Oliver Zak: Co-Founder & CEO of Mad Rabbit

Episode 401

Oliver Zak, Co-Founder and CEO of Mad Rabbit, is changing the game in the tattoo aftercare market by bringing preventative plus post-aftercare products to consumers to make the tattoo experience and the actual tattoo that much better. You will love hearing all about the journey, their Shark Tank episode plus their unique retail strategy that allows Mad Rabbit to take a different approach to brand building. I love the back story, the products and can’t wait for you to hear this very inspirational interview that is sure to have you impressed! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go.

Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m thrilled to have my next guest here. He has such an amazing product of fun product, but also a dog. Why didn’t I think of this product? It’s it’s so so good. So Oliver Zak is the co founder and CEO of Mad Rabbit. And if you have not heard of Mad Rabbit, and you happen to have any ank you should definitely definitely check it out. But I also found that even though I don’t actually have ink, I have kids who do have it. It’s it’s also just amazing products that are really terrific and, and quality. So mad rabbit is changing the game in the tattoo aftermarket by bringing preventative and post aftercare products to consumers to help improve the healing process and preserve tattoos. They also have the pre products as well. So we’ll get a little bit more into that. But I’m excited to hear about all the journey that they’ve been through as a company and also that Shark Tank episode that some people might have seen along the way that was so good, plus their unique retail strategy that allows them to take a different approach to brand building. So without further ado, welcome, Oliver. Awesome, thank you so much for having me here. I’m excited to be here. Totally. So really, really nice to have you. And again, like I said, the products are really, really great. And I’d love to hear straight from you even though I’ve given a tiny intro about you and the company. But for those who aren’t familiar with Mad rabbit, how do you describe it to people? Mad Rabbit is really the ultimate skincare system for a tattooed person. I think kind of the crux of the niche that we’re operating in, it comes from a lot of the big CPG companies really formulating for the masses, right? And what are the masses that’s 51% or greater?

Oliver Zak 2:45
You know, until recently, back in 2012, only 20% of United States adults had at least one tattoo. And as we’re approaching 2024, it’s going to be more like 48%. So there’s a ton of cultural adoption, normalization, etc, that’s happening within tattoo culture. And really, up until that point, I don’t think the larger companies have really given the market the the fair look it deserves. So what that turned into is an opportunity for us to formulate on behalf of the tattooed consumer. And that’s, you know, not only being sure to not include ingredients that could be potentially harmful for a tattoo, like chemical fruit based fragrances that strip the skin, overloaded levels of vitamin E is kind of an interesting one because it’s a great ingredient in most moisturizers because it removes impurities in your skin. Really anything you grab off the shelf at CVS is going to have a lot of it in it. But if you’re healing a new tattoo, ink is definitely an impurity in your skin and you just spend hours packing it in so you can think you’re doing a great job of taking care of your tattoo, but actively be working against the presentation over time. So mad rabbit is essentially the solution to that we offer products, everything from pre care which is you know, or numbing cream products, all the way to aftercare and then a line that I like to call daily maintenance that really has your your tattoos in mind as far as the shower and body lotions and products like that, that you use on a daily basis.

Kara Goldin 4:18
So I have to imagine that you had an issue with with a tattoo and that was kind of the the background of how this all started but can you give me a little bit of the backstory? How did you think this up?

Oliver Zak 4:33
Yeah, thankfully, it wasn’t like a catastrophic. My tattoo is a big smudge now. However, I did have two or three at the time, and I remember having my fourth appointment booked and being really frustrated with the scabbing process of tattoo healing. So for those who don’t know or for those that do even there’s a two to three week period after you get a new tattoo where your body’s healing, right, it’s creating scabs, especially if you’re using A heavy occlusive product like a petroleum jelly. Now, scabs are great if you, you know, fall off your bike and scrape your knee because it’s your body’s way of building a barrier to defend to bacteria and dirt getting into the body. However, when you’re healing in that new tattoo, you actually don’t want scabs because the ink gets lodged in the scab. And then when the scab falls off, you get immediate ink loss. So your tattoo can look pretty rough, you know, the first two weeks after you get it. So we sought out to create a more natural solution to that. It wasn’t our first product, it was actually a second product that we got to innovating on that pain point with our our soothing Joe, which is an aloe vera base. But but that pain point of the tattoo healing process was really what drew us to the broader market.

