When Tristan Walker founded Walker & Company Brands as a startup back in 2013, he had one goal in mind: to make health and beauty simple for people of color. With so many unmet needs, the Silicon Valley mogul saw the multicultural consumer packaged goods industry as the economic opportunity of a lifetime, and a chance to make a huge impact on people’s lives.
Recently named to Ad Age’s "40 Under 40” list of bright young minds reshaping the future of marketing, Tristan and his company are in the spotlight more than ever before. This week, Tristan joined Jason Goldberger, president of Target.com & mobile, for a chat as part of our Outer Spaces series of innovation talks at Target’s Minneapolis headquarters, where he shared the story behind his startup and a look at where his team might be headed next.
As an entrepreneur, Tristan always wanted to build something ambitious, but it took him a while to figure out what that was. “I explored innovations in banking, freight and trucking, ending childhood obesity—but I realized I wasn’t the best-equipped person to solve these problems. I had to look for something I had the personal expertise to tackle.”
That’s when he hit on it: For pretty much his whole life (and most friends and family members’), shaving and hair removal had been a major problem. Multi-blade razors caused breakouts, depilatory creams were harsh on the face, and barbers’ electric trimmers, used on so many different customers, were just gross. So Tristan researched grooming systems from the past 150 years, learning the history of the industry, and re-discovering shaving solutions lost over time.
That led to the Walker & Company’s flagship brand, Bevel, which launched in 2013 as a subscription brand. Earlier this year, Target became the only retailer to carry the complete Bevel Shave System à la carte, expanding the brand's reach to new consumers, and giving already-loyal fans a way to replenish products between subscription deliveries.
In its early days, Bevel attracted high-profile investors, including basketball star and entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson, singer John Legend and rapper Nas. How’d he get such big names on board? “They’re walking the same aisles we are and seeing the same unmet needs across health and beauty, so they understood the value of what we’re doing.”
But he also heard a lot of “no’s” on the pitching trail and, he says, there’s beauty in that too. “One thing I learned is that there’s opportunity and vision in “bad ideas”—the ones no one believes in but me. The more pushback I get on an idea, the more excited I get about it, and that motivates me to spend more energy improving on the idea and convincing people it’s the right move. A lot of times, a lack of understanding about what the customer needs—from both potential investors and even customers themselves—can get in the way of developing a new product the industry really needs.”
An important part of Walker & Company’s success, Tristan says, is having a talented and diverse team with the context and experience needed to push boundaries in the multicultural marketing space. “We operate on a set of values: courage, inspiration, respect, judgement, wellness and loyalty. I wrote these down on day one of the startup, because they were all things I wanted this company to be grounded in.”
One of Tristan’s personal passions is helping the tech industry become more diverse. “I didn’t know Silicon Valley even existed until I was in college,” he says. “Isn’t that sad? Black and Latino students don’t see enough prominent people in the tech field that they can aspire to be like. They’re not getting the opportunities. And tech companies are missing out on these brilliant young people all over the country.”
To help make more of those connections, Tristan co-founded a nonprofit called Code 2040, focused on helping black and Latino engineers prepare for internships and other opportunities at technology companies. “We’ve had close to 100 folks go through the program, and most have gotten full-time offers.”
“At the end of the day,” says Tristan, “it’s about helping the top consumer demographic in the world to also become the best producer group.”
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