Oliver Bridge: How to launch a subscription-service business

Hi Oliver, tell us about your business?

Cornerstone is a new men’s shaving brand – offering a flexible, regular delivery of razor blades and shaving products through our website. Using Cornerstone means that men always have everything the need for a great shave, without the fuss. Our plan is to seriously disrupt the way men buy shaving products, offering a more convenient, better quality and less expensive alternative. 

 Where did the Cornerstone idea come from? 

It came from my frustration as a consumer really – I’ve always found shaving to be uncomfortable and painful, and the price of razor blades then just added insult to injury!  I was stood in Boots one day in my lunch break, queuing up to buy some razors, and I just thought – there must be a better way to do this.

Over the following days, the idea of combining quality products with a technology-focussed subscription model slowly emerged as the best way to fix the problem I’d seen. 

What made you choose a subscription-service model?

I wanted to make shaving as easy as possible for men. A crucial part of that is making sure that they always have sharp razors and a sufficient supply of shaving essentials – our subscription service automatically re-stocks their bathroom cupboard for them and takes away the need to shop.

Crucially, a Cornerstone subscription is very flexible – before each delivery, we email a customer to pre-warn them of their upcoming delivery, and give them the chance to easily change the products in their box or their delivery schedule. I was absolutely clear that we shouldn’t tie our customers in to a lengthy commitment – that doesn’t make life easier at all! 

What are the advantages of using this business model?

For the customer, it means they always have everything they need for a great shave, without the fuss. 

For us, providing our customers are happy and feel they’re getting value for money, we should have a steady income from repeat subscription orders – giving us confidence to hire staff and invest in new product development, improvements to the technology platform and better marketing. It allows us to plan ahead and make big, positive decisions rather than panicking about where next week’s revenue is coming from. 

What were you doing before?

Before launching Cornerstone, I worked for a venture capital fund, focussing on technology and e-commerce businesses. Prior to that, I worked for an innovation consultancy where we helped companies like M&S and Unilever develop new products. I studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford university, graduating in 2010. 

How did your business journey begin?

I launched my first business when I was 15 – biggerfeet.com – an e-tailer of large shoes, inspired by my own size thirteen feet. Sales were relatively modest – at peak we were turning over £20,000, but I was lucky to receive significant media coverage from the likes of CNN, Ft and even Sugar Magazine, and this certainly gave me the entrepreneurial bug. 

I sold biggerfeet.com to my brother when I left home to go to university, but it wasn’t long before I started another venture – genderchecker.com – an online search engine of names and their genders. Today, the website is the largest database of names on the internet and we recently recorded our two millionth search! 

Did you always want to run your own business?

Yes – having had the taste of running my own business at age 15, the prospect of working in a desk job for someone else for the next 40 years wasn’t very appealing.

How would you describe your experience as a business owner?

Hugely energising – I love the freedom and responsibility, and when you see things coming together in front of your eyes it’s incredibly rewarding. Of course, it’s a lot of hard work, but that’s to be expected.

With beards coming in fashion, was it a case of seeing a gap in the market?

Beards certainly are back in fashion, and actually I think it’s a good look! However, we recently did some research that suggests clean shaving is coming back – we looked at the grooming habits of Glastonbury headliners since 1970 and found that 2014 is the hairiest year since 1981, suggesting that we are about due for a revolt against the beard as happened back in the early 1980s. When the tide does finally turn against the beard, we want to be the first brand that men turn to when they decide to shave it off.

The interesting trend though, is the growing acceptance of men’s grooming as a masculine thing to do. It’s no longer ‘girly’ to use moisturiser or face scrub – after all, who wants dry skin or sore, ingrown hairs? This means that men are now much happier to pay attention to the products they’re using on their face and are more willing to spend a little more for something that is good quality. This will certainly help us in the future as men become more open to buying products such as ours.

What are Cornerstone's plans for the future?

At the moment, the plan is to focus on seriously disrupting the UK men’s shaving market – there’s plenty to go for, so I suspect that will keep us busy! In the future, we’ll look to broaden our product range and probably expand into Europe and America, but a lot of businesses try to branch out too early and up getting it wrong – I don’t want to make the same mistake.   

You can find out more about Cornerstone by following them on Twitter or liking their Facebook page 

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