How Tristan Walker Founded A Multimillion-Dollar Brand Focused On Black People

Sep 20, 2021
 Image edited by the author (not of Tristan Walker) — Original image from pexels
“I see myself as a Black kid from Queens who couldn’t shave, made his way to Silicon Valley, and networked enough to know that I could raise the money to start the business that I started at that specific time”.

Tristan Walker makes it sound easy but he’s too modest. Alarmingly little funding has gone to black-owned businesses yet he shattered all the glass ceilings.

The kid from Queens got his lucky break came from attending a fancy boarding school where almost everyone was white. He realized he was just as smart as his elite classmates so why shouldn’t he be just as successful? This self-belief took him all the way to Stanford Business School.

He made a splash at Twitter and Foursquare in their early days and became an entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz. He was admired and respected even before starting Walker & Company.

But then came the spark.

He was joking with a retired African American partner about how hard it was for them to look professional. Tristan had struggled with shaving his whole life and his face was covered in razor bumps. The other man shared his pain and it made Tristan wonder how common this issue really was.

He found an incredible 80% of black men struggled with irritation after shaving! Tristan thought if he could find a solution then this was a multimillion-dollar business.

And he was right. Procter and Gamble bought Walker & Company after he’d already raised $33.3 million from venture capitalists. This is Tristan’s story.


The underserved market

You might think the African American market was enough to make Tristan excited. Yet he had the vision to think even bigger. Imagine how many people in the world had the same problem but were being overlooked.

“The majority of the world is people of color. The majority of people in this country in 20, 30 years will be people of color.” — Tristan Walker

As a black man himself, Tristan had an insight most of the people in charge didn’t so they failed a huge chunk of the market. They focused on people like them. Tristan’s focus on people like him had far greater potential for global growth.

He succeeded not only because of his entrepreneurial prowess but because there was such little competition. A similar story happened with Rihanna and Fenty. She knew black women couldn’t get makeup which suited their skin tone and cared enough to see it through.

Rihanna and Tristan weren’t the only people to know these problems existed. Yet they were some of the few who had the means to do something about it. Their millions of customers are grateful.


Design company to empathize

You’ll notice a pattern of Tristan thinking even bigger on top of what already seems like a good idea. Walker & Company isn’t just a men’s razor company, it aims to “make health and beauty simple for people of color.”

He took his problem with shaving and expanded it to find out what other people of color struggled with within adjacent spaces. When he thinks about products, he thinks about stories of potential customers. What they might be feeling is how he can innovate to find something to make them happier.

As Walker & Company grew, he wanted the staff to emotionally engage with the client base. To not see them as bags of money but as people. It’s why most employees are black and the majority of the leadership is women of color because that’s who most of the products are now aimed at.

I know many people who start projects where they can’t relate to their target customer and they make erratic assumptions of how people think. I struggled to create and sell an online course when I’d never paid for one myself!

I overcame this by listening to the audience accepting slower growth yet sometimes you need to admit you aren’t the right person for the job. Take Rocket Science Games which spent $35 million but was founded by three people who didn’t play video games.

You don’t get any awards for guessing the company flopped.


Get out of the day-to-day

I believe creativity comes from bringing ideas from one place into environments they’ve never been used in before. It’s one of the secrets to my own online success. The difficulty is how to keep the spark once you become obsessed with one area.

Tristan manages this by reading physical books for three to four hours every day. It takes his mind away from whatever he’s working on at Walker & Company and gives him a broader perspective. Will you have the same hunger to learn once you’ve had your initial triumphs?

It’s a trait he shares with the great Warren Buffett. They don’t learn only to make money, making money lets them spend more of their time learning. No matter what business you’re in, if you can’t keep bringing fresh insights, you’ll be toppled sooner or later.


Make important exclusive

“There are only three things important to me: my faith, my family, and my work.” — Tristan Walker

I’m jealous of Tristan, he seemed to have life all figured out. Part of me loves to experiment with new things and another part wonders if I tell myself that because I’m unsettled.

I have a dozen things I am passionate about which I try to juggle. New shiny objects come into my view and I add them to my already overloaded plate. People ask me what my ambition is and it’s to one day be like Tristan. To have a permanence to my ambitions and not need to keep switching focus.

Tristan lacks tension in his life because everything he cares about has the same values. He doesn’t believe in work-life balance because helping people of color is what gives him life. Yet he doesn’t neglect his family or faith either.

He’s accepted his limitations as a human and has found where he can make a big difference. There’s beauty in his dedication. If you had to pick only three things which were important to you, what would you pick?

Amar's Letter

Real talk on driving impact as an imperfect human.