How Stryx landed a deal on Shark Tank and insight into its “secret sauce” for success on TikTok

July 12, 2022
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The women’s skincare market is tough. Think of any problem, from a pimple to a pore, and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of products available.

Men don’t have the same options. Stryx was one of the first names in the industry to understand this gap and to create products that addressed men’s skincare issues specifically. 

And that’s where the story of Stryx began. I sat down with John Shanahan, co-founder of Stryx, and Silas Bush, head of growth at Stryx, to learn how they landed a deal on Shark Tank, and to get insights into their “secret sauce” for success on TikTok. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Shanahan
Bush

Banknotes: Tell me more about Stryx. What does your brand do and how did the idea come to you?

Shanahan: Stryx was started because of a wedding day pimple. My co-founder and I each experienced this problem at our weddings and the lack of a solution got us thinking about all the skincare options for women who may be in a similar situation. 

And then came the questions: 

  • Why aren't there ways for men to do this? 
  • What would it look like to build cosmetics and skincare for men? 
  • How do you de-stigmatize these products and educate men about their options, especially at a time when guys are starting to take more care of their appearance? 

Banknotes: How did you identify this big gap in the beauty industry? What kind of opportunity did you discover?

Shanahan: As we started to dig into the idea, we discovered research, reports, and papers on upcoming men's beauty trends and how men are starting to wear makeup. Although developments in men’s cosmetics are great, we were focused on the lack of skincare products specifically formulated for men.

There are hundreds of men's brands for grooming. So why wasn't there a brand in existence for men’s skincare? And it seemed with our personal interest in the idea, and the market giving enough signals, we decided to try creating Stryx.

Banknotes: How did you get on Shark Tank? What was the process?

Shanahan: The process begins with open applications available for unique brands. They get tons of applications, and we just happened to have the right concept at the right time and place, and it worked out. It definitely helped that we had been in the market for a couple of years. 

The producers actually told us they had been looking to feature men's skincare, and we happened to come through the door.

Banknotes: How did you prepare for Shark Tank? What was the journey?

Bush: We couldn’t talk about our appearance on the show for legal reasons, and we didn’t know our air date until right before our episode was scheduled to go live. As we waited for the episode to air, we made sure our website was structured well.

We ordered more inventory to make sure we wouldn’t sell out entirely, which ended up being a really good decision. We also launched a go-to-market strategy by leveraging paid media in local targets. 

I would target New York City zip codes with ads like, “Local New York City company is going to be on Shark Tank on this date.” We also spoke to a lot of companies who were on Shark Tank to prepare ourselves.

For organic marketing, we worked with some of our Twitch partners. Stryx had watch parties organized ahead of time, and our affiliate marketing manager, who has a really good recording software, captured everything. 

We also pre-wrote a lot of our post Shark Tank email campaigns around the history of Shark Tank and also sent emails about stock updates to customers who might be interested in reordering. 

Stryx also wanted to talk about the same subjects we discussed on the show, so we collaborated with influencers to talk about subjects that might be relevant soon because we talked about them on Shark Tank. 

Shanahan: We prepared just like we would for a regular investor pitch. I also put together a list of every similar personal care company, with information about what their ask was and questions they were asked by the sharks. There was a lot of prep to understand what questions we were going to get and how we wanted to answer them. 

I also had a mental list of four key things I wanted to say, so finding the perfect slot in the questioning to slide in the information was also part of the mental calculus.

Banknotes: How are you leveraging Shark Tank for longer-term growth and success?

Bush: We are really big on personalizing follow-ups. Personalization is an important theme for skincare in general, but we take it to the next level with hand-signed postcards from our head of operations, which we sent to 6,000 people who ordered from us. She physically printed, wrote everything down, and sent a selfie that John and Devir took before they filmed.

Every order we shipped out included the products we talked about on Shark Tank, the personalized postcard from our team, and a discount code the customer could apply to future orders. We also established a strong upsell and downsell process.

For example, our tinted moisturizer sells really well on TikTok and organic channels, but it was not in our Shark Tank kit. However, the product was a very clear upsell, so we featured the product on our website and used a coupon code to drive sales. 

Long term, we plan to continue to leverage our Shark Tank appearance to gain more clout from influencers, affiliates, and partners. It's been really healthy for the brand to use Shark Tank as an excuse to update how we talk about everything. 

