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Stan Ades: “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t”

“The one quality which sets one man apart from another- the key which lifts one to every aspiration while others are caught up in the mire of mediocrity- is not talent, formal education, nor intellectual brightness — it is self-discipline. With self-discipline all things are possible. Without it, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible […]

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“The one quality which sets one man apart from another- the key which lifts one to every aspiration while others are caught up in the mire of mediocrity- is not talent, formal education, nor intellectual brightness — it is self-discipline. With self-discipline all things are possible. Without it, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible dream.”


I had the pleasure interviewing Stan Ades and CC Sofronas, Co-Founders of Pacific Shaving Company.

Stan Ades is the CEO and co-founder of Pacific Shaving Company — a leading manufacturer of innovative grooming products for men, women and teens and sold internationally. For more than 20 years, Stan has been building brands, driving marketing programs and managing teams for market-leading companies that include McKesson, PolyGram Holding, CitySearch.com, and AvantGo. He is impossibly clean-shaven.

CC Sofronas, COO and co-founder of Pacific Shaving Company, has spent more than 20 years working in sales and marketing and product development in industries ranging from music to technology to culinary. Just as Pacific Shaving is committed to offering a superior shave, she is committed to offering a superior customer experience. CC is a voracious reader and passionate about good food. An east coast native, she eventually moved out west and has no plans to return.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I fell into the career path of a business owner, thanks to Stan. We started as partners in life building a family and then became partners in business, building Pacific Shaving Company [PSC]. However, my experience in the music industry, specifically with production, sales and distribution, provided a strong foundation for those early days of navigating the manufacturing of our products and the managing of said inventory. My time in the culinary world, which included teaching, recipe testing and development, helped pave the way for product testing and development for PSC. I traded the kitchen for the lab but the steps were very similar. Now, instead of putting the goods in my body, I put them on my body!

Fun fact: Stan and I met during our first careers out of college and in our early 20s, while working for the same parent company in the music industry in NYC. We would often cross paths during this time as our jobs overlapped. If someone would have told me that we would eventually quit our jobs, get married, move to across the country to San Francisco, have three Californian kids and eventually start a business together, I would never have believed even a fraction of it! But fast forward 20+ years and here we are. Happy and healthy.

Stan: My career progression is a story as old as time. It has gone like this:

  • Music.
  • Alcohol.
  • Cure.
  • Innovative grooming products made with safe and natural ingredients.

Okay, some explanation is needed here. I have been in consumer marketing from the moment I graduated college. I started my career in the music industry where, for years, I was part of the marketing team at a major record label in New York. Marriage and a move out to California ultimately led to a job running the marketing efforts for a small family-run winery in Napa. Years later, I found myself back in the corporate world, heading up marketing for the oncology division of a Fortune 10 pharmaceutical distributor. Like I said: music, alcohol, cure. But all along, I knew ultimately that I wanted to run my own company.

As random and disjointed as the career progression appears, each taught me invaluable lessons that would be paramount to founding Pacific Shaving Company, and ensuring its success.

The music industry taught me the strong value and appeal of “new and different.” It also taught me that great careers start out being known for one thing. However, lasting careers always have an answer to the question, “now what?” It’s the difference between Milli Vanilli and Bruce Springsteen.

The winery instilled in me the need to connect with your customer and be 100% authentic in what you do. Wine is as subjective a product as any. While the winery, of course, thought our wine was great, its growth and success was because of not just how we connected with our customers, but the fact that we genuinely made an effort to create personal connections. It didn’t matter if you were the winemaker, the tasting room staff, or yes, even the marketing director. We never passed up an opportunity to speak and listen and learn from our customers. There is no doubt in my mind that the personal connection and experience we had with our customers translated into better tasting wine, — and loyal customers who felt like friends. We would treat our customers with respect while being true to our small business roots.

Lastly, the Fortune 10 drug distributor taught me the value of time, planning and execution. Although perhaps not as intended. Meetings, stakeholders (and more meetings) taught me not only the value of my own time, but the strong advantage that a nimble business that can make decisions quickly and execute quickly has over companies that are bogged down by infrastructure and bureaucracy.

All of that prepared me for Pacific Shaving Company. And of course, none of it did.

