Who gives a crap toilet paper

Who Gives A Crap, on going against the physics of capitalism

Published on
December 9, 2021
Written By
Julia Leong
Curation Producer
“Over the past decade, we’ve shown that by giving away our profits, we’ve actually been able to build a business that is more successful in the long run.”
— Who Gives A Crap founder, Simon Griffiths.

Capital markets typically work by maximising profits, holding onto all of these profits, and reinvesting it. Griffiths proved the contrary can work, especially in the space of purpose-driven businesses. “Back when we launched, this concept wasn’t something people wanted to support financially, it didn’t make sense, and went against the physics of capitalism”. 

The visionary Australian-based B Corp has undoubtedly become a household name across the country with its one of a kind product and business model, and witty puns that never cease to blow people away. Donating half its profits to charity partners within the clean water and sanitation space, Who Gives A Crap has donated over $10.8 million to date. The business made headlines just two months ago, when they raised a record-breaking $41.5 million investment in their first investor funding round.

“If we’re going to have a serious go at solving this problem, we will have to get donations up into the billions”, states Griffiths. Griffiths, also happens to be one of our very first TEDxMelbourne speakers back in 2011, when he took the stage with his talk ‘Changing the world with beer and toilet paper’. Since then, Griffiths has grown the brand across 40 countries, and Who Gives A Crap sells more overseas than it does in Australia. Many of us know Griffiths for his well known crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in 2012, which saw him sitting on a toilet until he raised $50,000, which ended up amounting to a total of 50 hours. 

We were eager to sit down with Simon Griffiths (over Zoom, as he was in Western Australia at the time), to pick his brain about his plans, reflections, opinions, and any advice he had to share.

“Did you expect to be where you are now?”

“In the original TED Talk, we talked about achieving a 1% market share, and we were only looking at the Australian market…” Griffiths reflects. “Now we’re in the US, UK, have launched in Europe, and are opening up in Canada in 2022. We’ve wildly exceeded our expectations”. 

So what makes Who Gives A Crap so successful? As one of the first direct-to-consumer businesses of its kind in Australia, we wanted to dig deeper into the business’s pioneering spirit.

“When we started the company, we asked ourselves, how do we create a brand that lives up to our ethics and values, but is also a brand that people love?” The ‘secret sauce’, according to Griffiths, was bringing those things together, and creating something that people will want to tell other people about. 

What COVID panic buying taught the Who Gives A Crap team

“We certainly saw a lift in supermarket sales during the first few months of the pandemic, but then we saw that it wasn’t sustained”. Griffiths recalls it to have been a pretty interesting phenomenon.

As people were spending more time at home, both hoarders and non-hoarders had more products in their pantries and were purchasing less regularly than they normally would. As supermarket shelves emptied out, avid customers organically sent Who Gives A Crap viral. “People started posting photos of the empty shelves”, Griffiths shares. “They were sharing the message, why are you buying from the supermarket when you can buy from these guys?” 

Through the thousands and thousands of social media mentions back in March 2020 that led the business to sell more than a month’s worth of product in a day, there were two things that were reiterated. Firstly, that Who Gives A Crap’s community were fiercely loyal and passionate, and secondly, that the business’s core social and environmental focus still strongly resonated with the community. 

“What we can take away from that, regardless of whether it’s the beautiful packaging or home delivery service, is that our customers want to tell other people about the impact our company has on the world, and their part in helping us get there”. If that can be applied to toilet paper, what’s stopping it from being applied to any product in any category there is?

On what makes Simon Griffiths sure of the path Who Gives A Crap is on

When Who Gives A Crap first launched in 2012, Simon Griffiths believed that selling through supermarkets would be their main distribution channel, and the end game. “When I did the TED Talk, the term ‘direct-to-consumer’ didn’t exist”, he remembers. 

As the business expanded, the team discovered that there was a lot more interest in direct-to-consumer companies, and there were other sales channels that could be stronger than supermarkets alone. This realisation aided Who Gives A Crap’s international expansion exponentially. Without having to find a supermarket partner to grow with, opening up a warehouse and selling directly to customers made it easier to scale globally, and much faster than with supermarkets. 

