Emma Rose launched FinalStraw via a crowdfunding campaign in April 2018. The campaign resulted in contributions in excess of $1.8 million. Emma and her team went on to generate FinalStraw sales in excess of $15 million… and then the coronavirus began ravaging the globe.
The FinalStraw is designed for people on the move. The coronavirus suddenly reduced everyone’s mobility. With the worldwide “Big Pause,” the need for a mobile, reusable straw paused as well.
Ever the wily entrepreneur, Emma took what was initially intended as an April Fool’s Day joke and, in ten days, designed a product that generated over $100,000 from Kickstarter backers during its first week on the market.
The FinalWipe is a sanitary, reusable alternative to single-use paper towels
Leah Grubb, © 2020 The Final Co. LLC. All rights reserved.
From April Fool’s Joke To Serious As A Virus
I spoke with Emma last year regarding her spectacular success with the FinalStraw. I was pleased, but not surprised, to hear that she quickly pivoted to address the current crises. (Note: Emma’s remarks have been lightly edited for brevity and readability.)
John Greathouse: So Emma, is it true that the FinalWipe idea started as an April Fool’s joke video?
Emma Rose: The rumor is true. Growing up, my family took April Fool’s Day very seriously and my parents outdid themselves year after year with increasingly absurd jokes. As an adult, planning and executing ridiculous April Fool’s stunts has become one of my favorite hobbies.
Last year, when we debuted FinalSuck – a fictional straw that sucks for you… the gift of the gag became part of our company culture. The hope was to begin a tradition of inviting people to laugh with us on a notoriously fun day.
In mid-February I came up with the idea for FinalWipe – reusable toilet paper – as the April Fool’s joke for 2020. We shot the commercial starring our mermaid mascot and the footage was hilarious! I mean, who doesn’t love a mermaid and a little toilet humor? I was thrilled to have made my best April Fools video yet. But then the world as we knew it changed. People were hoarding toilet paper and the joke started to feel wrong. I realized that our potential prank was no longer a laughing matter and that we needed to pivot.
Greathouse: Everyone is reacting to the unfolding pandemic in real time. How quickly did the idea go from a joke to a potentially company saving initiative?
Rose: I was chatting with a close friend and mentor on March 19th and after he watched the video, he said, “You should actually make this.” Later that day, I went on a hike, thought over the idea, and realized he was right. So, I organized an emergency company meeting for March 20th and asked the team if they were in. Over our virtual call, everyone put their hands in and it was a unanimous decision, “Let’s freaking do this!” We decided to launch the Kickstarter campaign on March 31. In ten days, we developed a prototype, put together a campaign page, shot original photos, and shot and edited the explainer portion of the video.
When the pandemic hit, I was incredibly nervous about the financial state of the company. Our sales had declined dramatically, and I was having to consider letting employees go, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I am very much of the belief that if we were going down, we were going down together. So, we took a big chance and went for it.
Greathouse: Hold up, ten days? Your Kickstarter looks super-pro. You got it up in ten days?
Rose: From the initial meeting to launch day, every component of the project was treated as a high-priority deliverable. We all recognized that setting a ten-day deadline was a lofty goal; however, we also knew that every single member of the team was committed to exerting time, energy and expertise over long hours to make it happen. And we were all down for a distraction! Everyone was stuck in their houses, looking for something fun and exciting to work on.
Since we had already filmed the video, we quickly determined the next course of action and set out to create the prototype, collateral, and the Kickstarter page. Our small team of twelve was able to work from areas of strength and experience that have been refined over the previous two years of working together. Our team has been remote since the beginning, so we have learned excellent digital communication skills, and everyone knows when to step up or ask for help.
Greathouse: That’s impressive. Santa Barbara has become a hub of successful crowdsourced campaigns – CLIQ Products ($1.6 million) and Shine Bathroom ($450,000) both launched their businesses from crowdsource platforms.
Rose: Yea, those teams are talented… Santa Barbara is a very collegial place. We help each other when we can, share ideas and generally cheer each other on.
Greathouse: I love the idea (of FinalWipe) because it addresses a real-world issue. We’ve all seen empty shelves in Costco’s paper towel aisle. With a reusable solution like FinalWipe, you never have to worry about running out and you get the added benefit of it being antiseptic.
