We like to be unambiguously passionate and our conversation with Simon Griffiths, Co-Founder and CEO of the hugely successful Who Gives A Crap brand is the reason why.
2.4 billion people, or roughly 40% of global citizens, don’t have access to a toilet. More disturbingly, 289,000 children aged under 5 die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That’s 1 child every 2 minutes.
And so, the crowd-sourced toilet roll brand was launched in 2012 to address the sanitation challenge. Simon and team delivered their first product in 2013 and we’re delighted to say that they’ve been growing and expanding ever since!
What inspired you to create the 50% profit donation mechanic? How did you land on 50% as an amount?
Early in my career, I worked with a variety of NGOs. While there are plenty of organisations doing incredible work, I saw a consistent problem — a lack of sustainable funding. As a result, their scalability was limited and I thought a lot of time was wasted chasing uncertain funding.
I realised I could help organisations get the money they need by turning the profits from everyday purchases into a way for people to give back. It’s for this reason we donate 50% of our profits. Who Gives A Crap is built on the idea that we all can make the world a better place by little choices that give back. And luckily, it’s all working — more people are buying our products than ever before, and together we’re doing amazing things.
Given the massive worldwide attention given to toilet paper during the pandemic, what impact did this attention have on Who Gives A Crap?
The pandemic has been a wild ride. On the first day of March last year, our daily sales doubled. The next day, it was up 5x and before we knew it we were selling something like 30-40x our usual volume. At our peak, we were selling 28 rolls of toilet paper every second! We pretty quickly realised we had to turn our store to “sold out” so that we could ensure we had enough product for our subscribers and business customers.
In turn, we set up an email waitlist thinking that we would get a few thousand sign ups. We ended up with more than half a million people on that waitlist! That created a pretty big challenge due to our limited inventory. Most of our boxes hold 48 rolls, so we started encouraging customers to share rolls with neighbours, friends and family. Plying it forward, if you will.
Some say it’s the direct impacts of the pandemic that have pushed us into the limelight, but we recently did an NPS survey and scored in the 80s (on a scale of -100 to 100, so 80 is quite high), so new customers are certainly aligned with our core mission. I think the bigger impact here is that it’s showing a new face of capitalism, where people can really see the impact of where they are spending their money.
What impact are you most proud of Who Gives A Crap enabling?
We’re most proud of the dent we’ve been able to make in our mission, which is improving access to hygiene, clean water and basic sanitation in developing countries for the 2 billion people that still do not have proper access. This year we achieved a milestone of $10 million in donations to date. This donation is up 99900% compared to Who Gives A Crap’s first annual donation of $2,500, less than a decade ago. It’s something we’re incredibly proud of, but we still have a long way to go!
What do you see as the biggest agenda in sustainability for brands to address?
The thing about sustainability and environmental impact is that there is a lot of nuances to it, so you sort of have to peel off the layers of the onion. For some businesses, there will be simple things they can do like switching to procuring products that are more sustainable for their customers or team. For other organisations, it is more multidimensional. For example, at Who Gives A Crap sustainability is woven into every layer of our supply chain.
I think we’ve shown that profit and purpose are now inextricably linked. That means that if businesses want to remain competitive in the long term, they must start taking sustainability seriously, because demand for their products will fall away if they’re not thinking about the bigger picture. Profits don’t matter unless we get sustainability right first.
What do you see as the biggest accelerants of change in supercharging sustainability agenda in the household supplies category?
In this last decade, I think climate change has gone from being a concept that no one could touch or feel into something that is suddenly all around us — floods, fires and wildly unpredictable weather. In Australia, where I’m based, I think there has also been a realisation that our government is not going to help us make the changes that we need to in order to stop the planet from warming too much. As a result, people are starting to think about how their daily actions contribute to climate change. That awareness is positive, but we still have a lot to do as a society if we’re going to fix this massive and somewhat invisible problem.
Which other sustainability focused brands do you most admire right now?
I think a lot of businesses are realising the power they have to make a difference right now, and we’re proud of any organisation taking even a small step towards sustainability. Some brands that are on my radar right now are Great Wrap (selling home compostable seran wrap with solar power in Melbourne), Bite (selling plastic-free toothpaste in LA) and Smol (selling low plastic cleaning products in the UK).
Why did you choose a DTC business model?
The term ‘direct-to-consumer’ didn’t exist when we started back in 2012 and the landscape was really different. Admittedly, we fell into the direct-to-consumer model, but it was a happy accident and revealed the power of the internet. A lot has changed in the last decade and it’s been great to be one of the businesses that were early joiners of the movement.
Being a DTC startup also gives us more control over trying lots of different things, including our packaging. Toilet paper is usually something you’d hide in the back of your cupboard, but we wanted to flip that on its head and get our product front and centre in our customer’s bathrooms, so we wrapped each roll in paper with quirky and fun designs.
For Who Gives A Crap, our DTC model has allowed us to reduce the costs of manufacturing and supplying our product, and pass those savings onto consumers with sharper price points. The more accessible our product is, the quicker we can reach our sanitation goal.
Is the bidet friend or foe?
Ha, good question! I think bidets are great — if used right they save a lot of energy by cutting down on toilet paper usage, which is good for the world but maybe not so good for our current business model! Personally, I’m more of a fan of the Japanese-style Toto toilets with a bidet built into the toilet rather than an old school European-style stand-alone bidet.
If our chat with Simon has inspired you to find out more, check out one of his recent podcasts here.