An eye-catching video first put social enterprise Who Gives a Crap on the map. Word of mouth kept it there.
In our Business Boosters column entrepreneurs share the secrets of their success and what they did in order to achieve scale. When social enterprise Who Gives a Crap set up in 2012, its founders needed $50,000 to begin production. An eye-catching crowdfunding campaign garnered international attention. From there, word of mouth meant the directors could barely keep pace with demand. Co-founder Simon Griffiths tells the story of a start-up with heart.
Social enterprise Who Gives a Crap, an environmentally friendly toilet paper manufacturer that donates half its profits to addressing water sanitation in the developing world, burst into prominence in 2012 with a launch campaign that went truly viral. In a video that veritably had the puns, co-founder Simon Griffiths said he was sitting down for what he believed in. Seated on his ceramic throne, Griffiths declared he would not be getting up from the toilet until WGAC’s crowdfunding initiative had raised $50,000 in pre-sales, the amount the founders needed to begin production of their recycled paper rolls.
“We realised we were going to be selling something that was a bit more boring than you would traditionally see on a crowdfunding campaign at that point in time, and we had to do something to get people’s attention,” Simon says today.
Users were invited to check on Simon’s progress via webcam on the Who Gives A Crap site.
“Fortunately that got people’s attention and we got picked up by national print media and television in Australia. We also had great success with media across the United States and further abroad,” says Simon.
“The campaign basically went viral and after 50 quite painful hours we hit the $50,000 pre-sales target. That is how we got started.”
Fast forward to 2016 and Who Gives a Crap employs 12 fulltime staff and has contributed $428,500 to its chosen charity, WaterAid. The company, which Griffiths founded with fellow social entrepreneurs Jehan Ratnatunga and Danny Alexander, is about to expand into the US and the United Kingdom.
After that initial viral campaign in July 2012, Who Gives a Crap tapped into the power of word of mouth and social media as it sought to grow the business and maximise its social impact. The initial $50,000 was meant to buy enough toilet paper to cover the crowdfunded orders and an additional three months’ sales. Instead, when the initial manufacturing was complete and delivered in March 2013, stock sold out in five days.
“We realised something really interesting was happening, and it was all word of mouth.” – Simon Griffiths
“We weren’t doing any marketing or advertising at all, but as soon as we started sending products out to our crowdfunding supporters, our sales started to double day on day and after five days we completely sold out of an entire three-month supply of product,” Griffiths says.
“We realised something really interesting was happening, and it was all word of mouth. Our customers were taking photos of the product and sharing it on social media and giving rolls to friends and family.”
This prompted a change in the sales model: until this point the social entrepreneurs believed they needed to get their product into supermarkets, but soon they realised there was strong demand for online sales.
“Essentially,” Simon says, “after that initial online rush, we tripled our production and it took us three months to replenish our sold-out stock. The first two years after that, up until July 2015, our growth was all due to word of mouth. We were working out everything as we went, paving the road as we were driving down it, because we kept growing at a consistently rapid pace.”