Strange Success

Self-proclaimed genius combs profit from beard boom

Jeremiah Newton
Source: Ed Lehmann
Jeremiah Newton

The beard boom is getting bushier, and Jeremiah Newton is hanging on by more than the hair of his chinny-chin-chin.

"I always have impeccable timing," said the 37-year-old creator of The Bearded Bastard, a line of waxes, pomades, and oils for men's facial hair. "TBB" product lines have names like "Barber Shop," which Newton jokes will remind you going to your dad's barber shop, a "holy grail" experience complete with "dirty magazines ... and someone has probably smoked cigars there."

Newton said he's been making stuff his whole life and selling it. More importantly, he's proof that entrepreneurs can be molded from the most unusual backgrounds.

According to Newton: He was named after Jeremiah Johnson, the bearded mountain man portrayed by Robert Redford in the 1972 film of the same name.

He was bullied growing up. "They just beat the crap out of me, and it was not a safe or comfortable or awesome place."

He's smart. "As a kid I was considered a super genius."

Isaiah Webb
Source: Isaiah Webb
Isaiah Webb

He said he has occasional mental health issues and social challenges: "I am on the autism scale, so scent has always been an obsession."

He has had 100 different jobs, including shaman, massage therapist ... and drug dealer. "I spent my 22nd birthday in the county jail, and my parents bailed me out." (Newton said he turned his life around and the judge cut him a break.)

So how did he end up making hair products? "The Bearded Bastard was, funny enough, kind of a joke," Newton said. He was doing fine art photography and having trouble keeping his own mustache in place, so he created a wax.

"My friends were like, 'If you don't keep making this, we are going to kick your" (here he paused) "… derriere."

Newton developed a recipe he liked — start-up costs were almost nothing — and he began selling products on Etsy. "The Etsy just started exploding."

That was 2011. Now TBB is sold in about 200 stores and online. It has eight employees, and sales are closing in on $1 million. A lot of the success has gone to "brand evangelists" to whom Newton sent free product. One is Isaiah Webb, aka "Incredibeard," who has 700,000 fans on Facebook. "He is an amazing friend, and a true artist," Webb said of Newton. "Jeremiah's products are simply the best on the market."

But when you're an unusual person like Jeremiah Newton, success isn't always a positive development.

"Success is a weird thing," he said inside his showroom in an Austin, Texas, strip mall. "Your life sometimes takes on a sort of characteristic that is not always pleasant ... and it's a lot of hard freaking work."

Newton also said hiring employees was more difficult than he expected — "it takes building that person up for upwards of six months." He got hives during The Bearded Bastard's second year, and he had stress dreams about doing his taxes. "How the hell do you do taxes when your company grows 600 percent in one year?"

It's a nice problem to have.

Newton is now releasing a line of products for women's hair and beauty called My Dear, and he takes pleasure in mentoring others with lessons he's learned during his unique journey.

Entrepreneurial Dos

Isaiah Webb
Source: Isaiah Webb
Isaiah Webb

"Make sure you're surrounded by amazing people. They will help you. They'll protect you."

Demand contracts. Newton is a believer in written agreements after someone he was doing business with turned around and created a competing product behind his back. "A handshake is a great thing. I don't do it anymore."

Entrepreneurial Don'ts

Isaiah Webb
Source: Isaiah Webb
Isaiah Webb

Don't hang around the wrong people, a lesson Newton learned as he became responsible for the livelihood of employees. "If I am not weeding people out of my life who are bad for it, I will tell you right now it becomes a really painful thing."

Don't keep giving people chances. "If you give me three excuses in less than five minutes, I walk away. ... If you really want to do something, you'll freaking do it."