Banknotes: Do you have advice for other DTC brands who want to go on Shark Tank? Is there anything you would recommend to make sure they impress the panel?

Shanahan: I think you’ve got to start really early. For us, it was a year-long process to get noticed. The same people work on the show year after year, and they'll recognize you if you apply as soon as you can. From there on, it's all about highlighting your brand and your products in the time slot allotted to you. 

My advice would be to build a community and build your product. They’re really into validating that you have real reviews and that your product actually works. So the best thing you can do is build up your customer base, increase brand loyalty, and build a great product.

Banknotes: How do you do community building at Stryx? Where does social media come into play? 

Shanahan: From a brand perspective, there’s a direct connection with customers. For example, if anybody on TikTok mentions a guy wearing makeup or concealer, we get tagged in that video. 

Mikayla is one of the biggest beauty influencers on TikTok right now, and she did a video where she talked about putting makeup on her fiance, Cody. We got tagged 50 times with comments like, “Cody needs Stryx.”

Bush: Part of our brand voice is being direct. Once we brought in a strategist to handle Twitter, one of the first things she did was tweet, “Hey, I'm managing Twitter under Stryx. They're paying me part-time. I really like doing this. Here's a picture of my cat.” And it did really well because people resonated with the fact that there’s a person behind the platform. We even increased our reach by 400% in the past four months. 

Reddit, on the other hand, is much more skeptical of brands. So, on Reddit, we really don't want to appear like a brand. Instead, we behave like a person. We’re also in Reddit skincare communities, where we can engage with potential customers and gather organic feedback.  

One of the things that did really well for us was a thread on bad parental advice about skincare. We also don’t post anything without a description underneath stating why we’re posting it, because that's very important to do on Reddit. Through this, we’ve gone from nothing to 800 karmas within three months. 

Twitch is the opposite of Instagram when it comes to working with influencers and affiliates. Where Instagram does pay-per-post, Twitch builds longer-term relationships. We work with a lot of partners on Twitch and will often pay for a segment in the chat or something similar. 

For example, we have a Twitch ambassador, SwiftIke, who used our eye tool and talked about the product during his live stream, and that worked really well for us. 

Banknotes: Tell me more about your process for getting noticed on TikTok

Shanahan: Making lots of posts is the key to winning on TikTok. I'd say it's a balance between keeping up with the trends going on TikTok and being product-specific. For example, someone asked us how to pitch to retailers after seeing us in Target, and we responded with a helpful video which performed really well.

Our strategy is a mix of showing our product and responding to comments, positive or negative, as to how the products work and why the company exists. I think we hit this really sensitive spot about gendered product stigma on TikTok. There's some level of discussion that happens, but then stirring that pot a little bit and giving our point of view tends to do really well.

I know a few brands that really try to lean on trending sounds, but some of our best-performing posts were just me talking, either as a voiceover or speaking directly to the camera. If you just come with something to say, TikTok tends to like that.

Banknotes: Do you work with creators on TikTok? 

Bush: Yes, we work with creators in a scalable way. If you're doing a video for TikTok, you don't know if it can go viral or not. The algorithm is always changing, so we have a bounty program where our partner creators get a payout based on how many views their video got. Although social media platforms and algorithms are different, if you don’t leverage the content TikTok creators give you on other platforms, then you're going to lose. 

Another piece of advice I’ll give companies is to be flexible with content creators but also set some boundaries. Creativity works best when you have some sort of guideline or framework around it. When we reach out to creators, we always have our own social calendar done first, and we talk to them about it, and that's where we get the best ideas every single time.

Banknotes: What advice do you have for brands about leveraging creator relationships to boost brand awareness?

Shanahan: From a creative perspective, it's good to have a middle ground of flexibility and guidelines. And the way that we do that is we say, here are our talking points, here's some content that's worked in the past, and we then discuss ideas from there.

I think it's just a matter of finding somebody that aligns with you pretty well and then giving them the creative flexibility to do their own thing, but also providing them with tools to really hit the points that you're looking to get across to an audience.

When we did pay-per-post, creators wanted the money right away. But if you also know your highest tolerable customer acquisition cost, it helps you set your targets for longer-term ambassador relationships to be right on that limit.

