Down to Business: Who Gives A Crap

Jenessa Williams

We spoke to Simon Griffiths, CEO and Founder of Who Gives A Crap, a sustainable, philanthropic toilet paper company that improves sanitation facilities all around the world

How did your business get started? 

When we started Who Gives A Crap, 2.4 billion people globally didn’t have access to a toilet. That’s about 40% of the world! I’d spent a lot of time working and volunteering in developing countries throughout Asia and Africa and saw organisations doing incredible work, but they struggled to get access to sustainable funding, which inevitably held them back.  

It dawned on me that to get more funding, instead of just relying on philanthropy, organisations could tap into the trillions of dollars changing hands in the economy through the sales of goods and services. Then one day I walked into the bathroom and had a quarter second epiphany: we could sell toilet paper, donate half of the profits to help fund organisations building toilets and call it Who Gives A Crap. 

 

What career trajectory led you to Who Gives A Crap? Have you undergone any formal education that has been helping in running this business? 

I studied engineering and economics at University of Melbourne in the early 2000s. While I was in school, I spent a lot of time working and volunteering in developing countries throughout Asia and Africa.  

In terms of my career, I briefly worked at an investment bank before realising I wanted to build businesses that gave back rather than sell them just to make money for the shareholders. I worked on a string of different profit-for-purpose business, including a bar where 100% of profits from each drink sold benefitted a project in that beverage’s country of origin. I learnt a lot from that experience that helped me when we were starting Who Gives A Crap. 

 

How does your work compliment your personality? 

I love learning new things and getting pushed outside of my comfort zone. We’re living in a time where it’s never been easier to start new brands and build cool stuff. It’s been amazing to watch the technology that powers digital brands evolve over the last 10 years, and I’m super excited to see what the future looks like. Diving into the unknown is what makes my work at Who Gives A Crap so exciting! 

 

The Internet has fallen in love with your funky paper patterns—what were/are your most foremost inspirations for the way that WGAC looks? 

When we started, we set a goal to create something that was so delightful that people would want to put it on display in their bathroom. But we also wanted to make the packaging clever and funny to read so there was more depth to our brand than just giving back, or just being aesthetically pleasing.  

Too often, people buy products that align with their values but then lose out on product quality, design, price or customer experience. We strive to create products that look good and feel good to use, all while still doing good. 

 

What does a typical workday look like for you? 

There’s no such thing as a typical workday, but I usually group my zoom meetings into Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, as well as Friday mornings. Then I have 1.5 days a week for deep work and thinking time.  

We were a remote-first company, so are really fortunate that 2020 hasn’t created too much of a shift in our working habits. 

 

What are your favourite and least favourite parts of the job? 

My favourite part of the job is knowing that everything we do has an enormous impact. Not having a toilet isn’t just inconvenient, it’s really dangerous. To put it in perspective, 297,000 die annually from diseases caused by improper sanitation. That’s why we donate 50% of our profits to our charity partners working in water, sanitation and hygiene.  

We also have an impact on the planet. We’re dedicated to sustainability—all of our products are plastic free and made from recycled materials or fast growing bamboo. And we just launched global carbon neutral shipping!

My least favourite part of the job is figuring out what to wear when people want to film me. It’s very stressful and now everyone thinks I only own one shirt. 

 

What do you like to do to switch off? 

I love to exercise, whether that’s running, surfing, mountain biking or chasing my four-year-old. Each weekend, I try to do some gardening and cook something new. 

What has been the most valuable business lesson you’ve learnt so far? And what has been your most tangible achievement? 

The most valuable lesson I learned was the power of saying no. In the early days, we pretty much said yes to everything because we were so desperate not to miss an opportunity. In hindsight, this meant we ended up spending a lot of time on high involvement, low return activities that were a distraction from what we were really good at. We’ve gotten a lot better at saying no since then! 

In terms of tangible achievements, it’s been amazing to see our donations grow. From our first ever donations of $2,500 AUD to WaterAid Australia in 2013, to our most recent $5.85 million AUD donation to WaterAid Australia, WaterAid America, Lwala Community Alliance, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), WaterSHED, iDE and Sanergy. Our donation to Sanergy this year will help them expand their work outside of Nairobi for the first time, and our donation to 

WaterAid made us their largest corporate donor so far this year.  

Our whole team is incredibly proud of the impact these donations are having, especially at a time where sanitation and hygiene is so important. 

 

In five years’ time, where would you like to see the business? 

Two of our core goals are to grow our donations and be a positive influence for other businesses.  

To grow our donations, we need to find more people who will be excited to use our products, or we need to create new products that our existing customers can fall in love with. So, when I look forward five years, I’d love to see us being a household name globally, selling into even more countries with a broader range of products. 

In terms of influencing other businesses, I think society is currently at a tipping point of a big “ethical business” movement, similar to where sustainability was 10 years ago.  

People are looking for products that do more than look good and provide a delightful customer experience—they’re looking for companies that do good. Companies with ethics and values that align with their own. Companies with a soul. This makes me incredibly excited to be an “ethical business” playing a role in this movement, and even more excited to think about what the business world will look like in five years' time. 

If the biggest companies in the world adopt the same values and passion to give back that we have at Who Gives A Crap, the world will be a very different place. 

 

If you weren’t involved in loo paper, what career do you think you’d be in? 

I love toilet paper, but for me it’s more about the business model. I tried lots of different jobs before Who Gives A Crap, then reflected on the parts of each that I liked or didn’t.  

After working in both corporate and non-profit environments, I realised I wanted to combine business principles with social outcomes. So, I’d find another way to use profits from everyday products to do good globally. 

 

We know that you love a bit of toilet humour—what’s your favourite loo-related joke? 

If you’re Australian when you walk into the bathroom and American when you walk out, what are you while you’re on the loo? 

European! 

Read more: Down to business Club Soda

Read more: Get your business idea off the ground


Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter