This is a rate of Starting year one, a special series of interviews with startup founders about key lessons they learned immediately after their first year of operation.
Who gives a crap was founded by Simon Griffiths, Danny Alexander and Jehan Ratnatunga when they learned how many people live without access to a toilet. Right now that number is a staggering 2 billion. The startup claims to donate half of its profits from the sale of everyday products (such as toilet paper) to do good worldwide.
Most recently, the company announced a climate-neutral shipping program in which the brand for toilet paper, which goes directly to consumers, purchases carbon offset payments Pachama– which supports the emission reduction through forest projects – without additional costs for its customers.
capital recently spoke to Co-Founder and CEO Simon Griffiths about how the first few months have gone and what the company is up to next.
For the sake of clarity, the following interview has been condensed and edited slightly.
capital:: What inspired the launch of Who Gives a Crap – as well as the disrespectful name? Why should consumers turn to this brand instead of one they are familiar with on store shelves?
Griffiths: In 2012, I learned that 2.4 billion people had no access to a toilet and that number wasn't improving very quickly. I spent some time thinking about how overwhelming this statistic was, then one day I went to the bathroom and had a quarter-second revelation: I could sell toilet paper, donate half of the profit to help organizations build toilets, and call it who gives a crap.
Besides our name – and our love of puns – I think people reach for our product because they are interested in our mission and want to be a part of it. Not having a toilet is not only inconvenient but also very dangerous. 297,000 die each year from diseases caused by improper hygiene. That's why we donate 50% of our profits to our charity partners who work in the areas of water, sanitation and hygiene. So far we have given $ 5.8 million. We've definitely come a long way since our first donation of $ 2,200 in 2013.
We are also committed to sustainability – something we know our customers care about. All of our products are plastic-free and made from recycled materials or fast-growing bamboo. We have just started global CO2-neutral shipping.
Toilet paper, along with hand sanitizer and face masks, can be named one of the most sought after items of 2020, especially in the earliest days after the pandemic shuts down. How was business in the spring? How has it continued since then?
It was definitely quite a time to be in the toilet paper business. At the beginning of March, we doubled our daily sales, then quadrupled and then twelve-fold. It looked like we were going to do a 30-40x sales day next. That is why we decided to mark our store as sold out to make sure we have enough products for our subscribers. At the height 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, the sale of toilet paper as a product category has been a bit slower as people stocked up earlier in the year. However, we see that our direct sales channel remains high as more people shop online. We're excited to be fully stocked and ready to ship to any new customers who recently discovered us, as well as to our subscribers who are ready to stock up again.
But what was it like to secure funding for your startup? Is it primarily self-funded, VC-backed, or a mix of both?
We are fully self-funded starting with a crowdfunding campaign in 2012. We have found that toilet paper is not the most exciting product to be crowdfunded. To get people's attention, I agreed to sit up to a toilet in a (draughty) warehouse and we had already sold the first $ 50,000 of the product. Since then, we've brought the business to its knees and used debt to manage our working capital and annual donations. We paid off all of our debts about 18 months ago and can now grow the business from the sales we make.
When I think back to everything we've achieved through bootstrapping, it's pretty incredible. We now have offices in Australia, Europe, the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States and the factories are still expanding.
After the pandemic and five years later, where do you see this company in the market?
Two of our main goals are to increase our donations and try to have a positive impact on other businesses.
To increase our donations we need to find more people who are excited to use our products, or we need to develop new products that our existing customers can fall in love with. So if I look forward to five years, I would like to see that we are well known around the world and that we sell in even more countries with a wider range of products.
In terms of influencing other businesses, I think society is currently at a turning point in a major corporate ethical movement, much like it was with sustainability 10 years ago. People are looking for products that do more than just look good and offer a pleasant customer experience. They are looking for companies that do good. Companies with ethics and values that are in line with their own. Company with a soul. That makes me incredibly excited to be an "ethical company" to be involved in this movement, and even more excited to think about what the business world will be like five years from now. When the world's largest companies adopt the same values and passion that we have at Who Gives a Crap, the world will be a very different place.
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