Rose: Our mission is to make products that solve everyday problems and reduce waste. And although we did create FinalWipe in response to the immediate concerns we saw as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality is that FinalWipe addresses the everyday issue that we all have, which is to say, using too many disposable paper products. FinalWipe has been designed to replace paper towels, paper napkins, sanitizing wipes, and can even be used as toilet paper.
In the United States we have a paper-product addiction. According to the EPA, paper makes up the largest share of municipal waste in the U.S. Americans discard 51,000 trees’ worth of paper towels and flush 270,000 trees down the toilet every day! Not only does that huge amount of waste end up in landfills, but paper products also require hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in order to make them.
Greathouse: To clarify, you just mentioned toilet paper, in the video, the mermaid makes references to using the FinalWipe as a substitute for toilet paper. Is that its intended use?
Rose: FinalWipe can be used as a replacement for any paper product, toilet paper included. But we only recommend using it after number one or with a bidet. It’s great for bidet users because it completely solves the ‘soggy toilet paper stuck on the butt’ problem. Bidet sales have been skyrocketing lately, and FinalWipe is the perfect accessory.
Greathouse: Got it. I know that pre-COVID-19, you were creating a follow-up to your breakout hit the FinalStraw. Was that product’s launch put on hold?
Rose: Yes. We have been developing FinalFork for over a year, but a spring launch just didn’t feel right, given the circumstances. FinalFork is a reusable, collapsible travel fork. Right now, everyone is doing their best to stay home – and we are right there with them. The delay has allowed us to spend a bit more time refining and testing the design and to ensure that we are creating the highest quality, sexiest, most bad-ass fork possible.
Greathouse: You’ve generated over $100,00 so far on Kickstarter… obviously FinalWipe is resonating. What have you done to activate the folks who backed the FinalStraw? <Note: as this goes to press, the FinalWipe campaign totals $118,000 and still has 36 days left>
Rose: The launch of FinalStraw activated a group of individuals who are very invested in solving the issue of single-use waste. We rely on input from our community and frequently use polls to find out what they would like to see us produce. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I want to make, if people aren’t going to use a product, then making it is pointless.
I am a big believer that the best ideas can come from anywhere and (I) am constantly taking the pulse of our community to help guide the direction of the company. Our community understands that our true goal is not to push products, but to truly discern what people need in order to solve their problems and then provide the solutions. The first Kickstarter proved that people were actively seeking sustainable alternatives, and the second Kickstarter has shown that they are open to new innovations.
Greathouse: Yes, Kickstarter has become an effective product development proving ground for a number of companies.
When I first heard about FinalWipes, I thought it was a Hail Mary, but it actually fits squarely into Final’s ultimate mission of reducing one-time use products.
Rose: When I think about the types of products I want to make, everything goes through the same filter: “Will this help reduce waste, and will people actually use it?” It is kind of a weird question to ask because I understand the irony of making more products to use less. But ultimately, everything we create has a break-even point, which is the point at which reusables become more sustainable than single-use items. Generally, if it is a product that I think I will use regularly, I assume there are others out there like me who will also enjoy this kind of item.
Greathouse: You’re becoming a crowdfunding veteran. What did you learn from your first Kickstarter that you’ve put into practice launching FinalWipe?
Rose: Launch first, figure everything else out later. When we introduced FinalStraw, it was nothing more than a pipedream with a little bit of CAD, medical tubing, and orthodontic rubber bands. So many people have incredible ideas, but they hold back for fear of not knowing how they will accomplish their goal. I am definitely the kind of person who is not afraid of risk and live by the mantra of, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Greathouse: So, what can we expect from you and your team, once the Big Pause is over and we’re enjoying a post-coronavirus world?
Rose: Being alone and in quarantine has given me quite a bit of time with my thoughts and I am bursting with new ideas! I have a tendency to jump right into another idea once the wheels are in motion, so I am forcing myself to focus on the current tasks at hand. However, I can’t help but be excited for the upcoming years.
In the next three months, Final is launching FinalWipe, FinalFork, FinalSpork, and BiggieStraw — a reusable straw designed for smoothies and boba. And that’s just the beginning. I am looking deeper into food delivery systems and how we can integrate reusables into those operations. Ultimately, I want to completely change the way the world interacts with single-use materials. Waste is just a design flaw, and we intend to fix it.