How we started a toilet paper spray company that replaces environmentally harmful wet wipes

Pristine Cleansing Sprays
Brandon Karam & Jess Karam Oley
Founded: December 2014
No of employees: 2
Location: USA

Pristine Cleansing Sprays was founded by first cousins and former lawyers, Brandon and Jess. They started the company in 2014 after having the bright idea that toilet paper spray could replace environmentally harmful wet wipes. After appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank, sales on their website and Amazon skyrocketed.

While the duo uses Facebook and Google Ads to raise awareness about the company, they also spend a lot of time educating consumers about the problems caused by wet wipes worldwide. The strategy is clearly paying off as today, the company generates $164k/month in revenue. The road to success has not always been plain sailing, so we find out how Brandon and Jess built the brand from the ground up.

Who are you and what brand did you start?

We are Brandon Karam and Jess Karam Oley from San Antonio, Texas – first cousins and the founders and owners of Pristine Cleansing Sprays. We are both former lawyers. Brandon was a patent and trademark attorney; Jess worked as an attorney with her father, working in corporate structure, real estate, contracts, and some litigation. Amongst many of his other hobbies and passions, Brandon is an avid traveler, tri-athlete, and marathon runner. Jess is a mom of three kids, and also enjoys traveling, road-tripping, and creating experiences with her husband and children.

We both come from a long line of family entrepreneurs. Our fathers grew up from meager means, but both were able to work their way through school and start their own practices in their fields of study. Their grandfather worked with the family grocery store that was started by their grandfather, who immigrated from Lebanon when he was only 16 years old. When we quit our legal careers to start Pristine, it seemed crazy at the time. But, in retrospect, it was probably destined to happen. Entrepreneurship is in our blood. 

Pristine started in 2014 with a strange and novel idea that toilet paper spray could replace the use of pesky, environmentally harmful wet wipes. Through Pristine, we create and sell multiple types of toilet paper spray (wet wipe alternatives) and hand sanitizer. We are based in our hometown of San Antonio, Texas, USA.

Pristine Cleansing Sprays

Our target audience is the entire butt-wiping public… excuse the crudeness! Although, we knew we couldn’t “boil the ocean” by trying to reach everyone at once. So, we initially focused our efforts to target people who already recognized the problems with wet wipes and those who have had personal problems with them, like skin irritation and clogs from the harsh chemicals. We are expanding and growing to other niches too.

In 2019, we appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank to pitch our invention to the Sharks. It was a wild and humorous experience; after all, we were talking about the potty. In 2020, Pristine was featured on Strahan, Sara, and KeKe’s Deals & Steals segment, and on Good Morning America!

How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for Pristine Cleansing Sprays?

Brandon had just moved to Dallas, Texas, USA, to work with a law firm where Jess was living at the time. Over a casual dinner, we got on to the topic of wet wipes. Jess’ daughter, who was only 6 months old at the time, was experiencing severe skin irritations caused by the harsh chemicals in wet wipes. Brandon had experienced similar issues with wet wipes, and he was aware of how wet wipes, even the “flushable” kind, clogs plumbing. We hopped on Google to look for a solution to our common problem. Instead of an easy solution, we found many other people and organizations complaining of the same problems with wet wipes. We realized that there was not a mainstream alternative to wet wipes. So, we decided to create one.

We actually spent an inordinate amount of time choosing a brand and company name. Since the topic of how one cleans their bum is somewhat taboo, we did not want to choose a descriptive name or anything that would be distasteful.

Our product cleans – we really didn’t need to say what it cleaned. The word Pristine means clean. Actually, it implies that something is much more than clean; it is spotless, immaculate, sanitary, purified, untarnished. These words describe the effects of Pristine. The name was a perfect fit for the functionality and after effects of Pristine.

Our logo, which is a single abstract droplet, signifies the simple, clean, and liquid nature of our products. No wipes, cloth, microplastics, or harsh chemicals involved.

Describe the process of launching Pristine Cleansing Sprays?

