Twice Toothpaste Co-Founder Julian Levine shares his top 3 pieces of advice for seed stage founders
Brothers Julian and Cody Levine are the founders of Twice, a direct to consumer brand selling premium toothpaste in two formulas: Early Bird, flavored with wintergreen and peppermint to wake you up, and Twilight, a soothing blend of lavender, vanilla and peppermint to help you head to bed.
The Levine brothers — and their Grammy winning business partner Lenny Kravitz — founded Twice after going on a volunteer dental mission to the Bahamas in 2015, Julian Levine tells Ali, Head of Community at Rho.
“Our dad is a dental expert, and he started a non-profit with our mom which is called GLO Good Foundation. They bring dental professionals to underserved communities,” Levine says. “Cody and I went with them on a mission to Eleuthera in the Bahamas, which is a community that Lenny Kravitz, who has been one of my dad’s patients and close friends for over a decade, calls home.”
After seeing the impact proper oral care had on the community, Kravitz and the Levine brothers felt compelled to find a way to help.
“I was an investor before and Cody was a marketer. We had no intention of starting a toothpaste business or an oral care business,” Levine says with a laugh. “But what we saw on this mission was how a healthy smile can give you confidence. This inspired us to bring that feeling to more people around the world, with a product and brand that would make an impact.”
The trio founded Twice in 2017, and spent 18 months developing a formula without ingredients that may be harmful or unnecessary, like parabens or sulfates, while incorporating clean options like Vitamins A, C and E along with fluoride. To serve its mission, 10 percent of Twice’s profits go back to GLO Good.
“We wanted to do something to give back, and we saw a disconnect between the beauty and health of a confident smile, and how people perceive oral care and oral hygiene in today’s society,” Levine explains. “The products that we use have largely been the same for decades, and the whole category really lives on a drug store shelf. It’s a category that is largely plagued by a thoughtless purchase behavior. We set out to change this.”
And, oral care is still an issue for many Americans: “The reason why we made it into two flavors, and call our company Twice, is because we found out the statistic that 100 million Americans do not brush their teeth twice a day,” Levine says. “That was further evidence to us that this category really needed some energy. We created a brand to try to elevate oral care, and put forth a better product with a mission that today’s consumer could really resonate with.”
For other founders in the seed stage of their business, Levine has three pieces of advice to build a disruptive direct to consumer brand.
“I think this especially applies in categories where you’ve just been purchasing a product because it’s on sale, or your dentist told you to buy it, or it looks shiny,” he says.
For Twice, creating a thoughtful product took three steps. First up? Noticing consumers’ confusion around buying toothpaste.
“If you go into CVS, buying toothpaste is low-key the most confusing decision,” Levine says. “There’s one for sensitivity, and one for cavity prevention, and one for whitening, and one for gum health. We asked ourselves, ‘Why can’t we just make one toothpaste that does it all?’ So we took a thoughtful approach to combining all of those ingredients into one toothpaste.”
Next was packaging and manufacturing.
“People are really aware of how their products are made, and they want to support brands that take an approach that is more careful and considerate of the environment,” he says. “Toothpaste is notoriously a product that is not recyclable, because it typically has an aluminum barrier that exists within the plastic tube. Because of the combination of plastic and aluminum, you can’t recycle it.”
“We found a tube manufacturer that didn’t include aluminum, so it is a 100 percent recyclable tube,” Levine explains.
Twice also differentiated itself with the quality of its ingredients.
“All of the 21 ingredients that we sourced are vegan, gluten free, non-GMO and never tested on animals,” Levine says, adding that Twice has certifications on file to prove it.
“Frankly, even our manufacturer was like, ‘What are you doing? Nobody has asked us to get 21 certificates from suppliers that they match all these things,” Levine says. “But for us it was important, because we felt we were speaking to a demographic that would appreciate that.”
“You think you have a great idea, but you really have no idea until you put into market,” Levine says. And taking a product to market means you need cash.
Levine, who fundraised for Twice through a convertible note backed by friends and family, says he advises other founders to take a different route.
“I came from the investing side, and my perspective was that we could bootstrap through to success with a lot of hard work and some luck along the way,” Levine says. At the time he thought, “We don’t need as much money. Let’s see if we can avoid crazy dilution and grow our business.”
In retrospect, “I think that’s not really the right approach,” Levine says. “It takes money to make money. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to take longer.”
His advice? “Raise the capital you need, and then some.”
“My biggest piece of advice would be to focus the product and brand on a particular customer,” Levine says. “I think a lot of brands — especially in categories like ours, where it’s really broad ranging in terms of the users of toothpaste — they can forget that they need to speak to an audience.”
In defining Twice’s audience, Levine and his brother, 31 and 28 years old, first thought about their own brand tastes.
“We modeled it a little after our own preferences,” Levine says. “We definitely have, as consumers, sought healthier products, and we’re going away from the traditional brands we’ve been using all of our lives in search of those that are made more thoughtfully.”
Then, they extrapolated to a wider audience. “We identified a consumer that has a little bit more discretionary income. They’re willing to try new products,” he explains. “They’re not necessarily right out of college, but more in their late twenties and early thirties, and forties.”
For Levine, success in entrepreneurship is about recognizing opportunities to improve existing products, and executing.
“I think it’s important to try to be different, as a brand and but also as a product,” he says. “Creating a product that is truly different is not easy. It takes time to really understand the market, and what’s wrong, or what can be improved.”
With a smile, he adds: “There was a lot of work that went into creating this toothpaste.”
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