From lost to found: How Tristan Walker convinced Andreessen Horowitz to lead his $6.9M funding round

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on June 17, 2014

From The News Desk

Andreessen Horowitz partner Jeff Jordan* chuckles as he recounts his first impression of entrepreneur Tristan Walker. At the time they met, Walker was serving remotely as Foursquare’s full-time head of business development and harangued Jordan tirelessly for a meeting, sending email after email. When Jordan finally caved and met with Walker, he was impressed by the young man’s charisma and energy.

He asked if he could get into the b-ball game I organize twice a week at Stanford,” Jordan says. “I say yes and he hands me his Stanford Business School card. He’s finishing graduate school while he’s the full time head of business development of Foursquare!”

Jordan was sold. He knew he had met someone special. He’s enjoying a moment of reflection today as Walker, the future founder Jordan effectively "discovered," celebrates a milestone.

Walker & Company, Walker’s personal grooming and beauty products company targeting people of color, just announced its $6.9m Series A funding round led by — you guessed it — Andreessen Horowitz. It’s a natural conclusion, given that Walker served as an Entrepreneur in Residence at the firm after he finished business school. Andreessen Horowitz chose him despite the fact that he had never founded a company before. Walker spent the next nine months brainstorming startup ideas.

“When he first came in and didn’t know what he was going to build, I wasn’t sure what was going to come out the other side,” Jordan says. “He was spinning.”

But after seven months of floundering and experimentation, the idea for Walker & Company emerged. Walker wanted to build a “Proctor & Gamble for people of color." He would create products designed specifically to meet  particular health and beauty needs, starting with a single-blade razor called Bevel. “He set it up and pitches it, and it’s like, ‘Yeah that’s a big idea,’” Jordan remembers.

Andreessen Horowitz has played a big role in the company from the beginning, taking part in its $2.4 million seed round and later introducing Walker to key figures like retail legend Ron Johnson, former CEO of J.C. Penney. Now with the Series A cash firmly in hand, Walker is staring down the barrel of his first big scaling moment.

His big plan? Do things that don’t scale.

“We’re not in hyper growth mode. That’s not our game,” Walker says. “Our game is making sure we can deliver the best customer experience possible, and that drives word of mouth.”

For example, a key part of the company’s onboarding process for new customers is a one-to-one video chat, where a customer service representative shows the person how to use their daunting shaving kit. It’s perhaps a necessary educational tool, because Walker is doing the unthinkable: offering a product his target market not only doesn’t want, but actively fears. Many black men learn at a young age to dread the razor and its accompanying complications due to their curly, thick hair, which can lead to acne, cuts, and skin irritation. According to Walker, most try to shave with a razor once and never approach one again, instead choosing to visit a barber or use harsh chemicals whenever they need a "shave."

As Sarah Lacy put it in her profile of Walker, he’s not following the “build it and they will come” playbook. It’s more like “build it and beg them to try it.”

But neither Walker nor Jordan are worried.

“There’s a billion dollar brand waiting to be built in this space and I think Tristan is incredibly positioned to build it,” Jordan says.

(*Disclosure: Jeff Jordan is a personal investor in PandoDaily, as are fellow Andreessen Horowitz partners Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon)

[image via Walker & Company]