An entrepreneur from Lawrence and his Connecticut-based business partner will swim with the sharks Friday at 8 p.m. on “Shark Tank,” ABC’s let’s-make-a-deal venture capitalist competition.
Long Islander Devir Kahan is CEO of Stryx, a men’s cosmetics company, with Jon Shanahan as chief marketing officer. Their oft-told story of the firm’s founding begins with Kahan finding photo-ruining acne on his face on his wedding day in 2017, and thinking there must be a way to save other men from this.
“It’s a hundred percent true,” Kahan, 26, says in a joint phone interview with Shanahan, 30. “It really did happen that way. It wasn’t like, ‘I’m gonna start a company’ — it was obviously much more protracted than that. But it really did happen,” says the New Jersey native, who moved to Lawrence with his Woodmere-raised wife to be near her family. “I have the photos to prove it!” the parent of a toddler adds. “The photographer assured me, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll Photoshop it out from the album.’ Months later we got the album and they did not edit it out. In every picture I had two zits — I remember where they were! We had to fight with them to reprint the whole album.”
Shanahan, he says, coincidentally “had the same experience on his wedding day, completely unrelated. We didn’t even know each other at that point.”
Stryx, founded in 2019, sells cosmetics packaged in a sleek, dark design. It includes both traditional men’s grooming products such as bronzing gel, but also the likes of tinted moisturizer, concealer for hiding blemishes and its trademarked Pimple Patches. The company’s motto is “Nothing Wrong with Handsome.”
Nurtured through the Manhattan venture capital firm and business accelerator XRC Labs and founded with $1.7 million startup capital, Stryx operates remotely from the founders’ homes. Selling direct-to-consumer online and through CVS pharmacies nationwide, it grossed more than $1.5 million in 2021, according to Kahan’s “30 Under 30: Art & Style” profile this year in Forbes magazine. As of this March, says Shanahan, the brand is also distributed through Target stores.
So why go to the sharks?
“We’re two young startup founders that need their experience,” says the Pittsburgh-raised Shanahan, whom Kahan knew through Shanahan’s men’s fashion-and-grooming YouTube channel The Kavalier. “There were two sharks we were really targeting, because we know that as we expand into retail and scale up the company, there’s just a lot of knowledge those sharks can bring, in addition to the capital we need.”
Remarkably, some of the sharks’ advice might be for how the company can navigate its unlikely place in the culture wars. Really? “Oh, you’d be surprised,” says Kahan.
“We dealt with a death threat last year,” notes Shanahan, who with wife Sofia has three young children. “There’s a lot of homophobia and stigma around these products. I take it in jest — you can’t really insult me personally. But there’s a portion of the population that will never touch these products because they associate it with being feminine and anything else negative they bring to the table. Luckily, as the company’s grown and found a community, there are others who will jump in and explain it and talk about how much we really changed their lives.”
“I don’t know that we’re really ever going change those minds,” Kahan says of the anti-cosmetics crowd, “but I think the vast majority of this country’s ready for these products.”