The entrepreneurial spirits of Eastside native Austin Watkins and business partner Ryan Fritsch has led the two to recently launching an environmentally friendly toilet paper brand called Cloud Paper. After bootstrapping programs at Uber — with included expanding certain services onto the Eastside — and working as original team members at Convoy, the now-multi-billion-dollar Seattle trucking company, the two branched off to test their hands at getting their own startup off the ground.
“From day one, we were looking at two things,” said Watkins, who grew up in Kenmore before going to school at UW, where he met co-founder Fritsch. “The first and most important was that our company had to be environmentally beneficial from day one. And the second was that it had to be built around a mission.”
With these criteria in mind, the two set out in search of the niche they wanted to fill — and disrupt — with a business of their own. That’s when they came across upon some pretty sobering statistics about the deforestation that occurs for mundane products like toilet paper and paper towel.
“We cut down 40,000 trees a day for toilet paper and paper towels,” Watkins said. “One in five trees globally is cut down for something that you use and seconds later throw away.”
With these numbers in mind, Watkins and Fritsch set out to create a high-quality toilet paper brand that is just like the regular stuff without sacrificing any trees in the process. Their solution? Make it with bamboo, which grows up to three feet per day while also absorbing massive amounts of carbon as it grows. It can also be harvested in three years, while a tree’s growth can take more than 50 years.
“There are so many powerful and positive compounding factors to it — it’s just the material that makes the most sense to use,” Watkins said.
Cloud Paper officially launched in May 2019 and currently operates out of a Seattle co-working space. Their approach at gaining their product traction — which goes hand in hand with reducing the impact of deforestation to make toilet paper — is to focus first and foremost on business to business partnerships.
“We have business partners where all their Washington and Oregon locations are using Cloud Paper. We’re in places like Molly Moon’s and Bamboo Sushi. And we’re going after Fortune 500 companies that are interested in using Cloud Paper for their corporate campuses, or their hotels or airplanes, for example.
Individuals also can sign up for subscription plans that send a box of Cloud Paper — 24 rolls of 3-ply toilet paper delivered completely plastic-free — to their doorstep, choosing how often they’d like to receive the package. At $28 per box, Watkins said that the product is competitive with other sustainable brands; all boxes also ship for free.
This year, Watkins said, the company has set its sights on expanding nationally beyond its current partnerships on the West Coast.
“We’ve already delivered tens of thousands of rolls,” he said. “We’re ready to go bigger.”
The goal of the brand, Watkins said, builds on experience the co-founders had at Uber and Convoy: to grow and scale very quickly. They want to do as much good as possible and as quickly as possible and aim to make sustainable toilet paper mainstream and normalized.
“I want to run a company that will add value to people and have a purpose,” Watkins said. “I think that working to help the environment — it’s one of the most interesting problems that you could work on. And we’re excited about where we’re headed.”