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How Stryx landed a deal on Shark Tank and insight into its “secret sauce” for success on TikTok

The women’s skincare market is tough. Think of any problem, from a pimple to a pore, and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of products available.

Men don’t have the same options. Stryx was one of the first names in the industry to understand this gap and to create products that addressed men’s skincare issues specifically. 

And that’s where the story of Stryx began. I sat down with John Shanahan, co-founder of Stryx, and Silas Bush, head of growth at Stryx, to learn how they landed a deal on Shark Tank, and to get insights into their “secret sauce” for success on TikTok. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Shanahan
Bush

Banknotes: Tell me more about Stryx. What does your brand do and how did the idea come to you?

Shanahan: Stryx was started because of a wedding day pimple. My co-founder and I each experienced this problem at our weddings and the lack of a solution got us thinking about all the skincare options for women who may be in a similar situation. 

And then came the questions: 

  • Why aren't there ways for men to do this? 
  • What would it look like to build cosmetics and skincare for men? 
  • How do you de-stigmatize these products and educate men about their options, especially at a time when guys are starting to take more care of their appearance? 

Banknotes: How did you identify this big gap in the beauty industry? What kind of opportunity did you discover?

Shanahan: As we started to dig into the idea, we discovered research, reports, and papers on upcoming men's beauty trends and how men are starting to wear makeup. Although developments in men’s cosmetics are great, we were focused on the lack of skincare products specifically formulated for men.

There are hundreds of men's brands for grooming. So why wasn't there a brand in existence for men’s skincare? And it seemed with our personal interest in the idea, and the market giving enough signals, we decided to try creating Stryx.

Banknotes: How did you get on Shark Tank? What was the process?

Shanahan: The process begins with open applications available for unique brands. They get tons of applications, and we just happened to have the right concept at the right time and place, and it worked out. It definitely helped that we had been in the market for a couple of years. 

The producers actually told us they had been looking to feature men's skincare, and we happened to come through the door.

Banknotes: How did you prepare for Shark Tank? What was the journey?

Bush: We couldn’t talk about our appearance on the show for legal reasons, and we didn’t know our air date until right before our episode was scheduled to go live. As we waited for the episode to air, we made sure our website was structured well.

We ordered more inventory to make sure we wouldn’t sell out entirely, which ended up being a really good decision. We also launched a go-to-market strategy by leveraging paid media in local targets. 

I would target New York City zip codes with ads like, “Local New York City company is going to be on Shark Tank on this date.” We also spoke to a lot of companies who were on Shark Tank to prepare ourselves.

For organic marketing, we worked with some of our Twitch partners. Stryx had watch parties organized ahead of time, and our affiliate marketing manager, who has a really good recording software, captured everything. 

We also pre-wrote a lot of our post Shark Tank email campaigns around the history of Shark Tank and also sent emails about stock updates to customers who might be interested in reordering. 

Stryx also wanted to talk about the same subjects we discussed on the show, so we collaborated with influencers to talk about subjects that might be relevant soon because we talked about them on Shark Tank. 

Shanahan: We prepared just like we would for a regular investor pitch. I also put together a list of every similar personal care company, with information about what their ask was and questions they were asked by the sharks. There was a lot of prep to understand what questions we were going to get and how we wanted to answer them. 

I also had a mental list of four key things I wanted to say, so finding the perfect slot in the questioning to slide in the information was also part of the mental calculus.

Banknotes: How are you leveraging Shark Tank for longer-term growth and success?

Bush: We are really big on personalizing follow-ups. Personalization is an important theme for skincare in general, but we take it to the next level with hand-signed postcards from our head of operations, which we sent to 6,000 people who ordered from us. She physically printed, wrote everything down, and sent a selfie that John and Devir took before they filmed.

Every order we shipped out included the products we talked about on Shark Tank, the personalized postcard from our team, and a discount code the customer could apply to future orders. We also established a strong upsell and downsell process.

For example, our tinted moisturizer sells really well on TikTok and organic channels, but it was not in our Shark Tank kit. However, the product was a very clear upsell, so we featured the product on our website and used a coupon code to drive sales. 

Long term, we plan to continue to leverage our Shark Tank appearance to gain more clout from influencers, affiliates, and partners. It's been really healthy for the brand to use Shark Tank as an excuse to update how we talk about everything. 

