AFRICANGLOBE – More often than not in his young career, Tristan Walker has ended up at the forefront of his field. The 29-year-old Stanford business school grad worked as director of business development for Foursquare before becoming venture firm Andreessen Horowitz’s entrepreneur in residence.
But whenever he visited his local pharmacy, Walker found himself in quite a different position. As a black man with curly hair, he’d always have to head to the back of the store in order to buy cosmetic products—the ones he needed could only be found in the ethnic aisle.
“It’s not really an aisle, it’s a shelf,” he says. “Then you have to reach to the bottom of that shelf for a package that’s dirty, and then there’s the photo of a 45-year-old bald black guy in a towel on it … that entire second class citizen experience needs to go.”
Walker’s solution is Bevel by Walker & Company, a startup that provides its customers with high-end shaving tools by mail. The venture was launched with $2.4 million in backing from a roster of investors that includes Andreessen Horowitz, WME partner Charles King—and, perhaps most interesting of all, rapper-turned-angel-investor Nas.
“I’ve had the chance to spend some time with Tristan and I’m so impressed with how Walker & Company has been shaping up. I actually happened to be the first person he ever pitched his company to,” say Nas. “As a Black man, there are many challenges when it comes to proper grooming and the experience Bevel gives you is one I’ve been envisioning for us all for a lifetime.”
Walker met Nas through Ben Horowitz, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz, which announced a $15 million investment last year in Rap Genius, a company that also counts Nas among its investors. In Walker’s opinion, the rapper was attracted to the idea of his company for similar reasons.
“He is culture, and I think it resonates,” says Walker. “Secondly, he is a part of the community that I’m building products for.”
Walker started planning his latest venture in earnest starting in June of last year when he joined Andreessen Horowitz. He spent seven months trying to think of how he could build a new kind of bank or somehow fix childhood obesity, but ultimately decided he should focus on something with a closer connection to his own life.
For much of his adulthood, Walker had been dealing with the annoyance caused by razor bumps—an issue that afflicts four out of every five Black men, he says. That is, until he found a solution: the single blade, double-edged safety razor, a grooming tool invented over 150 years ago and patented in 1901. He believed the tool could make life just a little bit better for scores of people.
Walker had his big idea, but he didn’t have a 100% hit rate while pitching it to the Silicon Valley venture capital community, a group not exactly known for its racial diversity. One potential investor argued that razor bumps just weren’t as big an issue as acne, a claim with which Walker vehemently disagreed, given his personal experience.
“At that point I realized I had a decent idea,” he says. “Because the only thing that got that person to say that was that person’s lack of context.”
For a onetime payment of $59.99 plus $29.95 per month, Bevel by Walker & Company now sends its customers the aforementioned razor along with replacement blades, lotions and a shaving brush.
If Walker can take even a sliver of the potential market for his product, which he estimates at up to 80% of the 20 million Black men in America—along with the millions of curly-haired gents who make up perhaps 20-30% of the remainder of the population—he could have quite a hit on his hands.
That might one day put Walker in a position to challenge for a spot on the very shelves where he’s long been dismayed to shop.
“We want to be where our customers are,” he says. “That may or may not be on the shelf. We want to deliver our product where people want it, and if it takes us to the shelf, I think we’ll compete.”
And as an investor, that’s certainly music to Nas’s ears.
By: Zack O’Malley Greenburg