Andrew Dudum – Serial Entrepreneur and Founder and CEO of Hims and Hers on How To Create a Brand That People Trust

Episode 40

Andrew is a serial entrepreneur. He previously co-founded Atomic, which was a venture-backed San Francisco company by lots of great investors, including Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel, and he himself is an active angel investor and advisor to over a dozen startups. His company Hims and Hers, which will be diving into today, offers a modern approach for health and wellness by eliminating stigmas and making it easier for people to access care. The company has raised $200 million and counting. We talk about how to build an engaging brand, how to breakdown shame and dismantle stigmas around health and wellness topics, how to create a brand that people trust, and much more.

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Kara Goldin: Hi, everybody. It’s Kara Goldin from Unstoppable with Kara Goldin, and I’m so excited to have Andrew Dudum, co-founder and CEO of Hims and Hers with me this morning. Welcome.

Andrew Dudum: Thank you, Kara. I’m excited to be here with you.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, super excited, so if you guys don’t know Andrew, I’ll give you just a tiny bit of background. He’s the co-founder and CEO of Hims and Hers, which offers a modern approach for health and wellness by eliminating stigmas and making it easier for people to access care. Super, super excited to hear more about that, and a serial entrepreneur himself, he previously co-founded Atomic, which was a venture-backed San Francisco company by lots of great investors, including Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel, and he himself is an active angel investor and advisor to over a dozen startups. At the start of Hims and Hers, is that 2019? Was that just started?

Andrew Dudum: You know, we just had our second birthday in December.

Kara Goldin: Okay-

Andrew Dudum: We launched officially December 2017.

Kara Goldin: Amazing.

Andrew Dudum: Shipped our first box in the first month of 2018.

Kara Goldin: That’s super cool. So, he’s raised over 100 million roughly, is that right around?

Andrew Dudum: I think it’s over 200 million at this point.

Kara Goldin: Wow! Wow. That’s amazing. Congrats.

Andrew Dudum: Thank you.

Kara Goldin: Anyway, super, super excited to have you here, and I’ll let you talk a little bit more about this, but let’s start out, so you’re born and raised here in San Francisco?

Andrew Dudum: That’s right. Yeah, I was born and raised out in the Sunset, to a family of entrepreneurs. Kind of grew up with a dad, an uncle, and grandparents that all started their own business. I think that was kind of the beginning of the end for me, knowing I never had a shot having a boss, so I was going to have to figure it out along the way.

Kara Goldin: Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? I mean, you went to college, right? Were you always thinking that?

Andrew Dudum: Yeah. I really didn’t. I spent the first 17 years of my life as a cellist, so not particularly helpful for what I’m doing today, but in my teens and early 20s, I was traveling the world, I was playing weddings, I was playing at Carnegie Hall and touring Europe.

Kara Goldin: Amazing. Wow!

Andrew Dudum: Yeah. There was a point in my life where I thought that was the track, and I was always really kind of more on the creative arts side, and so when I was 18, I decided to go to Wharton in Philly and kind of counterbalance that with some of the business, and so I really enjoyed that experience. I didn’t last long, to be honest. I stayed in school for about two years, and realized I was spending more time trying to convince engineers to build things for me versus hanging out at my corporate finance classes and studying, so in around… I want to say 2009 or 2010, I took a leave from Wharton and came back to San Francisco, and joined an early Sequoia startup, and that was kind of the first experience in really building companies. And I think that was when I realized my passion for the arts, and creative, and also the business chops that I’d built in the first couple of years of school. Combining those together was just a really beautiful and fun mix for me.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s so, so great. So, Atomic. Let’s talk a little bit about that, so how did that come up?

