper in costs than we should have been. I'm glad I raised £7m equity, not debt, to deliver Hyperglide; it would have been careless to have blown up just as we were about to blow up our market. My brother's an investor. There's tension. It's been tough, but we're nearly there.

Very protective

Every day, as I shave with King of Shaves, I think about the millions of men and women doing the same, and wonder whether they are genuinely enjoying it as much as I am. I rather wear my heart on my sleeve and, as I run our Twitter account, @KingofShaves, get very protective of our brand if people rail against her (luckily, most don't).

I rather wear my heart on my sleeve and, as I run our Twitter account, get very protective of our brand if people rail against her.

Sometimes, I think I'm mad. I mean, why try to make a better razor than one made by a company that was bought for $57bn in 2005 by FMCG uber-behemoth Procter & Gamble?

I guess it's because I really hate monopolised markets. They deliver no value to the consumer and there is no tension to innovate - it's just the same old same old price rise of 5% every year and the consumer doesn't benefit. Maybe it's how my parents, Tony and Shirley, brought me up - "Fairness, fun and knowledge is key, Will" - and some of their subliminal mental injection stuck.

Being married to Tiger Savage, one of the world's leading advertising creative directors, work sort of stops (but doesn't really, it just moves onto a different level of discussion) when we're at home in Maida Vale. She's an amazing woman and we talk about loads of diverse subjects. She calls me the King of Cheese. Yep, I guess I am. Love cheese.

Taking off

As I write, it's 10 February, and I'm exhausted. I haven't had a decent holiday for nearly two years now, the last one being my honeymoon to Koh Samui with my wife in 2012. As King of Shaves was taking off in 1999, I had 11 weeks' holiday, bought a 45ft yacht, started building a villa in Grenada, West Indies. What's gone wrong?

Thursday 16 January was the most emotional day ever for me. We launched our Hyperglide razor at Sketch in London. My parents were there, along with one of my brothers and his wife, friends, family and entrepreneur royalty; my friend Nick (Chicane) flew in to DJ a set, and Prince's band, King, jetted in from LA to sing some smooth tunes.

The launch was an amazing evening. We ended up at the Groucho, then Dean Street Studios. Old Fashioneds, Dirty Martinis ... don't ask. I didn't get up the following day.

Hyperglide is a genuinely innovative razor: its amazing superhydrophilic "water-loving" technology makes the use of shave gels, foams and preparations unnecessary. Yes, you say - but that's what you launched with King of Shaves in 1993. You're making your products obsolete. Well, yes - but we'll only do that if we sell tens, nay, hundreds of millions of Hyperglides. If anyone's going to disrupt my market, it's going to be me. Not them.

Sometimes, I need to remember that what we're doing is only shaving lives better, not solving the Middle East peace problem. Keep it real, Will.

At the time of writing this, we're out of stock of Hyperglide - we can't supply enough to stores. I've seen what the competition is going to do, and I think I know what we have to do next. Gillette: the trend's not your friend. While we're regarded as successful, we're tiny really, and I know in my heart of hearts we can do something "shamazing" (told you I was cheesy) now that we have the cutting-edge tech.

You're only as good as your last shave, I think to myself, but it's been pretty close these last few years, getting done what we have to do. Sometimes, I need to remember that what we're doing is only shaving lives better, not solving the Middle East peace problem. Keep it real, Will.

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