01 Mar Giving a Crap
The Master Plumbers have published Matt’s article titled “Giving a Crap” in Australia’s leading plumbing magazine “Australian Plumbing”. Lessons from legends is approximately a 3-minute read on improving yourself and getting better in business. To read the full article navigate to the magazine via this direct link Giving a Crap. Or, read below. Enjoy…
Australian Plumbing Industry magazine’s roving reporter Matt Reynolds recently sat down with ‘Who Gives a Crap’ Co-founder Simon Griffiths to discuss how he built an empire on toilet rolls. Five years ago, Simon sat on a toilet for 50 straight hours as a publicity stunt to raise awareness for their crowd funding campaign. The plan was to start a toilet paper company and it worked, far better than they ever thought possible! They raised $50,000 and the company that donates 50% of its profits to help solve sanitation problems in immerging countries was off the ground. It’s an incredible story…
Matt Reynolds: I recently got given a roll of your toilet paper for Christmas, which surprised me a little but it really worked, is that common a thing?
Simon Griffiths: Yes! (laughing) Toilet paper sales are generally quite flat, there is no seasonality at all, except in our business. We do a roaring trade at Christmas, people do love gifting it. We have a Christmas range we release every November for the holiday season.
MR: Tell us about Who Gives A Crap and what you do?
SG: We are a forest friendly toilet paper, tissue and paper towel business, we are predominantly online and sell directly to our customers. We use 50% of our profits to help build toilets in various parts of the developing world. You can purchase single orders, or, you can get a subscription service where we predict when you will run out and ship to you, so you never run out or have to worry about buying toilet paper again.
MR: And that’s not guess work is it, you actually work each shipment out individually based on order history?
SG: That’s right. We start with set frequency based on your household size and then, with the customers help we tweak that and normally over the first 2-3 orders we get a really good order history. We can then figure out when you will run out of toilet paper before you do and get a box shipped to you before that happens.
MR: How did this company get underway?
SG: We started with a crowd funding campaign as we thought we had a product people would enjoy. Although we needed capital to get started, but we realised we had probably the most boring product that had ever been crowd funded. It wasn’t just making the first batch of product, it was also about finding people to take it all too because $50,000 of toilet paper takes up quite a bit of room. We had no following and no media to leverage to get going. So, I got roped into sitting on a toilet on a live web feed until we sold the first batch.
MR: Which took 50 hours right?
SG: 50 horrible, never ever to be repeated hours. Basically, it was a huge success, we got national print and television coverage in Australia, huge print coverage all over the United States, we were strangely also very popular in Brazil and Greece. We managed to generate about $1,000,000 of equivalent PR value and 2,500,000 social media hit from that campaign.
MR: I assumed you would have hoped, but did you really think it would go that well?
SG: No, we thought it was crazy to try and get people to buy toilet paper on-line when 99.9% of toilet paper was bought in supermarkets. We knew it was going to be really challenging to make it work. We did our first production run about eight months later and fulfilled all our orders, it was basically a one-man team at that point. We didn’t do any marketing, but we started to see our sales build, basically doubling every day. We thought we had 3 months stock and sold out in 5 days. Those orders basically came from our initial customers posting photos on social media and telling their friends about what we did. We now have 30+ employees and have donated $1.175m.
MR: Where does this passion for social entrepreneurship come from?
SG: For me, I get frustrated when I can see there’s a better way to do things. It’s not about the money piece, it’s about the impact piece and that’s part of the reason I get up every morning. We understand that we are not going to solve the sanitation problem by ourselves, let alone all the other problems that are out there. The way that we think about the whole situation is that we need to show that it possible to run a successful business which gives a return for the owners and creates social impact at the same time, which is why we donate 50% of our profits and ultimately build more toilets. If we can demonstrate that, we’ll help attract more entrepreneurs and investors into this space and see more business following this model, that’s how we will get the most impact.
MR: Why focus on sanitation?
SG: We have seen some horrible situations first hand and at the time we started this business it was the most off-track of the millennium development goals, partly because can be seen as gross and it’s not often the choice dinner table conversation. We thought with toilet paper we could raise that awareness and do it in a fun way.
MR: Are we seeing improvement?
SG: We definitely are, but there is a long way to go. Our goal as a company is for everyone to have access to a toilet globally by 2050. At current rates we are looking at about 2080, so we really want to see our current pace accelerate and make sure we are still alive to see that happen.
MR: How do you measure your impact, does it go beyond just the dollars donated?
SG: There are three pillars. There is raising the money, how we deploy it and then is how we tell that story to our customers to keep them interested in the cause. The way we go about that at the moment is that we provide unrestricted funding because if you think about it, if you donate the money with restrictions on how it is to be spent, you may actually be slowing the process because there may be a better use for the funds or something that is necessary. So, because we are not tied to one specific project we cannot tie the outcome specifically, like to the construction of a particular block of toilets at a school for example. We can draw comparisons with restricted funding causes who can do that and measure our impact that way, we believe that is the best way to go.
MR: You are an inspiring man Simon and it’s a great cause, thank you for taking the time.
SG: Thank you, it’s been great to chat.
Three full audio interview can be found at xrm.com.au/podcast
Matt Reynolds is an award winning plumber who writes about the game as an industry insider. He hosts the Trench Talk podcast which is available on iTunes and most podcast platforms. You can connect with him on Twitter @MrMattReynolds , Instagram @MrMattReynolds, or find him as the Director of XRM Plumbing Services on LinkedIn.