Andrew Dudum: Atomic is this really interesting concept, which is the idea of building a company that is really good at building companies. I had, prior to Atomic, when I had left Wharton I had built a startup. We had raised 30 or 40 million. We ended up selling it to Telefonica in Spain in 2012, and it was an incredible entrepreneurial journey, and one of the things that I really learned about that experience was the team that you work with and the investors that you work with are absolutely fundamental to giving the company a unique advantage in market. And we were really blessed. I was in my early 20s, and I had Roelof Botha, who runs Sequoia Capital, on the board as a mentor, and I had guys like Kevin Hartz, who’s the founder and CEO of Eventbrite on the board.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, he’s great.

Andrew Dudum: Yeah, and so just incredible operators, and I learned so much, and part of it was because I knew so little, and so the escalation of learning was quite fast, but I really left that experiencing, valuing the who that you’re working with, and the importance of pattern recognition, both as an investor, but also pattern recognition as an operator. And so, the concept for Atomic was to bring together those types of investors, and repeat entrepreneurs, and repeat operators, and put them in the same room, and say, “Hey, we’re going to work together on a new space. We’re going to bring all of the expertise that we’ve had from the last five and 10 years of building, and if we can do that well, we should be able to build bigger companies, that are more impactful, with less capital, more efficiently and faster, to be able to help more people.”

And so, Atomic is really this incredible, I would say experiment, around can you build a company that gets incredibly good at building companies. And so, it’s been around now for about eight years. We’ve built over a dozen companies. I think raised probably over $600 or $700 million across the businesses, and it employs now thousands of employees across the businesses. Many of those companies will go public in the next few years, and it’s just been an incredible environment for entrepreneurs to work with people like Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen, some of the best investors in the Valley, on just refining that pattern recognition as an operator.

Kara Goldin: So, the companies, you’re not incubating these companies from scratch. You’re actually partnering with entrepreneurs, and then going in and actually helping them to build it.

Andrew Dudum: We are actually founding each of the companies from scratch.

Kara Goldin: Okay.

Andrew Dudum: So, all of the Atomic companies are ideas that were created and incubated from scratch within the Atomic walls, and we then bring in exceptional operators and co-founders to help lead those teams, as well as investors to help invest and strategizing with those teams.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s so great. So, Hims comes up. I mean, do you technically… I think of you guys as Hims right now, but I know you’ve launched Hers, as well, so I want to… What was the thinking behind that? Am I correct? That’s sort of what you started with, right?

Andrew Dudum: Yeah, we started with Hims. We are now officially Hims and Hers, and so we’ve got a whole lineup of over 100 products across the platform for men and women, which is incredible. But in the nascent stage, what was really powerful about what we were thinking about, and this was maybe three or four years ago, was kind of a mix. You had at a very human level this desire to have a trusted relationship with somebody relating to your health. A very human relationship. A desire to be able to call somebody, or text somebody, or say, “Hey, I’m worried about something. Can you help me with it?” And unfortunately, the existing health system just is not really made for that. It’s quite clinical, and cold, and sterile, and for this new generation that’s been born and raised on an iPhone, it’s not particularly accessible and responsive. It takes maybe three to four weeks to schedule a doctor’s appointment.

And so, I think there was a huge emotional gap for us as consumers when it came to having a trusted relationship with a brand or a health system that we really respected, and then also as an operator, as an entrepreneur, I was looking at this space, which is one of the if not largest markets in the country, right? It’s a multi-trillion dollar space, the health care space, and it effectively has been untouched by technology in 20 or 30 years. And so, when you think about things like retail, or commerce, or transportation, or real estate, all of those markets, which are also multi-trillion dollar markets, have been rebuilt by technology. Mobile technology, accessibility, transparency of data, all of those things have made those categories so much better for consumers.

And when you think of health care, it’s still the same brick and mortar system that we’re all accustomed to, that our parents were used to, that our grandparents were used to, and so it was just this really fascinating entrepreneurial opportunity to say, “How can we rebuild this thing from scratch? How could we build it with the consumer as the only person that matters, making it as clean, as simple, as beautiful, as affordable, as easy to use?” And that was just one of the more exciting things I could think of dedicating the next 10, 20 years to, just because it impacts so many people, and it is just so ripe for technology to make the experience so much better.

