If you love seriously good advice, toilet puns, and purpose-driven business, this is the feature for you!
Engineer, serial entrepreneur and a darling of the purpose-driven business movement, Simon launched Who Gives A Crap in 2012 to help build toilets for those in need by selling forest-friendly toilet paper.
How was Who Gives A Crap founded?
Who Gives A Crap all began when my two co-founders and I learnt that 2.3 billion people across the world don't have access to a toilet. That's roughly 40% of the global population and means that diarrhoea related diseases fill over half of sub-Saharan African hospital beds and kill 900 children under 5 every day.
We thought that was pretty crap. So we decided to start a forest-friendly toilet paper company and donate 50% of our profits to high impact organisations that help to improve access to basic sanitation, hygiene and clean water in the developing world.
We launched in July 2012 with a crowdfunding campaign. I sat on a toilet in our draughty warehouse and refused to get up until we had raised enough pre-orders to start production. 50 hours and one cold butt later, we'd raised over $50,000 (see the video here). We delivered our first product in March 2013 and have been growing rapidly ever since.
So how does Who Gives A Crap's model work?
We sell our products online directly to consumers and deliver thousands of boxes every week. Selling almost entirely online means that we can tailor our product specifically for ecommerce and do things we’d never be able to do in a retail environment. For example, we can wrap every roll beautifully and individually (and work with really great artists and designers on limited edition wrappers!), offer a subscription service so that our customers never have to worry about running out of toilet paper again and deliver product directly to our customers’ doors at less than half the price of some of Australia’s biggest retail brands. All this while still making a product that does good with every purchase.
What’s surprised you most about the business?
Our customers. They constantly blow us away with their belief in what we’re doing. Just last week we heard a story from one of our customers in regional NSW. Her mum is a pensioner and she and her friends (most of whom are also pensioners) want to support us, but their budgets wouldn’t stretch to ordering one of our big boxes all in one go. So she orders her box and then takes it down to the carpark of the local pub where all of her friends meet her to buy rolls out of the boot of her car. Not only do they love the excuse to meet up, but passers-by often get curious and can be convinced to buy a roll and try it for themselves! Stories like this are something that we didn't expect when we started out.
What’s the secret to making products that do the world some good?
We have enormous power with every dollar we spend, but doing the right thing is often harder than it should be. My advice is to make products or build services that solve a problem and bake some social good right into the heart of them. You know you've cracked it when using your product is just as, or more, convenient as a competitor's.
What are you focusing on and why?
We are incredibly excited to have just announced that we’ve donated a total of $1,175,000 in 4 years of operations! We think that’s pretty good considering all that all we do is ask people to sit down for something they believe in.
To celebrate this huge milestone, every order shipped for the next 4 weeks will include our very own “Best Little Bathroom Book Ever” - a combination of jokes, short fiction, some surprises and, of course, our impact stories. Expect to see it in a bathroom near you!
What have you mastered that you used to struggle with?
One of the biggest initial challenges we faced was the logistics of selling a high volume, bulky and very price sensitive product online. Unlike many ecommerce start-ups we couldn’t start small and ship out of a garage. The minimum order quantity was about 50,000 rolls, which is more than enough to fill all of our apartments several times over! Even once we’d found a third party warehouse to work with we were struggling with the costs of shipping such a bulky, low-value product across a country as vast and sparsely populated as Australia. To manage costs we had to quickly scale up our physical distribution set-up and we now operate out of 7 warehouses nationally - one in every state capital and one in the ACT too.
What’s the business advice you wish you’d received when you started Who Gives A Crap?
The best business advice would have been to never underestimate the importance of focus. This means understanding that being focused often means saying no. In the early days, we pretty much said yes to everything because we were so desperate not to miss an opportunity. In hindsight, this meant we ended up spending a lot of time on high involvement, low return activities that were a distraction from what we were really good at. We’ve gotten a lot better at saying no since then!
What tools, resources, or services do you recommend? Are there any that you really love?
- Slack - the lifeblood of our team’s communication
- Xero - I wouldn’t recommend anything else for accounting
- Shopify - it has its limitations but is a great platform for building an online store quickly and has an amazing ecosystem of third party apps to help solve any number of issues. (We’re hoping to see a Sendle app in the not-too-distant future!)
- Sendle - we love working with a fellow start-up and they’re easily the most values-aligned logistics partner we have
Your three takeaways from today:
- Prioritise your focus, and get comfortable with saying ‘No, thank you’.
- Understand and celebrate your ‘why’ with your customers.
- If you’re considering building a product or service with some social good: bake that good right into the core of your offering.