Shaper: Will King

Show aired on 6th September 2014

Transcript of the show

Elliot Moss
That was Living For The City from Stevie Wonder, a great way to start the programme here; it’s Jazz Shapers of course on Jazz FM. The place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, soul and blues alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a business shaper. My business shaper today and indeed he is a shaver as well, is Will King. He is the founder of King of Shaves in a pharmacy near you, in a supermarket near you and if you are like me, it will be in your bathroom as well. You will be hearing lots from Will very shortly. In addition to hearing from Will, you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that of course some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, soul and blues, including Roy Ayers, Bill Withers and this from Monty Alexander.

That was Skamento from the latest album Harlem-Kingston Express 2 from Monty Alexander. Will King is my business shaper today, he is the founder of the King of Shaves, the business that I suppose reinvented men’s shaving experiences some years ago. Will thank you very much for joining me.

Will King
It is my pleasure Elliot and it is twenty one years ago now, isn’t that amazing? Back in 1993, hasn’t the world changed?

Elliot Moss
The world has changed. In 1993 Gillette were the only people that a man would go to to use anything on their faces. Not true anymore.

Will King
It’s not true anymore. I mean the world has massively changed. When I founded King of Shaves I had a rotary dial phone, 192 Directory Enquiries to try and find out information and tried to get out there into the world of shaving and I think if I had known Gillette was quite as big as it is, maybe I would have had second thoughts. But I think ignorance was bliss back then.

Elliot Moss
You, before you came to the world of business, you studied mechanical engineering if I am not mistaken, you did various other things. I often ask my guests how they came to the idea that they then ended up doing and indeed as you said, twenty one years later you are still doing it, even against the unclear 2.01 that is now P&G and Gillette and so on. What helped you on that journey? Where did it really begin for you?

Will King
Goodness me. So I studied mechanical engineering at Portsmouth Polytechnic, now University of Portsmouth. Wasn’t good enough to be a mechanical engineer, really wanted to be a yacht designer, taught sailing at that time at the National Sailing Centre. Mum and Dad said ‘get off our payroll Will, you’ve had enough now’; teaching sailing was paying about £15 a week and mum and dad being teachers I actually read the Guardian and picked up the media appointment section and rang up to get a job because it said 12K OTE and I didn’t know what OTE meant so I rang up to ask, it’s On Target Earnings and it actually turned out to be a sales job selling display advertising over the phone for Marketing Magazine where Maurice Saatchi cut his teeth back in the day. So I got up to London, picked up the phone two hundred times a day, cold called people, sold them advertising space for their company or their product and then was quite good at it and I had sort of made the effort, two hundred calls a day, got head hunted to work for a conference and event production company and that was great fun. People like Nick Ross launching products at Brockett Hall with big budgets and all manner of amazing things in the early 90s and then we had a recession and all those big companies stopped spending with small agencies like I worked for, so I was made redundant and basically that’s what took me in to product manufacture. I decided I wanted to make something. Secondly I wanted to be my own boss. I hated shaving, everybody wore suits and ties then, I always got red, rashy, raw skin. Shaved with an oil, engineering oil or lubrication, got it into Harrods, boom and the rest I guess is sort of history in as much that the timing was right. I had a lot of luck but we’ve grown from that single product to be you know, quite a decent size business these days.

Elliot Moss
And that is a really clear exposition of what happened but at the centre of it you said something and it sounded as if it was just, you know, water off a ducks back; I wanted to make something.

Will King
Mmm.

Elliot Moss
It is very well that people think ‘I want to make something’ many people listening will want to make something. What was the specific leap that enabled you to go ‘I am going to take the issue that I have with shaving and I am going to go and source aromas, I am going to go and find the people’. What enabled you to get up off your bum and actually do it?