And so, it was a bit of a mix in those early days of why we wanted to start this business. It was just this human desire for a brand that really we trusted, and respected, and loved, to care for us, and then also this entrepreneurial opportunity that just felt like once in a lifetime.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. And then your products are working for people, right?

Andrew Dudum: They do work. Yeah.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, and so I think that’s the key thing. I mean, it’s not, frankly, too dissimilar to the company that I founded, Hint, where we’ve basically… I mean, it may be in some ways kind of easier, because we’ve said, “Here, try a bottle of Hint.” And people just drink it because they’re trying to get some hydration in them, and the the number of people I still… We started our company 14 years ago, but still, 14 years later, I get emails from people saying, “For years I was trying to control my Type-2 Diabetes. For years I was trying to lose weight. For years.” And then suddenly they have a bottle that is in our case a $2 bottle that they’re like, “You actually helped me to realize that I could do it.” Right?

So, I think that it’s… I see that in what you guys are doing, as well, and you started with something, and you get those fans that are really seeing that something actually works. It’s great. I’ve also had this big belief, I don’t know if anyone’s ever told you this, but when we started Hint, there were… I can’t remember the name of the beverage, but there were a number of beverages that have come out over the years, come and gone, that have been like, “Doctors approved,” and that’s actually… It sounds like it’s a really great thing to consumers, but in a beverage, people get a little nervous about it. They actually just want the product, they want to try the product, and they want to see whether or not it works. And so, I think it’s definitely something that… Are people actually going to the doctor for these issues, or do they actually just want to go ahead and try it? I mean, I see your commercials running and I’m like, “I don’t know. If I had that issue, I probably would. I would probably go and just give it a try and see what happens.”

Andrew Dudum: Yeah. I think something that you mentioned is really important, which essentially is I think some of the best brands help consumers walk over this scary valley by building a bridge that they don’t even realize they’re walking over. And so, with Hint, somebody might be completely addicted to soda, right? And incredible sugar issues, whatever it might be, and they need to transition to something healthier. And the idea of that, the clinical doctors telling you that is scary and overwhelming and all these things, but if there’s an option that is easy, and tastes great, and is healthier, it’s almost like they’re making steps in the right direction without even knowing it.

I think that’s a lot of how I think about Hims and Hers, which is nobody loves going to the doctor. Period.

Kara Goldin: Totally.

Andrew Dudum: Men and women will avoid going to the doctor at generally all costs. Men more so than women. Men literally have to be bleeding from the head and have a broken leg to say, “Hey, okay. Maybe it’s time to head on in and see what’s up.” And so, with Hims and Hers, if we can build a brand that people actually love engaging with, and it’s one that communicates them as an authentic person, and is trusted, and is respectful of their time, and is something people actually enjoy, and so we put a lot of time in making sure the products taste amazing, and the shampoos lather beautifully, and the bottles are stunning, so that you actually want them in your shower or on your kitchen counter, so you’re not embarrassed by the fact that it might be a medical treatment for something.

Kara Goldin: Totally.

Andrew Dudum: You know, if you invest in all of those things, I think you can build a bridge to help people take care of themselves. And I think that’s something that at our core, as a mission, it’s to help as many people as we can feel great. And I think in a lot of ways, some of the best tactics of doing that is by doing it in manners that they don’t even realize are helping them accept and onboard into the product. They don’t really realize necessarily that this is a very serious clinical thing that’s taking place, because we’re able to do it in such a manner that’s comforting, and loving, and beautiful, and design considered, and something that they’re used to in all of their other purchase decisions.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Well, as Steve Jobs used to say, the customers don’t necessarily know what they want, so you just have to show them, right? And that’s the key thing, show them exactly what they need, and if it works, and if, like you said, beautiful packaging, beautiful presentation, and I think that the key thing that you said there too is not calling people out for issues, right?

Andrew Dudum: Right.

