Culturally, it’s unlikely that you’d be faulted by many to think that a men’s makeup brand makes little sense. Makeup, of course, is generally considered to be for women. That’s not to say that men don’t wear makeup. They do, for any number of reasons which we won’t get into here. That’s not the point of this story. The point is that we, as a culture, believe makeup is for women. We also won’t get too much into that can of worms.
In any case, if a man does wear makeup these days, he’s more often than not considered strange by the general public, or given some sort of label.
And there’s one critical reason why that stigma exists: there has never been a true men’s makeup brand.
The reasoning seems simple: makeup isn’t masculine. But that’s a stereotype that Daniel Gray at Warpaint is trying to change.
Body Dysmorphia & Bullying
Our story begins nearly 20 years ago, when Daniel Gray was in middle school. That’s a tough time for most growing youngsters, but for Daniel it was worse.
“During middle school I got bullied because of my appearance,” Daniel told me, “and it literally changed my world from the day I started getting bullied. My ears were actually right angles to my head, so they stuck out quite a lot and I got bullied because of that. So straight away I was paranoid about the way I looked.”
As a result of the bullying, Daniel developed a mental disorder known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), also referred to simply as body dysmorphia. BDD is a condition where a person spends an inordinate amount of time and energy worrying about flaws in their physical appearance. These flaws are usually imperceptible to others.
What’s more, that time in one’s life is filled with other thrills, like acne. I remember my own bout with acne as a teenager. It was awful and I felt self-conscious all the time. I resorted to potentially harmful medical treatment to get rid of my condition, but Daniel had a simpler and likely less harmful solution.
“As I grew up into a teenager, like most adolescent men do, I started to suffer with spots and acne,” Daniel said. “So I started to use my sister's makeup, quite poorly in the beginning to be honest. But I couldn't believe the power of makeup, what you could do in terms of hiding those blemishes, and the confidence it gave me.”
Daniel had discovered a superpower that few other boys knew about. He could hide his acne and blemishes and nobody else would be the wiser. And, though Daniel still suffers from BDD, he’s gained a lot of confidence over the years by beginning to talk openly about his disorder as well as through the use of makeup.
But as a man, Daniel never felt comfortable buying makeup from existing brands. As we mentioned, makeup is made for and marketed to women. One can easily imagine the looks I might get sampling the testers at the makeup counter in my local shopping mall.
“What I could never find growing up was a brand that could relate to me as a man,” Daniel told me. “I wanted a brand that I felt comfortable buying, especially somewhere I could go to ask the questions that I’d feel uncomfortable about asking, being a man in a woman's world that is makeup.”
That’s how Daniel first thought about creating his own makeup brand, specifically for men.
Warpaint was Born by Learning From Mistakes
As a person who has also had many great ideas, many of which I’ve never acted upon, I can relate to the ultimate frustration of Daniel’s friend in the upcoming story. Sometimes we talk about something so often that all our friends can do staunchly tell us to hop into the arena or simply shut up. Luckily, Daniel did the former.
“I'd been talking about starting this brand for so long,” Daniel said. “I've always been quite entrepreneurial with stuff I've done previously and always had ideas. Then one day I was actually on the golf course with my best friend. I was talking about my men's makeup brand idea and he just stopped me and said, ‘Dan! Stop talking about it and do it! I think you've got something. Just go for it.’ I literally got off the golf course and I made a call to my cousin, who was a web designer. And I just asked if I could come and see him about building a website for my brand. Literally that's how it started.”
From there, Daniel took things in stages, learning as he went. Daniel didn’t know what he didn’t know, but each lesson brought him closer to realizing his dream.
“We were really starting from scratch with everything,” Daniel said. “At my cousin’s suggestion, I started looking into Shopify myself. I didn’t know what it was. But I tried it and realized how quickly you put put something great together without a web designer. We were trying to find suppliers for the product. We sourced all of our bottles. We were also creating the brand, the name, all the trademarks for the name and getting the branding rights, the positioning, and setting the price point. It's all stuff I learned on the fly because I'd never done it before. I made a lot of mistakes at the beginning, but if you fail then you’ve just got to fail fast and learn by those mistakes.”
What it’s like to be on Dragon’s Den
Dragon’s Den (UK), and it’s US Equivalent, Shark Tank, attract tens of millions of fans all around the world. It stands to reason that an on-the-rise entrepreneur such as Daniel would find a lot of value from getting on the show.
“Dragon’s Den, for me, was always thought to be a great thing because it can give you great exposure as a brand,” Daniel told me. That was how you could connect with people who could get you into retail, which I wanted for my product.”
With that goal in mind, Daniel, along with thousands of other applicants, applied to be on the show. Fortunately for Warpaint, Daniel received a response.
“I got a response pretty quickly,” Daniel said. “And they asked me come straight in to see them. So I went to London to the BBC studios and there was an interview where I had to pitch to the producers. And then they said they’d love for me to go on the show. That whole process took about five months in total from me doing the application to being accepted. Then it was a couple of months after when we actually filmed it.”
Daniel had already spent so much time pitching Warpaint to high level investors and partners, that he felt prepared. However, Daniel was understandably still quite nervous to pitch the Dragons.
“The big difference is when you're walking into a room, when those doors open and they're actually stone-faced looking at you,” Daniel explained. “And you know, you've been set up with a mic and there's all the camera crews everywhere; it’s a completely alien environment. So I was very nervous when I first went in there.”
But Daniel says it got easier after the demo once they turned to the question portion. And this is when Daniel told me what it’s really like to be on Dragon’s Den. The 15 minutes we see is a very small fraction of what the pitch session is comprised.
“When we got into the question is I felt very comfortable and almost forgot I was doing the program,” Daniel told me. “Because for me it's like anything in sales or pitching: as long as you've got an answer to the questions then you're going to be alright. I was quite calm and confident in that. I had some good answers to a lot of questions. Also, I was in there a long time. People only see the 15 minutes they show on TV, but I was really in there for about an hour and fifty minutes. Like, there was a lot of people asking, ‘why didn't they ask more about your numbers?’ And what they don’t realize is they did quiz me on the numbers, but they just didn't show it on TV. I went through our full three-year projections. Even the negotiation is longer than they show and there's a few more negotiations in between.”
As a part of Warpaint’s mission to help men with mental health issues like body dysmorphia, they’ve partnered with charity organization, CALM (The Campaign Against Living Miserably). CALM is leading a movement against suicide, the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK and the cause of 18 deaths every day.
“I've had a lot of men reach out to me personally, who are struggling,” Daniel said, “and while I have my own story, it's very difficult for me to give the right advice in every situation, even though I try to as much as I can. So by partnering with a charity like CALM, we can direct these men to CALM, who have the facilities and know how to help men with these issues. We also donate 50 pence for each concealer we sell to CALM as well.”
Warpaint is also hosting some events to help raise awareness for CALM. “I'm really proud of that partnership and I really hope we can raise a lot of money for them,” Daniel concluded.
What’s Next for Warpaint
The next six months is set to be a massive period for Warpaint.
“The last couple of weeks had loads of discussions with a lot of retailers, distributors, travel, and retail,” Daniel told me “We can really be the breakthrough brand for men's makeup to become a norm in retail everywhere.”
That’s the end of Part 1 with Daniel Gray. In part two we’ll dive deeper into his advice for Shopify stores as well as explore the mistakes he hopes you’ll avoid.