Kara Goldin 5:48
That’s awesome. So you’re you actually started the company when you were still in school?

Oliver Zak 5:55
Yes, yes. Second semester, senior year. So we had our full time jobs, my co founder and I and we were on our way out and decided to go for one last hurrah together. And it turned out to be the best idea yet, so that we had a couple of businesses in college together before but yeah, decided to take one more swing at it.

Kara Goldin 6:14
So tell me about those businesses.

Oliver Zak 6:16
I hesitate to call them businesses, they are for a college student. A lot of them involve dropshipping models, right? So not us actually taking inventory of the product that we purchased or selling your own product necessarily, but really creating a brand and differentiating on the branding front with customer service and Ambassador programs, things like that, which is stuff that we definitely implemented into med rabbit as well. But we sold everything from from T shirts to bathing suits online before starting matter of it

Kara Goldin 6:49
is so Did you always know that you were going to be an entrepreneur or an entrepreneur in the tattoos space. I mean, was this always like in the back of your head?

Oliver Zak 6:59
I definitely never thought I would be the tattoo guy. I always thought they were cool. And, you know, I never envisioned myself having a full sleeve, you know him for years. And I’m, I’m up to I think 12 tattoos now. So I’m picking up the pace, and I’m slowly becoming the tattoo guy. But now I think I My dream was always to be an entrepreneur. Throughout high school, I was involved in pitch competitions. I had three internships with startups before even starting college. So that’s kind of how I spent my summers as a kid. And really just absorbing problem solving and being a fly on the wall during a lot of you know, critical and stressful conversations and learning a lot about people management and kind of those early stages. Where where everyone wears a lot of hats. It’s kind of a funky time of business. And we’re just now starting to get to the point where we’re building out different departments and hiring support under people. So I think those kind of early exposures to startups went a long way as far as how we operated the business for the first couple of years.

Kara Goldin 8:03
So you have a co founder, you mentioned and so had you started other businesses in college with him?

Oliver Zak 8:11
Yes, so he was salam. He was the one who actually brought to me the idea of of E commerce to begin with, it wasn’t really a track that I had considered focusing on, I always figured, you know, my first business would be in tech or something like that down the line. But he got me started selling online through Shopify. And I really saw the broader opportunity that the advertising space allowed. Brands to start up with this was back pre iOS 14. So there was a really strong opportunity for you to test product market fit with Facebook ads, and really know who was purchasing your product. So that’s what I ended up loving about it early on. And as a result of him, bringing that knowledge to me, we started a few businesses together. And that’s what kind of got us started.

Kara Goldin 9:02
So when you think about or maybe advise other people who come to you who are thinking about starting a company, do you think you would always have a co founder?

Oliver Zak 9:12
Always, for me, at least I’m I recognize my shortcomings. I’m not a superhero. I recommend finding the yin to your Yang. Salaam is fantastic at everything I’m not and vice versa. And because of that we really were just optimal for each other. And really, the key was establishing what your communication looks like with your co founder. He and I were 5050 partners from the start. So you know, we we agreed that every decision had to be made with the business in mind and you know, personal vendettas and everything aside, we will get into disagreement and it won’t last more than 10 minutes mostly, and we’ll never walk away from it for straited with each other. So I think it was kind of just a commitment to each other that we made sure to kind of set in stone. And everything else is has worked out fantastically.

Kara Goldin 10:08
Were you guys friends? Initially? Or did you meet in a business class? Or how did you guys connect?