Kara Goldin: There’s been products out in the Hint space like Skinny water and stuff. Nobody wants to carry a bottle around that says that you want to be skinny. Right?

Andrew Dudum: Totally.

Kara Goldin: I think that that’s such a key thing.

Andrew Dudum: Yeah. I think that’s critical. One of the things that we’ve been thinking a lot about is how much pain, and shame, and difficulties that an individual has dealt with internally before they even come to Hims and Hers. Right? Just looking in the mirror, and they’re seeing hair loss, or sexual issues, or acne, and they’re in their thirties, and why am I seeing acne? I thought this was done, right? I thought I got rid of this in my teens. And so, by the time they even come to the website, there’s probably been months, if not years, of struggle. And that’s really hard.

And so, from our standpoint as a brand, we want them from the second they get here to be relieved. It’s not about continued shame. It’s actually completely the opposite, of acknowledging that difficulty, helping them normalize it and realize it that it’s all statistically common, that we’re all actually thinking about it and worried about the exact same things, and to make that process of getting care as beautiful, and fun, and enjoyable as possible. And if you can do that for one condition, maybe it’s acne, that an individual is struggling with, well, the next time in two, and three, and four years, that something pops up, we hope that that endorphin rush of taking care of it the first time and the success of that helps lead them to say, “Hey, I trust Hims and Hers to come help take care of this other issue I’m facing.”

And that’s, I think, where we really believe there’s an opportunity to build this very longstanding relationship with these people.

Kara Goldin: That’s huge. So, I read on Forbes that the first week you guys did a million in sales. What was the most surprising piece of above and beyond? I mean, a million dollars, no matter how much money you have in the world, that’s still a lot of money, right? That’s a lot of product.

Andrew Dudum: Yeah. It’s a lot of money.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Congratulations. I mean, what do you think was kind of… If you could break it down, what do you think were the key things in that first week of success that you… Why did that happen? Above and beyond solving a problem for consumers, how do you think from an organizational standpoint, if you were talking to entrepreneurs, which you are, what do you think are the key things that you got to remember? I mean, you’ve talked about team, and just overall having a great product, but do you think that there was some other component of that that you really think, “Wow, we did right.” Or something that you did wrong, as well?

Andrew Dudum: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think we did a lot wrong. I can tell you that despite doing a million in sales in the first week, nearly everything broke the first week as well, which you don’t read on Forbes as often.

Kara Goldin: I’m with you.

Andrew Dudum: Yeah, so it was a torturously happy first week. And I think no matter what, when you have that type of success, it’s really hard to plan for. And so, I think a little bit of empathy with yourself, and understanding that, “Hey, you can’t fix everything. You can’t nail everything at the beginning,” is actually really important as an entrepreneur, because it’s a hard job and I think you always want everything to be perfect and it never will be, so I think that’s an interesting dynamic. One of the things that I think was really special about our launch, and I think is continuously special about the brand, is just how we show up to people. How we talk to them. How we look to them.

It’s interesting. We worked with some of the best design agencies probably in the world, and we have some of the best brand investors in the world, from Josh Kushner at Thrive, who’s built businesses like Harry’s, and Casper, and all those companies, and then you’ve got people like Kirsten Green on our board, who have built businesses like Away, and Glossier, and Jet, and Dollar Shave Club, and Bonobos, so just really amazing brand thinkers, and we had this SWAT team of people the year before we launched working with me to figure out how should this thing look, and feel, and talk, and sound. Right?

And there was incredibly conflicting opinions. We had a list of dozens of names for the business. We had maybe half a dozen different designs of how this thing could look, and how it should communicate with customers, and they looked very, very opposite in a lot of situations, and some of the best advice that I got, that I would think is really valuable to pass along, was from Kirsten Green over at Forerunner, who’s still one of my closest friends and says, “This brand is only going to be unique and authentic if it manifests itself entirely how you feel it should be manifested. And that means you’re going to have to tell really smart people around the table, who you’re paying a lot of money, that you’re not going to take their advice.” And that was a really tough decision, because as an early entrepreneur, you’re getting the smartest people around the table, and you want to trust them to tell you what’s right.

