Episode 12: Craig Dubitsky, The Friendly Founder of Hello Products

Meet Craig Dubitsky. The Friendly Founder of Hello Products. Listen as he describes turning his creative dreams into realities for some of the most notable new brands and how great design fuels all innovation.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHello, everyone. We are joined by Craig Dubitsky, the friendly founder of Hello Products. Thanks for being here, Craig.
Craig DubitskyHello. Thanks for having me.
Jodi KatzIs the friendly founder, is that a CEO role? Tell us what that is.
Craig DubitskyIt's a fun role to be the founder. I am the friendly founder. I'm lucky enough to have dreamt this thing up, and now we're 11 people and I actually have a CEO. It's terrific for me because I get to do what I feel I'm best at doing. Running around and speaking with as many people as is humanly possible, learning as much as humanly possible, and instilling our brand ethos and brand values across as many touchpoints as is humanly possible, that's kind of my jam. To have somebody as talented and experienced as we do in the CEO role is great. Her name's Lauri Kien Kotcher. She's a force of nature, and has an incredible background, which I'm happy to share if you want to hear about her background. Just incredible. She used to run Listerine globally years ago. She was senior partner at McKinsey for about 15 years and was the co-lead of their global consumer practice. She's done a lot of stuff.
Jodi KatzThat's so cool.
Craig DubitskyYou know, tremendous. Yeah, so basically as the friendly founder I get to go do what I really I think am bested suited for, which is dream things up. Part of my job is to really see the future and work with really brilliant people to help make it real, and to magnetize the business so that as many brilliant, gifted, creative, passionate people can come here and do their best work. That's part of what I do. Lauri gets to also do a lot of that stuff, but really help manage the P&L day-to-day, the operations day-to-day. That's not to make it sound like that's not sexy. It's wildly sexy and wildly important to me and critical. I just feel bad because it's like, "Oh yeah, I'm the founder but she has to run the business day-to-day." It sounds like a bad trade, but it's a wonderful partnership really. That's the best word I'd use to describe it. It's really a partnership. It's really cool.
Jodi KatzWell, welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty. Our listeners are really curious about the career path of execs in our industry, but specifically the real honest stuff, not the glossed over, picture-perfect PR story. We've heard this story a lot, right? We don't need to hear this story here. You really have an interesting story to tell. If you don't know Craig, you definitely know many of the brands that he's helped shape. I'll name a few here: Method, Eos, Popcorn, Indiana, and now the personal care brands Hello Products. It's incredibly fascinating, Craig, to talk with someone who's touched people's lives in so many brands in the way that you have. When I think about Method and Eos, this is myself, Method's in every single bathroom and the kitchen in every home I've lived in before longer than I think I can remember. What comes to mind when you stop to think about how many people these products have reached?
Craig DubitskyWow, that's a great question. Honestly, I've never really considered that before. I really feel like I'm the luckiest person ever. I'm in love with design and everyday things. Not just design as in the notion of form and fit and function and color and silhouette, design for me is about a very deep and very passionate level of curiosity and trying to solve for all sorts of problems.

Design for me is all about thoughtful ... Thoughtfulness is ... Empathy should be something we all think about all the time. I think if more people thought in an empathic way, the world will be a better place. I like to think we can make these everyday things whether it's dish soap or lip balm or oral care products in a very empathic and beautiful way. I never thought about how many people have touched these things, I just keep trying to ... I've said this to people before, you have to fall in love with the problem not the thing that comes out and manifests itself as an attempt at a solution. For me, the problem is there's not enough empathy in the world and there's not enough beaut in the world. I'm just sort of in love with that as an ongoing problem, and I just keep trying to work hard and work with really cool people that can constantly improve that situation. I don't really ever saw that I just keep working to improve it.
Things like Method, I can't take credit for creating that cause I was just lucky enough to meet the founders orderly when there were two guys mixing products in their bathroom. I appreciated their vision. That's really what it was and I got involved very early. I remember certain dates really well. I was basically part of this effort that led the original investment in Method beyond some money that they had raised from some friends and family members. It was sort of a more institutional type of capital that had come in and I said okay to wire the money from the lobby of New York Hospital the day my son was born. My wife was okay, baby number 1 was okay, and I went out there and said, "Okay, wire the money to Method."
