Kevin Williams is a serious, no-nonsense U.S.-based investor. He holds a graduate degree from the prestigious Thunderbird School of Management in Arizona. So how did he end up running a grooming company called Balls, focused on male private parts?
He told me, “The notion of running Balls is hilarious to everyone who knows me. But it’s a gift to a marketer to work with an edgy product.”
Balls sells razors, trimmers, and lotions. The company launched in 2019 in the U.K. Williams invested in it in 2021 and became the CEO.
He and I recently discussed the business of men’s grooming. The entire audio of our conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about your business.
Kevin Williams: I own a consulting and private equity firm called KDF Aegis.
I launched the company in 2013. I started by buying or licensing intellectual property such as patents. Often it would be an uncle or somebody’s boyfriend or father who would have these patents. They’d come to me looking to sell or monetize their creations. I’d run some rapid-fire minimum-viable-product tests and see if the item could convert.
Then I’d go ahead and buy or license the patent or sometimes form a partnership. One of the first patents I licensed was for Brush Hero, a water-powered turbine brush used for cleaning cars and motorcycles. When we tested it online, there was a good add-to-cart rate. We went ahead and licensed it.
That product grew rapidly in the U.S. and internationally. We appeared on Shark Tank and eventually sold in Costco, Walmart, Canadian Tire, and other physical stores, as well as our website.
That gave rise to other ecommerce opportunities. I exited that business in 2020 when it was purchased by a private equity group that also owned a brand called Balls.co.
Bandholz: So you moved on to Balls.
Williams: Yes. In July 2021 I invested in Balls.co and became the operating partner and CEO. The company was founded in 2019 in the U.K. by Tyler Ball. It sells grooming products for men’s pelvic areas. So “Balls” has a dual meaning. It’s the founder’s name and a description of the male anatomy.
The notion of running Balls is hilarious to everyone who knows me. But it’s a gift to a marketer to work with an edgy product. If you’re going to run a brand called Balls, you have to own it. You can’t be subtle. It’s the so-called “manscaping” niche. We sell body trimmers focused on men’s intimate areas.
Manscaped is another brand in the space. They’re doing a fantastic job. They created an air of luxury around the brand. So we focus on the “lad” or “bro” niche — “lad” being a U.K. term for a young adult male.
Bandholz: You’re doing business internationally.
Williams: That’s right. When I joined, the company ran eight Shopify stores in four languages and four currencies. My instinct was to simplify. But we ended up in a bit of a trap with existing subscribers in those countries. We had to continue running all of the stores.
Plus, as an American, I didn’t have an insider’s understanding of the ramifications of Brexit until I ran Balls, again a U.K. company. Soon after I joined, some of the Brexit customs enforcements kicked in. We ended up with something like 3,500 packages stuck in E.U. customs. We had to redo our entire supply chain.
The U.K. was our dominant market, followed by Germany, the rest of Europe, then France. I’ve never been so European-oriented. We had to find breakthrough marketing messages.
Bandholz: What was the breakthrough?
Williams: Humor, mainly. Social media channels, Facebook in particular, wouldn’t let us run ads with the word “balls.” We had to get very creative about our messaging. We leaned heavily into content marketing instead of a direct response. We invested heavily into our TikTok channel, which did exceptionally well, growing in just a few months to 150 million views and 300,000 followers. That was all organic.
We tested many concepts and eventually hit on a quasi-entertainment medium. We found awesome standup comedians and dispatched them worldwide to interview people on the street about their intimate grooming habits. One comedian, Oliver Sotra, was fantastic.
It’s a bit of a numbers game when you put a smart comedian on the street asking bystanders, “Do you shave your balls?” We had awesome results that people wanted to watch.
If it’s entirely commercial, the message is unlikely to hold consumers’ interest. But if it’s all entertainment, there’s no motive for them to buy the product. Most of our TikTok followers likely fall into the entertainment realm. The trick is to recognize an opportunity to grow organically — it’s worth doing because the cost of brand building through traditional channels is prohibitive.
Our cost per thousand impressions on TikTok was in the 20-cent range for producing this content. I’ll do that all day long.
Bandholz: How can folks get in touch with you?