Will King
Yeah I mean that’s an interesting point. There are two parts to that. First of all I was quite upset by the decimation of the manufacturing industry in the UK and the 80s when Margaret Thatcher was in and what was happening to the UK as it changed from a manufacturing nation to a financial services nation. All of the Wall Street greed is good, all that stuff. I grew up with all of that. A TV programme some of your listeners might remember, Capital City for example, which I remember watching and the second point was having decided I wanted to manufacture something then I decided I needed to make something that would genuinely solve a problem so I sort of basically cast around what problems could I solve and I guess when you are faced with things that you want to solve you look at what annoys you. And what annoyed me was, I had to shave with an electric razor, a Hitachi that my dad had got me, as I didn’t get on with razors and foams and it always got cut and I thought there must be a better way to shave than this and I guess the engineering bit was that look, put shaving oil, you can put it on your face and shave with it, you can also probably put it in a car engine and it won’t seize up. Do that with shaving foam which is a chemical surfactant currently being used by referees on pitches to keep defenders away from the guy taking the free kick, that won’t work very well. So the jump was to say ‘okay, if you can shave with this product and not get razor burn and it works for me’ that was the business strategy. If it works for me, it should work for many other people who have the same shaving problem as me and that is what kicked off King of Shaves. That original shaving oil, £300 first year sales at Harrods.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from Will King, my business shaper today. Time for some music, this is Roy Ayers and Everybody Loves The Sunshine.

That was Roy Ayers with Everybody Loves The Sunshine. Will King is my business shaper today, founder of King of Shaves, the David that took on the Goliath twenty one years ago and is still doing fantastic business. Not so year one as you said just before, three hundred quid’s worth of business. That’s very bad, Will. Very, on any level. I mean if, you know if a kid comes home after working for a week with three hundred quid you go ‘son I am not sure’. What made you persevere after that absolutely awful start?

Will King
Okay so the actual sales that got the £300 were just out of Harrods. Basically when you start off in a business, any product service you want to start at the top and then work your way down. For example, if you launched your product in Primark and you want to end up in Harrods, that’s a bit of a challenge but if you want to launch a product at Harrods and perhaps end up as we are now, in retailers like Tesco or Target in America, you can always come down and what I wanted to do was to launch King of Shaves which I would say is the world’s best shave; Gillette might disagree with that, at then the world’s best department store and for sure the best known department store, most internationally trafficked. So it was getting a single solo retailer and then going after the multiples. So the second year sales when we got in to Boots, £57,000, third year, £250,000 when we got Tesco, £500,000 fourth year and then a million to fifteen, 1997/1998.

Elliot Moss
And what is interesting about what you have just said; (a) you still know those numbers and this is a while ago and you know them because you have lived those numbers which I imagine leads me on to my next question which is, when you raised those first few thousand quid, it was really, it was really kind of squeaky whatever time wasn’t it because this was it for you?

Will King
Oh it was huge.

Elliot Moss
And do you think that makes a difference though when it really, it is either, it’s going to work or I am going to have to do something completely different?

Will King
Oh I mean at the get go with King of Shaves I raised a total of £17,500; so £7,500 came from my best friend from Poly, Pat, on the basis that another guy Herbie who still runs KMI Brands, the company that does Ted Baker fragrances for example. He put in £7,500 and they both put it in on the basis that the other one would and then my mum, bless her, teacher, she gave me £2,500 out of her pension and luckily we were able to repay that on a substantial return on investment down the track. It allowed my dad to become a pilot and fly around and do stuff like that but of course when you are skinning the game and then on top of that credit cards and loans and borrowings and this and everything that I then had to do, of course it is a squeaky bum time. But the fact that every day I was getting a pain free shave and all I needed to do was to take it out to thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of men, then you know, that was the strategy and it is the strategy today.

Elliot Moss
Hear much more from my business shaper, Will King coming up very shortly. Latest travel though in a couple of minutes and before that, some words of wisdom for your burgeoning business from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning 9.00am sharp here on Jazz FM. If you miss any of the shows iTunes is the place you need to go. There is over a hundred fantastic shapers of business on there and you can listen to their wise and insightful and very honest words to boot. Will King is my business shaper today; he is the man behind the King of Shaves, luckily for you your name is indeed King and maybe the whole business wouldn’t have ever happened in quite the same way if it wasn’t. You talked about those early days, we were talking earlier about the money and it being squeaky bum time and then I was kind of amazed by the fact that you knew exactly what your sales were back in those very early years. Building a team around you that could cope with a business that suddenly becomes millions and millions of turnover that has packaging that has product development that has distribution internationally. How did you do that? How did you, when did you start to realise it couldn’t just be all about you?