From the outset, we knew that Pristine would be a liquid, water-based spray. Natural, clean, and safe ingredients were of paramount priority for us. We were creating the product, not only because we saw an apparent need for it, but also because we each had a personal need for it. We were creating a product that WE would use on our bodies and on Jess’ children. We would not create or sell a product that we would not feel comfortable using ourselves or on Jess’ children.

The very night we came up with the idea during dinner, we began making a list of potential ingredients. We took care in the development of our initial prototypes – thoroughly researching potential ingredients, safety regulations and recommendations of the FDA, and those more stringent regulations in the EU, Japan, and Australia. We hand-crafted about 500 bottles of our prototype for testing, and for a small market study with family and friends (our brave test subjects).

It took 1 ½ years to develop the final formula and to finalize the labeling, branding, and packaging. Had we not been occupied with our full time jobs as attorneys, and if we had significant financial backing, we may have gotten from “idea” to “final prototype” much faster. But we kept our day jobs and took no outside funding, investments, or debt.

We kept our start-up costs minimal. If we could learn a task and do it ourselves, we would. We would spend money when it was absolutely necessary. This strategy was a double-edged sword. On one side, we learned every facet of our business intimately, and later on we were able to hire or contract out for those services with more knowledge than many entrepreneurs who are able to hire out from the outset. On the other side, this probably delayed our progress a little bit. A task that took us weeks could have taken a professional or expert half the time.

Early on, we were not particularly focused on being a strong ecommerce brand. We were working partially on ecommerce and more on in-store retail. We worked with sales reps and attended trade shows and markets to promote Pristine. This was a misstep for us early on. In store, retail was not as successful as we needed it to be. Toilet paper spray was a new product in a new product category. Most people did not know what it was, so it didn’t sell off the shelves immediately. 

The product itself required some education and explanation that a simple POP (point of purchase) display or promotional material could not accomplish at a first glance by shoppers. We learned that the journey to Pristine was more of an educational experience that can be accomplished best online. We were able to readjust our targets and sales goals to focus online.

We used Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, social media, and organic SEO to promote Pristine. As more people learned about Pristine and began to use it, Pristine fans began to leave reviews and comments on our social media. Watching the reviews being posted was a memorable and exciting experience for us. We loved hearing from our customers and responding to them. It is still our favorite part of our business to interact with customers and always be working on our business and product to meet customer needs.

It goes without saying that appearing on Shark Tank was a huge, pivotal moment for Pristine. We were able to tell millions of people about Pristine. Sales on our website and Amazon skyrocketed after our episode was shown!

Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?

Customer care and quality products! 

In a time of quick fleeting product trends promoted by “influencers” and manufactured fame, Pristine gains customers and recognition the old fashion way – by creating an exceptional and high-quality product, listening to our customers, and letting word of mouth and reviews and recommendations promote Pristine.

Of course, we use Facebook Ads and Google Ads to raise awareness about Pristine, and to inform folks about the damage caused by wet wipes. We focus a lot on educating people about the problems caused by wet wipes. Many people are not aware of the major problems wet wipes are causing worldwide.

With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?

Up until Shark Tank, website traffic and sales were slow and steady. We would gradually increase sales each month and remain on that plateau. Then sales would increase to the next plateau. Our appearance on Shark Tank sent sales straight up and we have been able to maintain and increase sales from that spike. 

How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?

We are thrilled with the state of Pristine today! After appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2019, sales skyrocketed, but we are most excited and proud that Pristine has maintained that momentum. 2019 and the first part of 2020 were big growth years for Pristine – not just in sales, but the infrastructure of the company needed to catch up to support the demand for Pristine. 

We are excited that we will be launching two new naturally fragranced toilet paper sprays by December 2020. We will also officially launch our first hand sanitizer that is proudly made with all the quality and care as our toilet paper sprays, using only safe, clean, and time-tested ingredients, with a natural essential oil fragrance. 