Jodi KatzThat's so crazy!
Craig DubitskyYeah. I know the dates really well. Method is certainly near and dear to my heart. Eos, same thing. Everyone with Method, just to back up, was like, "You can't do that, you're crazy it'll never work. It's dish soap, no one cares. It's cleaning products, who cares?" That always troubled me cause my thesis basically is, people care about everything, or they should, and they're making all sorts of choices, economic choices, emotional choices all the time. For me, there's no such thing as a boring category, there's just boring execution. To create beautiful household cleaning products, that's not a reach for me. To look at lip balm and people said, "You can't do it, there's a whole category it's called Chapstick. Nobody cares."

For me it's like, if the whole category is named after a brand, and there's lots of other brands that are in that space, that [inaudible 00:07:20] means something. I just thought, gee, a woman's purse is a big cavernous black whole. It's her diaper bag, it's her gym bag, her yoga bag, her computer bag, or a night bag, it's holding all sorts of documents. Oh yeah, it's holding everything else she needs for her daily use. What is the lip balm or [inaudible 00:07:47] just because you use touch. You can feel it. What if it were unadorned and display worthy, all this stuff just constantly goes through my mind, so I'm always looking at everything and asking "Why did they make it that way? Why does it look like that? What if it looked this way?" I'm always questioning stuff.
Jodi KatzDid you knew places that you're going in your head when it's time to execute on them, let's say put money behind Method or put money behind Eos, in time does it get scary?
Craig DubitskyFor me personally, I guess I'm just wired a little differently. I'm not scared of failing, I'm always scared of not trying. I have zero fear of failure, I know I'm gonna fail, but if I don't even try I've already failed. What's the worst thing that happened? It's not to say I haven't made plenty of mistakes and that I don't continue to make mistakes, I jokingly say we'll only make new mistakes. There will be mistakes that no one has ever thought to screw up that badly, but hopefully we'll fix those things really quickly, because we've gotten pretty adept at identifying issues hopefully before they come up and fixing them. If the come up in process, then you gotta fix them even faster.

I can't say that the entrepreneurial life is for everybody, but you have to get to a point where you're just so fed up with something and so inspired by something. Again, I mention falling in love with the problem. You're so in love with what this problem is, you think you have something that's gonna not make it so much of a problem. You keep falling in love with that so much so that you can't sleep. Like its burning a hole in your psyche. And the only remedy is to try to do it. That's why I'm only scared of not trying stuff.
The stuff that keeps you up at night has 10 more of these ideas. How do I find enough time to keep making new stuff? How do we keep tweaking Hello? How do we keep making something that is friendly and this is natural and this is effective and this is delicious? How do we keep improving upon that and extend it and make it meaningful and relevant to everybody? That's the stuff that gets me fired up, not "Uh oh, is this going to be a hard thing to do? Is this gonna be an expensive proposition that isn't gonna work out?" I don't think as much about that as I do about the consequences of not working really hard to create something that's awesome and that people can fall in love with and afford and use every day.
Jodi KatzI find that point of view really interesting because I think I'm an entrepreneur of 10 years now, at least I'll be on our 10th anniversary. I feel like most of the 10 years I've been living with the fear of financial insecurity. There are some years that are great, or some quarters that are great, and they can be from my years or quarters I really banked. I sort of came to imagine that financial insecurity is like a shadow following me around like the Shadow Man from Princess and the Frog, he's like this voodoo guy in New Orleans and he's really creepy. Do you know that movie?
Craig DubitskyNo, but now I feel like I have to add that to my queue. Absolutely.
Jodi KatzHe's like a really creepy, tall and skinny shadow man and he'll take your soul. So for a really long time...
Craig DubitskyI think I've worked with him. Yeah, I worked with him before. I know him.
