Simon Griffiths

Start with what you are the most passionate about and what motivates you, and figure out how to make that your career. Then you’ll want to get out of bed feeling great every day.

Simon Griffiths is the Co-Founder & CEO of Who Gives A Crap.

Where did the idea for Who Gives a Crap come from?

I was looking for a new concept for a scalable social business with a product that everyone could buy. I was also spending a lot of time in Asia and Eastern and Southern Africa looking at different developmental organizations to gain an understanding of what “good development” looked like. I saw that many organizations were trying to have as much impact as possible, but spent roughly 30% of their time competing for a limited pool of funds – so I started to think about how I could create a new channel to expand the funding pool and help accelerate development. Then one day I was walking into the bathroom, saw a 6 pack of toilet paper and had an ‘ah-ha’ moment – why don’t we sell toilet paper, use half of the profits to build toilets and call it ‘Who Gives A Crap’? I called three friends, told them about the idea and they all said I had to do it. Hence Who Gives A Crap was born!

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I actually only physically report to our office 1 day a week. In fact, our entire team is dispersed throughout the US, Australia and the UK, working remotely. So my typical day begins at home, playing with my two year old son. Once my work day begins, I spend a lot of time checking in with my team to see how everyone has been progressing with specific tasks and projects. I love what I do, so every day at work (well, almost every day) is productive, fun and energizing for me!

How do you bring ideas to life?

The Lean Startup has been our bible since day one – we give this to every employee on their first day with us. Every day we test our ideas by (1) launching minimum-viable-products (MVPs); (2) measuring their successes/failures in the market; and (3) unpacking the lessons from their performance, then re-launching an improved MVP to the market again.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I think the (perhaps still emerging?) trend of shining the light on unconscious bias, particularly in recruiting, is really interesting. This blog post states that unconscious bias is ”when your background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context have an impact on your decisions and actions without you even realizing.” Reading about unconscious bias made me realize that I have my own biases, as does everyone else, and that’s OK – now that I’m aware of my biases I can think about how to work around them when I’m making decisions.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

In the last couple of years my role as CEO has shifted from being the Chief-doer to the Chief-company-builder, which means most of my week is now spent supporting my direct reports to help them achieve more. This wasn’t a natural shift for me as I haven’t had much experience as a manager in my life, which I think is common for many young entrepreneurs.

The best habit / tool that I’ve found to help me be a better manager is a monthly one-on-one, which consists of a shared Google Doc that is updated each month, followed by a one-on-one meeting. Each of my direct reports will answer the same set of questions in their Monthly Catch Up Google Doc, then share them with me 24 hours before our one-on-one meeting. The questions are: 1) What’s your current happiness score out of 10; 2) What went well last month?; 3) What could have gone better last month?; 4) How are you tracking against your goals for the quarter?; 5) What support do you need from me / do you have any other feedback for me?; and 6) What are your focus areas for the month ahead?

Reading their answers gives me a lot of insight into how they’re going and allows me to think about how I can help them – we’ll talk through all of this in our meeting, then I’ll leave written responses in the Google Doc for us to refer back to in the future. This tool has made being a manager a whole lot easier and more productive!

What advice would you give your younger self?

Start with what you are the most passionate about and what motivates you, and figure out how to make that your career. Then you’ll want to get out of bed feeling great every day.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Working in an office 9-5 isn’t the way of the future, but pure remote teams aren’t perfect either. We started as a fully distributed team, which was great when we were a small team. As we got bigger and were working on more collaborative projects, like packaging design, we found that working on a project with three people spread across three continents had its drawbacks. So now we’re moving to a hybrid – we still want to have the flexibility of being able to work from home or with flexible hours, but we want our team to be based close to one of three city ‘hubs’ (Los Angeles, Melbourne and Manila) so that we can bring them together for face-to-face and collaborative meetings on a more regular basis.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Constantly ask for feedback – whether it’s from your customers or your team, feedback is the best tool that you have when it comes to building a great product and company. Asking for feedback is really useful when it comes to building great relationships outside of work too!

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Stick to your original idea. As you can probably imagine, starting a toilet paper brand called Who Gives a Crap was met with resistance by some investors and partners – especially in the early days. But now it’s this exact model, branding and product offering that has us seeing such success. We didn’t stray away from our initial idea despite the pushback, and now we’ve developed a name for ourselves that delights our current customers, easily catches the attention of potential customers, and is rooted in our early thinking.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I fail at things every week, if not every day – I firmly believe that the minute you stop failing is the minute you stop learning. Probably the biggest failure I had was in our initial production run – we had just crowdfunded $63,000 to get started, and spent everything to get started. I was responsible for production and did all of the quality control on the factory floor. Production went really well, but when we starting shipping product to our customers we received a lot of complaints and subsequently discovered that I had made an error that would be near-fatal for the company – I has forgotten to check the quality of the perforations and we had produced 400,000 rolls of imperfectly perforated product. The sheets literally had to be cut apart with a pair of scissors! Straight away I admitted fault and sent an email to all of our customers apologizing for the quality hiccup. I promised to fix this on the next production run, and made perforation quality the main focus of our quality checks. Fortunately, enough customers believed in what we were doing to re-purchase, and they thought the perforations were great too. The big lesson was that honesty is the best policy – since then we’ve always believed that our customers will forgive us for our lumps and bumps as long as we’re open and honest about them.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

The paint tin has been a terrible customer experience (hard to open, messy to use, even messier to close) for decades. It’s also a really inefficient vessel when it comes to transport. Whoever reinvents the way paint is packaged will have a great business!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

It was on a room at The Plantation Hotel in Phnom Penh. As I’ve mentioned above, we’re a distributed company. Once a year we bring our whole team together for a week which we call our ‘IRL’ – everyone flies in so we can spend a week building relationships In Real Life (hence the name IRL) and work on our company strategy for the year ahead. This year we held our IRL in Cambodia so that we could take our team to see the impact that we create as a company – after 2.5 days of work we spent 2.5 days in the field with WaterAid. I’m writing this on the plane on the way home from Cambodia – after a mind mind-blowingly-amazing week with the team I feel a little bit like summer camp just finished and I’m already missing all of my friends.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Boomerang is a super handy Gmail app that pops emails to the top of the inbox (or re-sends them) if you don’t get a response. It’s a great tool when you’re emailing someone who is notoriously bad at responding. You can also use it if you’re working strange hours and would like to schedule your emails to appear in your receivers’ inboxes at a more appropriate time.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The *one* book is “The Lean Startup“, but I’d be surprised if anyone reading this hasn’t already read it!

What is your favorite quote?

If you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘This sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.’” – Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia)

Key Learnings:

  • Work on something you’re passionate about and stick to your guns when people tell you that your idea won’t work (although sometimes they’ll be right!)
  • Build, measure, learn, and get used to failing. It’s going to happen a lot! And when it happens you need to be honest about it with your customers
  • Ask for lots of feedback on your product and from your team – don’t ever stop doing this.
  • When you’re making decisions, watch out for your own unconscious bias (we’re all biased in some way)
  • The flexibility of remote work is awesome, but nothing beats working face-to-face every now and again!


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