Banknotes: Do you have advice for other DTC brands who want to go on Shark Tank? Is there anything you would recommend to make sure they impress the panel?

Shanahan: I think you’ve got to start really early. For us, it was a year-long process to get noticed. The same people work on the show year after year, and they'll recognize you if you apply as soon as you can. From there on, it's all about highlighting your brand and your products in the time slot allotted to you. 

My advice would be to build a community and build your product. They’re really into validating that you have real reviews and that your product actually works. So the best thing you can do is build up your customer base, increase brand loyalty, and build a great product.

Banknotes: How do you do community building at Stryx? Where does social media come into play? 

Shanahan: From a brand perspective, there’s a direct connection with customers. For example, if anybody on TikTok mentions a guy wearing makeup or concealer, we get tagged in that video. 

Mikayla is one of the biggest beauty influencers on TikTok right now, and she did a video where she talked about putting makeup on her fiance, Cody. We got tagged 50 times with comments like, “Cody needs Stryx.”

Bush: Part of our brand voice is being direct. Once we brought in a strategist to handle Twitter, one of the first things she did was tweet, “Hey, I'm managing Twitter under Stryx. They're paying me part-time. I really like doing this. Here's a picture of my cat.” And it did really well because people resonated with the fact that there’s a person behind the platform. We even increased our reach by 400% in the past four months. 

Reddit, on the other hand, is much more skeptical of brands. So, on Reddit, we really don't want to appear like a brand. Instead, we behave like a person. We’re also in Reddit skincare communities, where we can engage with potential customers and gather organic feedback.  

One of the things that did really well for us was a thread on bad parental advice about skincare. We also don’t post anything without a description underneath stating why we’re posting it, because that's very important to do on Reddit. Through this, we’ve gone from nothing to 800 karmas within three months. 

Twitch is the opposite of Instagram when it comes to working with influencers and affiliates. Where Instagram does pay-per-post, Twitch builds longer-term relationships. We work with a lot of partners on Twitch and will often pay for a segment in the chat or something similar. 

For example, we have a Twitch ambassador, SwiftIke, who used our eye tool and talked about the product during his live stream, and that worked really well for us. 

Banknotes: Tell me more about your process for getting noticed on TikTok

Shanahan: Making lots of posts is the key to winning on TikTok. I'd say it's a balance between keeping up with the trends going on TikTok and being product-specific. For example, someone asked us how to pitch to retailers after seeing us in Target, and we responded with a helpful video which performed really well.

Our strategy is a mix of showing our product and responding to comments, positive or negative, as to how the products work and why the company exists. I think we hit this really sensitive spot about gendered product stigma on TikTok. There's some level of discussion that happens, but then stirring that pot a little bit and giving our point of view tends to do really well.

I know a few brands that really try to lean on trending sounds, but some of our best-performing posts were just me talking, either as a voiceover or speaking directly to the camera. If you just come with something to say, TikTok tends to like that.

Banknotes: Do you work with creators on TikTok? 

Bush: Yes, we work with creators in a scalable way. If you're doing a video for TikTok, you don't know if it can go viral or not. The algorithm is always changing, so we have a bounty program where our partner creators get a payout based on how many views their video got. Although social media platforms and algorithms are different, if you don’t leverage the content TikTok creators give you on other platforms, then you're going to lose. 

Another piece of advice I’ll give companies is to be flexible with content creators but also set some boundaries. Creativity works best when you have some sort of guideline or framework around it. When we reach out to creators, we always have our own social calendar done first, and we talk to them about it, and that's where we get the best ideas every single time.

Banknotes: What advice do you have for brands about leveraging creator relationships to boost brand awareness?

Shanahan: From a creative perspective, it's good to have a middle ground of flexibility and guidelines. And the way that we do that is we say, here are our talking points, here's some content that's worked in the past, and we then discuss ideas from there.

I think it's just a matter of finding somebody that aligns with you pretty well and then giving them the creative flexibility to do their own thing, but also providing them with tools to really hit the points that you're looking to get across to an audience.

When we did pay-per-post, creators wanted the money right away. But if you also know your highest tolerable customer acquisition cost, it helps you set your targets for longer-term ambassador relationships to be right on that limit.