Jodi KatzI've always been feeling like I have to look around the corner, around my back, because I'm feeling really good right now, what's around the corner? Probably some pretty shitty financial news. And that to me insists in the ups and downs of owning the business. It start to, just very recently, start to be that shadow. Less that creepy shadow Mann, but more like a friend holding my hand. She's being kind to me and not terrifying me and making me remember that this is just the latest. It's a rollercoaster. There's upside downs, some of them suck, but it's the journey. That's sort of where my head space is in terms of fear. It's all about the financial, not about the "let's try it," but the "what kind of impact is that gonna have on my comfort zone?" Which is having money in the bank.
Craig DubitskyI totally understand it. By the way, I thought it interesting when it was scary and doom and gloom, it was a man. And then you went from the male to the female when it became your friend and she was holding your hand. That's just an interesting thing. For me, it's not that I don't think about the economics, I'm always thinking about the economics because at the end of the day we have to try to run a business that's a real business that's successful in terms of generating profit and supporting people. Hello is, we're a small and mighty bunch. There's 11 of us and there are mouths to feed and families and people that have forgone other things to come on this journey with us and make a huge impact with us.

I don't live in a fantasy land of, "oh yeah, I just like ideas." Ideas are great. It's very important that you be business minded at the same time and obviously you make economic choices to do one thing versus another. I can tell you, I had a really interesting moment. I used to be a trader. I used to be Futures trader, and a [inaudible 00:13:38] trader, and a options market maker, and a derivatives trader, base metals, derivatives trader. I was pretty well steeped in that type of financial land and landscape and managing and measuring really outrageous sums of risk. Quantifiable and sometime not so quantifiable risks. I was miserable. I had really married up, and I hope everybody who's married or has a significant other, maybe they're not technically married, feels that whoever they're with was a step up. I hope everyone feels that way about whoever they're with.
My wife is a clinical psychologist. I had to bring that in house, I needed full time, she just wouldn't [inaudible 00:14:28]. But one day, she told me when I was being a trading person, she knew me incredibly well, we went to school together we've known each other for a really long time, and she's like, "What are you doing?" I said, "What do you mean? I'm doing my job. This is my job." And she says, "That's not your job, that's not why you're put on Earth. That's your job, to go be a metals trader? Are you kidding yourself? That's not really you." She kind of gave me this wake up call, she's like, "Why are you thinking ... You're so focused on the financial aspect of things. Are we ever gonna starve? Are you employable? Do you have your health? Do you have an education? Could you always get a job of some sort? Forget about if you need to live a certain way, if you need to maintain certain standards of living. Forget about that."
I was much younger than and she's like, "You're focusing on the wrong thing and if you stop focusing on money and you focus on what you really love, I think you're gonna end up being much happier/better off." As tripe as this is gonna sound and potentially really preachy it's gonna sound, when I stopped thinking about money, and it wasn't because I didn't have a rent to pay and mouths to feed, I certainly did, I focused more on what I really loved and it wasn't work to me. It was me focusing on something that I really loved and I got really, really intensely focused on it because it was what I loved.
It didn't hurt to focus that hard. I wasn't getting headaches, I was just digging in deep because I loved it. The more you dig in deep because you love it, the less it feels like work and then the more you do, like people ask, "What do you do for a living?" I'm like, "What do I do for a living? I breathe, I eat food, I don't sleep enough. That's what keeps me alive, the stuff that comes from more than just live, it's all this other stuff. It's talking to you, it's starting brands and businesses, and writing copy, and meeting really cool people. That's the stuff that is helping me live better.
By the way, the more I stopped thinking, worrying about the financial ghost, male or female that was casting a shadow, the more and more that financial ghost, that specter of eminent economic disaster, because like you were describing it, became my friend. It was very liberating. It was very liberating. If you can get there, it's a very special place, because pressure sometimes, pressure creates diamonds, it's not that you shirk it or walk away from it, you just have to respect it and do your best to contain it and focus it. If you're lucky enough to be able to do that well and have a support system and friends and family around you that can help. My wife is the best! I couldn't do any of this stuff if it weren't for her. On many levels. She's grounded and grounding for me. So that's a big part of it, I think.
