Who would have ever started a business on the idea of rethinking toothpaste, a taken-for-granted product that has barely changed in decades? Well, that’s exactly what our guests, Julian and Cody Levine, Co-Founders of Twice, are doing. But they’re doing much more than just creating a fabulous tasting, good-for-you toothpaste without questionable ingredients. Inspired by their dentist dad’s work in organizing volunteer teams of dental professionals to bring dental care to underserved communities, they set up their business to support and expand the outreach of the non-profit GLO Good. Having observed the difference healthy teeth can make in someone’s life—from alleviating pain to instilling the confidence that comes with feeling great about your smile—they have committed their brand to improving the experience of oral care for the first world while sharing their passion and good fortune with the developing world. It’s a riveting story…join us.
|Announcer||Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty™, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.|
|Jodi Katz||Hey everyone, it's Jodi Katz, your host of Where Brains Meet Beauty™ podcast. Thank you for tuning in. Today's episode features Julian and Cody Levine. They are the founders of Smile Twice. I actually had their mom, Stacy Levine, on as a guest, so please look for her episode.
Julian and Cody have just recently launched their new oral care brand and I hope you enjoy listening to their entrepreneurial story. If you missed last week's episode, it featured Asha Coco, she's with Givaudan.
Hey, it's Jodi again. Before we launch into this week's episode, I want to tell you about an organization called HELPSY. I first came across HELPSY thanks to our Base Beauty team member, Julie Chen's Instagram, and she was with her friend walking into Bloomingdale's to see HELPSY containers. And I didn't know what that was, and I did a little research, and I really believe in their mission, so we wanted to partner with them for the month of July.
It's hard to believe, but over 85% of clothes wind up in the trash. HELPSY makes reusing and recycling your clothes and shoes more convenient and easier than ever with over 1800 collection containers and growing. You can find your closest collection container and learn more at helpsy.co. I hope you check it out. Thanks so much. Enjoy the show.
Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. I am so excited to be joined by Julian and Cody Levine. They are the Smile Twice co-founders. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty™.
|Julian Levine||Thank you, happy to be here.|
|Cody Levine||Thank you, we're excited to be here.|
|Jodi Katz||I want to give a little background. Your mother, Stacy Levine, has been on our show. She's been a client of mine. Super inspirational woman for me. I've had a lot of personal growth in working with her, and she told me about she was proud and beaming about her boys when you were going through the launch phase of this company. I'm just so grateful to meet the next generation of the family because your family has been so dynamic and innovative and generous to the world. So I'm excited for people to hear your story.|
|Cody Levine||Cool, thank you.|
|Julian Levine||Thank you.|
|Jodi Katz||I'm going to start with an easy question but it's really one of my favorite questions. I'll direct it to you, Julian. How are you going to spend your day today?|
|Julian Levine||Well, I just got off a red-eye from Los Angeles. Hit the Peloton on to get the mind right which was great. Just did a little work sesh with Cody to pick up where we left off and we're going to be doing a little bit of catch up today. It's not quite hump day yet so still got the to-do list as long as ever. But, yeah, be tackling some issues.|
|Jodi Katz||Do you guys work from home together? Do you have a proper office?|
|Cody Levine||We're pretty remote. Julian spent the last couple months in LA. I'm here in New York. We work out of Ludlow House or Spring Place. No office yet. We're a renegade team that's all works remote.|
|Jodi Katz||Is it just the two of you?|
|Cody Levine||Two of us and Stacy Levine and then a network of incredible freelancers.|
|Jodi Katz||What is Stacy's role in the company?|
|Cody Levine||She's helping us on sales distribution and PR and comms.|
|Jodi Katz||Great. Oh my God. It must be such a joy for her to do this with you.|
|Julian Levine||Yeah, it's great.|
|Jodi Katz||Okay, so, let's talk about the coolest thing that happened which is this huge New York Times article just a couple weeks ago that you were prominently featured in. It was all about innovation in dental care. Your company just launched. Right? This is major to get this type of awareness building opportunity and also to see the industry recognize what's happening here. What did it feel like, Cody?|
|Cody Levine||Yeah. It felt amazing to see the industry and toothpaste, specifically, in oral care come front and center. There's been some big players paving the way and it's great to see the New York Times do a big feature saying chic toothpaste has arrived.
