A Lawrence entrepreneur and his Connecticut-based business partner will swim with the sharks Friday at 8 p.m. on “Shark Tank,” ABC’s Let’s-make-a-deal venture capital competition.
Long Islander Devir Kahan is CEO of Stryx, a men’s cosmetics company, with Jon Shanahan serving as chief marketing officer. Their oft-told story of founding the company begins with Kahan finding photo-ruining pimples on his face on his wedding day in 2017, and thinking there must be a way to save other men from it. .
“It’s one hundred percent true,” Kahan, 26, said in a joint phone interview with Shanahan, 30. “It really happened like that. It wasn’t like ‘I’m going to start a business’ – much longer than that. But it really happened,” says the New Jersey native, who moved to Lawrence with his wife raised in Woodmere to be close to her family. “I have the pictures to prove it!” adds the parent of a toddler. “The photographer assured me: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take him out of the album with Photoshop.’ Months later we received the album and they didn’t edit it. In each photo I had two buttons — I remember where they were! We had to fight with them to reprint the whole thing. album.
Shanahan, he says, coincidentally “had the same experience on his wedding day, unrelated. We didn’t even know each other then.”
Stryx, founded in 2019, sells cosmetics with a clean, dark and decidedly masculine design. It includes both traditional male grooming products such as tanning gel, but also tinted moisturizers; concealer to hide imperfections; and its trademark Pimple Patches. The company motto is “Nothing Wrong with Handsome”.
Fueled by Manhattan venture capital firm and business accelerator XRC Labs and founded with $1.7 million in seed capital, Stryx operates remotely from the founders’ homes. Sold directly to consumers online and through CVS pharmacies nationwide, it earned more than $1.5 million in 2021, according to Kahan’s “30 Under 30: Art & Style” profile in the magazine this year. Forbes. Since March, Shanahan says, the brand has also been distributed at Target stores.
So why go to the sharks?
“We’re two young startup founders who need their experience,” says Shanahan, who grew up in Pittsburgh, whom Kahan got to know through Shanahan’s men’s fashion and grooming YouTube channel, The Kavalier. “There were two sharks that we were really targeting, because we know that as we grow in retail and grow the business, there’s just a lot of knowledge that those sharks can bring, in addition the capital we need.”
Remarkably, some of the Sharks’ advice may relate to how the company can navigate its unlikely place in the culture wars. Really? “Oh, you’d be surprised,” Kahan said.
“We faced a death threat last year,” notes Shanahan, who with his wife Sofia has three young children. “There’s a lot of homophobia and stigma around these products. I take it joking – you can’t really insult me personally. But there is a part of the population that will never touch these products because ‘they associate it with femininity and all the other negative elements they bring to the table. Luckily, as the company grows and builds a community, there are others who are going to step in and explain it and talk about how much we’ve really changed our lives.
“I don’t know if we’re really going to change those minds,” Kahan said of the horde of haters, “but I think the vast majority of this country is ready for these products.”