Will King
So at the start I did it all. Alright, I literally absolutely hand filled the bottles and did the packaging, the design, everything but of course you then need to surround yourself with great people and it is an art, what I call delegreation. I am a bit sound bitey like that but delegate to great people. So there was this guy I met, Andy Hill, is with me still, nineteen years on, innovation, production, brand director. He was the guy when I said I wanted to do this or that or the other, find the packaging, get the filling, he would be essentially my COO. In fact that is what he is now; my Chief Operations Officer. You know, Tim Cook to the sort of late Steve Job sort of guy and then all the way down the track I have surrounded myself with people who basically told me ‘no’ way more than yes so don’t have ‘yay’ sayers in your business. Have you know, people who are not going to blow smoke up the bosses bottom all of the time and then reward them and look after them and treat them well and in fact most of my team have been with me at King of Shaves between ten to nineteen years over that time. So it is all about delegreation, delegate to great people, build the team around you and you can then multiply out.

Elliot Moss
And beyond that it sounds like you quite like the ride? You strike me as someone who quite enjoys the fact that it is a bit of a rollercoaster and I only say, and maybe I am wrong and you can tell me, ‘no you have got me completely wrong, my personality I enjoy stability’. There have been some really big ups and sort of semi-downs in the business. Is it true that you like the rollercoaster and if it is, how do you recover when the down is quite a low one?

Will King
Goodness me, it is a rollercoaster. The game I am actually playing strategically is a long game. As actually my world is around patents and it is what’s happening in the digital space and it’s what’s happening with technology, it’s how people are for many years recently until we went peak beard a few months ago, growing beards. It’s with the huge competitors that we have to deal with, the huge retailers there and then with regard to the development of our latest razor hyperglide, that was me five years ago demerging King of Shaves out of the company I had founded, KMI which as I say does Ted Baker and Fish and brands like that. Raising equity to spend all of that money on intellectual property, research and development like a big pharmaceutical company would to develop a blockbuster drug and then launch it. This razor where you can just add water and shave, close your eyes, raise the money, burn the money and then hopefully come out the other side with a business which has intellectual property protection, that’s patents and all of that, out to twenty thirty two and that will then make me, goodness me, I am forty eight, nearly forty nine, so you know, that’s a good long time to look out to then try and build a defensible product based business with cutting edge tech.

Elliot Moss
Find out more about the incredible strategy behind what just seems like a bit of a razor and a bit of oil, it’s a lot more than that as you are hearing. Time for some music, this is Southern Freeze from Sonzeira.

That was Southern Freeze from Sonzeira. Will King has been talking about all sorts of things and very recently, I hope you were listening, was talking about patents and the reality of what he is plotting and planning behind the scenes. To invest in that business and essentially as you said, you are behaving like a big farmer. You are kind of out competing the competition because your competition has very deep pockets but they probably don’t have you would argue is the appetite for innovation and the appetite for truly breakthrough. Is that a very personal thing Will or is that something you have learnt to use because you know that is going to make the business more money?

Will King
I think to answer your question, the world we live in now is changing at such a rate that you’ve got to be changing and adapting with it and I have always embraced what I guess is a healthy degree of paranoia. Maybe that comes from being made redundant and not seeing what was coming down the track and then losing my job. When we look at the business and where we are going, if guys have got beards or stubble and they want to shave them, we want to give them the best way to shave them. Historically it has been with a shaving foam or a gel out of a can or a shaving oil with a razor that you scrape with. What we wanted to do is to launch a razor that you can just add water and shave with so you take that step of buying another product out and you can shave in the shower and do it easier and quicker so many people have said, ‘oh you are just going to stop people buying your shaving preps; the oils and the gels’. The reality of it is that many millions more people might actually just say ‘oh I’ll buy his razor and shave just with water’ where the market share is coming from the competition and I think my, you know, what I try to embrace, for example, Shave.com taking Bitcoin very recently, people go ‘what’s Bitcoin, how does it work, oh that’s the stuff that you use to buy drugs on on the dark net’. No actually it is a crypto currency, it’s embraced by techy guys and we are already selling hundreds of pounds worth of product with people with Bitcoin. Nobody else is close to accepting that on line let alone our competitors and I am always trying to look for what the next big thing is going to be, how it is going to impact and how it’s going to affect our business.

