How Harry’s Did a Stellar Pre-Launch Campaign?

No startup has ever kicked off with brighter prospects for success than New York’s hyped razor brand Harry’s. The grooming brand signed up 100,000 emails in just one week of their pre-launch campaign, while the official launch date was yet to be announced.

Abdul Wahab

Abdul Wahab

· 9 min read
How Harry’s Did a Stellar Pre-Launch Campaign?

While it feels empowering to see yourself as the wheel's inventor, there’ll always be forerunners who have brought your pre-conceived idea to success - at least in terms of methodology. As an entrepreneur, reviewing past successful campaigns for inspiration keeps you ahead of the upcoming trends when launching your business.

No startup has ever kicked off with brighter prospects for success than New York’s hyped razor brand Harry’s. The grooming brand signed up 100,000 emails in just one week of their pre-launch campaign, while the official launch date was yet to be announced.

As a direct-to-consumer startup that challenged the booming men’s razor space, how did Harry’s manage a steep uphill climb that took it $1.7 billion valuation in just five years? Let’s discover what makes Harry’s prelaunch marketing campaign so noteworthy in the league of modern-day businesses.

Harry’s Story

In 2013, when the men’s grooming industry was ruled by big pharmacy brands like Gillette and Schick, Jeff Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield introduced a razor subscription service startup - Harry’s.

The startup intended to offer its customers a high-quality shaving experience at a reasonable price, hoping to make a cut in the $17 billion grooming industry. The concept was not entirely new-fangled, as Dollar Shave Club (their exact rival) had already introduced an effective alternative to these traditional mainstays.

Impressed by the increasing success of other mail-in product services like MeUndies and Warby Parker, Jeff and Andy knew how to make this work in the razor market. Unlike Dollar Shave Club, which was only a service-based brand that outsourced its products, Harry’s offered self-designed high-quality razors in the deal.

After researching the global men’s shaving industry and looking for a credible manufacturer, the co-founders partnered with a century-old German producer to source their premium razor blades.

With the business model in place and the product design ready, Andy and Jeff were looking for the one thing to guarantee a successful launch - the audience. “We can’t launch to crickets? Would anyone even notice?” it was Jeff’s constant worry.

After all, a direct-to-consumer brand can’t attract much business without an anticipated audience ready to purchase. And so enters Harry’s stellar referral program that brought in 100,000 emails from people who were eager to get their hands on the product.

Harry’s Pre-launch Campaign - An Overview

Since its launch in 2013, Harry’s managed a steep uphill climb to success. Although the business model was innovative enough, much of the credit for their spreading popularity goes to the groundwork they laid beforehand.

Jeff and Andy, alongside a team of 10 dedicated professionals, designed and delivered an effective pre-launch campaign checklist that set the stage for the company’s success. They imbued powerful storytelling, set up catchy branding slogans, incentivized customers for referrals, and adopted clever marketing strategies to turn it into a multi-million dollar company.

Of all pre-launch strategies, their referral marketing program proved the most convincing in driving customers:

  • Over 77% of the user signups during the pre-launch period came through referrals.
  • 200 people executed 50 successful referrals, amounting to 10,000 signups.
  • 1300 registered people referred to at least 5 friends.

Registering 100,000 visitors as potential customers in one week of their marketing program enabled the company to raise a staggering $122 million in venture capital. The funding allowed them to buy out their 94-year-old German razor supplier, Feintechnik.

With more than 600 employees under its banner, a thriving online store, a barbershop in New York, and a self-published magazine called Five O’Clock, Harry’s was set to tackle the heavyweights like Gillette and Schick.

Reimagining the Success Behind Harry’s Pre-launch Campaign

Harry’s posted $200 million in revenue in 2017 alone and attracts over 3 million recurring customers to their online store monthly, making it one of the fastest-growing men’s grooming brands in the industry. We have identified the best pre-launch campaign practices that transformed a shaving subscription service into a global online powerhouse.

