After writing a Social Business profile on SoapBoax Soaps, which gives a bar of soap for each one purchased, we were curious to learn more about the team -- Dave Simnick and Eric Vong -- behind it. In the questions below, the founders share more about their story and how they entered the field of social enterprise. The interview ends with some words of advice from Dave for other entrepreneurs, focusing on self awareness and building an incredible team.
5 Questions with Dave Simnick and Eric Vong, founders of SoapBox Soaps
1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
Dave was working at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a contractor and noticed the high level of capital invested in clean water programs. USAID contractors and NGOs built wells or desalination plants all over the developing world. Discussion after discussion, overseas aid workers emphasized that unless communities developed good, consistent hygiene, and had access to soap, clean water fails to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria. That’s when the idea took hold.
Dave called one of his closest life-long friends through Boy Scouts and high school, Eric Vong. They talked about the idea for a company to sell great soap while giving away a bar for every bar we sold. Bar for bar, they were going to solve the problem of hygiene access and education. Through various mistakes and early fumbles, they eventually found and added Daniel Doll, Andrea Pacelli, and Stephanie Appiah to their team.
SoapBox Soaps now aims to offer consumers the chance to improve the world through everyday health and beauty purchases.
2. How did you decide to join this sector?
"Soap? You’re going to make Soap? What... we’re going to have a fight club in our basement?"
This was the response from my college roommates the time I told him that I was going to start a soap company based off saving lives. They eventually came around, but they were right. It was a huge jump for Eric and myself. How were recent college grads going to start making soap and where the hell we’re they going to sell it?
Through attending conventions, reading books, listening to mentors, and just plain trial and error, we found our way in the natural/organic whole body sector. SoapBox is currently expanding its product line to include liquid soap, and in the near future, other items. We’ve have strategic partnerships in the works that could bring our mission to various different parts of this marketplace and we’re excited to embrace and tackle the challenges ahead.
3. How do you get your inspiration?
Our whole team gets our inspiration from directly working with the people who we help. We also love hearing from our customers how they love our certified organic soap or the mission we represent. Starting an organization from scratch is not an easy tasks. Often times you have to hear a lot of "Nos" before you start hearing "Yes." When our team has to go through another challenge or we have to sacrifice, we remember why we’re doing this. Not only are we building something from the ground up, we’re actually sincerely saving lives.
4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
Each team member of SoapBox could answer this differently, but as a team, we know how to have fun together. Whether through poking fun at each person through email threads or during our face-to-face meetings, we enjoy the company of each other and know how to have a good laugh. The ideas that flow and at the pace in which they fly is something to be seen when we have our meetings. It’s the fuel that keeps SoapBox going.
One ritual we have actually comes from Teach for America, which Andrea, Stephanie, and Dave were all apart of. When a team member does something really well, we like to "shout out" their achievement. We like to "shout out" our team members because we like to be an open, professional, and honest team...even when it comes to our failures and how we can learn from them to become a stronger team and company.
5. Do you have any words of advice for other social entrepreneurs? (Answered by Dave)
I’ve always been a huge believer of being self-aware. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and building a team around people who complement your skill set can either spell the future success or failure of your organization.
I also believe that the number one priority of a leader of a business comes down to talent management. The idea of your company (in the early stages) is almost worthless. The most important ingredients for building something comes down to the people who will be pushing that stone up a mountain everyday. Find those who see more than just dollar signs at the top of the mountain. Find the type of people who love building for building sake. They’re going to be your champions. Remove obstacles and people in their way. Recognize them for their strengths, help them improve their weaknesses, and listen to them as they make you a better person and leader.
Our team has the strength and power to do amazing things and we’re always looking for people who have the fire within to help us change the world.
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