I sat down with our founder, Ben, to discuss how he laid the bricks for Disco. In 2018, Disco was just an idea, which Ben ran with and ended up building from the ground up. This was before any of our current team of 7 people was hired, before the Forbes articles, before our new product launches, and before all of the memes that our community loves so dearly. It was just Ben.
Ben’s experience prior to launching Disco included a spectrum of entrepreneurial pursuits, including owning and managing gyms, occasionally writing small angel investing checks, as well as scaling a Texas-based tech startup through unconventional marketing.
When I sat down with Ben to break down all of the building blocks of launching his DTC business, we realized that we would need a lot more time, and a lot more space to adequately tell this story.
The Founder Series will investigate the story of Ben’s process and journey of building Disco, a science-backed skincare brand for men. In Part 1, we’ll explore the initial challenges of creating something from nothing, finding product-market fit, and honing in on your personal values, expertise, and passions to create a true value proposition for consumers. Who knows...we might even let you in on some of Disco’s biggest untold secrets, divulge a bit about Austin’s nightlife which truly birthed the brand of Disco, and dig into the technical side of product development. Or, we might interview your favorite DTC brand next!
Q: Why skincare? What makes you passionate about health & wellness, self-care, and personal development, and how does this connect to skincare?
My passion for health and wellness spawned from my high school days. At that time, I was training both Krav Maga and CrossFit. These fitness modalities fostered my interest in taking care of myself. Now, I regularly exercise, meditate, go on long walks, practice yoga, try various sleep hacks, participate in breathwork, sauna, and use a host of other anti-aging techniques. All of these techniques work together in unison together to contribute to my health. Skincare plays a critical role in my broader personal care routine, and showed up even earlier than my interest in fitness thanks to a family friend, Dr. Eva Simmons-O’Brien. Dr. Eva is a world-renowned dermatologist and Disco’s Medical Advisor. From a very early age, Dr. Eva drilled into me the importance of taking care of my skin, and the ritual has been with me ever since.
Q: What drew you to Austin?
After graduation from University, I was deciding between New York City, Miami, and Los Angeles. Many of my college buddies moved to New York City, Miami was a bit too distracting, and LA seemed quite far. So after doing some cursory internet research, I landed on moving to Austin. I moved to Austin in the spring of 2015 without knowing a single person and never having visited. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Q: What is truly the first step in starting up? Was it a phone call, a conversation with a friend, an accidental product made in your own bathroom?
In Disco’s case, I actually brought in a friend for a period of time as a co-founder. Together we worked on the concept and initial fundraising for a few months. Ultimately, he stepped aside to focus on his lucrative investing career, but having someone to hold me accountable in the earliest stages of the business was paramount to pushing forward. Once we got the first investor dollars in November of 2018, the idea became “real” and momentum started to build.
Q: How did your professional AND personal relationships aid you in starting up Disco?
I’ve always taken care to meet and foster relationships with many people. When it came time to build Disco, much of the effort I invested over the years in building my network paid off. I leaned heavily on both connections from my days at college and the nucleus of people I ran around with in Austin. For anyone reading this thinking about starting any company, your brain trust of smart people around you can make or break whether or not you succeed with your business.
Q: Talk us through your process from ideation to execution of launching the website, developing and manufacturing the products, and launching the brand publicly?
The original thesis was to create a men's skincare brand that didn’t fall victim to traditional masculinity tropes: black packaging, unnecessarily dark branding, bro-sounding messaging and social profiles etc. To bring my vision to fruition, I worked closely with a top branding agency in Brooklyn called High Tide Disco. Together, we spent 9 months from January of 2019 until our launch in October of 2019 coming up with the name, devising our brand identity, choosing color systems, and designing and building our website. In parallel to the branding efforts, I developed all 7 of our launch products. I was fortunate enough to meet the team at Anvyl in early January of 2019, and they helped us build out our supply chain. In formulating the products, each product was different, but on average, each took no less than 10 iterations/versions to finalize what we launched with.
Q: How long did you expect to run Disco on your own before considering taking on a bigger team to scale the brand?
I knew that we needed to get to a certain scale before I could justify the financial burden of hiring out the team. This might be contrary to traditional advice, but we simply couldn’t afford to pull in a top-notch team until Q3 of this year (2021), so our financial position dictated our hiring cadence.
Q: What does the brand experience communicate?
From the outset, I knew I wanted to create a brand that was fun, tongue & cheek, and educational. I wanted men to feel sophisticated when they use our products. In a way, I almost felt like we should allow men to show off that they are in the “know” about men’s skincare products by having Disco products showcased on their bathroom counter. Simultaneously, I aimed for guys to feel like they are truly improving their skin when using Disco products regularly. If a customer engages with us on social media, they should be a part of a brand ecosystem that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time, provides real value in the form of educational and fun content.
Q: What was the first product that was important for you to develop?
Our Cleanser Stick. It was a bit of a risky move pursuing a product form factor that is totally untraditional, but the moment I knew we could package our cleanser in a stick form, I was sold. Given how important cleansing is in a broader skincare regimen, it was critical we got this product right, especially with the unique stick format. Fortunately, this thinking has worked out well, seeing as our Cleanser Stick is one of our best-selling and highest-reviewed products.