Entrepreneurship for Good
Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 @ 12:13PM
We often hear stories from our alumni about how the JSA experience truly impacts their lives and careers. Here’s one example:
After serving as JSA Midwest Lieutenant Governor and later working with USAID, David Simnick had the crazy idea to start making soap in his basement.
With hard work and persistence, David built a company that both produces a great product and gives back.
For every bar of SoapBox Soap purchased, the company donates clean water, vitamin supplements or—yes—soap to children in need across the globe.
Where did your idea originate from?
I had an internship with a sub contractor for the United States Agency for International Development. That turned into a contractor role. They offered me a full time job, and I turned it down.
During that experience I had an idea for hygiene and sanitation. I called up my best friend and fellow Eagle Scout, Eric, and said, “We are going to start a soap company.” His response was that we didn’t know anything about soap.
I made our first batch in the basement. People thought I was either running a Fight Club or making illicit drugs.
Has SoapBox been featured in the news?
We have been on the Today Show and featured in the Washington Post and Chicago Sun Times. We have been able to be covered by many outlets. People can find us in Whole Foods, Giant Eagle and, in the near future, Target and Kroger.
Did you have other business partners aside from your best friend?
Dan, Eric, Stephanie and I were were working full time jobs in addition to SoapBox. Eric worked for for IBM, and Stephanie and I worked at Teach For America. Eventually, Dan and I went full time.
When did you start selling SoapBox at Whole Foods?
It was a lot of persistence: calling, stopping by and pleading with Whole Foods. They asked us to stop calling and emailing. They finally let us into one store. We started in Pennsylvania and were able to launch from one store to eight, and then into the region.
What were some of your lessons learned?
In the beginning we messed up—wrong packaging, wrong price point, everything that we could have done wrong. We surrounded ourselves with mentors and investors, humbling ourselves for coaching and feedback and we listened. In 2012 we relaunched our product with new packaging and a new price and it was better all around.
Was there one piece of advice from mentors that resonated?
One of the biggest pieces of advice was be humble and listen to the advice of others. The ego and hubris that it takes to start something is often at odds with the skill set it takes to build something. It takes humility to listen to people who have done this before in order to build faster and scale quickly.
Also, carry yourself with a co-founder who can balance your weaknesses and strengths.
In your early years what was one thing you did do right?
We didn’t give up. That’s what we did right. We were dogged and persistent.
How did being in JSA contribute to your success?
JSA allows for high schoolers to experience leadership. I was in a cabinet and the Lieutenant Governor for the Midwest. That was hands-on training on how to run meetings, organize trainings and motivate high school students. It allows for budding young adults to get students working at the helm. One of the beautiful things is that it really and truly is student run. From A to Z, multiple components only come together if the students themselves organize it. A lot of budding leaders experience the responsibility and hardships at such a young age.
To learn more about SoapBox Soaps, visit www.soapboxsoaps.com
Interview conducted by JSA Alumni Association Steering Committee member Winstina Hughes.