How Who Gives A Crap? came out the biggest winner during the panic-buying

"Well, that was unexpected!" 

These words were tweeted by mission-driven company Who Gives A Crap? at the height of the nationwide toilet paper panic-buying during the coronavirus outbreak. 

The toilet paper company - which donates half its profits to charities that tackle diarrhoea-related disease - inadvertently became Australia's number one toilet paper supplier, as major supermarkets sold out. Then, soon afterwards, they did too.

From most boring to most wanted

For Simon Griffiths, CEO and founder, there was a certain irony when he compared the frenzy with the challenge he faced when starting out in 2012: "We were selling the most boring product in the world" he says, adding that they dreamed up sexy ways of making it sellable. 

This started with a humble crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. "We wanted a new model of capitalism - leveraging individual purchasing decisions to help a non-profit cause" he says.

The pizazz to draw attention involved Simon sitting on an actual warehouse toilet, refusing to budge until their goal of their first bulk order - $50,000 - was reached. "I'm sitting down for what I believe in" Simon says in the video, sharing his "passion for humanitarian aid and toilet humour." That's reflected in the company's slogan: "good for your bum, great for the world!"

He live-streamed the toilet stunt but "every four hours we'd get reported for pornographic material and the live stream was taken down." 

Ever dogged, Simon - who founded several social good companies before this one, including a bar and search engine where all revenue was donated to charities - simply found a new live stream to host him each time.

Tissues to help issues 

It's worlds away from the first week of March, when his company was selling 27 toilet paper rolls per second - 40 times higher than regular sales.

Advertisement

"We signed up more new customers in one day than we would a month" Simon says. "And there's a really important silver lining to that."

Half of all profits go to five charity partners - the main one being Water Aid. 

For the first time, the company expects to this year crack the $1million mark in donations. "We'll help more of the world's 2.3 billion people who don't have access to a toilet, and drive down diarrhoea-related disease, the second biggest killer of under fives in Africa" Simon says. So far, it has raised $2.6million in donations.

Growing globally

The company, which has tripled in size annually for the past six years, takes its 74 staff on trips to see the work it does in countries like Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Kenya. But, due to coronavirus, they had to cancel the planned impact trip to India two weeks ago. 

Donated money helps charities like Water Aid with their sanitation projects. "Anyone who has spent time in the developing world, as I did before starting this company, knows the challenges with sanitation" Simon says. "Toilet paper was the perfect conversation starter for an icky and disgusting subject."

He cites a trip to East Timor, where he was shown a village with clean running water, and one without, as a "stand-out" moment. "I got really emotional" he says, on seeing the differing energy levels between the villagers. But then he got galvanised: "There's heaps more to do."

Talking crap 

The 37-year-old lives on the Mornington Peninsula, VIC, and spends three months a year in LA, now the company sells product in the US and UK as well as Australia. He's speaking to me on his first day back after 8 weeks of parental leave for his second child. 

Before founding his own companies, he worked in the private sector, where "I was about 70 per cent as efficient as I could be when working on something I'm truly passionate about."  He then tried the nonprofit sector, but found its processes too bureaucratic.

Within two weeks, he expects to be selling loo roll and helping the world's poorest again. But, even for an entrepreneur with his swift professional impatience, recent times have been dizzying.

 "I'm still shocked by the pace with which things have shifted" he says.