Charles IV

Charles IV

For men, getting a haircut is the single most important activity of the month.  A solid haircut can set the tone for the next few weeks.  On the contrary, a poor haircut isn’t so bad, it’s not like it’s a downer, it just means no temporary ego boost.

Up until 2012, I got my haircuts at just a few places.  The Haircuttery types, then at school I went to the Watergate Barbershop.  When the stress of work started picking up and I was working 6-7 days a week, I could not find the time to go to my usual place.  I decided I needed to find something closer to work.

Tim suggested, I go try out his stylist at Salon Balyage — $45 haircut.

My first haircut there was insane, I felt like I was being serviced by a prostitute / hair stylist all in one.  In her broken accent, she would tell me about all the customers that bought her tickets to the “sky bok” and those that would fly her out on vacations.  I could not believe people actually go to these things.  I’d leave with an excellent haircut, but I’d be far more tense than when I stepped in.  The salon workers really don’t shut up.  Still it took me 6 haircuts and $270 + tip before I decided to part ways.  The good haircut simply wasn’t worth the agony.

I was quickly over salons, and decided to return to the barber shop.  Yelp gave me a few results, each with varying success.  At one place, one person buzzed my hair, then told me “the person with the magic scissors” will now do the cutting.  That tag-team haircut was both a first and a last for me.

Then I tried Walls Barbershop near the White House — they had an interesting setup — 5 flat screen TVs that would play Khia music videos on repeat.  Watching my barber’s 5-6 year old daughter dance to “My neck, my back…” may have been tolerable, if he didn’t treat my scalp like a salad at Chopped.

My mom — the biggest hair critic of them all looks at me with eyes of shame.  “What is this Kunal?” as she grasps a 6″ segment of hair next to one that is 2″ — frankly she was right.  I started my search again.

I don’t know what the Yelp gods did differently this time.  I searched for “Best Men’s Barber Farragut North” — a search that failed me twice before.  This time, a result caught my eye.  “I’ve been to Bathsheba for 16-17 years — a quality cut at a quality barber shop.”

I call up Charles Barbershop at 1800 K st and ask for an appointment with Bathsheba.  As I walked in, I recognized there was something different about this place.  Two very old men, one drinking a beer (this was 9:10 AM), and a woman.  Soft Christmas music playing.  No one one was talking about sports or politics — the discussion was focused on a water main breaking 3 blocks away and anecdotes from the barber’s or the customer’s lives.

It’s now 9:30 and it’s my turn.  “Bathsheba, I hear you are the best.”  She smiles and sits me down.  She asked how I wanted my hair cut, I mumbled, “I usually get buzzed a 4 — keep it simple.”  She said ok

A few minutes later she said, I want to let you know I cut hair how I please.  If you say 4, but I want to do 3, I do 3.  I said “sure, I read that about you, that is why I am here.”

“I also read that you like cutting men’s hair because men don’t cry about their hair”

With that comment, she opened up about her life story.  Behind me was a picture her daughter had taken of herself getting a haircut on the streets of India.  She said, “look, he has no teeth, they are in the middle of the street, but he is intently focused on cutting hair — this to me is art; this to me is passion.”

Bathsheba was of Bolivian descent and started cutting hair around the age of 17.  She’s now been cutting hair in the U.S. for over 40 years.  Her ex-husband is greek, he moved to America after he was 30, and she claims he could not tolerate it here.  She moved at a younger age and felt like she adapted well.  Her daughter married a Polish guy and they work at the UN.  She is visiting for the holidays and they are going to watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Netflix (my suggestion).  The fact that I know all of this sitting through a haircut amazes me.  I cannot stand small talk, I really believe everyone has a story worth hearing; especially older people.

Bathsheba tells me the story of Charles Barbershop.  The location I was getting a haircut at was open for about 20 years, which she has worked at for nearly the whole time.  Charles however started his barbershop in DC over 100 years ago.  When Charles died, he left the shop to his brother who kept the name.  When his time came up, he left it to his son, George.  George was standing next to me, nearly 80 years old now enjoying his beer.

“3 years ago, George sold this barbershop to me on the condition that I keep the name.  So I want to let you know that I am the fourth Charles, and this is my shop, Charles Barbershop,” said Bathsheba.

I was floored.  To see that kind of loyalty run through a business for so many years is so humbling.  I have no idea what anyone’s financial position is in that shop.  From what I saw though, I could tell these are people who value old times and tradition over financial gain.  If there was a desire for profit, I did not see it.  The desire was to preserve heritage.

Bathsheba is the first in the lineage outside of the bloodline, her daughter and son have no desire to learn the business.  How proud she was to say she is the fourth Charles; and how hard did she work for that honor.

As I enter 2014, I make the pivotal choice — do we do this on our own, slow and steady over the next few years — or do we get funded and get aggressive.  I’m all but convinced we need outside funding, but this stint at the barbershop makes me question what will happen with the loyalties already built up.

Ruslan – Lead developer in Russia stays on call 20 hours a day voluntarily to make sure issues are tackled quickly.

Tim H – Lead salesman might lose a sale, then show up at 7 AM for the next several weeks to make up for it — voluntarily

Zack – My go to guy – never hesitates to pick up a shift when he knows I’m struggling.  To date he has turned down several lucrative job offers that pay him double what we do, most recently from Google.

These are the players who joined us when there was nothing to join.  I know once we start taking money from investors / bond holders, the value of that loyalty to them is $0.  Tim and I will have to make the choice about what that loyalty is worth from our own pockets.

The real challenge with success is to preserve identity.  I wish I could say I know now that I will preserve the old time values like I observed at Charles Barbershop.

I guess I’m hoping these entries I make now, keep me honest to the test of time.


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