PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) — A 32-year-old black Stanford Business School graduate who left New York City because he hated Wall Street is shaking things up in the health-and-beauty industry.
Tristan Walker says he didn’t know anything about Silicon Valley when he moved here at age 24 but that soon changed.
He founded Walker & Company Brands in Palo Alto — a personal care line for people of color.
“When I started the company I was 29 years old and for 29 years of my life I was relegated to this second-class-citizen shopping experience of retail and you know I wanted to go and figure out a way to shave. I’d always have to go to this ‘ethnic aisle’ –ethnic beauty aisle — which ironically is next to the beauty aisle which is kind of weird,” said Walker. “Not being able to find products that work for me that would solve my problems I was incredibly frustrated.”
Walker created Bevel, a single-blade razor system for men and women with coarse, curly hair. Bevel solves the problem of skin irritation and razor bumps he says affects 80 percent of black people. Bevel hit select Target shelves this year. His newest product — The Trimmer — is due to appear soon.
Rapper, producer and Snapchat star DJ Khaled recently posted video of himself getting his hair shaped with the Bevel trimmer.
And Nas just rapped about it in Khaled’s new video “Nas Album Done.”
To date, Walker & Company Brands has raised $33 million from venture capitalists and celebrity investors including Magic Johnson, Warriors player Andre Iguodala and musician John Legend.
Still, Walker says 99 percent of people he pitched his idea to turned him down — mostly white Silicon Valley investors.
“It’s challenging to raise money, right?” Walker said. “For that reason — with all the successes that we’ve seen to date — we have 98 percent of our customers buy from us every single month and we still get rebuttals from people saying this is so much of a niche opportunity. And that’s completely wrong.”
And Walker added, “entrepreneurship in general is not easy … entrepreneurship as a black CEO, kind of developing a suite of brands for people of color — when folks of color out here aren’t in the majority — makes it even more challenging.”
Tristan says the beauty and health industry is a $4 billion dollar one and no one has yet tackled the centuries-old problem for people of color like Walker & Company has. He’s also taking on the Silicon Valley diversity problem.
He hires more women and minorities than most tech companies, and that’s on purpose. It reflects his company’s customer base and Walker believes diverse teams lead to bigger profits.
“We want to build something with as much legacy as a Procter & Gamble. We want to build something with as much legacy as a Johnson & Johnson and Unilever. We dare to be that ambitious,” Walker said.