Few people swim with sharks and live to tell the story, and even fewer deliberately jump into a shark tank. However, that’s exactly what Sigma Nu Fraternity alumni 32-year-old Lindsay Barto (Fresno State) and 36-year-old Chris Healy (Fresno State) did when they pitched their company, The Longhairs, to the judges on ABC’s Shark Tank.
The co-founders of the men’s grooming and lifestyle brand were immediate standouts on the January 14, 2018 episode. “That’s some long-ass hair!” shark Mark Cuban exclaimed when the two entered. Chris’s 2-foot-long blonde locks brightly popped against his dark blue shirt, while Lindsay’s dark mane—at around 18 inches—contrasted his collared, light blue shirt. Their presentation, like their brand, was bold, cool, memorable and well groomed.
First the two fearlessly asked the “sharks,” known for eating budding entrepreneurs alive, for $95k for a 10 percent equity stake in their company.
Then the pair challenged each man on the panel to test out the company’s hair ties and headwraps with a longhaired wig. Each judge obliged and confidently donned his newfound hairstyle with gusto and flare.
Next, the duo wowed the sharks with their numbers. After learning that the co-founders had made $25k in the first year and over $100k in the second year, shark Kevin O’Leary yelled, “You guys make crazy margins!”
Lastly, Lindsay and Chris whipped their hair, a tribute to their long-haired forefathers: Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, George Washington.
The sharks responded with equal fervor. Shark O’Leary pitched $95k for 10 percent, plus $2 off every order until he received $200k. Meanwhile, shark Cuban offered $100k for 25 percent equity. (If you’re not familiar with O’Leary, he’s a Canadian businessman who co-founded SoftKey, a software company acquired by Mattel in 1999 for $3 billion; if you’re not familiar with Mark Cuban, just look up the Dallas Mavericks.)
Lindsay and Chris talked Cuban down to 20 percent and safely left the tank with $100k and Cuban as an investor. There’s one word that fueled Lindsay and Chris’s road to their break-out TV appearance, and one word that will determine the future of The Longhairs.
“It wasn’t luck,” Chris asserts on the company’s website. “It was resolve.”
The Resolve to Build a Dynamic Chapter
Looking back, Chris and Lindsay’s friendship seems fated: Lindsay grew up in Redlands, California, with childhood best friend Dan Ott (Cal State Fullerton) and his older brother Ernie (Fresno State). When Ernie traveled to Fresno State and joined Sigma Nu in 2001, Chris was Ernie’s Candidate Marshal; the two became close friends. Two years later, Lindsay arrived at Fresno State already knowing he wanted to join Ernie in the brotherhood.
Lindsay’s candidate semester coincided with Chris’s position as Lieutenant Commander. “He was just one of the brightest candidates, one of the guys we were super-excited to have join the fraternity,” Chris says about Lindsay.
Lindsay enthusiastically became recruitment chair, and a partnership formed, steeped in a common mission to see the Zeta Kappa Chapter grow more robust. The challenge before them was clear: to determine the type of guys they wanted to recruit, create events that would attract them, and equip their chapter brothers with the skills to execute the vision.
Lindsay and Chris created talking points for their chapter brothers and capitalized on the number of athletes who lived in their house. They hosted athletic events and created the Sigma Nu Running Crew.
“It didn’t last long,” Lindsay says, laughing about the crew. “But it was there for a while.” During its duration, it ushered in a group of strong initiates and fostered a culture of experimentation, which eventually led them to their winning idea—a skills workshop they created to provide additional structure to the chapter’s recruitment process. The workshop taught the Sigma Nu’s how to initiate conversation and talk about the Fraternity with ease and confidence.
The duo accomplished their mission and the Zeta Kappa Chapter became LEAD Chapter of the Year in 2006. “And it all started with that class that we recruited, and those techniques that we instilled in the chapter,” Lindsay says.
After graduation, Chris took the skills workshop training to General Fraternity Headquarters, where he worked as the Director of Expansion. The training served as the foundation for the Sigma Nu recruitment blue book.
The Resolve to Go Against the Tide
Years after their initial partnership, Lindsay and Chris each came to a crossroads. They chose paths that took them away from Sigma Nu, but eventually brought their partnership full circle. Lindsay was two-and-a-half years into his college career at Fresno State, but he still hadn’t declared a major. “I needed to go figure out what I really want to do,” Lindsay says.
So, he did what every mother hopes her child never does—he dropped out of college and grew his hair out. He held various jobs and traveled intermittently until he rediscovered what he calls his creative calling.
Inspired to build an online business, Lindsay enrolled at the Art Institute in San Diego, where he studied web design and interactive media, and finished his degree. In 2012, he founded Round Two Creative Group. After a failed initial partnership, he needed someone with a strong work ethic and determination, someone with whom he worked well.
Meanwhile Chris had established Sigma Nu chapters throughout the country, developed business acumen, and trained leaders in his director role. But after six years of dedicated service, he wanted a new challenge.
That challenge came from Scott Christie, who served as a mentor to Chris at headquarters. “When I was your age, I did this trip around the world,” Scott told him. “It was the coolest thing I ever did. You should do something like that.” Chris considered Scott’s advice: What would it be like to leave everything behind, pack a sole backpack and travel around the globe? He couldn’t imagine; he knew only that it would change him and prove that he possessed the strength to take care of himself regardless of place or circumstance.
He dove in.
