A couple of young Ottawa entrepreneurs basked in their eight minutes of fame Thursday night after appearing on the CBC reality TV show Dragons’ Den and swaggering off with a $400,000 investment in their breakout business.
The episode opened with Tim Burns and David Gaylord coming out with cowboy hats perched on their heads, under the guise of being oil barons. The men, both of whom work at Shopify, quickly revealed to the panel of venture capitalists what they were seeking: $400,000 in exchange for a 10 per cent stake in their oil business.
“We’re not going to beat around the bush,” Burns told the savvy investors as he launched into a series of puns. “We’re a fairly hairy sector of the oil industry – the pubic oil industry, that is.”
That’s when the men playfully tossed away their hats and launched into a serious discussion with the investors about Bushbalm, a natural skincare and ingrown hair prevention product line that is specifically, but not limited to, targeting the pubic area. It’s often used for bikini lines, underarms, legs and any other areas of the body prone to redness or irritation from shaving or hair removal.
The idea for the niche product first came to Burns when he was honeymooning with his wife. While freshening up, he got creative with the application of his beard oil. He saw an entrepreneurial opportunity upon discovering how nice the oil made his skin feel and smell.
The Dragons’ Den segment was edited down to eight minutes, but Burns and Gaylord actually spoke for a nerve-racking 90 minutes with the six-person panel. The episode was taped in Toronto back in August, which means the pair couldn’t spill the beans before Thursday night’s airing.
Veteran Dragon Arlene Dickinson, who is a widely respected entrepreneur and marketing communications specialist, was clearly impressed by the product. She gushed over the bottle and packaging designs and, ultimately, offered the entrepreneurs what they wanted.
“A lot of people underestimate the power of packaging and branding and the name,” she said. “You’ve just hit it out of the park on all those three points, which is such a head start when it comes to launching a product into retail.”
As of Friday, the deal with Dickinson was still proceeding, Gaylord told Ottawa Business Journal in a phone interview.
Bushbalm has seen its sales skyrocket over the past year. They’re expected to hit nearly $2 million in 2020, compared to last year's sales of $150,000.
It recently hired its first full-time employee, Rachel Kerr, as director of brand and marketing. She’s held marketing roles with Andaz Ottawa Byward Market and Canadian retailer Giant Tiger.
“This year we kind of found our marketing voice, I would say,” said Gaylord, 28.
About 95 per cent of the company’s sales are online, but Bushbalm wants to get its products onto the shelves of every waxing salon in Canada and the United States, said Gaylord, adding that they’d like to see in-store sales grow to 25 per cent.
"There are products for ingrown hairs but a lot of them smell like a hospital. We just fit into this niche, where people don't want ingrown hairs but they want a natural product. It's kind of an easy sell."
Gaylord said it’s “shocking” how quickly demand has increased. It's a trend that he credits to the power of digital marketing, which is what he studied while he was at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey on a golf scholarship.
The founders couldn’t believe their success last January, which was looking to be their strongest month to date. But this summer, they matched all of January in the first two days of August, said Gaylord.
Bushbalm has two order fulfillment centres: one in Ottawa and another in Pennsylvania. Not bad, considering the early days, when Gaylord packaged orders from his tiny apartment and toted them to the mailbox for delivery.
“We have huge aspirations for Bushbalm,” said Gaylord. “We think it can be a massive success in many ways.”
Included in the entrepreneurs’ plans is the upcoming launch of a new grooming tool, as well as a new cream to help with cellulite and stretch marks, called Tushbalm.
Bushbalm was officially launched in June 2016. Gaylord first caught wind of Burns’ idea while headed with a bunch of Shopify colleagues to a company retreat. Burns was openly talking about his concept on the chartered bus ride to the Tremblant area.
“Everyone was like, ‘That is the worst idea ever, that is so bad, it’s never going to work’,” recalled Gaylord. “I was like, ‘Tim, I’m in; let’s do it’.”
Shopify is known for encouraging its employees to be entrepreneurs and have creative side hustles. It’s quite possible, however, that Burns and Gaylord will take their money-making gig one step further and turn it into a full-time enterprise.
“The freedom of having your own business and being able to work when you want to work is incredibly powerful,’ said Gaylord. “I didn’t realize that until Bushbalm.”