There's layers to that which we get really excited about continuing to tell. But, yeah, it feels really good. It feels really good for the category and for our positioning as a brand. We get really excited to kind of see some of those people drive some great stories home.
|Jodi Katz||Does it feel like a pinch me moment for you? Are you-|
|Jodi Katz||... like, holy cow!|
|Julian Levine||Not quite yet. A lot of work to do. I think the article did a great job in spreading awareness of this new age of oral care that people are starting to care more about taking care of their teeth. They're understanding that it needs to be more of a priority. These brands, chic or not, are really promoting a very healthy conversation about oral care being front and center.|
|Jodi Katz||The question that other entrepreneurs who are listening to this episode are going to ask is did the New York Times article change your business? Did it?|
|Julian Levine||No. No, it didn't change our business. We're excited to keep telling our story and we think properly telling our story will ultimately change our business. But it gave a good amount of validity to what we think is going to be this next exciting couple years of a journey.|
|Jodi Katz||I ask because I think entrepreneurs who are starting anything think that when they get to New York covered-|
|Jodi Katz||... all of a sudden it skyrockets and they can take some time off and everything's going to be easy.|
|Cody Levine||Quite the opposite.|
|Jodi Katz||One of our other guests, her name is Jasmine Garnsworthy, she's a writer and also an entrepreneur. She just wrote an article on Indie Beauty Expo in DBD Media and it talks about exactly that. One mentioned Vogue is not going to jog your business forward. It's an everyday grind.|
|Jodi Katz||I think we need to kind of reset this is not just a- One thing doesn't make the business grow. It's everything.|
|Julian Levine||Right. Cody always preaches at the integrated marketing strategy but these days with digital and print, there are a variety of things you need to do to push those pieces and really give you the awareness that you're looking for and then, ultimately, the conversion that you're looking for. A lot of things you need to do to make that piece really powerful.|
|Jodi Katz||How do you divide the responsibilities since it's the two of you and your mom? Where's the delineation in responsibilities?|
|Julian Levine||We do a lot. Since we're six, seven months in, we do a lot together. But I've primarily take more of the finance, ops, product development role. Cody's more focused on brand and marketing. He's the Chief Brand Officer. I'm the CEO. Mom nicely goes between us. But, yeah, we do. We work on a lot of things together. We're building, really, the foundation of the whole business.|
|Jodi Katz||I want to go back in time but not to seven months ago or even a year ago. But to being kids in your household because your father, we haven't mentioned him yet, is also an innovator in oral care. Cody, why don't you tell me about his background and-|
|Jodi Katz||... what you watched growing up.|
|Cody Levine||It's funny. Sometimes we say, "Yeah, our dad's a dentist." But he's nothing like the traditional dentist. He's an entrepreneur, philanthropist. He's built two companies in oral care. He's an educator. He travels the world lecturing. Growing up, take your kids to work day was in the dental office but with late nights looking at his slides that he was getting ready for his case presentations and packing product on our parents' ping pong table.
We quickly learned in this new world of what we're building how incredible he's been in a force in his industry. We're super fortunate to have him help us formulate and think through challenges and think about what people are looking for and what ingredients work best. He's really been an incredible background voice in helping us build.
|Julian Levine||Yeah. His passion is amazing. How he's extended himself within his profession. He fits 20 pounds in a five pound bag. He's a full-time dentist, entrepreneur, innovator, lecturer. But then this angle of GLO Good, of the foundation that they created that brings dentists to underdeveloped communities, I think that's what he'll say is his most important and amazing achievement.
That's what, to us, really opened our eyes to say, "Holy cow. Dentistry and the smile is transformational." It's not really getting the awareness, the love, the publicity that it deserves.
|Jodi Katz||Let's talk about GLO Good because a lot of the inspiration for Twice-|
|Julian Levine||All of it.|
|Jodi Katz||... came out of your work there. So take me back in time to your first experiences with that organization.|
|Julian Levine||Sure. Cody and I have two semi-separate ones because he was in Rwanda and I was in Eleuthera. But, basically, 2015, we go down to the Bahamas in Eleuthera which is where Lenny Kravitz, who's one of our co-founders and a patient of our dad's for over 10 years, lives. It's a very raw part of the Bahamas. They have no access to care. Lenny had asked my dad if he would go.
We went down with 30 volunteers. Hygienists, dentists, specialists. We have dental supplies semi-illegally brought into the island. We took over this small preschool. We had 350 people waiting outside for four days. We treated all of them. It was incredible. It was a full service dental clinic. Cleanings, whitenings, but then more complicated procedures. Root canals, extractions, full dentures.
