Entrepreneur urges students to leverage design, art when innovating in business
Craig Dubitsky, founder of eos products and hello products, offered insights into what has driven his business ventures during the 2017 C. Ashton Newhall Endowed Lecture at Elon on Tuesday, Oct. 24.
When he was young, Craig Dubitsky took the typical lemonade stand a step further by adding a car wash. In college, he rented space on campus and opened up a late-night snack bar, and later bought carpet in bulk that was then custom cut to fit the floorplans for his school's dorm rooms.
He'd go on to launch eos, a personal care product company with a distinctive ball-like design for its lip balm, and is now seeing success with Hello Products, his Montclair, New Jersey company that is making inroads in the $40 billion oral care category with a "naturally friendly" line of toothpaste that boasts distinctive packaging, flavors and brands based on a product built on natural ingredients.
"Design is everything," said Dubitsky, speaking Tuesday, Oct. 24, in the LaRose Digital Theater in the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. "Design to me is thoughtfulness. All the answers are out there. People will tell you what to do through their actions. All you have to do is observe."
Dubitsky visited Elon to deliver the 2017 C. Ashton Newhall Endowed Lecture as part of a series named for Elon University trustee C. Ashton Newhall '98. which brings successful entrepreneurs to campus to share their knowledge and experience managing the risks and rewards of entrepreneurial endeavors. The event was kicked off by Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and Dubitsky was introduced by Alyx Bean '18.
An animated speaker with a love for music, Dubitsky has seen success by basing his business decisions on observing how people act, and how large brands can sometimes be slow to respond to shifts in culture and personal preferences. He recounted Tuesday how he first met the founders of method products, now a fast-growing maker of cleaning brands, when they were making their initial products in a bathtub.
method products founders, Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan, had a unique take on upending the home cleaning market by focusing on products that were less toxic and more attractive than those that had dominated the segment for generations, Dubitsky said. Home cleaning products were "so ugly you have to hide them, and so toxic that you had to lock them up," Dubitsky said.
Dubitsky said he invested in the company and supported it as a board member, despite the doubts that some carried about trying to remake dish soap. "Nobody believed," Dubitsky said. "Everybody said no. You can't do it because nobody cares about dish soap, they said."
But Dubitsky has another thesis that has carried him in many of his business ventures — people do care, and they care about everything. That's part of what drove him with eos products, which remade the traditional lip balm that comes in a tube into one with a round shape that's easily identified by a person reaching into a purse crammed with items, he said. That's what prompted him to rethink oral care products, a segment that's dominated by brands such as Colgate and Crest that he said has seen little innovation.
"Design is everywhere, and as entrepreneurs, it's our job to fall in love with the problem, not with the solution," Dubitsky said. "Our job is to always be looking for the cracks. There's a need that's unmet."
With Hello Products, Dubitsky said he focused on confronting what he saw as "unfriendly" characteristics in many of the toothpastes and mouthwashes on the market today. That meant looking for natural flavors that people enjoyed tasting, more natural ingredients that didn't confuse or concern users and a new toothpaste tube that doesn't get "crinkly."
"To me, innovation is relevance," Dubitsky said. "If I can't be emotionally and culturally and economically relevant, then I'm not relevant."
The response has been overwhelmingly positive, with the company going from concept to product launch within six months, and Hello Products brands now found on the shelves of a host of online and bricks-and-mortar retailers including Walmart, Target, Kroger, Amazon and CVS Health. The products have won three prestigious design awards, including the Good Design Award, the Red Dot Award and the A'Design Award.
"Our jobs as stewards of the future — we have to create the art we want in our everyday lives," Dubitsky said. "Design, at the heart of it all, centers around thoughtfulness. We care about these things, and that's a good thing."