Impeccable Art of Storytelling

As the famous copywriting fundamental goes, “people don’t buy what you offer; they buy why you offer it.” Instead of selling your products, sell your vision, compelling people to align with your cause, claiming your success as theirs. Without a credible reason backing up your story, you’re just another online retailer striving to make big bucks.

Harry’s imbued the art of storytelling in their pre-launch campaign so remarkably, presenting themselves as “the scrappy underdog.” By the time of its launch in 2013, Harry’s was up against Schick and Gillette, who owned 84% of the US market share in the men’s Razor industry.

a pie chart depicting the US market share of men’s razors and blades by brand in 2013.
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Gillette’s sheer domination as the market leader earned them massive profits until someone challenged the monopoly. It all started when Jeff Raider posed a simple question; “Why do razors cost so much? Like there’s no real good reason.” with it, Harry’s got the public’s backing.

The newcomer came head-to-head with the empire, hoping to make top tier shaving equipment affordable to all - razor blades that outclassed Gillete’s cheaper alternatives.

Playing the role of a scrappy underdog wasn’t anything new to the marketing. Startups have presented themselves as new towners so long as the archetype has a name. But in Harry’s case, the outcome was multifold.

Seeing the outgrowing popularity, Goliath fell right into the trap. Not only did Gillette respond to Harry’s ad slogans, it took on the offensive, claiming that people are switching back to Gillette after using Harry’s.

While the extra attention awarded them free publicity, underdogs had found a reason to take a gibe back. By comparing both razors, Jeff and Andy debunked Gillette’s claims. Moreover, Harry’s allowed its visitors cheap trials of their razor to make the decision themselves.

Harry’s webpage showing comparison between Gillette and Harry’s razor.
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Word-of-Mouth Referral Campaign

More than 83% of customers are willing to refer a product or service to others in case of a satisfactory experience - no one knew this better than Harry’s. In fact, the primary reason for Harry’s skyrocketing popularity before the official product launch was its impeccable word-of-mouth referral program.

Inspired by Robinhood’s successful pre-launch campaign, the co-founders established an automated referral engine right through day one. The idea was to build hype around the upcoming product by exhorting mystery and inspiring incentives to take the next step.

Jeff deemed a credible referral page the most powerful and effective way to drive traffic on the platform - and the 100,000 email signups during the first week proved him right. The co-founders planned their campaign in three simple steps.

Expanding the Email Outreach through Friends and Family

In an effort to execute their pre-launch campaign for free, Harry’s kicked off on the backs of 12 employees, who employed remarkable tactics to surge that number up to 100,000 within the first week. Starting off, each employee directed a series of emails to their inner circle, notifying them of the upcoming launch and how to be a part of it.

Drive Traffic to the Dedicated Landing Page

Incoming visitors from emails, social media ads, or word-of-mouth referrals were directed to Harry’s pre-launch landing page. It was an apparently simple and directive 2-page microsite that didn’t reveal much about the new product or service, keeping the suspense alive.

Harry’s pre-launch landing page.
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The homepage read “Harry’s is coming,” along with a razor picture. Although it hinted at being a men’s grooming startup, the webpage compelled visitors to register their emails to learn more about the new razor service.

Encouraging Subscribers to Bring in Referrals with Incentives

Once signed up, users were directed to a thank you page asking them to refer others in their network in exchange for additional perks. People are more likely to act on email from a friend compared to generally marketed ones. The more referrals one brought to the platform, the more awards and prizes one won.

Harry’s refer-a-friend landing page.
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Bringing 5 users through your unique referral link would set you up for a free shaving cream, and enticing 25 would earn you a free shaving set. If you get 50 individuals to signup through your referral link, you’d be eligible for a year’s worth of blade supplies. The FOMO and gamification tactics worked incredibly well, with 100K emails collected in a single week.