We gave these people that had no confidence in their smile, potentially living decades with pain, and alleviated them of pain and gave them confidence. You could see these people go into the chair just so downtrodden and leave awakened. They're crying and they're hugging and they're dancing and they're singing. It was unbelievable. Who would've ever thought you could see dental care in this type of light?
For us, after the second year straight of going back, we've now done it four years in a row, we said we want to help this foundation grow. because what we're seeing in Eleuthera exists everywhere in the world. Especially in the United States. What if we could grow GLO Good into this amazing foundation that can be nationwide, if not, global, that can empower dentists to do this all over the place?
Frankly, we wanted to make a brand that could be the vehicle for that. When we looked at oral care products, we were like, "You know what? What we're seeing in Eleuthera is something special. It's beauty. It's confidence. It's sex appeal. It's happy." When we look at the oral care products that we've been using everyday of our last for the last 30 plus years, we don't get that same sense of the smile. So what if we could create a brand and a product that gave us that sense?
That was really the beginning inspiration for Twice. Really, to create a brand that could give back both in product. On our last mission which was in January of '19, we gave out 700 tubes of toothpaste which felt awesome and we donated 10% of all of our profits for the life of the company back to GLO Good. Hopefully, one day, that means a lot of money.
The toothpaste was meant to say let's care more. This B. Shapiro article, let's care more about the products we use. Especially that we put in our mouth, that we use to take care of our smile, that's loaded with only the right ingredients, that taste great, and, basically, that takes something that we, frankly, believe even as children of a dentist that majority of people think is a chore and make them think of it as an experience. Let them look forward to it.
I think Cody would agree. Some of the best feedback we've gotten to date on our product is I actually look forward to brushing my teeth.
|Julian Levine||That was the whole inspiration behind Twice was really to create this brand that could give back and that will make a positive impact on your everyday brushing habits and truly improve oral care.|
|Jodi Katz||What I love about this story and your family is everything. It's not just surface. Right? It's not just about product and selling stuff. Right? It's more than toothpaste. Right? It's way more than that. What are your GLO Good experience?|
|Cody Levine||I guess the foundation really got started in 2012 when my parents go to Rwanda with friends and they met a woman who started Foundation Rwanda which was set up after the genocide of '94 to help these women get back on their feet. Communities turned upside down, children born from rape, and families kind of ruined.
My parents met a woman from the foundation. Her name was Agathe. She's probably in her late 50s. Beautiful, striking African woman. She had no front teeth. Her four front teeth her knocked out by a machete during the genocide and she was covering her mouth. She lived this life ashamed. She used to sing in the chorus and she was unable to.
My parents meet her and quickly fall in love with her and my dad looks her in the eye and says, "Agathe, I'm going to give you your smile back." And he made dentures in New York and we flew to Rwanda and we're working in one of seven dental clinics in the entire country. There's 13- 14 million people. Which shows that access to care is nonexistent out there as well.
Working on her for about an hour and puts these teeth in. They fit like a glove. She looks in the mirror and they smiles for the first time in 18 years and this just rush and wave of emotion. Everyone's crying. She's braiding my mom's hair as a sign of love and affection.
Right there was what I had experienced for the first time of the power of a smile and the emotional side of dentistry which Julian and I, together, experience in Eleuthera over and over. The patients we've met, maybe not as extreme of a situation, but also heart wrenching stories of lack of confidence and covering your mouth and not living a life of true passion and love for who you are.
The Rwanda mission was the start of the foundation. Lenny actually heard that story of Agathe and that's when Lenny said, "Doc, can you come down to the Bahamas and can you help my community?"
This has been years in the making. I was in marketing. Julian was in private equity. We were always- You know our parents. We're a very close family and we're a part of these missions. It's really what kind of flipped the switch in us to say, "Let's quit our jobs and continue the family legacy in a slightly different way. But nonetheless help the foundation grow into a household name."
|Jodi Katz||Who had the first comment of let's quit our jobs and do something different? Do you remember who it was?|
|Cody Levine||That was big brother, Julian. Absolutely.|
|Jodi Katz||What were you thinking at that moment?|
|Julian Levine||It was a lot. It was all of these factors. It was holy cow. GLO Good needs this. This foundation needs to be the one that brings together all of this regional work that already gets done but under an umbrella company. Much like Pencils of Promise or Charity Water but for the smile.
From the product side, it was- Even as an investor, you've seen all of these new brands come out in every category of personal care and consumer goods. You name it. It's got a social giveback or nicer packaging or cleaner ingredients or who knows. For me, it was I think the thing that's missing in oral care is the smile. The beauty of the smile. The power of the smile.
