DURHAM — Duke University sophomore Bryan Silverman and his brother, Jordan, want to build a toilet paper empire.
In 2009, Jordan Silverman came up with the idea for advertising on toilet paper while he was on his phone using the bathroom.
Initially, Bryan Silverman, then a high school senior in Westchester, N.Y., thought the idea was a little crazy, but changed his mind after market research convinced him that the idea had potential.
Star Toilet Paper was founded in the fall of 2010 with less than $1,000 in startup capital.
“Since then, it has really taken off,” said Bryan Silverman, who was recently named Entrepreneur magazine’s 2012 College Entrepreneur of the Year.
The brothers spent about a year and a half researching and establishing a business plan.
“It was a lot of, ‘This is cool, let’s look into it in our free time,’” Bryan Silverman said.
Bryan Silverman, who is studying neuroscience, said he spends about 35 to 40 hours a week working on the business. He uses the Duke student business incubator DUhatch for office space, and he turns to associated mentors for guidance. Jordan Silverman, who graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor last year, runs the company full time, along with two employees, who are paid mostly by commission and work out of a space in New York City.
The brothers aren’t collecting a salary; instead, they put all revenue back into the company, Bryan Silverman said.
In December 2011, the brothers began executing their “two-ply” business model, which includes reaching out to a high-traffic public venue, such as a restaurant, stadium or mall, and offering free toilet paper. Then, based on the venue’s customer demographics, the company reaches out to advertisers.
“Advertisers will have the ability not only to reach those specific demographics, but also, in many cases, they are able to separate it based on males and females,” Bryan Silverman said.
Advertisers pay a half-cent per ad to be one of about seven other companies with a reoccurring ad on the toilet paper, which is made from recycled materials. The ads are printed with a vegetable-oil based material, similar to what is used to print on napkins, Bryan Silverman said.
“It is a unique way of advertising that’s seen by what is definitely a very captive audience,” Bryan Silverman said.
Star provides toilet paper to four venues in Ann Arbor, two venues in Durham, including Blue Note Grill, and one in Westchester, N.Y.
Over the past year, the brothers have refined their product by adding codes that can be scanned by a smart phone, jpeg coupons, and links to advertisers’ social media pages. Initially, they only used advertisers’ logos and coupons on the toilet paper.
“It is important to be able to increase that online interaction, not only because it helps this basically as a jumping off point for further interaction with the brand, but it also helps us track numbers that are important for marketing,” Bryan Silverman said.