Monday, February 10, 2020

Jeff Laub (CAS ’06), Co-Founder of Blind Barber, Shares How His Quarter-life Crisis Helped Inspire his Expanding Business

Jeff Laub

Jeff Laub is passionate about creating experiences and building communities. He opened Blind Barber in 2010 as an East Village neighborhood barbershop with a hidden speakeasy bar. In the past ten years his business has grown to 7 locations across the country in NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami Beach and Philadelphia and includes a line of signature grooming products. We sat down with him to find out what drives him and what advice he’d like to share with NYU students.


What did you study at NYU?

I was a History major. I thought I was going to be a lawyer, so History seemed like the appropriate subject matter. Prior to social media, creative endeavors and options other than becoming a doctor or a lawyer weren’t as prevalent. Pursuing a career in law was something I thought I should do, even though I didn’t have a real passion for it. 


How did your education at NYU shape what you do now?

NYU was transformative for me and pushed me to be the person I am now. The city itself, the energy and the diversity at NYU were the most impactful for me in shaping who I am now. The community that was fostered within NYU was exceptional. It felt like everyone was there with the intention to meet new people and to really open their minds. The university encouraged us to explore our passions together. It was refreshing to be in an environment that encouraged that type of collaboration and community. Now my entire business is based off of building community.

Jeff Laub: his story continues

I had several really great professors, including Walter Johnson, who was a History professor at NYU until 2006 when he began teaching at Harvard. I was surrounded by brilliant people who got me to think differently. I’d only applied to NYU and one other school, because I only ever wanted to go to NYU.

Jeff Laub at the Blind Barber
Jeff Laub at the Blind Barber

Do you have a favorite memory of your time at NYU?

My sophomore year I lived at Third North with my best friends. One day we had an epic snowball fight in the courtyard. Each tower solidified a defense. Poor passersby got roped into it because they were getting pelted with snowballs. Then we all celebrated with a party. All of my best friends, to this day, are people I met at NYU and they have all gone on to do incredible things.


How did you come up the idea for the Blind Barber?

It was through a slew of odd jobs and failures. My mom was the manager of a salon in South Jersey, so I’d always worked at salons part-time. When I got to NYU, I worked at Ted Gibson answering the phones. It was a great way to meet people in the city.

After I graduated from NYU one of my best friends got me a job at Cravath, Swaine & Moore as a legal assistant. I realized very quickly that I hated everything about law practice and it wasn’t for me. That pushed me to explore new avenues because I hit this quarter-life crisis. I’d invested all this time and money into what I thought I should be doing and it didn’t work out.

I had a good relationship with some high end salons from my previous work, so I went to cosmetology school to learn how to cut hair. I quit when I realized it wasn’t for me, then I had another moment of reckoning. I asked myself what I really wanted to do and what was drawing me back to a salon environment. Through a conversation with my grandfather, he shared that his barbershop was one of his favorite places to go. He’d drink a beer, get his hair cut and talk to the guys. It helped me realize that I wanted to create that kind of environment for my friends – the community and the great feeling of getting a haircut and feeling like yourself again.

I had a few friends help me look into the logistics and the legalities of opening up a barber shop and a bar, because it didn’t really exist at that time. I wrote up a business plan and found my partner and co-founder, Josh Boyd (who I met through an NYU acquaintance). Josh had a bar in the East Village he was looking to sell and, instead of selling it, we partnered and turned it into Blind Barber.

Blind Barber in the East Village
Blind Barber in the East Village

It has the feel of a speakeasy. Was that part of your original plan?

It was inspired by speakeasies which were all the rage in New York at the time. I thought it would be cool to have a functioning, top-tier barbershop in front, which I knew I could put together from my experience. Josh and our third partner and co-founder, Adam Kirsch, had experience working in bars and knew how to manage that piece.

At the end of the day Blind Barber is a place where people can come and be themselves, listen to good music and exhale for a little bit. In my opinion, people love the bars that they discover themselves, then they want to share that experience with their friends. Having a hidden bar behind our barbershop makes that discovery so much more impactful.

Blind Barber in the East Village
Blind Barber in the East Village

What does the name mean?

According to Wikipedia speakeasies were also known as “blind pigs” or “blind tigers.” The alliteration with Blind Barber just was too perfect.


When did you know that the business could be expanded to different cities?

Right when we opened. Who doesn’t need a good haircut, a beer, and some good people to talk to? I’ve built a business that I love and is a part of my life and I use it for different currencies - like making friends, traveling, and exploring creative endeavors. I saw expanding Blind Barber as an opportunity for me to discover myself and to meet more exciting people. In my opinion it is more of a canvas than a business.

We research the neighborhoods we open in, but what really drives us is the excitement of the people who we will meet and get to work with in new locations. I consider my business partners my brothers, and we’re still a family business. Our business is all about people.

Blind Barber Products
Blind Barber Products

How do you maintain the feel of a neighborhood barbershop as you are expanding?

We have a product line that is sold globally, and in Target stores, and in Blind Barber shops. We also do all the amenities for the Arlo Hotel group. I act as our Chief Marketing Officer, but I also stay hands-on and connected to all of our locations. We hire people who understand that this is a place for them to build community, to make it welcoming, and to create a space where everyone who walks in can be themselves. That is how it remains a neighborhood barbershop. You get to know the people and they have real stories and real interests that they share with you in those chairs and behind the bar.


What advice do you have for current NYU students?

Know that you’re never going to stop changing or finding new interests and discovering things about yourself. Yes, going to college is a path towards a profession or a life, but you don’t have to know exactly what you’re going to do after you graduate. The biggest piece of advice I wish that I’d been given is to learn how to learn, to make some really impactful relationships, and create moments, rather than worry about how much money you might make. Chase your passions first and don’t worry if your mind changes.

People want to work with people who are invested and, in order to be invested, you have to go through a constant discovery process with yourself. You have to be honest with yourself about the things you love. After opening this business I’ve seen the real currencies that have come my way – marrying my wife, traveling the world, working with my best friends over the past ten years, and having the flexibility to explore my passions.


Follow Blind Barber on Twitter: @BlindBarber

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