The genesis of PSC was simply a case of necessity being the mother of invention. I have sensitive skin and have never found a shaving cream that satisfied. Products available at the time irritated my skin, smelled terrible, and seemed wasteful in every way. The idea was that I could not possibly be alone in my quest for a kinder, gentler, more effective shaving alternative. So, while working full time elsewhere, I set out to develop the product I wanted: one of the first shaving oils available in the U.S. — and the only one that used natural ingredients.

And from that very start, Pacific Shaving Company found itself on the cutting edge of many macro trends, and started to become known as a “green” business. But, truthfully, that was not the original plan. In fact, the company’s eco- and sustainable attributes/qualities are really just a bi-product of that felt like good business decisions:

  • Effectiveness is paramount, so we use quality (safe/natural) ingredients;
  • Packaging is expensive, so we use less of it;
  • Bulky/heavy products are expensive to ship, so we develop concentrated formulas, often in (fortuitously) TSA-carry-on approved sizes.
  • Overseas manufacturing is riddled with headaches, so we manufacture in the USA whenever possible.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

Actually, not one but two separate and significant challenges come to mind immediately! One is the delicate dance of balancing cash flow with production. As a CPG, we have to create the product first and then sell it. Therefore, there are considerable upfront costs. The goal was [and still is] to manufacture enough product to maximize the economies of scale and fulfill our POs but not too much that we would sit on the inventory. A warehouse full of product does not pay the bills.

The other challenge was trying not to discuss PSC around the clock. When you’re partners in life you share what happens at work with your partner. And when you’re partners in life and starting a business, well then, that can easily translate to non-stop talk about the company. Whether it was 10am or 10pm, in the office or out on a date, during the week or weekend, we would talk about the PSC. While that’s true for most entrepreneurs, it’s even more so when the entrepreneurs are married to each other. This isn’t to say we currently don’t talk shop everyday, but rather we’ve learned to pause a conversation at certain times [for example at night in bed!] and instead commit to discussing it later. The top two subjects discussed in our household: the kids and PSC.

At the time we incorporated, I knew we had found a niche with real potential: innovative shaving products in a mature and tired category. It wasn’t sexy, but it was a consumable product, in a non-cyclical, and recession-proof category. (A good thing. This was 2009.) We were a young, scrappy company and it felt like we did not have room to make a single mistake. That said, many of our decisions needed to be made with less information at our disposable than I would have liked. We did not have money to spend on buying data or running focus groups. One of the biggest challenges was getting comfortable with needing to make what sometimes felt like mission-critical decisions, based on little more than gut-feeling. We didn’t always get it right, by the way, but the biggest lesson learned was that making wrong decisions did not need to be fatal. We were nimble, could innovate quickly, and change course if needed. When a mistake happened, we adjusted. And with that fear allayed, our confidence — and in turn, business — began to grow.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

CStrong belief in our products — I stand behind each and every one of our products.

Loyal customers who love to share the good word — once a customer tries a PSC product, they become a loyal fan and then like to gift PSC to their friends and family. To the business — working round the clock. Like most jobs today, this is not a M-F commitment. As a business owner, we are never fully on vacation. But thanks to technology, we’re able to steal away with the kids and still run the business. Timing/luck — every success owes a bit to timing and luck and we’ve had our share.

Stan: The fact that Pacific Shaving Company started as a “part-time” business really made all the difference. In many ways, it feels like it would be very hard to start this business again the same way. Originally it was started part time to help provide an outlet for my creative and entrepreneurial spirit and keep me intellectually stimulated in a way the “day-job” could not.

In hindsight, as a side-business, it allowed us to develop a culture of disciplined growth. There was not an outside pressure to hit revenue targets or milestones. Or put food on the table. We simply wanted sustainable, profitable growth. Our core tenets were simple: don’t launch me-too products, treat customers as individuals instead of as a group (we still know many of our long time customers by their first name!), and make mistakes early and often — before stakes were too high.

As a part-time business, it gave us the luxury to take our time and not make rushed, unforced errors. It also meant we could really figure out if this was a business — or just hobby. We were able to figure out if it was just a passing interest — or something we were passionate about, even when it got hard. For us, it was clearly the latter.

