Posted: Wed 8th Jan 2020
Matt Lumb was working as an accountant when he met Tangle Teezer founder Shaun Pulfrey at an event in 2010. He admits the prospect of leaving his job to work at a start-up was daunting.
"I worked for an accident repair company, which was a very masculine industry. When I said I was going to work for a hairbrush start-up in London, it raised more than a few eyebrows," he remembers.
The gamble paid off. With Matt at the helm as CEO, Tangle Teezer went on to sell 50 million brushes in 70 countries around the world. Matt left the company in 2018, moving into the CEO role at male makeup brand War Paint a year later.
The balance of Shaun and Matt's skills were a key part of Tangle Teezer's global success. Shaun was the creative mind behind the product, whereas Matt took on the operational side. This freed up Shaun from the nitty-gritty of orders and supply chains and gave him the time to explore where the product could go next.
"You see it time and time again with ideas-driven entrepreneurs. They come up with that initial concept, but fast-forward six months and all their time is taken up managing the logistics. They have no time to be creative.
"Having ideas is absolutely great, but to maximise the potential of any idea you need a good operator. That's where I come in. My strength lies in the execution of the vision. I didn't come up with Tangle Teezer, but I did make sure we scaled the life out of it. I made sure we never ran out of stock and that we had our IP in place."
When choosing a co-founder or building a team, Matt emphasises the importance of surrounding yourself with people who challenge you.
"You need people who are going to push back. A typical entrepreneur is creative and will have 10 ideas a day. It might be that we decide as a team to only focus on one of them. It's that yin and yang - there's the creative side and the management of that creativity."
Matt's work on the operational side of War Paint means that he often feels like the purveyor of doom and gloom. As he puts it: "I'm constantly saying we can't do things."
However, this helps to keep the company on track and headed in the right direction.
"You have to be able to have an honest conversation with your co-founder. You have to be open with each other. As long as you're really aligned with the big picture and know what you want the company to turn into, you can work through the day-to-day things."
Matt encourages start-ups to get plenty of feedback from friends, family and potential customers early on. Once you have a prototype, be prepared to go through a number of stages where you test and refine it.
Feedback is particularly important where the brand is concerned, given the rise of visual social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest.
"If people hate the branding or packaging, change it. Everything has to be Instagrammable, especially if you're launching in a space where it's crowded."
It can be tempting to follow up on every opportunity for publicity, but don't be afraid to turn down opportunities that aren't right for your brand. Although Tangle Teezer grew into a global phenomenon, they never sold it en masse in big grocery stores.
Matt now applies the same approach at War Paint. He was four days into a pop-up at John Lewis on Oxford Street when we spoke to him. But that doesn't mean he hasn't turned down opportunities that fit with the brand.
"We started to get inundated with requests that weren't right for us. If you're early-stage and sales are slow, the temptation is to trial it somewhere. But the easiest way to protect your brand is to protect your positioning. You just need to have faith in your product."
If you're looking to start or grow a beauty business, book your ticket for The Beauty Exchange now. Industry experts and successful entrepreneurs will be on hand to provide top tips for growing a great brand and buyers will share how you can pitch your products.