I’m shaving in Tristan Walker’s home bathroom.
He stands behind me, taking me through the steps of Bevel, his shaving “system” and the first brand of his health and beauty line, Walker & Company. Bevel’s core tool is a sleek steel razor that harkens back to old-school barbershops. But in support of that razor is a handful of oils and creams, and instructions—carefully researched by Walker, with the counsel of dermatologists—for achieving a close shave and a clean one, free of nicks and bumps.
It starts with a hot shower or hot compress on the face. Then: the priming oil. Next: the shaving cream, via a handsome brush. Walker keeps instructing me to move it more vigorously to get a foamy lather. Finally, the shave: short strokes, without applying much pressure. (The blade is sharp enough to do the trick on its own.) Last step: restoring balm. And yes, it feels good.
It’s also the first time I’ve shaved fully in months—like many young men now (35 percent of them, according to Experian, up from 31 percent in 2009), I keep a little bit of facial hair. That is one limitation of creating a shaving line—it’s not a service every person needs. But Walker’s whole point is that there are scores of men who have never shaved, only because they’ve been afraid of cuts and burn—especially men of color. (Some 80 percent of black men and women get frequent shaving irritation, compared with 30 percent of the rest of the population.)
There is a savvy brand unity to Bevel. If a customer forgets any of those steps, he can always find them in a slick how-to video done in the same stylish format of everything Bevel does, from its Instagram account to its Bevel Code lifestyle site.
Walker is hardly new to the San Francisco startup scene– he is a former entrepreneur-in-residence at Andreessen Horowitz, and ran business development at Foursquare– but in the year since he launched Bevel, the attention has exploded. Walker & Company has raised $9.3 million in funding. In October, he was named to Fortune’s 40 Under 40 list. People on the sidewalk in Palo Alto greet him enthusiastically, from Palantir employees to Brian Spaly, CEO of personal shopping startup Trunk Club. It has earned a lot of buzz for a small, subscription-only shaving line. (Walker won’t share numbers, but says sign-ups are growing at up to 50% each month.) As for the rush of press, he’s “super thankful,” but says “the real work starts now.”
That work happens at the Walker & Company offices, by a team of employees that is 80 percent non-white, far more diverse than any tech giant’s. (Google revealed last summer that of its U.S. workforce, just 2 percent is black, 3 percent Hispanic; to that end, Walker also cofounded Code2040, a nonprofit that places minority engineers in summer internships at top tech companies.)
So how has Walker done it? He sat down for a conversation with Fortune at the end of October. What follows is an edited transcript.