The business went “full-time” at the end of 2009 and we incorporated in 2010. All along, we have maintained the same core tenets and disciplined business approach, especially as we expanded into retail: get it right with one retailer, before approaching a second one, etc. Increasing revenue is important, but as a family business, profitable growth and sustainable business is paramount.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became Founder?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. A great idea is not a guarantee of success.
  2. A strong customer base is not a guarantee of success.
  3. You need a great idea, loyal customers and distribution. If your customers can’t easily and readily purchase your products [whether online or at the local store] you will not garner the sales you want/need.
  4. The hard work in the beginning of creating the idea and executing it, pales in comparison to the work that comes when you start selling.
  5. You work tirelessly to get your product on the shelves but then you have to work even harder to get the product taken off the shelves and into the customers’ baskets.

Stan:

  1. Being a founder gives you flexibility to define your own schedule: you can work any 18 hours a day you want. No story needed. This is just reality.
  2. There is always a way. Always. I have a Thomas Edison quotation above my desk that I look at every day: “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.” Plenty of examples here but the one I love is about the time we had sent too much inventory to Amazon, just before a new account decided to finally place their first order — a large one. And we had no inventory on hand. We pleaded with Amazon to return the product to us. They insisted logistics were too hard and shipping too expensive to quickly locate and return the inventory. Instead, we found another way. Early in the morning the next day, we changed the price of our product on Amazon to 0.01, and then bought it all. Instead of getting it returned at long delays and high cost out the back door of Amazon, we shipped it out Amazon’s FRONT door (Cue Ocean’s 11 music) for almost nothing — and got it delivered in two days via Prime.
  3. Don’t settle for a boilerplate contract — even if it’s for business you desperately need or want. It took me a while to gain the confidence to look at a boilerplate contract that would be placed in my hand (especially if it was a for a retailer or distributor willing to carry our products), and push back. As an early entrepreneur it’s easy to think those contracts have already been written in stone and “that’s the cost of doing business” with this partner. It doesn’t matter how big the company is, there is always room to negotiate contracts.
  4. Things are never as scary in daylight, as they seem at 3am. Taking the leap of faith to start a business, and remove the safety net underneath you is scary. And in the first year, I had a lot of sleepless nights. My worries, concerns, and insecurities always seemed to come out in the dark, at 3am. The pit in my stomach was real, and so was the lack of sleep. It took time to recognize that those feelings never seemed as bad or scary in the daylight, and each concern could be addressed rationally during the daytime. Learning that pattern did wonders for my sanity and sleep.
  5. Building redundancy measures into your business. It is so easy to get burned or even have your business be placed entirely at risk if you only have one supplier, manufacturer, distributor, warehouse, etc. We had some close calls early in our business where I realized that the balance of power with some of our “partners” was very uneven. Even though it is sometimes a headache, and not always cost efficient, building in redundancy, particularly within supply chain, has saved our company on several occasions. And it also allows us to keep our partners/vendors competitive. As the business has grown, we have more at risk as well. So protecting our business from having any single bad actor take it down, is paramount.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out?”

First off, you must believe in your business. When you spend so much time dedicated to something, it should resonate with you. This will help offset the exhaustion and stress that inevitably comes to play. That said, remember to take a step back now and then and look at how far you’ve come, how much you’ve accomplished and be sure to recognize these achievements. This too, will help justify the exhaustion and stress. Every so often, in the middle of work, Stan and I will stop and acknowledge a new product we finished developing, a new account or a great piece of press and give each other a high five. And then we get right back to work!

Stan: Don’t force the work. At first, it was easy to feel like I needed to be chained to my computer during work hours, even when I was wiped out, or simply lacking motivation. I would then spend hours “working” but not really being productive. It took practice, but eventually I learned that if the “work” was just not in me, I should close the computer and take a break: take the dog out for a walk, go for a run, read for pleasure, go out for lunch — anything to clear my head and recharge. I learned not to feel guilty about taking the time off, because in an unproductive state of mind, the quality was not there in the first place. At the end of the day, the most valuable asset any of us have is our time, so use it wisely!

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?

