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Two years ago, Star Toilet Paper rolled out a unique business model when it began putting ads on toilet paper that businesses can get for free for their bathroom stalls. Company co-founders and brothers Bryan and Jordan Silverman are now trying to live by their own motto—"Changing the Way People Do Their Business."
Over the past year, the Silverman brothers focused on more thoughtfully evolving their three-person, New York-based startup and better understanding what types of toilet-paper advertising catches consumers' attention, and what kinds they flush away.
We recently caught up with Bryan Silverman, named Entrepreneur’s College Entrepreneur of 2012, about what lessons have led to his company’s success and his plans and goals for the coming year.
Lessons from the past year? As the company tries to attract new advertisers and venues, the Silvermans have learned the importance of trial and error and reflecting on past experiences. "We’re still trying to figure out where to focus our time and effort," says Silverman, a junior at Duke University. Star Toilet Paper made its first appearance in Ann Arbor, Mich., in spring 2012. But it took the company several months to get rolling and line up venues and local advertisers in that market. Feedback has been good, Silverman says, but the company needs to do more to refine its processes to make sure it can continue to grow and expand into new markets. "We’re now at a stage where we're trying to make that process faster and more efficient," Silverman adds.
For example, the company has found that it’s had the best luck getting bars and restaurants to sign up as venues. So when it enters future markets, it plans to approach those types of establishments first. "One thing we might do is partner up with bars and clubs that can help us get into other types of venues," Silverman adds.
The company plans to do more extensive testing of its ads in 2014 by surveying its advertisers (including animal-rights group PETA), the venues that offer the toilet paper and the customers who use it. The company wants to know, Do QR codes on toilet paper ads work, or do they just take up space that could be better utilized with coupons or other types of ads? They also plan to conduct A/B testing to see whether it’s more effective to, say, put the advertisers' names at the top of ads or whether it’s better to lead with a call to action or discount or promotion.
"The lesson for me has been the importance of reflecting internally and not thinking that just because we’re doing well now that we’re the best we can be," Silverman adds. "We need to continually improve our product."
Bryan Silverman on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Starting Up in College
Business goals for 2014? The company hopes to attract larger advertisers and venues, rather than focusing so much on local and independent businesses and buyers—which have been Star Toilet Paper’s main squeeze so far. Specifically, Silverman says, it hopes to break into colleges and athletic stadiums. These are natural outlets for the company, he says, because many of its dozens of advertisers are eager to reach a college-aged crowd. They also have far more traffic than your average restaurant or bar. The Silverman brothers already have numerous connections to college officials through friends, alumni groups and former and current classmates, meaning the company can use warm leads rather than having to rely on cold-calling in new markets. "It's a way to get our foot in the door," he adds.
Another goal? One challenge for the Silvermans has been communication, given that they are located hundreds of miles apart: Bryan is based in Durham, N.C. while Jordan and the company’s chief marketing officer are in New York. When the company began introducing Star Toilet Paper in Durham earlier this year, Bryan said small issues sprang up that made the roll-out more time-consuming. For instance, knowing the best times to deliver toilet paper rolls to businesses and figuring out the types of dispensers each business needed was difficult when his business partner was located in another state. In the coming year, Silverman says he and his brother strive to have better and "more open" conversations—which will mean having more frequent team meetings to discuss plans. As they roll out new markets, they also plan to brainstorm "what could go wrong," so they can troubleshoot before problems occur.
Personal goal for 2014. Even at the unripe age of 20, Silverman has that he needs to make sure to exercise regularly and maximize his time in college. It’s too easy to get wrapped up in schoolwork and the business that he sometimes forgets to fully take advantage of being a college student. "There are so many things to do and so many resources and so many people as a result of being in college," he says. Although he’s a neuroscience major—a subject in which he’s personally fascinated—Silverman says he plans to pursue Star Toilet Paper and hopefully move to New York City after he graduates in 2015 to work on expanding the company with his brother. But for the time being, he wants to make sure he’s taking advantage of the entrepreneurship resources and networking opportunities on campus.
He recently became co-president of the Duke Start-Up Challenge, a year-long entrepreneurship contest among Duke students. "You don’t have to start your own company to be an entrepreneur," he says. "If somebody wants to do something, especially on a college campus, they can. I want to be part of that."