Jodi KatzWhat was she seeing in you at the time where she asking those questions, where she was asking, "Is this really what's important?" What was she seeing in you to be motivated to have that conversation? Do you remember?
Craig DubitskyYeah. I was very stressed about what I was doing, cause I was really unhappy I didn't feel like I was doing a good enough job at it. I think like anybody who has an entrepreneurial leaning, there's a bit of perfectionism working deep down. Something isn't right, something's bothering you, something isn't perfect, and that's what's really stirring your soul. I felt like I wasn't really being good enough at what I was doing because it wasn't really what I wanted to really do. I just wasn't that into it. But I felt like I needed to be into it because it was paying the bills. I think she saw that, that I was not that happy. And the stuff that made me happy I didn't now you could actually earn a living writing copy or trying to design a product. I just didn't have a basis for that in my life at the time. That wasn't the world or the circles I was running. So there you go.
Jodi KatzTo that point of extent, the idea of joy has been really motivating for me in my time in business and I went out on my own because II wanted to find a different type of joy and do things differently. I wasn't seeing what I wanted or felt like I needed. Models, like when I was working full time that I hadn't seen in other companies that I worked on. So I thought, "Well, if I can't see it anywhere, it must not exist, I'll just create it for myself." And then I created a business for myself and my team where we really can try to achieve as much balance with life and work as we possibly can. For 10 years, we've been virtual. We have an office in the city and the hub, but most of the time everybody, wherever they are I never work for them.

I know that you started your company and based it in Montclair New Jersey, which is near your home, as a way to achieve some balance. Can you talk to me a bit about what works for you, what doesn't work, in this sort of end goal of feeling balanced and at ease and not as stressed about the things that doesn't matter?
Craig DubitskySure. First of all, congratulations for a whole bunch of things. First of all, being in business on your own for, I mean with your team and everything, for 10 years is an incredible achievement.
Jodi KatzThank you.
Craig DubitskyIt's tremendous. Also, congratulations on seeing that something didn't exist and then making it real. That's the most entrepreneurial thing ever. I think that's how so many companies get started and how some of the ideas go from ideas to really ideals because people are searching for something. Something has to bug you, and it sounds like there were some things that bugged you/ inspired you to go do what you're doing. It's working! If you aren't working, you wouldn't be celebrating a 10 year anniversary. Congratulations.
Jodi KatzThank you.
Craig DubitskyOh no, really, it's a real achievement and something you should feel, and your team, should be excited about and proud of. It's awesome. It's a dream.

For me, my dream was to have a place that was outside of my house. I worked from my house for 2 years and I really, really loved it. I really, really did. But it was really just me. I really wanted to try to build some [inaudible 00:21:30] of a, this is gonna sound like a heavy way of putting it, by heavy I just mean jerky sounding, but some type of a culture. Not because I have so much personality that there should be a culture based around one person's idea, it was really that it would be a culture. I didn't know what it was going to be, but it wasn't just going to be a guy in an office. I was very lucky I moved to Montclair and I found this space in sort of a roundabout way that used to be, before we were in here, an active debt [inaudible 00:22:09] inequity. I'm told it was a gambling parlor. I saw it before it was shredded down to the studs and was an interesting space.
Everything was gutted and redone. It's just a big open space, and I remember coming in here with the first handful of folks that I was very lucky to meet and convince to come join me in this craziness, and walked around this big empty space. They were like, "Where's your office gonna be?" And I kept saying, "No, no, this whole place is gonna be our office." And they were like, "Yeah, yeah, where's your office gonna be?" And I just kept repeating myself, "No, no, this whole space is our office. Not my office, it's our office." And there are offices, it is a big open floor plan and we do have rooms off, like I'm in one now to have a conversation, but it's an open space and the chairs are on wheels and if you want to sit on the couch one day, you want to sit in the kitchen or you want to sit in a big comfy chair, or you want to sit at a desk, whatever works for you. That was the idea, that it was a place we could make into our own.
