Who Gives A Crap - A conversation about how toilet paper can change the world
Toilet paper isn’t usually part of our everyday conversations, I know. If you live in Australia or The States though you’ve probably heard of Who Gives A Crap before (and keep an eye out for it over the next few weeks if you’re in the UK too!). I came across this cool toilet paper brand when I first moved over to Melbourne, like I’ve come across so many amazing brands doing good since living here.
Who Gives A Crap gives 50% of their profits to charity to build toilets and fund sanitation projects for those who really need it. Did you know that (according to Who Gives A Crap) 2.3 billion people (roughly 40% of the world’s population) don’t have access to a toilet?
Another great point for supporting Who Gives A Crap is this (taken directly from their website, because it’s phrased perfectly): “Closer to home, we’ve also been amazed that toilet paper is still, largely, made with freshly-cut trees. We’re cutting down trees, wiping our bums and flushing them down the toilet, consuming loads of energy and water along the way. At Who Gives A Crap we only use forest friendly materials in all of our products, meaning we’ve already saved thousands of trees and thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. After all, trees should be for hugging, not wiping!”
Now on to the interview - I talked to Who Gives A Crap’s co-founder Danny about business models that create positive change, overcoming obstacles, and becoming an entrepreneur.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. What’s your story?
I’m an industrial designer by training, but I’ve always been an entrepreneur. My first ‘job’ was selling fake Rolex watches at school when I was 12—I’d sneak into New York to buy them, and bring them back to my friends! I’ve come a long way, but my passion lies in the intersection of design, passion, and social impact. Hence Who Gives A Crap!
How did you and your two co-founders meet? What were some of the first few practical steps involved in growing the company?
We met at the Unreasonable Institute, a bootcamp of sorts for social entrepreneurs in the States. I was there teaching design thinking, and Simon and Jehan were there workshopping their idea for Who Gives A Crap. I loved the idea, and so we joined forces before we launched. It’s been a wild ride ever since! The first step for us was to raise enough money to actually produce the product. We ran a hilarious crowd-funding campaign, and it was a huge success for us!
Have you always been set up as a for-profit business that creates positive impact? What do you think are the benefits of this over a non-profit model?
Yeah, we’ve worked with non-profits a lot, but we feel confident that our model of donating 50% of profits has the benefits of both a for-profit and a non-profit model. We’re able to donate substantial amounts of money (we’ve donated almost half a million dollars to date), while also being able to invest in our own growth. If we were a non-profit, we’d be continuously looking for donations to help us grow, whereas we aren’t reliant on anybody but our customers to achieve this.
You’re not only creating social change by helping create proper sanitation facilities for people in need, but you’ve also got a positive environmental impact by using forest friendly materials.
It seems that a lot of people and aid organisations commonly view problems in the world as separate issues. I believe they’re all connected and can only really be dealt with (in the long-term) by focusing on the core issue that connects them all. What’s your point of view on this?
They’re certainly all connected, but I don’t know that addressing them together is the only way to make a difference. We believe we can make an environmentally superior product, and we know we can make a difference on sanitation access, but we know not everyone is able to work on everything at the same time. We respect all people and organizations working to make a positive impact, even if they’re not solving everything all at once! We have to start somewhere...
How do you make sure you keep growing? And how do you innovate while staying in line with your values?
We keep growing because it’s what drives us - as a team we’re all obsessed with growth! A big part of that comes from the knowledge that every box of toilet paper we sell is making a difference - it’s a huge motivator for us, and I think the reason why most of our team joined us in the first place! We’re also really lucky because our supporters are just as excited and passionate about our growth as we are. They spread the word with us, and we wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for them!
As for innovating while staying in line with our values, I think this is one of the benefits of our model - the more we grow and the better we do, the more impact we have. And, similar to the growth motivation, we keep testing new things because we love it! I’m a designer by background, so I love making new things, and always improving the customer experience - it’s in my (and our) DNA!
What are some obstacles you’ve overcome so far, and how? What are still some of the biggest problems you’re facing as a social enterprise?
The biggest obstacles are a bit boring, honestly (setting up distribution in Australia for big heavy boxes is challenging!), but one of the more interesting challenges we’re facing now is maintaining our authenticity as we grow. We want to start investing in more advertising, but we also want our customers to know that it’s still us. It’s hard to stay small at heart while getting bigger as a company. I don’t know how we’ll do it, but I think it’ll come down to recruiting the right people who really represent our values to the fullest.
Another challenge we face is related to our specific funding model. Simon and I have both worked a lot in international development, and we’ve seen that often the biggest problems are caused by funders. We’re keen to change that dynamic, so we donate to our charity partners as unrestricted funding. We don’t tell them what to do with the money - we choose them because we trust them to know better than us! We think this is the most efficient way of funding high-impact work, but it means we don’t have stories of individual toilets we’ve built, or individual people we’ve helped. Without these stories it can be hard to tell our impact story, but we’re always keen to uncover new ways of communicating our impact and keeping it upbeat and interesting. We’ve written poems, shared statistics, shown examples of the types of people our partners support, written short stories, and more.
How do you market your product? Have you ever used content (e.g. a blog) to generate engagement and grow deeper relationships with customers?
The vast majority of our customers have found us by word of mouth. We’re so lucky to have the support of our customers, and we do everything we can to encourage them to spread the word. We create a Christmas line every year, for example, and encourage people to give a box of loo roll to their friends and family. And this August we included hilarious gift cards in every box, encouraging people to give them to their friends with a roll of TP. We’ve started to invest a bit in Facebook, but we’d much rather spend that money improving the experience for our customers and building toilets for those in need!
We’re gearing up to launch in the USA and UK in the coming weeks, and we’ve got lots of fun things planned for 2017! But what fun would it be if I ruined the surprise? ;)
Thanks for chatting Danny!
Now go buy toilet paper and talk about it too.