Colin Staton was fed up with his dirty whiskers. On a mission to make it easier for men to keep their beards clean, the former ESL teacher developed his own version of the baby wipe at home. After falling in love with his idea, Staton left his teaching job at the English Language School in SoHo, where he’d been for four years. In the spring of 2015, he co-founded a wipes company, Beard Paw, with his friend and business partner Ben Kahn, 31. The 100%-cotton, all-natural beard wipes are sold online at BeardPaw.com, and the pair run the business out of Staton’s Crown Heights apartment, where the 31-year-old lives with his fiancee and their dachshund, Oso.
How did you get the idea for Beard Paw?
I would be teaching and I would go out on my lunch break and get a salad or soup or whatever and then I would notice a smell permeating my face and it would be really distracting and bother me, just to know that I had kind of an unclean face. At first I would just wash my face but it was kind of awkward to do that at work, in the public bathroom. I didn’t want to carry a packet of baby wipes around. If anything I would wet my napkin which I used to see my dad do when we would go out to restaurants. I figured that beard wipes [already] existed so I Googled them and they didn’t, and then I basically just made my own at my kitchen counter.
Why did you decide to leave teaching to pursue the company full-time?
I had already thought about doing something different. I really enjoyed teaching but I was kind of tired of teaching the present perfect vs. the past perfect over and over again. I was tired of the subject matter — and then I had this idea. I had always wanted to create a new product and bring it to market, since I was a little kid, and I thought this would be kind of a low-risk project.
Where did you get your startup capital?
I had the money already from working and saving since I got out of college. I only needed about under $10,000 to get my first order and set up the trademark and the website and stuff. You can do it pretty cheaply with LegalZoom and companies like that.
How did you figure out the manufacturing side?
I made my own version at home and I really liked them and I thought, OK, let’s try this out. And I started cold-calling manufacturers, like the same ones that make baby wipes for Johnson & Johnson, just asking them if they could develop them, and eventually I found one in Maine that was kind of a smaller outfit that did more custom stuff and it seemed very appropriate that it was in Maine and it’s for beards. It was kind of lucky that I found them because a lot of companies wanted a $3 million order to start. They were willing to work with me.
Where did you learn about essential oils and soaps?
When I was developing my own solution I did a lot of research into oils that were both good for your skin and your hair. The soap is just glycerin, it’s just basic soap. We try to keep things pretty simple, there’s not a ton of ingredients in it. Mild soap, aloe, cedar, grapeseed oil and eucalyptus. No alcohol. My idea for using cotton is it’s more like a washcloth.
How is making a living off owning a business going?
I would say after a year I’m not making enough money to support myself per se, but I set up a certain amount of money that I could live off when I started the company, which is kind of necessary when you don’t have immediate income coming in. When you start a business you have to do [public relations] and marketing. I’m definitely not making all my money to live off but the company is doing OK in terms of not losing too much money.
Any big plans coming up for Beard Paw?
Basically the next step is going wholesale and doing resale in a big way and trying to get into industries like travel and hotels and stuff like that. We would love to be in a first-class travel box or a hotel amenity kit. And the food industry — most restaurants, if they’re serving chicken wings and beer, it’s great to just get one at the end of a meal.
What did you get from teaching that helps you run a biz?
Patience is definitely the No. 1 answer. There’s a lot to do when you’re starting your own business and running it, but there’s also a lot of time when you’re waiting on other people or waiting to hear from people or you need to make a big decision and you need to give yourself time to think. And then communication with other people is another big one. You have to talk to a million people and tell them it’s a good idea and tell them you’re a good person and it’s a good idea to bring beard wipes to people everywhere. When I was teaching foreign students, a lot of them don’t speak English that well so you’re trying to constantly develop a communication with people who don’t even speak your language, and that kind of helps even more when you’re speaking with people who do speak your language.
Do you think you ever want to go back to teaching? Why or why not?
I do actually miss teaching. I have one of those distant fantasies of being my future kids’ English teachers in high school and embarrassing them by working there. Or doing volunteer teaching. I was a creative writing major in college and double-majored in Spanish and I love languages in general.
Any advice for readers considering making a career 180?
Have some money to fall back on. That seems like the boring answer but you never know what can happen and it’s better if you have some kind of a cushion. If I hadn’t had that planned out I would definitely be a lot more stressed out than I am now. If you’re going to be changing careers, especially [doing] a 180, you should have a way to keep yourself afloat. And you have to believe in it — believe that it’s going to work.