After an 11-month voyage around the world that included six continents, 28 countries and zero haircuts, Chris returned to the US sporting long hair that inched toward his shoulders—and the confidence that he could do anything. Call it fate or just good fortune, but Chris returned to the country jobless at the exact moment Lindsay needed a business partner. There was little to discuss; their time together at Fresno State had proven they were a formidable team. Chris quickly joined Lindsay at Round Two, and the two built their clientele, which included a national contract with the scooter company Razor.
However, consistently working 12- and 14-hour days on clients’ projects made them feel like well-paid employees instead of business owners. They wanted to spend 14 hours a day creating their own projects. The pair set a new goal: to discover “their thing” and turn it into a profitable business.
Partnering together at Sigma Nu had taught them that if they kept experimenting, a winning idea would emerge.
The Resolve to Build a Brand
By the spring of 2014, both had grown their hair down their backs, both felt a special camaraderie with other guys with long hair, and both were frustrated by the hair care options available to them in the women’s hair care aisle (think flowered, light pink hair ties). The idea for Hair Ties For Guys™ emerged after a client meeting in April of that year.
“There we were, sitting in the car,” Chris recounts, “and the idea just came out. Hair ties. For guys.”
Hit with what he says felt like “divine inspiration,” he and Lindsay instantaneously knew: We can make a better hair tie for guys. That night, still high from the idea, Chris spontaneously delivered what would become the script for the company’s first commercial, the same pitch they’d deliver to the sharks three years later.
“Have you ever asked a man for a hair tie?
You know why?
‘Cause it wasn’t cool.
Now you can get hair ties for guys.
And guess what?
Now it is cool.”
Lindsay and Chris brainstormed how to insert “cool” into men’s hair care. They envisioned hair ties that were stronger than traditional ties, designed with surfboards and sharks. They also envisioned a catchy name, which oddly enough, would originate with a client. When referring to Chris and Lindsay, one client wouldn’t always use their names.
Sometimes he’d say, “Yeah, tell those longhairs over there to come over here,” Lindsays recounts, smiling. The nickname struck a chord: “Dude, The Longhairs, yes,” Lindsay recalls. “That’s it!”
The name was memorable, reminiscent of a rock band or kick-ass fraternal society, and spot-on accurate. They needed more than a memorable name and one flagship product to build a robust company, though. “We asked ourselves,” Lindsay explains, “okay, what is this really about? What’s the deeper meaning?” In other words, why would guys with long hair gravitate toward a men’s grooming brand?
They made a list, which revealed that men with long hair knew neither how to shampoo, comb and brush their hair, nor the importance of conditioner and clipping split ends. The list revealed a need for their hair ties and a suite of other products; it also identified untapped opportunities to educate this niche market. Subsequent research indicated that the market was wide-open for a lifestyle grooming brand tailored to men with long hair.
The Resolve to Build a Global Fraternity
The pair tested the concept for a year. They produced weekly blog content geared toward long-haired men and built a following of thousands of longhairs—the first members of their “global fraternity for men with long hair.” This collaborative process mirrored their Sigma Nu days.
First they had to figure out whom to invite (longhairs and men considering growing their hair). Then they created the type of content that would attract them. Finally they had to deliver quality products and experiences that exemplified their values and mission. Chris says his work at headquarters uniquely prepared him to build The Longhairs: “Recruiting a fresh, new group of men, working with the alumni, training them on how to do fraternity… It was basically like starting a small business from scratch, with 18 year-olds.”
Transitioning from working with 18- to 21-year-old undergrads to the company’s 24- to 35-year-old target demographic was simple; the pair simply utilized the recruitment and business skills they had learned and implemented through Sigma Nu and Round Two.
So, when The Longhairs launched their first products in 2015, they sold on day one. Those initial sales proved they had built a vibrant community with a profitable business model. “We had several [sales], from all over the country, and then ones from different countries started coming in, and it was really amazing,” Lindsay recalls.
Today the company sells headwraps, hair serums, and apparel in addition to the nearly two dozen collections of hair ties. Their signature hair ties outperform competitors’ products in style, endurance and strength. No other hair ties have been weight tested to hold up to 80 pounds and feature shotgun shells and skull designs.
To date, there are tens of thousands of Longhairs around the globe, with customers in all 50 states and more than 75 countries. Additionally, more than 50 thousand unique users visit their website monthly.
The Resolve to Give
In true Sigma Nu form, the business has a charitable component, an outreach program called Longhairs Do Care. Proceeds benefit Children With Hair Loss, a non-profit that provides hair wigs to children who have suffered hair loss. “We donate one dollar from every sale to that organization,” Chris says.
Since 2015, Longhairs Do Care has given $15k to charity. On March 16, 2019, The Longhairs will embark on their biggest challenge yet—to break the Guinness World Record for the largest hair donation in history. The current record of 181 pounds was set in 2015 in the Philippines. The Great Cut will bring 2,000 men, women, and children to sunny San Diego, California, to donate hair to Children With Hair Loss.
The all-day, family-friendly event will feature music, face painting, karate demonstrations and entertainment. A representative from Guinness World Records will be on site, alongside a slew of entertainers, athletes, and 300 volunteer hair professionals tasked with chopping the locks onsite. “We’re planning the biggest party of our lives,” Chris says.
He’s right—a party with 2,000 guests, 300 volunteers and a host of VIPs is a lot to bite off.
But that’s exactly what sharks-in-training do.