Oliver Zak 10:15
We rushed the same business fraternity freshman year, which is cool. And we we became friends, I wouldn’t say we were, you know, best friends to begin with. But by junior year, we were living in the same apartment building, hanging out more and more. And then senior year, I think is kind of where we, we really our marriage began, if you will,

Kara Goldin 10:36
I love it. And so what year did didn’t matter? Rabbit actually start 2019. Okay. Oh, interesting. So right before the pandemic, and crazy, crazy time, that I think you will always we’ll all all always remember, but you’ll have your own stories to share along the way, when I started. Hint, we were just a couple of years in and, you know, saw the 2008 2009 financial crisis and I have my own, you know, stories from that experience, which I’ve shared along the way. And it’s, you know, they just make you stronger, they make you think about things differently. And I know that there was a lot that I was thinking about as I was, you know, managing during COVID, managing a business that, you know, thought back on on those times and what worked and what didn’t work, even though there were very different situations, there were some similarities along the way for sure. So it’s consider it something that you have now been able to experience that you’ll carry with you on something that you were able to learn a lot, and definitely figure out how to move forward.

Oliver Zak 11:54
I’m definitely thankful for COVID in a very funny way. You know, it allowed us to really focus on on digital advertising and being a direct to consumer business, which is what we’re good at. We knew how to advertise online. And we we didn’t have the distraction of you know, what does our boots on the ground presence look like? Or how are we? How are we coming across and educating in stores. It really allowed us to focus on what we’re good at and build a strong base and really start getting our name out there. It was part of the pipeline that eventually led us to Shark Tank, which would then go on to give us a ton more household name exposure. So in a way, and I wouldn’t change it as awful as that sounds like it was a fantastic time for us to be starting the business. And I think part of that is doing the best with what you can at the time, right? Like we could have been really frustrated and not used mad rabbit as a creative outlet and you know, gotten home from work and instead of working for a few hours on the Shopify site, we could have just gone to bed or gone and played video games like I think a lot of people did, but we really chose to dig in and make the best use of what was honestly just an awful world time in the world. And I’m really thankful for it. I think it was just a mentality difference we had

Kara Goldin 13:17
Yeah, no, definitely. Absolutely. So the name before we get into the Shark Tank background a little bit and story I’d love to hear Where did the name come from?

Oliver Zak 13:29
This is always the funny thing. So there’s no there’s no Immaculate Conception story of the name had rabbit it. I was really very passionate about evoking natural and American made to have which to have things of which I was as very passionate that mad rabbit continues to be. So we pulled from American folklore and the Mad rabbit mascot is actually a jackalope, which is a horned rabbit. So beyond you know, really wanting to cater to a certain brand feel. I also wanted to be something that stood out once you knew what it was. So for example, Red Bull, you don’t inherently know that it’s an energy drink until you do no and then you’ll never forget it. Same thing with Apple, etc. So that kind of Route appealed to me from a brand building perspective, as opposed to going with something like tattoo boost or Inca fire or something a little bit more on the nose.

Kara Goldin 14:28
So let’s get into Shark Tank, you were on Shark Tank. And we’ve had a lot of guests actually that have had good and bad experiences on on Shark Tank or I should say pretty much all good experiences, even though some of them many of them didn’t actually get a deal but you actually got to deal with Mark Cuban, so amazing. He’s on my list to have as a guest on the show so you can let him know that when he listens to this app They’ll put in a good word. He’d be awesome. So how is how is that experience helped you to really grow the business?

