When John O’Keeffe ’01 managed marketing at Philips Sonicare, the product became the number one power toothbrush brand in the country. Later, as director of marketing at Zarbee’s Naturals, he oversaw an increase in annual sales from $10 million to more than $100 million over five years.
Now O’Keeffe has turned his talents to his own company. He is a co-founder and chief marketing officer of Champ, a new online retailer of men’s sexual wellness products, namely condoms and lubricants. The concept behind Champ is to make high-quality products available to consumers without the potential embarrassment of buying them in a store. “I saw the opportunity to treat men sex health more like other drugstore staples, but with a better delivery mechanism,” O’Keeffe said.
Read about other alumni who are making an impact in their professions and communities throughout the world.
The name of the brand, as the website recounts, is inspired by a bygone brand called Champ Prophylactics, which: “debuted on shelves in the 1950s and made a statement in a taboo category. They used the likeness of professional athletes (believed by many to resemble Ted Williams and Jack Dempsey) to pull eyes towards their packaging when other brands were hiding.*”
The asterisk note explains that condom ads were illegal until 1977 when the Supreme Court overturned the law that prohibited them.
O’Keeffe became interested in what would become Champ through a friend, Allen Yau, whom he’d met while they were both students in the MBA program at Columbia University. Yau and his associate Nico Barnes were looking for consumer categories that seemed past due for disruption, and Yau asked O’Keeffe for his view on whether men’s sexual health products fit that category. The idea sounded great to O’Keeffe.
“I think that established brands are pretty cheesy and don't necessarily speak in an intelligent manner to the consumer. And I think that in this day and age, it's definitely past due to elevate how a brand talks to and treats their consumers within that category,” he said.
When Yau and Barnes asked him to be the third co-founder, he was in. The timing was right. He’d had an equity stake in Zarbee’s, which sold to Johnson & Johnson, so he was well positioned to become part of the new company. It fit his career progression. After going to business school for his MBA in his late 20s, O’Keeffe moved steadily toward more entrepreneurial and riskier enterprises. And if Champ is both those things, it’s also been a lot of fun.
“The most fun thing has really been having full creative license and creating something from scratch,” O’Keeffe said.