Elliot Moss
It sounds like at heart actually you are a marketing person. Apart from being really into the technology and the product and understanding patents and the role that strategically that can play for your business, you are making some very kind of big plays around, ‘I’m going to have Bitcoin on there. I don’t really know it’s going to work out but that’s the right thing to do. I’m going to try the waterless razor blade, I am going to have a pretty active Twitter feed, I am going to do stuff that other people in this space just don’t do’.

Will King
Yeah absolutely. I mean I am a sailing guy going back to that and when you are sailing up wind you have to zig-zag into the wind, it’s what is called tacking. So I try to tack one way when the competition are going the other way, so zag when they zig and if you always stay close to the other yacht you can get what is called dirty wind from them, it means your sails are disrupted, you don’t sail as efficiently through the wind. So what I try to do is to always put myself into a clean air space with clear blue water and look at what is going on and then hopefully look out to what’s coming down the track in five to ten years’ time, for example, buying Shave.com for $35 in 1995. That was a good buy. Everybody was going ‘well what is this?’. It’s like getting King of Shaves on Yo, this crazy app that is now out and being talked about. Why would you do that? Well who knows what is going to happen with that in the future so I do try to embrace things early, get in there and sink or swim.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Will plus play a track from Bill Withers, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Bill Withers and Use Me. Just for a few more minutes Will King is my business shaper today. The founder of King of Shaves, the man with patents going one way, on-line stuff going the other way and all sorts of things in between. Over the years Will, you have obviously worked with some brilliant people. Who stands out and why?

Will King
Goodness me. I mean I have to say people like Andy Hill who works with me for nineteen years. Andy Honour who is the industrial designer who works on our razor. I have been lucky enough to come into contact you know, I will name check Richard Branson here only in as much as I have grown up with him and seen what he has done. I think looking out to other people who affect how I look at what is going on. Elon Musk, you know, viewed as like Iron Man. What he did with PayPal, making money then doing Tesla, then doing SpaceX that goes up and comes back from space and then of course his latest venture, Solar City which is solar rays to power the world from the sun which is a nuclear fusion reactor. Guys like him who are clearly looking out years I try to align myself with those types of people. But at the end of the day it is people who are around me and of course my mum and dad and my dad, eighty two, still giving me great inspiration to go out you know, and change the world in the way that I am able to.

Elliot Moss
Now strategy ideas, innovation, changing the world. Very different skill sets to the operational reality of delivering a multi-million pound business across different geography’s. What advice do you give to people who are trying to do both?

Will King
You can’t spin too many plates and basically you should spin one plate. I talk a lot about the singularity of brand product companies purpose so at the start of course as an entrepreneur you have to spin all the plates because you ain’t got any money unless you have raised a lot of seed capital or investment capital. As soon as you have got the momentum going you then need to hand off the various parts of that business to a top team and it comes back to the point earlier in the conversation about delegreation. And I always hire people I think are better than me. Some of them are, some of them aren’t. The ones that aren’t maybe go, the ones that are stay. And then with regard to the territories that we are in, the products that we are developing, I always seek out the best expertise. How we are going to do it, for example, we are taking Bitcoin on Shave.com; working with Bitpay which essentially a PayPal for Bitcoin and working with their dev team to make sure that works seamlessly. So I am always searching for people who are better than me to get them working with me.

Elliot Moss
In terms, and that, it sounds like you have remained true to that. It sounds like you have also remained true to your values i.e. that you are a pretty grounded guy, you don’t take it for granted, you mentioned before whether it was consciously or not, you said ‘you know I don’t forget how I felt when I was made redundant’. Talk to me a little bit about what you are doing with the Gazelle Colleges and things because you are giving a lot back aren’t you?

