IN PRACTICE: WHO GIVES A CRAP
Since launching on crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo in 2012, Who Gives a Crap has become a household name, with their toilet rolls, tissues and paper towels stocked in homes, restaurants and hotels across the globe. Created by Melbourne trio Simon Griffiths, Jehan Ratnatunga and Danny Alexander, the business gives 50% of profits to build toilets and has provided $1.8m to charities to date. We sat down with Simon to discuss the brand’s vision, advice he would give to others just starting out, and why financial acumen is crucial when building a business that gives back.
Who first inspired you to create a social enterprise?
Who Gives A Crap is all about impact – we’re on a mission to show that businesses (and our customers and staff!) can have a huge positive impact on the world by making better decisions. Who Gives A Crap’s main inspiration are the 2.3 billion people across the world who don’t have access to a toilet. That’s roughly 40% of the global population and means that around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation – that’s more than 700 children per day, or one child every two minutes. I wanted to start a forest-friendly toilet paper company that donates 50% of its profits to help to improve access to basic sanitation, hygiene and clean water in the developing world.
How do you balance profit and business viability with giving back?
Our goal has always been to have as much impact as possible, so we structured the business to ensure we’re able to grow quickly (as growth ultimately means more impact), while maximising our donations along the way. When we started, we had a decision to make: donate a small amount of profit, donate 100%, or somewhere in-between. Donating 100% of profits can significantly impede a business’ ability to grow, while donating 10% or less might have meant it would take a long time to have any meaningful impact. We decided that 50% was the perfect number – it allowed us to continue to invest in the rapid growth of the business, while still having a significant impact along the way. A few years in, we’ve been able to double or triple the size of the business every year while donating over $1.83 million, which we’re incredibly proud of!
It hasn’t always been easy, though. Managing cash flow is a challenge for many businesses, but it’s especially hard for us as we have to balance making a big annual donation with the usual costs of doing business. Every June we make our annual donation, which usually means our bank accounts go from full to empty overnight, and we need to ensure that we can do that without slowing down production, shipping, marketing and, of course, paying our suppliers and team! We’ve gotten incredibly good at modeling cash flow as a result, so it gets easier every year – we’re expecting this year to be the smoothest yet!
What advice would you give to someone who has a business or a business idea and wants to give back but is scared it will make their business non-viable from a financial perspective?
1. Doing good is good for business: regardless of how our customers initially found us, our impact is what they remember most. Our impact helps us to find new customers, and keep existing customers engaged and coming back to buy from us again – our social media posts relating to our impact have the highest engagement, and we see a strong correlation between our biggest sales days and the days we’re talking to our customers about our impact. We hope that our model will inspire more businesses to do good
2. Doing good isn’t easy: if you do good you’ll be held to a higher standard than your competitors! We tackle this by providing lots of information on our website about our impact, where our profit goes, our production standards, and a whole bunch of other questions. Doing this well builds trust in your customer base, which, for us at least, has meant that our customers often go above and beyond to tell other people about what we’re doing.
3. Decide what impact you want to have, then design your business around it: lots of people told us that it would be impossible to run a business that donates 50% of its profits, but so far it’s worked really well. If we were a regular toilet paper company we’d look at the cash required to make an annual donation and say that it’s not possible, but because we started with this constraint from day one we’ve simply found ways to make it work.
4. If you’re on the fence, think about the impact we could have if every business donated just 10% of their profits! I think that successful business owners have an obligation to give back, but it’s important to do it in a way that’s true to who you are.
What’s next for Who Gives a Crap?
We’re hoping to see more than just toilet paper, tissues and paper towels in our customers’ homes before the end of the year, but I can’t say more than that for now! In the meantime, we’re concentrating on building up our USA and UK customer base (as well as at home in Australia) to encourage more people to make the switch to toilet paper that’s good for people and the planet. And of course, we’re looking to maximise our donation as we get closer to our June 30 donation deadline.
Who Gives a Crap is currently hiring for their LA and Melbourne hubs. Visit them online or connect on Instagram.