Part II: Q&A With Politico Co-Founder Jim VandeHei
In a candid interview, Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei offers his unique take on the state of journalism, reporting, and U.S. politics.
This story originally appeared on Above the Fold, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s digital platform featuring analysis, commentary, and real stories about the intersection of government and business.
After graduating from American University, David Simnick had an idea while working as a subcontractor at United States Agency for International Development (USAID): “What if a company could change the world through empowering customers to change it through simple, everyday purchases?”
He just needed to find his SoapBox.
That vision—SoapBox Soaps, founded in 2010—is now a reality. The concept: Something as simple as a bar of soap and clean water can save lives around the world. So the company donates one bar of soap, fresh water, or vitamin supplements to a child in need for every bar purchased – with sales and donations growing each quarter.
“I want SoapBox to be a household name and empower people to make the world better with everyday purchases,” Simnick said.
SoapBox has been able to reach four continents—from the United States to Ecuador to Kenya to Thailand—and provide 260,000 bars of soap, a year’s supply of vitamins to 68,200 people through charity partner Vitamin Angels, and a year’s supply of water to more than 319,186 people through charity partners Splash and Rain Catcher.
The business, based in Alexandria, Virginia, has come a long ways from the initial idea.
Not knowing anything about soap, Simnick first turned to Google. He then got to work in his kitchen after buying tubs of lard, fats, oils and other ingredients. (His roommates at first thought he had gone all Walter White from “Breaking Bad” and was cooking up drugs.)
David brought on his co-founder Dan Doll and started perfecting the soap recipe. They started selling to mom-and-pop stores—but they had greater aspirations. They kept knocking on Whole Foods’s door, and the grocery outlet agreed to sell the product in March 2012.
They tinkered with pricing and packaging while expanding to eight Whole Foods stores. With a lot of coffee, little sleep, and resilience and creativity, the business next received a 300-store test from Target. SoapBox was on its way.
“There isn’t a lot of innovation in this market, so we looked at how we can solve a customer’s problem,” Simnick said. “We tell our story to customers. It’s a high honor to provide product and value.”
While making the world a cleaner place for all, SoapBox also is economically conscious. The company encourages its partners abroad to buy locally and support the local economy. After fully vetting each partner, SoapBox wires money to the charity or program to provide soap and clean water.
It is a clean strategy: Working to empower others and build stronger communities—all through bars of soap.