A frustration with traditional shampoo products led former software investor Joe Moriarty to spend many years developing his own formula. The result: Modern Mammals, a no-nonsense hair rinse to thoroughly clean your barnet, without the poof and puff. Since the launch of the Everyday Rinse in March, it’s been going down a treat. Founder Joe Moriarty tells The Daily about how the product came to be.
It’s the classic consumer story—I had a problem in my own life and couldn’t find any existing product that worked. I was exercising every day and had to wash my hair, but never felt like shampoo or conditioner did what I wanted it to. Shampoo is too harsh (it originated from carpet cleaning…), and every shampoo or conditioner left my hair poofy, frizzy, and dry. And going water-only also didn’t work, because I still wanted a clean scalp without sweat or flakes. So I really just needed a better product, and decided eventually that the big CPG companies weren’t ever going to figure it out, so I’d do it.
When did you start to work on the idea?
Back in 2015, I was an early adapter of the “no-poo” movement—trying out homemade concoctions at home to replace shampoo. That’s really the origin of Modern Mammals; the idea that shampoo itself just wasn’t a good product. I began working on MM in 2018, mostly as research, and began selling in January 2020. Wes Haddon joined as the first employee in April 2020 and Eric Neher (formerly of Birchbox) joined as an advisor.
What was your background before beginning research?
I had two jobs prior. At first, I worked in private equity but it was never for me. I stuck out like a sore thumb in finance. I never fit in with the suit and tie culture. Actually, I went to Harvard business school actually for two years and never owned a suit! These were jobs that investment bankers and consultants dream of, but I didn’t enjoy either one, so I had my ‘quarter-life crisis’ and quit. After that, I worked in Silicon Valley in the enterprise software world. It was a great job, but I just couldn’t spend my life working on software that helped people sit at their computers all day long.
How long did it take to perfect the current formula?
It’s been 1.5 years of real work with scientists and iterating a bit with customers. Before that, it was me buying things from Whole Foods and mixing them in my kitchen—aloe vera, glycerin, vinegar, etc.—and testing on friends. We started off as a super minimal, un-fragranced, fully plant-based product. It was hardcore minimal. But then customers said they still wanted some things, like a scent and easier spreading. So in March 2020, we tested our second formula and it was a real winner; customers sent us unbelievable responses. Like mind-blowing responses for a hair-washing product. Then we then got hit with the pandemic. Our main ingredient was aloe vera, so we were forced to reformulate. So the product right now isn’t actually the final version: we’re going to adjust it once more to bring back aloe and a more natural scent based on a customer poll we did recently.
Is it just for guys?
Obviously anyone is free to use the product, but the product was created out of a problem guys were all familiar with and one which I was used to hearing from other guys: avoiding shampoo because they hated how it left their hair. Guys love the simplicity of our product. Guys tend to love it, since it’s one rinse they can use anytime, and they tend to like the weight and ‘natural’ feel this leaves in their hair. So that makes for a great customer, and we just stick to the customer base we know is going to absolutely love it. Our opinion is that—over-generalizing here—men and women want different things from hair, which is why gels and pomades are so popular with men. We don’t think shampoo is a well-designed product for guys, so this is our hair washing product, redesigned for guys.
Your branding is so distinctive. What’s the inspiration behind it and what is the vibe of Modern Mammals all about?
We aren’t personal-care or beauty industry veterans, so we don’t think in those same terms. We are really shampoo industry outsiders, and the brand has a bit of a populist feel since it’s driven by customers. And that’s why it’s called Modern Mammals, plural. Modern Mammals has a meaning specific to hair too—the mammal is defined (scientifically) by the presence of hair. It’s our natural accessory as humans. It’s your unique signature to the world, so we want to celebrate guy’s hair too, and we wanted that to come across on our website and social. As for a vibe, we are also intentionally non-prescriptive. It’s your hair and your daily routine: you know it a lot better than we do. Want to mix in other products? Fine by us, do what you want! You won’t hear us telling you how to live. Our vibe is about a carefree, low maintenance routine. We’re also minimalists, that’s why we’re one product, with one shipping choice, and no wasted money on extra packaging that goes in the trash. I joke that we are the only haircare company telling you to do less to your hair.
What else is important to the brand?
When we talk to customers, it’s all about pushing out positivity. Lots of thumbs-ups and hair compliments. There are so many trolls on the internet, we just want to be a positive brand in guys’ lives. Our customers seem really happy to have a hair washing product designed specifically for guys, by guys.
Did you pick the colors in your branding for any particular reason?
Navy blue is my favorite color. I think we wanted to stand out, but also feel natural. The bottle lives in your shower, so we wanted to make it something nice and fun to have in your shower.
What was the initial response like once you launched? We heard you sold out pretty quick…
Yeah guys are really loving our product. We get messages from customers telling us how this changed their lives, how they used to wear hats in public, or were humiliated by their dandruff. Now they have a whole new lease on life. We also get hilarious messages from customers, and we save them to re-post on social sometimes. Like one guy whose mom stole his product, another guy who said he and his dad argued about who got the last of the bottle, or a customer who wrote to us telling us how he thought our brand was stupid, but that he’ll now never go back to regular shampoo again. Lots of those. The customer messages are what keep us going, especially when the pandemic almost had us on course to go out of business.
Your tagline “it’s like paleo, for your head” is very catchy. Can you explain more?
Our view is that shampooing is unnatural. The idea of sudsing up your head and washing away all the natural oils isn’t natural. So, if the paleo diet refers to eating how a human would eat naturally (like a caveman), then paleo for your head is not shampooing and keeping the natural oils.
What’s one misconception about men’s hair products you wish you could tell everyone?
“Natural” and “organic” doesn’t mean it’s gentler on your head. People write to us saying, “My shampoo is natural/organic, so isn’t it better?” Well, they still make lather that dries out your head. And naturally-derived ingredients are much more likely to irritate your scalp. We do use some natural ingredients because of their benefits, but we don’t avoid synthetic ingredients—the synthetic stuff we can create in modern times is actually gentler and less irritating than plant-derived. And plus, no shampoo is really “natural” if it makes bubbles. I use leftover shampoo as body wash.
If you had to sum up the Everyday Rinse in one sentence, what would it be?
Lighter hair washing that keeps you natural.
Do you plan on launching more products?
We want to keep making the single best hair washing product for guys. We will offer some eco-friendly refillable pouches, plus larger size options, and would like to see how it does in retail. I’m a believer in retail as a business model… hello Target and CVS! But no, no plans to do a deodorant or skincare or anything like that. Hair is our focus.