The irreverent start of toilet paper that was cleaned up during the pandemic lockdown
This is a slice of First year of start-up, a special series of interviews with start-up founders on the main lessons they learned in the aftermath of their first year of running their business.
Who gives a shit was founded by Simon Griffiths, Danny Alexander and Jehan Ratnatunga when they learned how many people live without access to a toilet. Currently, this figure hovers around 2 billion. The startup says it donates half of its profits from the sale of everyday products (like toilet paper) to do good globally.
More recently, the company announced a carbon neutral shipping program in which the direct-to-consumer toilet tissue brand will purchase carbon offsets through Pachama—Who supports emission reductions through forestry projects – at no additional cost to their customers.
Fortune recently spoke with co-founder and CEO Simon Griffiths about how the first few months are going and what the company plans to do next.
The following interview has been condensed and slightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: What inspired the launch of Who Gives a Crap – as well as the irreverent name? Why would consumers look to this brand instead of a brand they may know on the store shelves?
Griffiths: In 2012, I learned that 2.4 billion people do not have access to a toilet and that number is not improving very quickly. I spent some time thinking about how huge this statistic was, and then one day I walked into the bathroom and had a quarter-second revelation: I might sell toilet paper, donate half of the profits to help fund organizations that build toilets, and call it Who Gives A Crap.
Besides our name – and our love of puns – I think people are looking for our product because they care about our mission and want to be a part of it. Not having a toilet is not only annoying, it is also very dangerous. To put it in perspective, 297,000 die each year from illnesses caused by inadequate sanitation. That’s why we donate 50% of our profits to our charitable partners working in water, sanitation and hygiene. We have donated $ 5.8 million to date. We have certainly come a long way since our first donation of $ 2,200 in 2013.
We are also committed to sustainability, which is very important to us. All of our products are plastic free and made from recycled materials or fast growing bamboo, and we have just launched a carbon neutral global shipping.
Along with hand sanitizer and face masks, toilet paper could be described as one of the most coveted items of 2020, especially in the early days of the pandemic shutdown. How was business in the spring? How has it evolved since?
It was definitely a good time to be in the bathroom tissue business. In early March, we saw our daily sales double, then quadruple, then twelve times. It looked like we were going to do a 30x to 40x sales day next, so we decided to mark our store as sold out so we could make sure we had enough products for our followers. At the peak of panic buying, we were selling 28 rolls of toilet paper per second, and our waiting list grew to over half a million people.
Since then, as a product category, sales of toilet paper have been a bit slower because people stocked up earlier in the year. However, we are seeing that our direct-to-consumer sales channel remains high as more and more people are shopping online. We are happy to be fully stocked and ready to ship to any new customers who have recently discovered us, as well as our subscribers who are ready to refuel.
That said, how has it been to secure funding for your startup? Is it mostly self-funded, funded by venture capital, or a mix of both?
We are totally self-funded, starting with a crowdfunding campaign in 2012. We realized that toilet paper was not the most exciting product for crowdfunding, so to get people’s attention I accepted. to sit on the toilet in a [drafty] warehouse until we have pre-sold the first $ 50,000 of product. Since then, we have started the business using debt to help us manage our working capital and annual donations. We paid off all of our debt about 18 months ago and are now able to grow the business with the sales we make.
If I think back to all that we’ve accomplished in bootstrap, it’s pretty amazing. We now have operations in Australia, Europe, UK, Sweden and USA, with more expansion underway.
After the pandemic and in five years, where do you see this company in the market?
Two of our main goals are to increase our donations and try to exert a positive influence on other businesses.
To increase our donations, we need to find more people who will be happy to use our products, or we need to create new products that our existing customers can fall in love with. So when I look forward to five years, I would love to see us be a household name in the world, selling to even more countries with a wider product line.
In terms of influencing other companies, I think the company is currently at a tipping point of a great ethical business movement, similar to sustainability 10 years ago. People are looking for products that more than look good and provide a pleasant customer experience; they are looking for companies that do good. Companies with ethics and values that match theirs. Companies with a soul. It makes me incredibly excited to be an “ethical company” playing a part in this movement, and even more excited to think about what the business world will look like in five years. If the world’s biggest companies embrace the same values and passion for giving back that we have at Who Gives a Crap, the world will be a very different place.
More to read absolutely lifestyle blanket of Fortune:
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- Should you renew your travel credit card for 2021?
- How to use your loyalty miles this year even if you don’t buy plane tickets
- A playlist for the 2020 presidential election, from the New York Public Library
- What does it look like open a new restaurant during a pandemic