Oliver Zak 15:09
In a lot of ways, and I would say most of them are, are indirect, I think it went a very long way. As far as getting the word out there. That tattoo aftercare exists 70% of our customers, it’s the first tattoo specific product they’ve ever purchased. So we’re, we’re very much kind of creating a new market here. And I think being on TV multiple times as a rares is just a great kind of funnel for, for letting people know that there’s a product worth educating on out there. From a more personal perspective, Mark Cuban has been a fantastic follow on investor for us see, I think he’s given us over a million dollars of additional capital since the show, and has always been there as far as advice and connections and things like that. I would say I think we had more of our bases covered than a lot of companies do when they appear on Shark Tank, right, like some of them are even pre revenue. But we had our marketing figured out, and our accounting and all of that kind of mom and pop shops setup value that I think a lot of the sharks bring to the table with their broader network. So we’re unable to realize a lot from that perspective. But um, as far as having him on the cap table and his advocacy, he’s, he’s been an incredible partner for us.

Kara Goldin 16:30
So anybody who’s thinking about going on Shark Tank, would you say like, knowing what you know, today, like definitely have your have your numbers, your financials all kind of locked in and in your mind before you get out there, but also, is there any other pieces that you would say like, it’s never gonna happen unless you,

Oliver Zak 16:53
I think, knowing your numbers and having confidence in them and having confidence in your business model that’s like table stakes, if if there’s a no to any of those boxes being checked, I would say hold off until you can check those boxes. I think that you really need to illustrate the business model very clearly and concisely, you only have 30 to 50 minutes to really make your case. So if you have any questions about how your business works, or if your pricing strategies and figured out, that’s again, where I would say delay, but I do think that by and large. There’s just about every company in every industry, I would recommend checks out Shark Tank, assuming they have those kinds of boxes checked, if you will, it was a fantastic experience for us. There’s been so many, like PR has been a fantastic result of of sure Shark Tank, follow on investment. It got us started on the VC track, right. So we really leveraged that momentum to kick off our seed raise. And that kind of propelled our, our VC track from there, if you will.

Kara Goldin 18:03
So how have you finance the company beyond that? Yeah,

Oliver Zak 18:07
really, really mostly equity raises. We’ve raised about $12 million to date, which is really exciting. We just closed our seed round within the last two months, so freshly capitalized during a pretty sketchy time to be raising. And yeah, we have runway for the next couple of years, which which is really exciting.

Kara Goldin 18:28
That’s awesome. So your business model is obviously direct to consumer. But where else can people find your products besides online?

Oliver Zak 18:40
So 2023 is the year of retail for us. We just completed a massive rollout to GNC, which is a really exciting partner for us because we think there’s a lot of consumer overlap but the tattooed customer and the fitness and wellness consumer, not only do they care what they’re putting in their body, but they care about what their body looks like of course so not only is it a highly tattooed population that resonates with with GNC, but like I said, they’re also a very passionate audience when it comes to their their body and how they look. In addition to that, we have a very exciting retail national retailer rollout happening later this year. I can’t can’t say which company quite yet but it’s going to be seven skews across the whole country so really hoping to create a tattoo destination and really a new category within retail.

Kara Goldin 19:32
So is there anybody else that you look at that’s kind of in this category or have people kind of touched on it you you touched on it in the beginning in terms of talking about like vitamin D and some of these sort of tricks of the trade once you get your tattoo how to keep the ink that much nicer and and exactly what you want and the healing process etc. But is there any buddy like how big is the category in term? says other players in the space.

Oliver Zak 20:04
I think the way I view our competition is is either legacy or kind of copycat. So the legacy side of it is, honestly, I equate it to just outdated skincare practices, right. So, in the way that SPF has come a long way, as far as natural and mineral based sunscreens are very popular, in the same way that natural deodorants that are aluminum free are becoming very popular. The tattoo industry is probably 10 to 15 years on behind on that, that natural track. So we really are the only brand in the space operating at the scale that we are with a clean and natural product development thesis. And some of the legacy brands that that we’re competing with tend to have petroleum jelly basses and really just don’t have the the consumers skin in mind as far as servicing them.

Kara Goldin 21:06
So the perfect consumer coming to you gets the numbing cream, right that take take me through the products that you know the perfect consumer for you would, would use.