In the last decade, there has also been a huge shift towards purpose-driven businesses, with sustainability being the leading edge. “If you look around at the biggest brands like Apple or Nike, everyone has net zero plans, and sustainability has become a necessary part of building a brand that is relevant today”. 

Griffiths reiterates that there is a lot more profit for purpose-driven businesses than solely sustainability. “As sustainability becomes table stakes, and something every company has to have embedded into their business, consumers will start digging deeper”, he shares. They will be looking for businesses that are aligned to their ethics and values on many levels, not just sustainability. “In the next decade,we will really start seeing this take shape”. 

For incumbents, as well as newcomers to the market, businesses will have to think about how to align with the ethics and values of their customers. “If businesses continue doing what they are doing today, they are going to lose market share”, Griffiths predicts. This all ties back to truly understanding and relating to one’s customer.

“What advice would you give to purpose-driven companies starting out?”

  1. “Building a profit-for-purpose business is challenging. Not only are you solving the problem of satisfying your customer and making money, you are also trying to solve a social problem”, reminds Griffiths. “You have to go deep on both those things, and it adds an extra layer to the problem solving nature of entrepreneurship”. 
  1. You need to develop a product, with quality that is just as good as what you would get elsewhere. Griffiths believes that there isn’t a reason for someone not to buy Who Gives A Crap’s products because its quality is just as good as the other options in the market. “We needed to be the same price or lower, and [also] not use guilt to drive sales. We needed to create something that ticks all the boxes”. 
  1. Involve and embrace your community. “We’ve been very fortunate to have an amazing community that really rallied around our product and business from the early days, and we grew off word-of-mouth and couldn’t keep up with the growth…” Again, Griffiths ties this back to the fact that Who Gives A Crap aligns with its community’s ethics and values. Community-led businesses are becoming a big thing, and you need to be able to speak to your customers. 

Some of the most amusing things going on within the Who Gives A Crap’s community

A few years back, a couple named Gary and Cheryl got married, and instead of having a wedding cake, they had a toilet paper cake. Instead of getting a slice of cake, everyone got a roll of toilet paper.

Griffiths shares that since, then, it has happened more than twice. “It makes me wonder how many times it’s happened”. 

“Recently, a fellow in Indianapolis decided he wanted to put together a Who Gives A Crap racing car. He got all his friends to raise enough money through a Facebook group, and now there is a Who Gives A Crap racing car going around a speedway in Indianapolis.”

“Have you run out of toilet paper puns?”

“I don’t know if we could ever run out of toilet paper puns. My favourite ones are the unintentional ones”. 

“On the call before this, I was talking about back-end efficiencies and I just couldn’t help but laugh..” There will always be new ones to be discovered, such as our new coffee product being named ‘Blend Number Two’. 

Why Coffee, and what’s next?

Who Gives A Crap has recently launched limited edition coffee products that will be on sale on their website until sold out, and if it picks up, Griffiths mentioned it could become a more permanent product. When thinking about how to grow the business, the team realised that the more customers they had, the more money they could donate. “We did a lot of research and heard from some very reliable sources that coffee makes some people go to the bathroom, and as a toilet paper company, we thought that was really interesting”, he shares. 

You can purchase it here. 

The business also has a few new products in the pipeline which they are excited to bring to market to help customers solve more problems around their house. “They will probably be a little bit more serious than coffee”. 

Finally, a reflection about Who Gives A Crap’s journey over the last decade.

Profits and purpose have become inextricably linked.

“Doing good is good business”, Griffiths affirms. 

If you’re looking for the perfect gift this holiday season, check out The Give Edition.

Looking for the gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving? This limited edition features artist-designed patterns so you can beautifully wrap your presents or gift the rolls individually throughout the whole year. And that’s all while giving back to people in need… Take that, Santa.

Social Impact
Photo of Julia
Written By
Julia Leong
Curation Producer

Writer/UX Designer based in Melbourne with a keen interest in innovation and social causes.

Photo of Julia
Written By
Julia Leong
Curation Producer

Writer/UX Designer based in Melbourne with a keen interest in innovation and social causes.