When Bobby Edwards’s mother, Judy, finally went to the doctor to tackle her chronic constipation, her son didn’t think she would come back with an idea worth millions of dollars. But she couldn’t stop talking to her family and friends about the doctor’s simple recommendation—using a small footstool to raise her knees while on the toilet, so her puborectalis muscle could unkink her colon. “She became almost evangelical in her quest to help people poop better,” says Edwards.
So he sat down with some of the research around proper poop posture, and it seemed to add up for him. But when he looked online for devices that would help people squat on the toilet, the Internet came up empty. He even took the studies to his friends in the medical field, to see if there was something he was missing. “I would ask them and show them the diagrams, and they would say, ‘yes, this is exactly what we’re taught in medical school.’ And I would ask, ‘Why is there nothing out there to help people do this?’ And they said, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
To the enterprising 41-year-old from Utah, who was running a specialty construction company with his brother at the time, that was music to his ears: a giant niche in a mostly unseen market, backed by some scientific studies, waiting to be filled by a simple, basic product—essentially, a formula for business success. He sold $700,000 worth of Squatty Potties online in 2012; two years later, they got nationwide retail distribution, and last year, stools for your stool raked in USD $33-million in sales.
Squatty Potty isn’t the only company taking advantage of this flush opportunity. Poo-Pourri, an oil-based spray that tamps down foul odours, has turned into an empire that reportedly has sold more than 17 million bottles since 2007. Tushy, which sells stylish bidets that can be affixed inside toilet bowls at home, has sold more than 50,000 units since 2016, having raised $1.4 million in capital for the still-small company. And new companies like Omigo continue to follow the path owned by Toto, a Japanese company whose sales of their flagship washlet (a high-tech toilet seat) have grown by nearly 30 per cent in just four years, to more than 40 million units worldwide.
And with innovations for every room of the house flooding the market, and money clearly to be made inside the one where our most sensitive business takes place, Edwards’s question is the right one: Why haven’t more businesses made number two their number-one priority?
Just look around your house, and consider how much it has evolved in just the last decade. You wake up in your bedroom on a high-tech foam mattress, perhaps delivered straight to your door, more refreshed because of the sleep-cycle monitor that buzzed you out of sleep at the ideal time. You walk into your kitchen, and press a button to turn a plastic pod into hot coffee in seconds, while the internet of things helps your fridge keep stock of the steak you’ll make in your home sous-vide precision cooker later tonight. In your living room, you use your phone to stream some music or a TV episode from one of the many services that give you instantaneous access to a huge chunk of the world’s media from your television. By infusing our homes, technology has made our day-to-day life better.
Our bathrooms, on the other hand, have remained largely innovation-free for decades. By the 1940s, more than half of Americans had access to a bathroom that had included cold and hot running water, a bathtub or shower, and of course, a flush toilet, about a century after they were first commercially produced. While the superficial items and design within the washroom has varied over time—shag carpeting, luxe towels, make-up vanities, jacuzzi tubs—the tools and structure of a washroom themselves have basically remained frozen in time. And for entrepreneurs, that unexplored frontier suggests brown could mean gold.
“Yes, I knew it helped my mother, but more importantly to me, I thought it was freaking hilarious that we’re supposed to be squatting to poop, and we’re not,” says Edwards. “It’s all about the better bathroom experience. We were all hiding out in our bathrooms, and now we’re talking.”