Most college grads would be happy to land a 9 to 5 job, but for two AU alums that wasn’t enough. Meet: David Simnick and Daniel Doll.
Dave and Dan wanted to make a difference, and an entrepreneurship class became their catalyst. They worked across colleges with Dave’s longtime friend, Eric Vong (who was studying at Purdue), to develop a business with a core humanitarian mission: A bar of soap can save a life.
More than 22,000 children die every day from diseases like cholera and typhoid. 3,000 of those deaths could be prevented with access to a bar of soap. Dave, Dan and Eric recognized the need and created SoapBox Soaps, a company empowering consumers to change the world through everyday purchases.
The idea is simple. You buy a bar of soap; they give a bar of soap. Sound familiar? If you’re reminded of companies like TOMS or 2degrees, you’re not far off. But those brands cater to niche audiences. SoapBox Soaps is taking it one step further, hoping to reach a broad range of consumers by giving a universal commodity, like soap, a mission.
Building a business from the ground up is no easy feat, and the SoapBox team has had their fair share of struggles and successes. Laughing, Dan told me about a frantic call he received from Dave one night. It was shortly after Dan had finished building the first version of their website, so they could sell their products online.
“Dan, I think I deleted the site,” Dave told him over the phone. Sure enough, in one move Dave had deleted the entire platform (but to his credit, he did rebuild 98% of it that night). In the grand scheme of things, it was a minor setback.
Soon, they were seeking out brick-and-mortar retailers. Dan contacted the Whole Foods’ Health and Beauty division where they got their first break. The soap sample he delivered was wrapped in a simple piece of hemp twine, but it was enough to get their foot in the door. After 5 days of product demonstrations in a Whole Foods in Glen Mills, PA, they had already sold an astounding 500 bars.
SoapBox Soaps has made its way into 130 stores internationally, donating bars to people in Haiti, Uganda, Kenya, Ecuador, Belize, Thailand and the U.S. But Dave stresses that they are still a startup. “We’ve overcome the small obstacles, but there are still big hurdles to surmount,” he said.
Right now the Soapbox team of 15 (mostly interns and volunteers) is focused on increasing sales. “We want to continue to build our brand. More distribution means higher sales, and that means more soap. That’s our main goal—to donate soap,” Dave said. Eventually, they hope to expand into a range of consumer products, liquid soap being their next endeavor.
Dan will tell you startups aren’t for the risk averse, and he’s right. “The hardest part is the jump,” he said. “There is uncalculated risk, but if you never take it, you’ll never know the rewards.” The uncertainty, though daunting, seems to be one aspect of the job Dave enjoys. “I want to be in control of my failures and successes. However hard we work, or don’t, it’s all on us,” he said.
When they first started out, a lot of people, including family and close friends, doubted their decision. “People thought, you’ve got to be out of your damn mind,” Dave said, “I was living with 5 other undergrads and making soap in my basement.” And while they’ve since moved out of basement production, they still hear some of that cynicism today.
But you won’t hear a trace of doubt in their voices when they speak about SoapBox Soaps.“You have to have confidence in your business, in your own abilities and in the capabilities of your team,” said Dan. It’s evident that these are two people who care deeply about their cause and believe in their mission.
Dave credits AU with pushing him both academically and as an individual. “AU isn’t a fit for everyone,” he said, “but for the people it does fit, it will mold them in ways that change their lives as well as the lives of others.” When asked what piece of advice he would give to someone starting out he said, “Don’t fear failure. Fear not learning from what failure has to teach you.”
Photos courtesy of David Simnick and Daniel Doll