Never lose focus on the product and people (two types: customers and employees). When you’re running a business, there is SO much going on and an incredible amount of noise around you. Make sure that most of your time is spent on what is going to help grow the business: your product and your people.
It’s not just going to happen — execution is everything. Nothing will happen on it’s own, so you have to make it happen. And when things aren’t working, you just have to find a way.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Spratte, Co-Founder and CEO of Carpe, the reliable brand for effective antiperspirant products. In his early college years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), David was diagnosed with hyperhidrosis and faced the new problem of uncontrollable sweating unrelated to heat or exercise. After a year of having ingredients shipped surreptitiously to David’s dorm rooms in an effort to solve his sweat problems, David and his friend and eventual business partner, Kasper Kubica, decided to test their own possible solutions. After creating and testing over 60 prototypes, they launched Carpe Antiperspirant Hand Lotion and their fight against embarrassing sweat began. Two years later, David graduated from UNC and Kasper graduated from Duke. David abandoned his medical school plans and in order to focus full-time on developing the Carpe brand. Today, alongside a quickly growing team of experts and passionate sweaters, David and Kasper spend nearly every one of their days developing new sweat-stopping products and reaching out to the people who need them most. David currently resides with his newlywed wife in Durham, North Carolina.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Very simply, I had sweaty hands…really, really sweaty hands! And there was nothing out there that could help me. My senior year of high school, I decided that I wasn’t going to sit around and just deal with it anymore, so I started making dermatology appointments. I’d go into the office, tell the doctor that I had an idea I wanted to run by them, and then I’d pitch my concept for a sweaty hands solution. I got a lot of great feedback and validation from those conversations, which gave me confidence that this was something worth pursuing.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I don’t have one specific anecdote or moment in mind that I remember as really hard, but rather one continuous story of not knowing what the heck to do! I met my co-founder, Kasper Kubica, when we were both in college. He had sweaty hands (in addition to a brain that was a lot bigger than mine), so I essentially harassed him until he agreed to go on this journey with me. We figured it out as we went (with the help of some crucial advisors) and learned and grew from each misstep and mistake.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
If this was a pure profit play, we would have stopped and started something else pretty early on. But, because it was a shared problem and a truly impactful one if solved; we kept going.
We really want to create the best sweat solutions in the world that are accessible, affordable, and effective for all — no matter where or how much someone sweats. No one should have to suffer excessive sweating, and no one should have to think about sweat on a daily basis.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
We are in hyper-growth mode and focused on getting our products in the hands of every single person who needs them.
The people whose lives Carpe has changed and the confidence that it has given them is the best part about starting the business. There is nothing like getting a voicemail or an email from someone who is on the verge of tears or actually crying because Carpe has genuinely changed their lives. I am really proud of what we have accomplished and what we are focusing on, but we are only getting started! We have an insane focus on solving the sweat problems of everyone out there — no one else is doing that. I think that we make the best sweat products in the world, but we are committed to continuing to make them better and better every day.
Ultimately, whatever obstacle has arison — be it operations issues, supply chain misses, pandemics — we don’t view failure as an option. We make mistakes, we learn from them, we grow, and we do whatever it takes to rise to the challenge.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the early days, we were doing everything ourselves. Our headquarters and warehouse were in an old car mechanic shop. We did customer service, shipping, product development, everything ourselves — including receiving and processing products from our manufacturer.
We got a call one morning that a transfer truck was on its way to our headquarters loaded with a trailer full of 600 lb. pallets of our products. The problem? Our office/warehouse/former mechanic’s shop, of course, had no loading docks. How could we possibly unload the truck with no lift?
Never ones to be deterred, we quickly strategized that moving trucks often have lifts. We called around, and rented a Penske truck for the day. We simply backed the moving truck up to the back of the semi trailer, wheeled the pallets from one to the other, and used the moving truck’s lift to lower the pallets of our product to the ground.
Ultimately, we figured it out.