There have been, and continue to be, many helpful people in my life and to them I am extremely grateful. In addition to those near and dear to me, there is the written word from two well known people with whom I’ll never cross paths but that have also inspired me. One is a Theodore Roosevelt quote that my dear friend Elizabeth Sosnow shared with me many years ago that I often revisit whenever I need a push in the right direction:

“The one quality which sets one man apart from another- the key which lifts one to every aspiration while others are caught up in the mire of mediocrity- is not talent, formal education, nor intellectual brightness — it is self-discipline. With self-discipline all things are possible. Without it, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible dream.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

I like to reread and remind myself of the power of self-discipline. It’s not always easy, but I try to exercise this both personally and professionally.

Well, CC, for sure. A great wife, a great woman, a great partner. In fact, without her, the business might not have ever existed as it currently does. Back in 2009, with three young kids and living in San Francisco, the financial risks of quitting our jobs to run PSC were very real. I had been talking about wanting to run my own business for years, but actually making the leap was paralyzing. After years of contemplating, it came down to a simple comment from CC: “What better use for our savings than following your dreams? You can rip the band-aid off quickly or slowly, it’s going to hurt a bit either way.” The next week, I quit my job to focus 100% on PSC.

I also would meet weekly with a close family friend of CC’s, Leon Allen. He had a storied career as CEO of several large CPG companies and we would meet on a fairly regular basis for coffee. He was always encouraging, but constantly lit a fire under my feet, never letting me get complacent with even the smallest win. It was tough love and kept me driven and focused, exactly when I needed it.

Hank Mercier, (now GM of Method Home NA) has always been one of PSCs biggest fans and one of my most valued informal advisors from the very beginning. He is also a great friend. I walk away from every conversation we have (over beers, lunches, coffee, etc) inspired and energized.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

An imminent goal of mine in 2020 is the relaunch of our Shaving Cream Minis. This was, and still is, an incredibly innovative grooming product. We first introduced the Minis in 2018 and while they were well received we didn’t execute a proper launch of the product. And our packaging, while eye catching, wasn’t the right fit for the Minis. Live and learn! Now with our improved formula and packaging, I cannot wait to introduce them to our customers. They have been extremely patient with us and I look forward to delivering the goods!

A personal goal is spending as much time as possible with the family especially since our eldest is off to college in the fall. Our unit of 5 will reduce to 4 and it will be take time to adjust. While I’m thrilled for our daughter I know I’ll miss her dearly.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

In terms of a lasting legacy with PSC, I would be pleased if the general public continues to welcome and appreciate the products we develop and bring to market. Customers are continuously reaching out to us to offer their feedback and share how our products have changed their perspective on shaving. Sometimes it’s men in their 70s who have been shaving for 50+ years and they have finally found something that is better for their skin and that makes shaving more enjoyable. Sometimes it’s men who serve our country and need to be clean shaven every single day and so they appreciate our products that are compact and kind to their skin. Other times, it’s a mother or father sharing how they bought PSC for their son’s or daughter’s first shave. Incorporating PSC when establishing good grooming habits for teenagers puts a big smile on my face. There are countless stories from our customers and I am grateful they not only support PSC but that they take the time to reach out to us. Connecting with our customers is one of the highlights of my job.

If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

My initial thought is that I’m not in a position to start a movement, to presume to know what else people want/need in their lives! However, I can and will say, be good to yourself. This includes:

Get enough sleep — it is the fuel in your tank that is required to tackle anything head on. When you’re well rested, you’re more grounded and can better handle the curve balls. Eat good food — just like sleep, your body needs food to thrive. Eat well and that includes treating yourself now and then. You know your limits — listen to them. Take care of your skin — cleanse and moisturize on a daily basis. If you’re good to your skin, your skin will be good to you.

My New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to write and mail and handwritten note to someone each week — 52 notes! Some were to people I see often, others to people I haven’t spoken to in decades, some to close friends, others to people who I just met but made an impression. It was a great exercise in expressing and sharing my feelings with others, and articulating my appreciation for the role they play/played in my life. I was told how much those unsolicited notes surprised and delighted the recipients. I’d like to see a movement begin where people started mailing letters to people again. There is just something about receiving a letter in the mail that can’t compare to anything else in the digital age.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pacificshaving/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PacificShaving

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