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Soft Sell

Square One

Born and raised in Hawick, Scotland, the brothers' careers in the United Kingdom ultimately led to a joint venture in the United States. "We both started off [building] strong corporate backgrounds and then branched out on our own," says Willy. "We were both able to get into business for ourselves [in Scotland] and [then sold] those businesses at roughly the same time."

They were playing a game of golf one day when it hit them: Why not pursue their next business venture together? "We felt it would work well because our strengths and weaknesses were in different areas. Tim's strengths were more in corporate finance and in strategic areas, and mine were more in sales and marketing," says Willy. "So we pooled our resources."

In their search for a new business, they each heard separately about a company in London called Multi-Soft PLC: One of Tim's former colleagues mentioned the company to him; meanwhile, the brothers' mother had also heard of the company and she mentioned it to Willy. "`You're the sales and marketing guy,' she told me. `Why don't you have a look at it?'" recalls Willy. "When I talked to my brother about it, he was amazed. `Somebody was just telling me about that company,' he said."

The group of investors that then owned Multi-Soft had purchased the concept of a disposable tissue made from raw materials other than wood pulp from a student who said he had thought of the idea while he was traveling through China. "This chap thought it could be done and sold the idea to the investors for roughly $30,000," says Willy.

At the time the brothers contacted Multi-Soft, the company was looking to raise funds and had a low-quality prototype made from 50 percent straw and 50 percent recycled denim jeans. In early 1995, the brothers found equity partners and raised the $1 million they needed to purchase Multi-Soft. Then they privatized the company and moved it to the United States.

Still, the brothers had no marketable product. "We went back to the basics, and instead of trying denim, a recycled textile, we went straight to the raw material," says Willy. They found they could use the short fibers of cotton, known as linter, and with the help of a chemist, their quest for the perfect formula began.

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This article was originally published in the March 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Soft Sell.

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