Duke sophomore Bryan Silverman, a finalist to become Entrepreneur Magazine's "College Entrepreneur of 2012," can tell you the many jokes he's heard about his newly launched business.
"People say 'what a crappy idea' and things like that" when he offers to advertise their businesses on rolls of toilet paper. "But once they get through cracking jokes, they usually love it."
Yes, that's correct: Advertising on toilet paper. Silverman and his brother Jordan have convinced restaurants, a bowling alley, a car wash and others to do just that on rolls of bathroom tissue, which they are offering for free to venues that would otherwise have to pay to supply their restroom stalls. The brothers hire a manufacturer to print the ads with a soybean-based ink, which they've tested for safety.
No, the ink doesn't smear when the paper is used.
Jordan dreamed up the idea when sitting, appropriately enough, on a toilet seat wishing he had something to read. When he told his younger brother about it, "at first, I pooh-poohed it," Bryan jokes in a video where he describes why his idea should be honored as the year’s best among entrepreneurial U.S. college students.
"Our printed toilet paper allows you to reach a targeted audience in a unique way that will certainly catch people's attention," says the website for their new company, Star Toilet Paper. "Ads and coupons on toilet paper provide customers with a convenient and fun way to talk about and learn more about your company."
Several of the first advertisers have included QR codes, or bar codes, that users can scan from inside their stalls to capture a coupon and learn more about the advertiser. Potentially spending minutes instead of seconds with ads that cost about half a cent each, they comprise “an unmatched captive audience,” Bryan says. "We're offering them amazing deals while they're sitting on the toilet. If they don't want to read it, they don't have to."
The brothers have been handling all aspects of their business, "from sales to social media," although they hope to hire at least one employee soon. They've printed 3,000 rolls of toilet paper so far and plan to produce different versions for men and women, thereby helping advertisers target their audiences.
A neuroscience major from Rye Brook, N.Y., Bryan only recently became part of Duke's entrepreneurship scene, in which growing numbers of students have begun joining startups or launching their own businesses. Now, he says, "I'm looking to take business classes, entrepreneurship classes, anything along those lines."
He and Jordan, who graduated in May from the University of Michigan, are "definitely trying to make this more than just an idea and grow it into a business," Bryan says.
They're still testing their concept with both advertisers and users, but have dreams of becoming "major players" in the commercial toilet paper industry. "We're hoping to supply anything from a mall to a stadium," Bryan says.