Founder Focus: Will Kennedy of Sons
A men’s health subscription service for treating male pattern hair loss, Sons was founded by mates Will Kennedy and Dr Adrian Gilbane, over a frank and pint-fuelled conversation about how men’s healthcare – specifically hair loss care – needed to change.
Since launching six months ago, the start-up has helped thousands of men in the UK and Ireland benefit from affordable haircare both to prevent hair loss, and to improve aftercare for transplants. With clinically proven results in 94.1% of men who used Sons, they’re clearly onto something good.
With their first TV advert officially aired, and backing from their investor and Sons advocate Jamie Laing, the dynamic duo behind Sons are truly disrupting the industry. We caught up with co-founder Will Kennedy to dig deeper into the root of this dynamic haircare brand.
What was your eureka moment?
Back in summer 2018, we both ended up going to one of the leading clinics for the prevention of hair loss. During that same week we were also out having a few pints in south London and shared our experiences – we both realised we were really dissatisfied with the service. We found the consultation more aligned to a sales pitch and that the medication was set at extortionate prices.
Adrian has a PhD in clinical science with over 10 years’ experience in the pharmaceutical sector, so he was able to explain to me that the ‘clinically proven products for hair loss’ were generic pharmaceuticals that a business could source, license and provide via a pharmacy to consumers. So, we thought why not remove the need for a bricks and mortar clinic and replace it with an online clinic? Where we can offer consultations with GPs and provide the medication direct to customers on a monthly subscription. And so, we created Sons. Why Sons? We are targeting men’s health and all men are Sons.
What was your elevator pitch?
Next generation men’s health and well-being; Sons is a digital health brand that helps men make informed decisions about health issues they don’t often talk about, and delivers clinically proven, safe, and reasonably priced products to their doors.
How did you first start off testing your idea?
We ran a survey with 100 of our peers via friends, family etc. and explained what our idea was, and the feedback really validated that we were onto something. We also found out that a surprising number of our peers were already trying other products for hair loss with little success, and being overcharged for the pleasure.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business on their own?
We started a business as friends which was probably a bit different. We enjoyed and benefited from working together throughout the different stages of the project, all the way from research and funding to launch.
Our advice to anyone starting a business, whether that’s individually or in a group, would be to understand what problem you are solving, and how your business will help people. If you are solving an existing problem and your product will help people, then people are likely to buy it.
You should always think about solutions and not problems. Since the beginning, like most start-ups, we’ve had many challenges – but because of our approach and positive mindset we’ve always been able to find a solution. This has also obviously been helped by surrounding ourselves with a very talented team.
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We are proud to be working with the charity @calmzone and ongoing will be donating a portion of every sale to their cause, we are making our first donation in April and it is timely, CALM is currently experiencing a record surge in demand for their helpline – 37% uplift in daily calls in the week stricter measures were announced to be precise. And the demand continues to be unprecedented. Every week thousands of people are calling them in need of help and support and they are doing everything they can to keep up with the demand. CALM are needed more than ever – but they can't do it alone. They are taking their own advice and asking for help. If you would like to support their cause, please head to their website: www.thecalmzone.net/donate/ #CALM #SONS #CAMPAIGNAGAINSTLIVINGMISERABLY
Do you have a mentor, or are you one?
Day to day, I think Adrian and I both fill this role for each other. Yes, we’re co-founders, but we’ve also known each other for a long time. Adrian has a different professional background coming from the pharmaceutical industry, whereas mine is more commercial and business management. I think our different skill sets bounce well off each other.
Aside from that, we have a strong advisory board with a track record in consumer healthcare and pharmaceuticals that we speak to weekly.
What’s your plan B?
We’ll stick to plan A for now!
What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?
Sons invested heavily in sourcing and obtaining licenses for our pharmaceutical products. This allows us to have full control of our supply chain, which gives us a unique positioning in the market versus other direct-to-consumer brands.
What’s coming up next for Sons?
Having completed a SEED of £1.1M and launched in December 2019, we are on track to service 10,000 customers in 2020, and look forward to expanding into new categories and markets by the end of this year.
What is the book you would recommend that everyone reads – or podcast/TED Talk that everyone should listen to – and why?
For me, it’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky. I read this in lockdown, and think it’s essential reading for all.
It’s a story about cod, world history and trade – and how a fish that changed the world is now facing extinction. It shows the importance of thinking about the planet and society and how business and trade can have such an impact – both for good and bad.
Adrian enjoys listening to The David McWilliams Podcast, as his approach to how human behaviours shape the economy is a fascinating way to understand topical news items. Some of the global challenges he discusses really resonate with us, and serve as a reminder as to how businesses can adapt in any situation if they understand their consumer.
How do you find balance?
We really enjoy work, but it’s not hard to find balance as long as you take time out. For us, that’s staying connected and social, as well as taking time for ourselves – whether that’s exercising, reading, or listening to music.