Oliver Zak 21:18
Sure, so the numbing cream is a really cool product for us, because it’s the first one that can really bring new entrants into the tattoo world. So pain and permanence are kind of the two reasons why someone doesn’t get a tattoo right. And like, because if they’re afraid of it being permanent, I mean, if you can take one of those away, you’re bringing a ton of new people into the market who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten a tattoo. So we actually are seeing a lot of people using the numbing cream for their first tattoo. After the tattoo appointment, we’ve done recommend the soothing gel, which is an aloe vera base, and it kind of contributes to a skin flaking heel as opposed to a scabbing heel, which is much safer for the tattoo, you don’t get any of that ink loss. From there, you’re going to want to move to an unscented balm or lotion, we sell both of them. Our unscented balm is in a stick form. And then our lotion, we have an a pump and a tube. And then those are those are both great for daily use, I use them pretty much on my whole body. But you can also use them as a spot moisturizer if you’re going out and you want your tattoos to pop, etc. And then it’s really deep into the daily maintenance stuff. So body washes, bar soaps, lotions, etc. Most recently, we kicked off our professional line which if you kind of compare it to hair, or beauty, it’d be like a back bar product right? The products that the stylist use in every single hair cut, we developed an all natural and vegan tattoo glide that’s used in the tattooing process. And basically what that does is it lubricates the needle every time it enters the skin so you don’t get any snags and the tattooing process. So we have historically been bringing this, you know, clean and natural product development thesis to the consumer of tattoo culture. But now we’re also starting to innovate on the professional side, which is really exciting.

Kara Goldin 23:12
So you’ll start to go into places where people are actually getting the tattoos done.

Oliver Zak 23:17
Yes, yep. That’s a whole other kind of side of our retail plans, which is really cool. We have the opportunity to not only sell in tattoo parlors, which there’s 30,000 of them fragmented across the United States. But the other kind of unique thing about tattoos is it’s pretty culture agnostic, right? So surfers and skateboarders will resonate with our products and pick us up at a surf shop. But also chefs are a huge, highly tattooed population. So, you know, we can make sense at Whole Foods. In addition to that, there’s, you know, the military subculture, right, which is a huge, highly tattooed population. So it makes sense for us to sell on army and air force bases. It’s a really unique product that that resonates on a bunch of different shelves, which is really exciting.

Kara Goldin 24:06
That is very, very cool. So is there one product that you’re really known for? That’s kind of the hero product.

Oliver Zak 24:14
Our tattoo balm is what made us famous seven, all natural ingredients, again, like a sports spot moisturizer. Yeah. That was the product that we did $3 million off of in the first two years and really ran the business off of for the first two years. It wasn’t until our third year of business that we started expanding product lines. More recently, our Soothing Gel has really kicked off successfully on tick tock. We have this viral trend where you take a glob of soothing gel on a tongue depressor and spread it over a new tattoo. And there’s like a magnifying effect which makes it more viral on Tiktok and an Instagram for some reason. It’s it’s pretty soothing to watch. So that’s been a that’s been a great growth engine for us for content So I would say one of those two.

Kara Goldin 25:02
So, I was gonna ask you how have you gotten the word out about Mad rabbit?

Oliver Zak 25:07
Partially just because tattoos are cool and people love looking at them all day. So I mean, it’s really just like an evergreen content source for us. We leverage UGC, massively, our socials, share customer testimonials, artists testimonials all the time. We do a lot of storytelling on our YouTube. We’re definitely a very socially driven brand. We just recently crossed a million followers across our socials, which is really exciting. But I think kind of the challenge ahead of us is really how do we transcend from a social brand to you know, an in person all encompassing omni channel brand?

