Entrepreneurship

How Who Gives A Crap founder Simon Griffiths made toilet paper sexy

Who Gives A Crap’s growth since then is proof that global consumers have become more conscientious: to date, it has sold over 300 million rolls to customers in 36 countries and donated nearly $11 million to charity partners. Its star-studded cast of investors include Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, former Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Canva co-founder and chief product officer Cameron Adams, and Athletic Ventures, an investment syndicate for elite athletes, who all contributed to a funding round of $41.5 million last year.

Profit for purpose’s sake

Yet there is more to be done. Griffiths is proud of its direct-to-consumer business model, but does not rule out vying for supermarket shelf space to jostle with the likes of Quilton and Kleenex, two of its largest competitors.

Only about 15 per cent of Australians do their shopping online, Griffiths says. “We have to be wherever the customer wants to buy us,” he says. “We’re missing out on the other 85 per cent of the market.”

These goals must be achieved without stripping the world’s natural resources even further. Research recently commissioned by Who Gives A Crap exposed just how many trees the world is chopping down just for toilet paper.

An older, oft-quoted study that is no longer available online had put the figure at 27,000 trees a day.

“The number was massively wrong. The actual number of trees cut down every single day to make toilet paper is in well excess of a million trees … to literally get flushed down the toilet,” says Griffiths. “In my mind, it just makes absolutely no sense.”

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In the short-term, Griffiths and his team are pursuing growth by launching new products through its hair and body care products, ‘Good Time’, and expanding further its environmentally friendly toilet rolls into international markets. With warehouses in Australia, the US, UK and the Netherlands, Australia makes up less than 40 per cent of the revenue pie.

Supply chain pain to persist

In the way of these plans, however, are global logistics and supply chain knots that only recently have begun to ease.

The pandemic has been a mixed bag for the company: on the one hand, it unlocked a new cohort of customers thanks to COVID-19 fuelled panic-buying in 2020 saw demand peak at 28 rolls per second, and racking up a waiting list of half a million people.

On the other hand, it was virtually impossible for Who Gives A Crap to side-step international freight and shipping nightmares. “We’re moving fairly low-value bulk product around, which means that we’re at the pointy end of who gets affected by supply chain challenges,” Griffiths says.

The worst has passed, but he predicts another wave of consumer price hikes as Russia’s war on Ukraine keeps energy and other crucial input costs high for every business.

“I think the big question is: have all the price changes that need to happen due to supply chain [disruption] happened, and that means that now things will normalise? Or are things like the energy and cost of living crisis going to continue pushing prices a little bit higher?”

Who Gives A Crap was among companies forced to raise prices on its products earlier this year by up to 15 per cent, but the founder says he doesn’t intend to raise prices again.

The pressures are apparent for the industry. “There’s a toilet paper company in Germany that went bankrupt [the other] week. We’re going to see a lot more of that in the coming months.”

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