Behind the Investment: Goby

Ben Goldberg, the co-founder of LHV portfolio member Goby, shares his side of the investment story.

Goby is on a mission to make great oral care accessible to everyone, and started with a need for a great electric toothbrush at a fair price. We sat down with co-founder Ben Goldberg to find out what he discovered during the investment process, and to see what advice he would give to other founding teams.

  1. Move forward without a working prototype, but only if you have a strong concept and solid research.

When we first met with Ben Lerer and Taylor Greene, Goby was just an idea on a piece of paper — really, a deck with some research — and we didn’t even have product designs or a name for it yet.

But let’s go back to the beginning in November 2014. To give some context, I initially came up with the idea for Goby because I was using an electric toothbrush and I felt like I was blatantly getting ripped off on replacement brush heads. And then my brush died, so it was basically a decision of spending $100+ to replace it. The entire experience was terrible, and sparked the idea for better approach to oral care. By the beginning of 2015, I decided to totally commit myself to Goby.

I started by getting my bearings, doing research on the space, and speaking with anyone who was willing to talk about toothbrushes. I’d used Harry’s razors and really liked the product; I hated getting ripped off on Gillette razors, and I felt my issue with brush heads was a very similar experience. Other people were dealing with it in other industries but no one seemed to be doing it in the oral care space.

To further validate the opportunity, we started researching, and when we dug down, we found that most people don’t do a good job taking care of their mouth; around 50% of people over the age of 30 have some form of gum infection, and dental issues are the leading cause of missed school and workdays. Your mouth is really important, it’s directly tied to your overall health and how communicate with the world, and your oral care routine all starts with your toothbrush. Most people have bad brushing habits, and while an electric brush fixes a lot of those bad habits, most electric toothbrushes are overpriced, over-marketed, and a pain to buy. They’re not designed for a modern consumer, so something like less than 15% of consumers actually use them, which is why we thought this was a really interesting opportunity; we could help people take care of their mouths by providing them with a premium product that makes everyone an expert brusher, paired with a subscription service that fixes the problem that people don’t change their brush heads frequently enough. (They should be changed about every three months.) We also priced the Goby Brush Kit at half the competition, making premium oral care accessible to as many people as possible.

Finally, we realized there are currently two big competitors in the field, and nobody says, “their social channels are amazing,” or, “they’re creating these cool experiences or events for their customers.” We thought there was an opportunity to stand out by building a relatable brand and developing something people would want to tell their friends about.

All of that is effectively what we presented to Ben and Taylor, and despite how early we were, they could already see the potential in what we were working on.

2. Own your strengths, but know you may need to partner up to make headway.

Ben came into that first meeting with a ton of energy and excitement, and it was contagious. The meeting went well, and I walked away feeling very encouraged and maybe even too excited, because the next action items were to start executing on the vision. Specifically, we needed to come up with the design of the product and the brand direction, inclusive of how we could deliver a great experience to our customers. Those were really the two main focuses that I was tasked with, and truth be told, they’re not my area of expertise. I had never worked with a brand team, an industrial design team, or anything product-related, so a lot of the processes were very new to me, but we were very lucky to have some great partners and advisers to guide the way. We teamed up with the super-talented industrial design team at Prime Studio — they’re the ones that designed the handle and the packaging for Harry’s — and also with an amazing branding agency called Red Antler. They focus on startups, and they worked with Casper and Allbirds and a couple of other companies. They were a great collaborator because they really helped bring our brand vision to life.

3. Take risks with your brand.

Something Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors, taught me is that you can’t try to build a brand that everyone loves, because by speaking to everyone, you’re actually speaking to no one. You need to target a specific demographic or individual, and speak to them knowing that if they love you, other people might not like you, and that’s okay because you can’t be all things to all people.

Here’s how it netted out for Goby. Most oral care brands rely on highly clinical branding and superfluous claims that don’t provide any real value to the consumer. Even though it’s industry standard, we wanted to avoid pushing claims and features people don’t need, which is why our internal tagline is “Maximize Every Minute.” The idea is, if you’re going to do something, commit to it and do it to the fullest — do the best you can with those two minutes you spend brushing.

Similarly, our name is pretty different from the rest of what’s out there, and it comes from the symbiotic relationships you see in the animal kingdom where animals of different species help groom each other. Have you ever seen pictures of birds sitting on an alligator and cleaning their mouths? The neon goby is like that; it’s a fish that cleans the mouths of other larger fish, and it’s known as the dentist of the sea. When I read that, I knew Goby had to be our name.

4. Test. Test. Test.

Assumptions are great, but you need to get validation from your users. To give an example, we had a version of our product that made it charge much faster than any of the competition, but one of the side effects was that the charger got a little warmer than we would have liked. We thought the customer wouldn’t care — that they would be happy with how quickly it charged.

When we started doing user testing, we found that everyone commented on how warm the charger would get, so we made a change to the product so it charged a little bit slower but it didn’t get warm at all. When we tested again, there were literally no comments about the slower charge, and the feedback about it being warm disappeared. We just assumed people are going to want it to charge faster, and our customers had other concerns. There were a number of instances like that in product development; we thought our customers were really going to care about something and they didn’t, or we thought something wouldn’t matter and it did. The only way you get that feedback is when you actually let people test what you’re working on.

5. Keep pushing.

With Goby, the opportunity was pretty clear: we’re going after a market where consumers are not treated well, where the options are overpriced, over-marketed, and dominated by unrelatable brands with confusing purchasing experiences. Ben saw we could deliver a better end-to-end experience at a better price. But that was only part of the interest.

Ultimately, I think Ben and LHV invested in us not just because they believed in the opportunity, but because they witnessed the progress we made after our first meeting. We went outside of our comfort zones, we learned on the fly, we got R&D under control, we developed a working prototype, and we defined our brand. The final hurdle for Ben and Lerer to invest was progress, and seeing that we were able to execute on our vision made the difference.