CPS Email Marketing Approach

Despite relying on a handful of copywritten emails to turn their target audience into dedicated customers, Harry’s approach to email marketing has been a notable factor in fast-tracking their sales. Jeff and Andy adopted the CPS method to market the brand and retain customers. The method focuses on three genres of emails:

Cart Recovery

Suppose a user is intrigued by the ad campaign, signs up on the landing page, likes a product, and even reaches the checkout page, but somehow they leave before buying. Harry’s knew perfectly well how to cater to those abandoning shoppers - who’re definitely intrigued by the advertising.

When directing their recovery emails, Harry’s proposes to down-sell their offers to on-the-fence buyers. Whether the top-end pricing or the precondition to commit up-front, the down-sell proposition overcomes any possible objection to the purchase.

While Harry’s may appear on the losing end of the deal, offering a down-sell provides them with extra cash flow to offset CAC (customer acquisition costs) and paves the way for a possible subscription.

Product Praise

Promoting products via email marketing has never been Harry’s forte. Instead, they depend on a more credible resource - their customers. Be it in the form of referrals or over-the-top compelling testimonials; Harry’s knows how to capitalize on their customers’ satisfaction.

Stealth Promotion

Like many smart marketers, Harry’s never lets holiday periods go in vain. It infuses compelling copies that infringe on emotion to engage the readers and eventually drive them to purchase.

To give you a perspective, their promotional email on Father’s day read, “to celebrate Father’s day this year, we caught up with dads and their kids about the moments that truly matter to them” the message followed with a subtle yet emotional punch “take a moment to celebrate a special dad.”

Capitalizing Partnerships

While the referral process was spreading the word about the scrappy underdog of the razor world to the masses, Harry’s presence in mainstream media was yet to become a reality. It was the gateway to a broader outreach, attracting a mass audience to their platform.

Unlike most upcoming brands at the time, Harry’s wasn’t interested in conducting bling media sponsorships. To Jeff and Andy, authenticity was key. So, they reached out to major publications, blogs, and other media outlets to test, review, and advertise their products - which brought in favorable results.

Harry’s team sent personalized email notes to some prominent media personalities, from magazine finance journalists and magazine editors to famous podcast hosts. Positive reviews from credible individuals earned Harry’s a spotlight in mainstream media without spending on paid advertisements.

What really put Harry’s razor kits on display for an average buyer was their retail deal with Target in 2016. According to the deal, the retail corporation would sell Harry’s products - or, more specifically, will offer four feet of shelf space right next to Gillette -  in its 2,200 stores across the US.

Be that as it may, Harry’s couldn’t secure any worthwhile partnerships with major enterprises until they showcased their early success. As a newly-established startup, you have much to prove before the top-shot enterprises shower money your way.


Even after a decade after its launch, Harry’s pre-launch marketing campaign is being lauded widely, not just because of its unprecedented success but its universality that’s applicable to any e-commerce startup.

Startups and large-scale enterprises planning a big reveal for their upcoming projects continue to replicate Harry’s efforts in the marketing space to achieve their milestones. Their unsurmountable popularity during the pre-launch phase is the outcome of their careful consideration at every step of the campaign.

As an upcoming startup, focusing your human resource and capital on managing your pre-launch campaign can divert your focus from the core product development. Sign up with to conduct your referral marketing program, allowing you to focus on more critical tasks.


How did Harry’s acquire 100,000 emails during before launch?

Harry’s used a referral program with solid incentives, compelling users to invite more people to the platform. The brand awarded people with tangible free products to get the maximum number of people on board.

How much money did Harry’s spend on the marketing campaign?

Harry’s did not set a ludicrous marketing budget for their campaign. In fact, most of Harry’s marketing efforts were carried out free of cost thanks to the stellar word-of-mouth referral campaign, email marketing approach, and partnerships.

Should I buy prelaunch campaign software or design it in-house?

Although building a prelaunch campaign in-house seems affordable, it costs more in the longer run, considering the required human resource and time. Therefore, as an upcoming startup, always prefer buying a campaign software to market your brand.

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