There's artwork on the wall that came from everybody's house. It's just very comfortable. It's comfortable and ... The other question that was really great when we got started was, is there a dress code? I would just say, "Yes." Yes what? If you drive naked, put on clothing before you get out of your car. There's no formal dress code. What about vacation, what's it like? I just used to say we're a little bigger and of course some things are a little bit more [inaudible 00:23:51] cause you sort of have to as you grow, but the idea was, hopefully you don't need to take a vacation it's you want to take a vacation. If it's a need like, "Oh man, I gotta get out of here," then we did something wrong. If you want to take a vacation, that's awesome, just do me a favor, we're all mature everybody's an overachiever and a real deliverer. Everyone here is just ... I'm really lucky. I just have this incredible, incredible group of people I get to work with. They're all amazing! You don't have to micromanage anybody cause they're just so flippin' talented.
I just remember saying, "You know, if you want to take a vacation great, just tell us where you're going so we don't all show up at the same place." If you're going to Bali, you don't want to see me in a bathing suit in Bali, you don't want to see me at all let alone in a bathing suit. Just let us know where you're going so we don't have some awkward overlap at some point. And it's never been a problem. I said something like, "When you... [inaudible 00:24:49] like really good people they love what they're doing and how we're working together. None of this stuff becomes an issue. There's no ... People aren't taking advantage. It's lovely. So to open a place that for me was so close to home, was wonderful because also I love what I do so I put in a lot of time, but I wanted if my kids wanted to show up after school I wanted them to be able to come here. And I wanted people to be able to bring their dogs to work.
It's like, we're all a [inaudible 00:25:19]. It's not to say that this is like the Wild, Wild West and anything goes and you can run around and ... It's not chaotic, but it's because there's such a smart group of people that are here. Then again, everyone's respectful. And people get a lot of work done cause we like to collaborate. And there are times when you want to be by yourself. And there are times when you might work from home because something's going on at your house or you might need to work from home because you don't want to be in any news. All you want to do is crack. There's a whole lot of reasons where you want to work one way one day versus another way the next day. Again, this isn't organized chaos, it's not like that, it's really about being thoughtful and sensitive and respectful. Everyone realizes that you might have a family at home and maybe there's something going on with your son or daughter that day.
Whatever it might be. It's really cool to be around people that are open minded and like minded and respectful. Not in that reverential weird definition of respectful, I mean just thoughtful. That's really the trust of this whole company, we're trying to be really insanely thoughtful. How we source our stuff, how we manufacture, how we talk to people, I respond to every consumer that calls or writes.
Jodi KatzReally.
Craig DubitskyYes. That was most of my weekend this week. Yeah, you can Skype with me from the website, it's really neat. Go to our website, there's a Skype button, we can ... Been Skyping this whole time if you wanted. It's about this intense level of thoughtfulness and an appreciation for humanity. So we're trying to not just make toothpaste, we're trying to make personal care personal again. That's a bigger idea then just, "It's good for the tube and it's got nice ingredients and taste good." Yes, of course it's that. Of course! That's like table stakes [inaudible 00:27:30]. But what ups the anti? What makes it special? What makes Hello a brand you want to join, not just a brand you want to transact with?

That's where the magic comes in, and that comes through emotion, and through design, and design that's led by emotion and that's led by thoughtfulness. It all comes together and the fact that we happen to make I think the greatest toothpaste ever, that's a wonderful manifestation of all these other things put together. It's something we're really proud of and excited. We're growing like crazy.
It's really lovely when you get love letters. I never sent a letter to my toothpaste company before. Who does that, right? But we get love letters! It's amazing! It's the coolest thing ever!
Jodi KatzI love this [inaudible 00:28:23] that you're talking about. I think the personal touches really refreshing, not just in our business but in other business. Craig, I just want to say, thank you so much for being a guest on our show today. It was so inspiring, I'm sure our listeners are going to be thrilled to learn from you. Thank you.
Craig DubitskyIt's very kind. My pleasure. I hope everyone says hello over Skype and try our toothpaste, it's awesome! Your teeth and taste buds will thank you. And I'll thank you too.
Jodi KatzThanks Craig!
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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