Joshua Esnard spent a lot of his childhood dismantling things, rebuilding them, pondering over designs and making Batmobiles out of cardboard. A native of St. Lucia, Esnard grew up in Ithaca, New York, where his parents taught at Cornell University. His father had been cutting his hair, but when he was starting middle school Esnard just couldn’t picture going with the same old tired flat cut. He needed to look sharp and up-to-date!! His parents were busy and unable to drive him to the barbershop on a regular basis. So he took things into his own hands (literally) and using his father’s Conway clippers began to do it himself.
The results were predictable: bald spots, uneven hairline, and mismatched curves. He realized he needed something to guide the clippers in a uniform way. Experimenting with different designs and materials he found around the house, he created a simple template and was now able to give himself a crisp, sharp look so he could slay all the competition in middle school.
Over the next 15 years, Esnard shared the template with family members and college friends. He thought about possible designs and maybe selling them someday, but never got serious about it. One day in 2014 his girlfriend asked him to complete a task and he told her “later.” When she observed that he never seemed to finish what he started, it was a defining moment. Within a week he saw a patent attorney and then brought the design to PulseRay, Inc., which performed stress tests and calculated the angles and curves that would make the most universally useful product. Cut Buddy was officially launched in January of 2016. The final design has three different curves to fit a variety of head sizes for haircutting and beard grooming.
Esnard was living and working in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after graduating from Broward College. He made a YouTube advertisement, using himself as the model, and began selling the Cut Buddy out of his garage. Ironically, Mother Nature played a nasty joke on Esnard, and at this critical time his hairline began to recede. Sales plateaued at about 20 per day. His childhood friend, Pima Mbwana, who was working with him, realized they needed to change their advertising in order to create more orders. Research on the Internet revealed numerous “handsome guys with better hairlines” who were promoting barber products or creating instructional videos for men interested in maintaining or improving their looks. Esnard contacted a number of them, offering affiliation by giving them a coupon code and commission. Four men accepted and created YouTube videos featuring the Cut Buddy.
Sales began to rise and by March of 2016 they were selling between 300 and 400 per day. All of a sudden one of the YouTube videos went viral and within a few hours they had received orders for 4,000 items. Good news, right? Well, sort of….
Looking back, Esnard admits that he considered himself an inventor/artist and hadn’t been too concerned about the practical details of growing a business—minor things such as inventory control and streamlined shipping process. But he learned fast!!
Pleading with his manufacturer and paying upfront would fill his inventory needs, but there were other serious problems: PayPal froze his account and his bank was threatening to do the same. Disgruntled customers were threatening to sue. Esnard and Mbwana sent every customer an e-mail, offering either a full refund or doubling their order if they were willing to wait a month. By working 8-10 hours every night after his regular day job, with help from Mbwana and friends and family, they managed to fill the orders and keep the business alive and profitable. In a Forbes Magazine interview in February of 2017, Esnard stated that he had sold 55,000 units.
Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but for a business it can be deadly. Esnard’s product was knocked off more than 700 times. His third partner, Alex Kresovich, spends much of his time following merchant trends all over the world to identify the knockoffs and take appropriate action.
The Cut Buddy was named the Breakout Barber Product of 2016, and is sold on Amazon where it is a “#1 Best Seller.” Esnard’s plans for the future include production of Cut Buddy 2.0, getting into retail stores such as CVS or Walgreens, and obtaining a celebrity endorsement to put a “face” on the product.
Esnard attended the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit in May of 2017 and was a featured participant in Broward College’s conference on “Social Media Impact in 21st Century Life & Economics.” Up to this point, Cut Buddy has been privately funded, and pitching his product in various local venues hadn’t been an easy process. But Esnard has always been willing to try again, and with the benefit of his experience and the success of his product so far, the future is looking bright for this hard-working entrepreneur.