But when it comes to something like your brand, as a founder, I think it’s really important that the spirit of it kind of lives within somebody. And it could be you, it could be a co-founder, it could be a friend, it could be a sibling, but when we launched, I think the brand, and the visuals, and the tone was different. It was very, very different, and when you look at some of that early media, and the early conversation, it really was around that. Like how are we talking to men? We’re talking to them authentically, we’re talking to them directly and bluntly. We’re kind of talking to them as if we’re their spunky younger sister, just telling them to kind of get off their ass and take care of the stuff they need to take care of.

And in fact, I have a younger sister who’s been telling me to do that for 20 years. And so, that was really authentic to me, and it was a huge bet. It was a huge risk, but I would pass that a long to a lot of people because I think it’s directly correlated with the success of the first week, and I think it’s directly correlated to our continued success, is that we try to be as authentic as possible internally about owning how we show up to customers, and how it looks to them, and how we talk to them, and it’s not manufactured. It’s not big design agencies telling us what to do. It’s very core to how we feel and that insight of what the customer needs to hear, kind of just from our own personal experience, and I think that’s what I would pass along to as many entrepreneurs that I could that are thinking of building companies. In particular, trying to build brands.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. I think you guys have done a great job of that. I mean, I’ve watched you since the beginning, and I think it’s clear that the founder’s voice is still coming through. Even though you guys have gotten bigger, I think it’s exciting. So, going into the Hers, and the Hims and Hers, so I would say that that’s probably the next big piece for you guys? I mean, is that kind of the focus if you were to look at what’s up for the next year?

Andrew Dudum: That’s right. Yeah, so in 2020, I don’t think I can share exactly what we’re launching, but there’s last I look well over 60 or 70 products coming out in this year. And so, essentially doubling the entire roster of the business. Most of them both on the Hims and Hers platform, and things that really affect the vast majority of the population. That’s really how we think about this, is who is struggling in the largest quantities, from a proportional standpoint, and then how can we bring them amazing, medically-backed products that have incredibly high efficacy, at more reasonable price points, in safer ways, in packaging, and designs, and tastes, and flavors, and smells that are really enjoyable, and make that experience just 100 times better.

And so, that’s kind of how we think about the world, and Hims and Hers uniting as one I think is a really important step to that, because this platform of digital health, where you can pick up your phone, get access to an expert, get access to a doctor across anything, from sexual health, dermatology, menopause, sleep, anxiety, cholesterol, and this is the future. There’s no question. And in the next five and six years, you’re going to be seeing a huge shift of the consumers deciding to do what they love doing, which pick up their phone and get the thing they need. And we really plan on being that brand that people trust to come to, and so we’re really excited about 2020.

I think by the end of the year, the amount of customers we’ll be able to help, the amount of people around the country we’ll be able to help is going to be step functions larger, and with two or three times the amount of conditions that people can trust us with.

Kara Goldin: And are you guys 100% online sales today?

Andrew Dudum: That’s correct. Yeah, the business today is entirely an online business, where you can come directly on forhims or, and get access to any of these experts and products that you need.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome, and where do people find you, Andrew? Are you, all of your wisdom, and from building not just this company, but lots of other successful startups along the way, where can people reach out to you?

Andrew Dudum: Yeah. Well, I frequent the Philz Coffee in Noe Valley pretty often.

Kara Goldin: Right on. Very good place.

Andrew Dudum: You can always hunt me down there. My email is [email protected], so anybody can shoot me an email at any time. But yeah, I love helping entrepreneurs. I love helping teams. So, I’m always available for those that are really thoughtful and interested in getting some advice.

Kara Goldin: That’s terrific. Well, thanks so much for your time. You guys go and check out forhims and, and definitely follow Andrew, as well, and see what he’s up to. So, thanks again.

Andrew Dudum: Thank you so much.