When we started kind of probing and looking at the ingredients that are in toothpaste that haven't really changed in 50, 60 years and looking at the packaging and thinking that there's a much better alternative out there. Thinking about the flavor innovation. If you think about the products that we eat and consume, flavor has been such an amazing thing over the last-
|Julian Levine||... five, 10 years. There's crazy things. In oral care, you use it everyday twice and it's just the same blah mint.|
|Jodi Katz||Right. It's spearmint. Fresh mint.|
|Julian Levine||Totally. It's mint. Mint. Fill in the blank. It was a lot of forces of opportunity but very much awakened by this mission and thinking- I think a big part of it was the confidence knowing our family's background and having the influence of our dad and mom. I think it gave me, at least, a level of confidence to say, "We are actually the ones that can do this."
We're not just coming at this saying, "Oh, let's make the Harry's of toothpaste." It was just from pure passion.
|Jodi Katz||I would imagine that if I grew up in your household and saw what your parents have built through the years that it would almost be like a no brainer once you really find the reason. The why. Which you did together. But I want to just go on an aside. What are the gross things that are in toothpaste that I didn't know were in toothpaste?|
|Julian Levine||I think on our website there's eight of them. But the worst one is just- it's unnecessary, is the biggest word. It's sodium lauryl sulfate. It's the detergent. It's the reason it foams. It's also in your shampoos and conditioners, your detergents, etcetera. It doesn't need to be in your toothpaste. There are other ways of creating foam or not. It doesn't actually clean. It's just completely a placebo. That's not ideal.
The bad part about it is it dries out the skin, it can cause irritation, it is a known irritant, and it can lead to infection if it's untreated. There are a lot of people that go to their dermatologist with skin irritation and they say, "What type of toothpaste do you use?"
|Jodi Katz||Oh. Interesting.|
|Julian Levine||That's why you'll see SLS free.|
|Jodi Katz||Mm-hmm (affirmative).|
|Julian Levine||In a lot of places. Yeah. There are other ingredients like the biggest no brainer is alcohol. Alcohol helps bring out the flavor but it dries out your mouth and promotes decay. It's completely contrarian to put that in toothpaste. There's a variety of these ingredients that, in small quantities, they might be okay. But now there's an evolution of ingredients where you don't need to sacrifice-|
|Julian Levine||... anymore.|
|Jodi Katz||Your brother has this idea. He says to you to quit your job. What is that conversation like.|
|Julian Levine||This is a good one.|
|Cody Levine||Yeah, well, Julian had- he had gone and quit his job and I, basically three years younger, not working in finance, in order for me to live in New York, I had to kind of work and moonlight as an entrepreneur. So I ended up working an extra six, seven months and then coming home and, every night, bringing our heads together until I ultimately said, "Okay, let's do this. We have hard deadlines."
I was continuing to learn new skillsets. I was at a boutique agency here in New York called Giant Spoon which they're doing amazing work in marketing and media. I was like, "Okay, let me soak up knowledge and, eventually, when the time is right, let's do it." That time was right came like a freight train. It was like, "Okay, let's do it."
From that moment on, Julian and I basically were- We slept on our parents' couch for 11 months straight. They have a one bedroom in Soho. Luckily, they have two couches. One was mine and one was Julian's. We moved out of our apartment in Nolita. Go rent free. Fortunate that our parents had the space for us.
Real nomadic entrepreneurs that are kind of just running on a budget. That's what it was like. Everyday together, waking up in the same room, and getting to work. Which was cool.
|Jodi Katz||Working together. I imagine that, as entrepreneurs, you don't shut off. Right? It's really hard. We talk about balance a lot. I think we have to work harder to figure it out because it's passion so it doesn't feel like work. But it also keeps you from other people. Let's talk about this because you're always together or with your parents and you're talking about the world of building Twice and supporting GLO Good.
How do you maintain relationships outside of this inner circle of dental hygiene. Right? Because you're human beings. Are you just all in? And you're like, "Okay. The next five years we're just going to be all in and then I'll pick up with life after that."?
|Cody Levine||I would say no. I think that we live in New York. Julian and I are both very social. I think if I look back on the last year of building this, things that have happened and doors that have been opened have been through connections and spontaneous things and meeting new people that have lead to really unique experience or opportunity.
We try to balance it. We went through times when we weren't balancing and we felt out of whack. But I think it's extremely important to find that balance. To connect with friends, new friends, old friends. Take the time for yourself.