For 2021 and beyond, we plan to continue growing Pristine and expanding our product line. Launching our very first health and hygiene cosmetic product was challenging to say the least. But, now we have an appetite for it, and we are committed to creating and offering products that help us all be a little kinder to the earth and our bodies.

What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?

This will sound so basic, but don’t give up. That is a big lesson. A large percent of businesses fail early on because challenges become too great, or a hurdle seems too big to get over. We had many setbacks and missteps before things really started moving for Pristine. Sometimes it felt as though we were stagnate and floundering around without a particular goal in sight. It is these times when it would be helpful to have a loose business plan, timelines and deadlines, and to set goals to keep you moving forward. 

Since we were not looking for funding or investors when we launched Pristine, we did not develop a written, organized business plan. We didn’t think we needed one until that time when we would entertain investors. In hindsight, we think that a loose business plan that set sales metrics and goals would have been helpful to keep us on track in the early stages, when we weren’t sure what was going to stick and work best.

What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?

1) Growing an ecommerce business is so much easier if you take the time in the beginning to properly set up the bones of the company structure and set a business plan to serve as a road map. It is easy to get lost, look for shortcuts, or divert from your path if you don’t know where you want the company to be in 5 or 10 years. Of course, you may need to re-route from time to time. But set specific goals, only do tasks that help accomplish that goal.

2) Starting a business is not glamorous. It is expensive, time consuming, humbling, tiring, messy, and defeating at times. In the few days preceding our airing on Shark Tank, we were not drinking champagne and joyfully responding to posts from fans. Brandon was driving 1,700 miles to pick up a shipment of inventory that we learned would not arrive at our fulfillment center in time. So, he drove hundreds of miles in a few days to make sure we had enough product to fulfill orders. Our friend helping with website and analytics was balled up on the floor near a computer monitoring website traffic. I was feverishly typing away at our social media accounts assisting customers with questions and purchases. Don’t expect or strive for an office with windows, swag, and a large employee base at the outset. Leased office space is typically unnecessary, expensive, and a drain of the company expenses. You don’t need a coffee cup with your logo on it. You don’t need mouse pads with your brand. Stay away.

3) If you haven’t learned how to do a task yourself, or have at least researched how it’s done and how to do it efficiently, it will be very difficult to instruct another person on how to best help your business. Moreover, if you are outsourcing a big task, like marketing, you can easily get taken for a ride by companies who promise the moon and throw fancy words at you. There are many free or relatively inexpensive resources available to launch an ecommerce store.

What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run Pristine Cleansing Sprays?

Klaviyo has been helpful for email marketing. Shopify is very user-friendly and has great plug-ins.

TypeTool Name
Email MarketingKlaviyo
AnalyticsGoogle Analytics
PaymentsShopify Payments, Paypal
DesignAdobe Suites
MarketingKlaviyo, Mailchimp, Google Ads, Facebook Ads

See what ecommerce tools other founders are using.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?

How I Built This by Guy Raz is an incredible podcast that talks about the journeys of many successful entrepreneurs. The biggest takeaway for us was that nearly every entrepreneur will have missteps, mistakes, and problems.

Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?

There is not a specific high-profile person or company who has significantly influenced us. We love reading about the success stories of people like Mark Cuban, Herb Kelleher, Mark Zuckerberg, and the like. We love that Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook started out of garages. But, our path with Pristine was mostly influenced and guided by some internal driving force.

Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Ask others for help or input. Help other entrepreneurs when you can. Brainstorm with other entrepreneurs. Early on, we kept our ideas and product very secretive. We were concerned that someone would take our idea and beat us to the market.

We now have a circle of entrepreneurs and like-minded business friends that we communicate with frequently. We offer advice and ask for advice. We have been able to avoid pitfalls and bad deals simply by talking to others.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now or open to new investors?

Not at this time.

Where can we go to learn more about your current offers/promotions/programs?

We post promotions on our website. Also, subscribers to our Join The Movement newsletter receive discounts and promotions through email.

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