Once a beacon for more minorities to join him in Silicon Valley, the former tech and media darling enters a deal that will help to secure his legacy—and P&G’s.
Procter & Gamble, the consumer packaged goods conglomerate known for such household staples as Tide and Old Spice, will acquire Walker & Company Brands, the health and beauty startup launched by entrepreneur Tristan Walker just five years ago.
While the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, other details were: Within the first half of 2019, Walker and his current team of 15 employees will relocate to Atlanta—not Cincinnati, the home of P&G headquarters—and will continue working on its brands, Bevel and Form, as a wholly owned subsidiary with Walker at the reins as CEO. He’ll report directly to Alex Keith, president of P&G’s global haircare and beauty business.
“We’ve always had the vision to make health and beauty simple for people of color,” Walker says. “But now we get to accelerate that vision with the many capabilities Procter & Gamble has to offer. I’m not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere.”
For those who’ve followed the career of Walker, the merger with P&G might read as the conclusion of a storied journey. Walker, who has cultivated for himself an image as a beacon for more racial diversity in Silicon Valley, is one of the most visible African-American executives in tech, counting among his funders Andreessen Horowitz, in addition to cofounding Code2040, a not-for-profit that connects young minorities to coding jobs. While it’s true that he professed his ambitions to become the “Procter and Gamble for people of color” in my profile of him four years ago, he has largely carved that path guided by Silicon Valley sensibilities, from ingratiating himself with the Bay Area elite to employing a direct-to-consumer model for Bevel—Walker’s flagship brand, a suite of shaving products that reduces skin irritation, common among men of color—just as glitzy startups like Warby Parker, Casper Sleep, and Glossier had done.
“Yes, we happen to be in Silicon Valley and, yes, we happen to do things from a technology perspective to help us accelerate our vision, but we’ve always been a forward-looking consumer packaged goods company,” says Walker. “Our moving from Silicon Valley doesn’t change that.”
The truth is, Walker has only in recent years begun eschewing the label of “tech startup.” He turned a few heads at Recode‘s Code Commerce conference in March of last year when he told Kara Swisher, “When I started, I said we’re a tech company. That’s bullshit.”
He’s moved deeper into the CPG world, inking a deal in 2015 to sell Bevel products in Target stores a la carte—a model which came to comprise nearly half the company’s revenue—and last year launched Form, a 10-product haircare line that Walker & Co. recommends to consumers based on an online survey about hair-affecting factors like geography and exercise habits. Form received rave reviews, but Walker lacked the resources to properly promote the product. Meanwhile, competitors such as Harry’s—which bought a $100 million razor factory less than a year after its founding—delivered on the type of fast-growth metrics that venture capitalists crave, zipping to a nine-figure valuation. (Soon Harry’s even installed giant displays that bookended the very Target aisles where Bevel products were sold.)
While some might consider the deal as simply the latest in a string of black-owned health and beauty companies getting snatched up by non-black-owned multinationals—see Sundial Brands’ sale to Unilever last year—the move means that resources like marketing and distribution are unlikely to be a worry for Walker going forward as a subsidiary of P&G, which today has a $93 billion market cap, and which AdAge recently ranked second (to Samsung) in global ad spend.
“When you consider growth percentages and metrics and that sort of thing, while it’s a good signal for the health of the business, it’s not necessarily the greatest signal for one’s belief that you’re building a beloved brand with staying power,” says Walker. “We’re six years old; Procter & Gamble is 180. There’s so much we can learn from them. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet.”
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