I meditate and I ride my bike. We're both athletes so we find the time for ourself to strike that balance of feel good, be mentally clear, spend time with friends. Because they open up new ideas. And then come together when we need to. I think we're at a point now where that's more important now than ever.
|Jodi Katz||It's so interesting because you talked about how important it is to actually share outside the immediate circle because that's where opportunities exist. Right? But I do think that an entrepreneur probably has a tendency to isolate. Right? Because, well, I can just get stuff done. You said it didn't feel right. Were you going through a period of isolating yourselves?|
|Cody Levine||Yeah. Absolutely. That has to happen. You got to hunker down. Your real friends know that you're making the sacrifices and they believe in you and sometimes you may feel distant but then when you reconnect, it's like nothing ever changed.
But, yeah, we were living in Brooklyn for a four month thing and we were living together and working out of the apartment. We'd wake up, we roll out of bed and we'd just work in the living room. We were so isolated. It was tough to deal with but we were at a very important time where we had just launched.
Everyday we had a new challenge, a new thing to tackle that we had never done before. That isolation happened and I think it was necessary. It'll continue to happen but I think we're much more aware of that isolation and what role that isolation plays in our vision.
|Julian Levine||Mm-hmm (affirmative).|
|Cody Levine||It's just a matter of communication.|
|Jodi Katz||Right. So what did you say to each other? Who realized like, wait. We need to have a little bit of a life here.|
|Julian Levine||I think we both did. In the beginning, it was very lonely. I had friends tell me, "If you do this, you need to know it's lonely." And I had no idea what they were talking about. I couldn't connect to that. Find myself X months in like, whoa. Wow. All I think about is Twice and what could be and what should be and how do I execute this?
I think once you kind of get over that hump, that's when you open yourself up to community and to others and the power of a network and the power of sharing. But I think we probably burdened ourselves a little bit in the beginning because we wanted to get more comfortable. I would say the isolation was kind of in the beginning and then, over time, were able to spread it out a little bit.
|Jodi Katz||Right. I would think that just knowing your family and now meeting your personalities that you're a very social brand. I don't mean like social media social. I mean actually human to human social.|
|Jodi Katz||I would think that growing this brand, human socially, not social media, will be very effective for you. Person to person. Tube to tube. What do you plan for in terms of yes, you can be social media geniuses but how are you going to start connecting with real human beings face-to-face?|
|Cody Levine||Yeah. I think building our community is really important. We have a great network in New York. We have a great network in LA. But I think the idea of being more physical in the present moment and being in places that we believe our community kind of rallies around, that's going to be a big plan for us in the next six months. Is coming offline into places and spaces to connect with people and bring toothpaste and brushing into that world in a fun way.
Everyone's talking about IRL. Right? So how does our brand show up. I think that's going to be really important. We are a digitally native brand through e-commerce but, nonetheless, we have to come out of the bathroom. The toothpaste has to come from center and we need to connect with people in more unique ways.
We're working on a few things but we want to be more outward and more vocal. Word of mouth is everything for us. When people start talking about, "Oh, this new toothpaste is literally the best toothpaste I've ever had." And they talk to their friends over dinner and then they see us in the physical space, we're working towards that.
|Jodi Katz||That was a really great pun. Word of mouth for your brand.|
|Jodi Katz||The best.|
|Cody Levine||That's great.|
|Julian Levine||But that's also what I was talking about with B's article. It's amazing. But what's really going to build out brand is getting the story out there.|
|Julian Levine||IRL but also video content and ways to vividly show GLO Good and our mission and our product benefits. It's a never ending learning cycle and it's very iterative and we're going one step at a time. But, ultimately, we're pushing it.|
|Jodi Katz||I don't have a crystal ball but I do think of all the brands that are innovating that are digital first, yours has the potential to actually show how we can be digital first and always be digital first but actually show human to human contact and the power of it.
I think there's something about the spirit that you guys have and the fundamentals and foundation that your family has but also the fact that you can take something that feels like a chore and make it fun and take something that nobody ever thought about from any perspective other than I have to do it to being it reflects my personal style, it reflects my ambitions, it reflects my philanthropy, it reflects my values. I think you can do it. I have a feeling that you will.
|Julian Levine||Thank you.|
|Cody Levine||Thank you.|
|Julian Levine||We're plugging away.|
|Jodi Katz||Yeah. I'm cheering for you. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today. It was so incredible to hear your story. I believe in what you're doing and am super proud of you. I just met you but I'm super proud of you.|
|Cody Levine||Thank you.|
|Jodi Katz||For our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes. For updates about the show, follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast.|
|Announcer||Thanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty™ with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.|