Keeping it clean since COVID
Bidets are popular in continental Europe and Japan, but Americans still haven't discovered the wonders of a clean bottom, according to Chad O'Connell.
An advertising creative, working at firms such as Swift in Portland, O'Connell has a double life as a bidet evangelist.
As he puts it in his founder's letter for Whisper, his bidet startup,
"For 28 years…I accepted, as a necessary evil, the frustration of infinity wipes — you know, where you wipe and wipe and wipe, but the damn toilet paper still won't come up clean. Finally, I tried a bidet—and, holy s---, it was a game-changer. They're cleaner, cheaper, environmentally friendly, and, most importantly, I was wiping just once, and the toilet paper was coming up clean!"
Making a brand out of butt wiping is not easy, but Whisper's social media game is good: the ads stick like dingleberries, following the user from Instagram to Facebook and beyond. These single-use squares of video show how seductively simple it is to convert your bog to a bidet.
3D print the legend
Instructions are a key part of the product. All you are doing is adding $1 worth of hose and a $5 tap to your toilet, but many people are wary of home-plumbing jobs.
At the design phase O'Connell and his Chinese prototypers took care of the hardest parts of the task: making the jet of water not too narrow or too wide. He tested "20 to 30 bidets, and they all feel a little bit different. I think we're in the Goldilocks position," he gushed to the Business Tribune.
The fact that it only uses cold water is not as shocking as it sounds. "That part of your body is not as sensitive to temperature; for most people, it's a non-issue."
Building the product meant the usual trips to China, sourcing parts from an established industry, and having new parts made — in particular, the plate that elevates the toilet seat to allow the hose access.
Whisper sales had plateaued until the pandemic came and the Great Toilet Paper Rush when Americans started exploring other options (wet wipes, bidets). Since March, O'Connell says Whisper's sales have doubled.
"It exploded. I sold six months of inventory in three or four days, so I had to look for capital."
Starting from scratch as a manufacturing entrepreneur, he learned some lessons.
"I grew up in a family that lived paycheck-to-paycheck in Greenville, South Carolina," he said. "We never traveled anywhere." His first plane trip was in his 20s. His mother did office work, and his dad managed a chemical plant and later was in parts supply for the local BMW auto industry. "We had a mindset, work hard, even if we don't enjoy the job, then retire."
But when he became evangelical about bidets, he had lots of doubts about starting a business — doubts that he was able to overcome.
He also regrets doing so much on his own. In copywriting, he always worked well with a partner, Shloimy Nopik. "He's the reason I moved to Portland two years ago. He made a pitch deck on why I should move here in the summer of '18."
"I enjoy working as a team in advertising, but working with other people is much better. Now I have two advisers. It's better. We're hiring a director of operations and an e-comm person."
Naturally, he's working on a Black Friday discount code to lure in new converts.
"It's a year-round product by all e-commerce brands get a bump in November and December. Most people are going to be buying them for themselves. But it's life-changingly better, to be clean. It's like a toothbrush never existed. Customers share stories with me online, and they start buying them for other people. That was me, and I started a company."
Did he get his mom and dad to use it?
"Oh yes, they love it."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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