Roads Taken and Not Taken: Jonathan Propper '77
It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention and I have had to reinvent myself several times. Graduating from Haverford gave me the confidence and moral fiber to know that I could do almost anything and my career has spanned education (administrative), organic cotton manufacturing, consumer products, retail, Internet start-ups, telephone software, and investment banking. I look at my history of business cards and wonder how a soccer player who majored in history with Roger Lane could work in so many businesses.
I started out after graduation working in Haverford’s Admissions Office, which was a great experience. Soon after, I joined my family in a start-up company that had new, patented technologies for spinning cotton fibers. Eventually, we saw a need to care for the fibers we were producing, so we developed a laundry detergent that was rated #1 by Consumer Reports. After twelve years, we sold the cotton spinning business and separately sold the laundry detergent company. Four years later, the firm that had bought our cotton business went bankrupt, so I bought the whole company out of bankruptcy. After restructuring, we sold it to a Canadian company. Five years later, the Canadians asked me to help sell their company in a recapitalization deal. In the end, I got to sell the cotton spinning company three times in a row. Then, in 2005, I had the opportunity to buy back the detergent business that I had sold in 1996. (I guess all of this could be considered a form of recycling.)
Back in the detergent business, I began to think, “How do I compete with the consumer product giants of the industry?” My wife said, “I love your detergent but I hate to measure and pour”. Then, I had one of those of “Aha!” moments. Why not, I thought, put the super-concentrated liquid laundry detergent in pre-measured pouches that dissolve in the washer? Laundry can become simple, easy and mess-free. We call the brand Dropps. And, as it turns out, this form is great for the environment! By putting the detergent, which works in cold water and in the new high efficiency machines, in a dissolving pack and ditching the traditional jug, we are able to conserve water, plastic, cardboard and energy.
Dropps has been the business I am most passionate about. Our management team is young and energetic. We all know that we are doing something that can have a sustaining positive effect on the environment. Often we talk to people who want to reduce their impact on the environment, but hesitate to do so if it’s more expensive or requires a sacrifice – that is the real “Inconvenient Truth.” At Dropps, we’ve created a product that makes laundry easier, sells at a competitive price, and significantly reduces waste without having to sacrifice anything, especially cleaning efficacy. It took a few rounds of recycling, but I think I have finally got it. Real Sustainability!
Editor’s note: In September 2008, Propper donated a semester’s worth of Dropps to all incoming Haverford freshmen. For more information: dropps.com.