Will King
Yeah, I mean coming back to education. Both my parents were teachers, Tony and Shirley and I grew up in Lowestoft in Suffolk and went to a comprehensive school there. It was quite tough but I never forgot the importance of knowledge and in fact the company I have founded was called KMI and it stood for Knowledge and Merchandising Inc. That was the company name. Coming on to Gazelle. Gazelle is a group of further education colleges which are trying to inject an entrepreneurial business, future forward, future facing aesthetic into the courses and what they are teaching. I was with them very recently and I said ‘what you guys are are the future educationalists. Obviously E.F.F.I. Colleges are between schools and Universities. I went to a Poly. Now a University was called a Polywally. People who go to let’s say further education establishments and study trades which are very necessary whether it is bricklaying, whether it is plumbing, whether it is engineering, whatever it happens to be, they are still incredibly important in our society and you can be a plumber and you can set up a plumbing business and then go on to be a multi-millionaire like Charlie Mullins of Pimlico Plumbers. So what I am putting back into the Gazelle Group is hopefully think big, it is all about the knowledge. University isn’t for everybody. Coming out of school it can be tough like it was for me but there is a role for you guys in here but let’s talk about E.F.F.I. being future entrepreneurs, not purely further education.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic stuff. Just before I let you go Will and it has been really good talking to you. What’s your song choice today and why have you chosen it?

Will King
So my song choice today is My Baby Just Cares For Me by Nina Simone and I would like to dedicate it to my gorgeous wife, Tiger Savage, a huge inspiration to me and the absolute love of my life.

Elliot Moss
Will that’s fantastic. This is your choice, it is Nina Simone and My Baby Just Cares For Me.

That was Nina Simone and My Baby Just Cares For Me, the song choice of my business shaper today, Will King. Talk about a man with focus, with dedication and an absolute keen eye on one big word, innovation. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s 9.00am next Saturday morning for another edition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime though stay with us here on Jazz FM, coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Will King is the founder of award-winning shaving brand King of Shaves. Having graduated from Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1987 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Will founded King of Shaves in 1992.

The King of Shaves brand has overtaken Wilkinson Sword and Nivea to become No.2 to Gillette in the shaving prep market in the UK, and the products are also taking off in the USA where they are currently sold in over 20,000 stores.

King of Shaves has won numerous awards over the past few years. The company was named the T-Mobile Fast Growth Business and the Product Business at the Growing Business Awards last year (2009) and was crowned the CBI and Real Business Company of the Year in 2008. Will was named a regional winner for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for London and the South East region and has taken on judging roles in the CBI Real Business Awards 2009 and the O2 X Business Awards in association with Shortlist magazine 2009.

Will is dedicated to supporting our next generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders, particularly through his work as a Gazelle Entrepreneur. The Gazelle Colleges Group is transforming further education for a changing world of work, developing new commercial learning models and innovative partnerships with business, to unleash entrepreneurial talent and equip students with the confidence and resilience needed for the 21st century workplace.

Mum and Dad said: ‘get off our payroll Will, you’ve had enough now

I decided I needed to make something that would genuinely solve a problem so I sort of basically cast around what problems I could solve. I guess when you are faced with things that you want to solve, you look at what annoys you

It is all about delegation. Delegate to great people.

If it works for me, it should work for many other people who have the same shaving problem as me.

I have surrounded myself with people who basically told me ‘no way’ more than ‘yes’. Don’t have yay-sayers in your business. Have people who are not going to blow smoke up the bosses bottom…

My mum, bless her – a teacher – she gave me £2,500 out of her pension and luckily we were able to repay that on a substantial return on investment down the track

I didn’t get on with razors and foams and it always got cut and I thought there must be a better way to shave than this.

I have always embraced what I guess is a healthy degree of paranoia

Well, who knows what is going to happen in the future. I do try and embrace things early, get in there and sink or swim

I always hire people that I think are better than me. Some of them are, some of them aren’t. The ones that aren’t maybe go – the ones that are, stay.

We went peak beard a few months ago