Kara Goldin 25:44
Yeah, no, definitely. So as a founder and an entrepreneur, I know that we don’t always get credit for the things that you know, we’ve done inside that is, that is really hard. You know, and that is not sort of part of the kind of the consumer facing messages that we send out there. One of the experience I talk about a lot is actually taking a product that’s using fruit and not wanting to use preservatives in the product early on, and ultimately ended up creating a process for the entire industry that very few people know about that was actually pasteurizing water. People were pasteurizing juice, but they weren’t actually pasteurizing water and I had many many bottlers telling me can’t be done and kept asking why and annoying the crap out of people and not having, you know, the right experience in their mind to actually know what I was talking about. But it’s, we ultimately figured it out. And then it’s now become industry standard that many beverages use. But is there anything that you’re super proud of that you that you don’t talk a lot about, but maybe you talk to your co founder about it and say, you know, like, remember when we did it that way, and some of the stories along the way that are pretty funny.

Oliver Zak 27:08
There’s a million stories along the way, I think the most satisfying for me is seeing the work kind of come to light in person. So kind of like I was alluding to very digital brand, born and raised during COVID. Scaled digitally, it’s the first few years of this has totally felt like a video game. Like it’s it’s fake Monopoly money. You’re not interacting with the team that you hired. Because you know, you’re scattered all across the country. But really in those in person moments, whether it’s at a Tattoo Convention, or I’m excited to share that we’re opening up our first headquarters in Los Angeles this summer. It’s kind of the the in person and really tangible things that really excited me. So I think that will probably be my most proud accomplishment is kind of breaking ground or cutting the ribbon on our headquarters and feeling like we really finally did it. And then the other kind of side of the business that people don’t really see but I really enjoy is the product development side. So working with our chemist and our manufacturer, testing the products, giving product feedback, and then finally seeing it come to fruition and its its final packaging is just a very satisfying start to finish process for me. And it kind of reminds me I get a bit of nostalgia and a feeling back to when salami and I were cooking it in our crock pot and my apartment kitchen. So that hasn’t really lost its luster yet,

Kara Goldin 28:41
I love it. So best advice that you’ve ever received.

Oliver Zak 28:45
Best advice I’ve ever received is don’t take everyone’s advice. The kind of to your point on how you had to build out this completely different system that no one really thought was possible. Like, you’re gonna get a lot more bad advice than you aren’t good advice. And I don’t think someone should place more weight on the opinion of others than the opinion of themselves, especially if you’re operating in a business where you really are innovating and shaking up the space. So I would say be careful who you do take advice from would be would be my best advice. Yeah.

Kara Goldin 29:22
Well, I also think that sometimes you’re in positions where you’ll, you know, ask for advice or people will offer advice I should say and it’s okay to listen. But actually determine whether or not you’re actually going to take it we had Sam Parr on from the hustle. I don’t know if you know, he’s great. Um, yeah, he’s awesome. And he sort of said, a similar thing, you know, that he thought everybody in Silicon Valley was smarter than he was when he first started and he really realized that, you know, there’s a lot of nice people out there too. But you have to figure out to some Take your own path and your own way and make mistakes along the way too. Well,

Oliver Zak 30:03
to your point, I think that’s I think that’s a very important caveat is you should also be a listener. So that is my advice with the asterisk of saying that I am definitely a listener, I’m not the loudest person in the room, I often spend most of the conversation listening to the perspectives of others. But that’s not to say that you just, you know, blindly follow an opinion, I think is kind of what I was getting at. But I think that is my other piece of advice is, you know, you’re not the smartest person in the room. And don’t, don’t pretend to be you don’t have all the answers, right? You surround yourself and you hire incredibly talented people, for their opinions and for their perspectives. So just make sure that you’re hearing people out is definitely another piece of advice that I have.

Kara Goldin 30:44
Well, all of our best of luck with everything, you’re off to an incredible start. And it’s such I’m I’m really, really excited for you guys. Because I think that you’ve really nailed it. And it’s, it’s really exciting to meet you in early on in the process. And I think you guys are going to do really super great thing. So we’ll have all the info in the show notes, as well. But thank you again, and have a great rest of the week. Thanks, Kara.

Oliver Zak 31:12
Really appreciate it.

Kara Goldin 31:13
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review. And feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the book.com and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening