SAN FRANCISCO — Tristan Walker, the young Silicon Valley entrepreneur building a modern personal care line for people of color, has raised $24 million from top venture capitalists and celebrity investors such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, John Legend and NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
Walker & Co. Brands has also inked a deal with Target to sell its flagship product Bevel in select Target stores in the United States and on Target.com. Bevel is a single-blade razor system for men and women with coarse, curly hair which addresses the problem of razor bumps and skin irritation that affects up to 80% of African Americans and up to 30% of people of other races.
Walker, 31, who will be among four tech-world panelists at USA TODAY’s Change Agents Live event Sept. 29, says he’s targeting a personal care market worth billions that has been woefully underserved by the health and beauty industry. Walker & Company Brands will roll out a new product as a companion to Bevel next year. Walker declined to say what he has in the works.
“This is still page one of our story,” Walker said in an interview. “Our road map is strong, our ambition remains significant and our desire to serve our customers is unwavering. Our funding and our relationship with Target shows this in a big way and sets us on our path to build the world’s most consumer-centric health and beauty products company for people of color.”
In 2012, Walker left the mobile app company Foursquare to become the first African-American entrepreneur in residence at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. He rejected countless business ideas before seizing on Walker & Co. Brands.
Even with his credentials in the tech world, investors did not readily open up their wallets. As his friend, Yahoo executive Erin Teague, put it: “Building a set of products targeted at people of color is not something people in Silicon Valley do.” He ultimately raised $6.9 million in funding.
“Raising money for a start-up is hard in general, but for us it was a little bit harder, particularly because a lot of the investors that we were pitching had no context about the problems we were hoping to solve,” Walker said in an interview with USA TODAY last December. “If you think about Bevel, it’s (addressing a) problem up to 80% of black men and women have. But the folks I was pitching weren’t black men and women.”
This time, Walker says it was much easier to get Silicon Valley investors to open their wallets, especially Institutional Venture Partners, a repeat investor that led the funding round.
“It really does speak to their conviction, belief and excitement about what we are doing,” Walker said.
Another believer is Iguodala, who first met Walker in 2013 at the home of venture capitalist Ben Horowitz. Impressed, Iguodala says he kept Walker on his radar and jumped at the opportunity to invest in this funding round.
“I wanted to be involved in what he had going on,” Iguodala said in an interview. “You are more or less investing in a person. Knowing the brain and the will power Tristan has, I know anything he is connected to is going to be successful.”
Iguodala says he’s still “scared of razors,” but tried Bevel and liked it. He’s looking forward to more personal care choices from Walker & Co. Brands such as shampoo and conditioner.
“There just hasn’t been a company that understands how our hair grows. We have curly, coarse hair and when you shave, the way the hair grows back, it causes razor bumps,” he said. “The products out there are not for us. Tristan gets it.”
Follow USA TODAY senior technology reporter Jessica Guynn on Twitter: @jguynn.
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1KFoOUV