Strange Success

How this dad's hairy back made him a millionaire

Matt Dryfhout had a problem. A problem that he couldn't even see.

Back hair.

"I didn't even know hair was there," says the 40-year-old from Chicago. Out of sight out of mind, right? Except it wasn't out of sight for his 34-year-old wife, Angel. "Nobody wants to see that," she says. Angel, a medical aesthetician, made it clear the hair would have to go.

That's how Matt found himself lying on a table one day preparing to have his hair waxed off after having a couple of Coronas "just to get through the pain."

There had to be a better way.

There wasn't, so he created one—the Bakblade, a device which allows men to shave their own backs without shaving gel. "It feels very similar to a back-scratcher," Matt says.

He's sold over a million of them.

Bakblade allows men to shave their own backs.
CNBC
Bakblade allows men to shave their own backs.

The backstory on the Bakblade

Matt Dryfhout had worked in sales and started a couple of companies, but he went through a dry spell during the 2008 recession. He resorted to pouring concrete to earn a living. "I remember having 10,000 flyers printed, and I was driving around with my son — who was 1 year old at the time — and I was literally putting flyers in mailboxes to make sure my mortgage was paid."

Then came that day he was lying on the table having his back waxed. Out of the pain, an idea took form: Create a product so men can do it themselves. Waxing hurts, and you have to make an appointment.

"Men don't even like making appointments to get their hair cut," Dryfhout explains. "It's like going to the proctologist, and they forget what day it is, and their wives or girlfriends or whoever reminds them."

Matt started researching and found a few products already on the market. "A lot of them were electric, so I couldn't take them in the shower." He began figuring out a design and finding a designer. "It was literally just baptism by fire."

This was 2011, and Angel insisted they move slowly. "We made a pact that we're not going to take out any sort of debt for the company," she says.

Over the next two years, they spent anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 designing, developing and testing prototypes. "Sunday family dinners, we'd send all the brothers and father-in-law upstairs, 'Everybody start shaving!'" Angel laughs, admitting she even tested the device on her own legs. "The genius is the blades," she says. "That's what sets us apart from people who've previously done this."

Matt and Angel Dryfhout
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Matt and Angel Dryfhout

The biggest challenge was housing the blades in such a way that you could get a close shave without cutting yourself while working on your back, an area you can't actually see. Bakblade has created video tutorials demonstrating the device. "When dealing with razors, there's always a chance you can cut yourself," says Matt. "Our razors, in simplest terms, are surrounded by a fixed housing that adds a barrier around the sharp edge of the blade."

The first version launched in 2013, and Angel said sales grew very slowly. "It was like maybe selling 10 of them a day." Then in 2016, the Dryfhouts were approached by a company called Launchboom about creating crowdfunding campaigns for a new and improved Bakblade with a collapsible handle. They made a video starring Angel telling a marriage counselor her husband is in denial over his back hair. Then the camera pans over to show her husband...is a gorilla.

It was a hit.

Matt hoped to raise between $50,000 and $100,000 through crowdfunding. Instead, he says, "It was just over one million dollars."

They started shipping the new Bakblades in early 2017, but the launch was not as smooth as a close shave. "If you've never manufactured anything before, my biggest caution is to make sure you get an expert," warns Matt. He ended up with a two-month shipping delay, "and when you have 20,000 backers, you have to control that crowd." He advises others who find themselves in the same position to be as clear and transparent as possible with impatient customers. "It was a little bit of a nervous moment, but we got through it."

The Bakblade
CNBC
The Bakblade

$50 million 'in the next couple of years'

Sales have grown from around $50,000 the first year to $4.6 million in 2017. "This year, we are going to more than double," Matt says.

Plans include a subscription program for the blades, and they are creating new products like a way for men to put sunscreen on their backs. They also have a working prototype for a device that allows women to shave their legs without bending over called the SheShaver — perfect for pregnant women or those with disabilities (or this reporter, who's just lazy). "We are in the process of speaking with private medical suppliers for licensing our IP [intellectual property] for medical supplies for those in trauma or having pre-surgery razors," Matt says. "I think we can get to $50 million in the next couple of years."

CNBC

They continue to use a direct to consumer sales model with profit margins around 35 percent. Matt had earlier wanted to get Bakblade into retail stores, but Angel convinced him they have a good thing going without retailers. "Let's work on what is working."

Bakblade now has six employees, and the Dryfhouts plan to hire more in areas like IT and brand content creation. They ship out of Ship Bob, a third party logistics company in Chicago. They've also purchased three acres outside Chicago to build a home/office compound. "I don't envision myself driving to a corporate-scale environment, a fluorescent lighting place," Matt says.

And they still laugh about back hair. Matt has to do to "touch ups" on his own back twice a week, while Angel has created nicknames for various back hair patterns: the peekaboo, angel's wings, the bunny tail — "that is disgusting." At the same time, she's amazed her "disgust" has led to the creation of wealth. "I'm just very humbled and grateful for this opportunity."

Finally, as silly as it may sound, the Bakblade has made life better for people who suffered in silence. "We have a lot of women who have been married for 30 plus years, who've been shaving their husband's back for 30 plus years, that have never told anybody but us," Matt says with a smile. He says they tell him, "You literally fired me from a job that I wanted to be fired from for decades."

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