Joshua Esnard pitched The Cut Buddy, an innovative solution for beard and hair grooming, on Season 9 of ABC’s Shark Tank. After the show, Black Enterprise contributor Brandon Andrews sat down with Esnard for an interview about the show and his business.
Brandon Andrews: The Cut Buddy is designed to keep hair and beards looking fresh. Why is this such a big problem?
Joshua Esnard: First, I would like to give a big thank you to you and to Black Enterprise for their continued support. I would especially like to recognize someone at BE that I consider a mentor, Alfred Edmonds. He has been a fantastic asset to me ever since we first crossed paths.
To answer your question, the big problem is that hair only has one job in the human body: to grow.
Since hair continues to grow, it’s a natural human need to want to keep it under control or clean, depending on your preference. Our product serves the population who would like to keep sharp edges and nice curves on their haircut or beard so it always looks barbershop fresh and gives them that “new haircut” confidence everyone has in the moment they walk out of the barbershop. Imagine trying to draw a perfect curve with a pencil or a straight line without a ruler; growing up I found that to be impossible when trying to clean up my haircut.
Cutting your own hair free-hand is only mastered by a few, so I created this product as “training wheels,” like a guard rail on the highway to decrease the rate of people making errors in shaping their own hair.
The Cut Buddy is simply a go-to solution for those wanting to feel that “fresh from the barbershop” confidence in between barber visits or if they can’t afford or get to the barber multiple times per month.
The biggest problems often have the simplest solutions. The Cut Buddy is simple, but designed to do its job well. How did you find the right dimensions and angles for the product?
Great question! I first invented this product when I was 13, so I unintentionally had 15 years to test and develop the curves that worked with my different hairstyles and growing body before I patented the design.
As far as the template itself, I actually designed the product with Pulse Ray, an engineering firm that designs parts for NASA and the Air Force. They would show me how different curves would react and how durable the product would be. Mechanical engineering is fascinating!
We 3-D printed many prototypes that I would test on myself and my friends and family before officially perfecting our three special curves that cover essentially every hairline curve imaginable. We estimate you can make more than 100 iterations for a curve with our three curves!
You were a teenager when you first came up with the idea for The Cut Buddy, but didn’t get a patent and start the business until adulthood. What helped you carry the dream for so long? What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs who have a good idea, but haven’t started a business?
I was born to young parents who were studying to be professors and a lot of the time I didn’t have the luxury of the newest Batmobile or latest Nerf toy. Most of the time, I had to create my own versions of those toys to entertain myself.
I would urge parents to encourage their children to write down or draw their ideas in a journal and work on a “prototype.” Have fun with it! I sat on my idea for 15 years. If I didn’t invent this product, then someone would have invented a similar one eventually. If you have a great idea, don’t sit on it! Visit a patent lawyer or head over to a Black Enterprise Pitch Competition!
You used influencer marketing to scale The Cut Buddy quickly. Can this strategy work for other products?
Definitely! I recommend any company with a product to start with influencer or affiliate marketing if their budget is tight. Head to YouTube and find the right people to talk about your product and the sales will pour in if you have a good idea and product! I saw a 2,000% increase in daily sales until I went viral because I brought on four affiliates who were respected in the hair industry.
You have a patent, but you’ve also had problems with knockoffs. How can entrepreneurs protect their products after going to market?
You must be on the lookout at all times, honestly. It’s pretty tiring work, but also incredibly important! Just because you have a patent does not mean you will not get knocked off; it just allows you to enforce your patent with vendors and have the knockoffs taken down.
I recommend all entrepreneurs and inventors familiarize themselves with the legal counsels of all the channels you plan to sell on (e.g., Amazon, eBay, etc.) and I also would have an understanding of how to issue a notice of copyright infringement. Those are how you deal with knockoffs.
I hired one of my best friends and now co-owner, Alex Kresovich, and one of his main duties is to tackle all knockoffs. He has taken down over 1,000 counterfeit versions of The Cut Buddy so far! We might have bled out if it wasn’t for us protecting ourselves consistently. A lot of the important parts of being a successful startup are like this: not fun but very important. The devil is always in the details!
You pitched The Cut Buddy to the Sharks and got a deal with Daymond John. How did you get on the show?
We were hoping to catch their attention after the product initially went viral and eventually word-of-mouth got around and ABC offered us the opportunity to be on the show!
I accepted right away, but my training and preparation was just as rigorous as any other contestant you’ve seen on the show. Every week you get tested and if you do not meet their expectations, you may never see ABC Studios in person. They start with tens of thousands of potential contestants and only air a handful. It was a very rigorous process and I was relieved every time I got to the “next level.”
You are a Black Enterprise Modern Man. What does appearing on Shark Tank mean for other modern men like you?
It is an honor to know that I may be an example for other young men to become inventors and entrepreneurs. I rarely hear about inventors who are young and are minorities.
Do you know how many problems we solve in our homes every day and just consider it a “life hack?” The Cut Buddy was just a cardboard and plastic stencil I had sitting in my bathroom for years that I’d use regularly to give myself a fresh-looking haircut. Some kid out there may very well have the next billion-dollar idea sitting next to his or her sink.
What’s next for The Cut Buddy? How do you plan to grow the business in 2018?
Time to hit retail hard! Making The Cut Buddy easily available in physical stores is my top priority! We’ve dominated Amazon, but there are many other outlets that we need this product in.
My largest demographic may be teenagers or customers who don’t have credit cards and can’t purchase online easily. It would be nice for them to be able to walk into a store and get this product. I am also working on some licensing deals and partnerships. The future is incredibly bright and I’m just doing my best to enjoy the ride.