As a company, we have always been solution oriented, but that example really drives home for me our ability to overcome and succeed no matter the obstacle. I have faith (sometimes with a little help/advice) that my co-founder Kasper and I will always figure it out.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our customers. So many of the people we speak to had just accepted that excessive sweat was just something they were going to have to suffer through for the rest of their lives. We hear daily from customers for whom our products have been life changing. We received this note from a customer just last week:
Carpe, here’s my story….All of my life, as far back as I can remember, I’ve had issues with sweating and body odor. (You know because the sweat smells). The earliest I think maybe I was four years old…my mom had to put adult deodorant on me for school. Basically every single day of every single year of my life, I’ve sweated profusely and smelled bad…..during class, at break times, during lunch, I mean, CAN YOU IMAGINE THE HORROR AND THE TORTURE???!!!… my mom had to ask my teachers if I could be excused during certain times of the day to go “freshen up “….I’ll just say kids are cruel and adults can be worse. I’m in my late thirties now and sweating is STILL an issue in my everyday life. I’ve rearranged my life so that I can control my sweating. I became a nurse. I still feel anxious every day about the way I sweat and smell. Then one day just a few short weeks ago while I was watching television and LITERALLY wondering how I am going to control this sweating while at work?? This commercial comes on about this product called “Carpe.” I watched the commercial with skeptical curiosity…… I’ve done EVERYTHING I can think of to cure this condition that I didn’t even know had a name until my late twenties. I’ve dealt with this for ALL OF MY LIFE, EVERY SINGLE DAY. In line at the grocery store, sitting in church, prom, staff meetings, etc. Anyway, I say all that to say, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to the creators of this wonderful product. I’ve only been using them for about two weeks and it has CHANGED MY LIFE. I am no longer sweating profusely on my face and underarms, under boob area, thighs and back!!!!!! I’ve been dry and smelling fresh!!!!!! It’s a feeling that’s really hard to believe and to describe. I’ve gained so much confidence already. I can go into a room and NOT wonder what people will say when I leave. So thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can live now!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stay focused on the product and problem and surround yourself with the best people you can find. If you have people around you who inspire you and that you’re excited to work alongside every day, you’ll never burn out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I think “some help” is the understatement of the century here — Kasper and I wouldn’t have gotten Carpe to market in any form without massive help from advisors, and I think we’d still be an obscure brand stuck in some dark corner of Amazon if it weren’t for the guidance and counsel offered by those same advisors, and more who joined us through the years. I’d write a full “thank you” section here if I could, but I know that no one reads those, so I’ll just call out a few examples among the many people who have made Carpe into what it is today — Ben, Jay, and Chris, our first three investors, and practically co founders who got Carpe on the market; Seth Radwell, former CEO of Proactiv; Joe Saldutti, Mike Hokenberry, among many, many others.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Our entire company and mission is driven by bringing goodness in the world. We truly want to make our customers’ lives better. Stopping sweat may sound trivial, but when you suffer from excessive sweat, it can be debilitating.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why.
- Overpay for the best people — even from the very beginning when you don’t have a lot of money in the bank. In short, the people that you hire will make or break your business, so find the best and overpay them.
- People say hire slow, fire fast, but no one really explains what that means in practice. What this means in practice is you — as a founder — spend an insane amount of time on LinkedIn Recruiter, Indeed, and in your network, finding and then convincing the best people to work with you. Treat every hire like you’re trying to find your cofounder. Set the expectations from the very beginning and be very clear about them. If those expectations aren’t being met, then no one is happy (neither you nor your employee), and it’s probably time to have a conversation about finding someone who can meet those expectations. The key to “firing fast” is not to make excuses for people. If you’re really empathetic, this is easy to do, but it can be dangerous. If you’re making excuses for people early on, that will most likely continue until you finally realize that you HAVE to fire them. So don’t waste your or your employee’s time!
- Never lose focus on the product and people (two types: customers and employees). When you’re running a business, there is SO much going on and an incredible amount of noise around you. Make sure that most of your time is spent on what is going to help grow the business: your product and your people.
- Talk with as many other founders as possible. Find the most successful founders that you can and try to get 15 minutes with them on the phone. The founder of Lumin (his name is Darwish) who I think is absolutely brilliant, agreed to let me and Kasper fly down to Miami to meet with him in his condo and spend 5 hours picking his brain. I cannot explain how much we learned from that time. And I am incredibly thankful for founders like Darwish who realize that we’re all trying to make it, so we should support each other.
- It’s not just going to happen — execution is everything. Nothing will happen on it’s own, so you have to make it happen. And when things aren’t working, you just have to find a way.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Unfortunately, I’m not one of those really cool founders with massive social media followings, so unless you want to look at pics of me, my wife, and my two dogs on Instagram (@dspratte), I’d recommend connecting with me on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-spratte-a151a578/) or just following @mycarpe to keep up with our brand.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!