Sean Riley ’07 learned how to build things at Illinois State. Now, he’s building his own company.

It’s called Dude Products Inc., and it all began with a bunch of dudes who shared an apartment in Chicago after college. Riley was one of them, and it was his job to keep the place stocked with the necessities, which he did with bulk-shopping trips to Sam’s Club. One day Riley started buying big packs of baby wipes and putting them in all their bathrooms. His 20-something roommates—a demographic not normally associated with personal hygiene—had never used wipes before, but loved them.

That was the “aha moment,” said Riley, a construction management grad who always had an entrepreneurial streak. It took more than a year of research and design, but Riley and his roommates soon had four pallets of their custom-made, individually packaged Dude Wipes sitting in a spare bedroom, ready to be sold.

Dude Wipes product photo

Dude Wipes, flushable personal cleansing tissues that are pitched as a manly way to freshen up after a bathroom break or trip to the gym.

“What drew me to construction management was building things,” Riley said. “That does kind of relate to coming out with a product, because you’re literally building something from scratch.”

A year after launching Dude Wipes in summer 2012, Dude Products has turned the corner from spare-room start-up to a growing, investor-backed company capable of making serious money. Their core product is Dude Wipes, flushable personal cleansing tissues that are pitched as a manly way to freshen up after a bathroom break or trip to the gym.

Riley and his three business partners started 2013 off strong, winning the same Visionary Award for nonwoven consumer products that the Swiffer floor-cleaning pad once claimed. And Riley just returned from a three-month stay at the Incubation Station, a Forbes-rated incubator in Texas, honing the Dude Products business plan while targeting $600,000 in capital-raising from investors.

The Dude Wipes architect

After graduating, Riley got a job in construction doing business development for a green technology company that installed building-automation systems. He picked up valuable sales experience, plus technical expertise that came in handy later as he vetted manufacturers and wrote specs for the first Dude Wipes. Finding the right manufacturer that could produce the right “feel” for the wipes was challenging, he said.

“When you’re building a product, you gotta think of it as a smaller construction project,” Riley said. “You gotta hire a few contractors to do a few things. … But you’re still the architect.”

Once they had their four pallets of wallet-sized Dude Wipes, they spent the first few months building buzz at big events and on social media. That included a trip down to Illinois State’s Welcome Week last summer which yielded their first big sale—$400 in Dude Wipes to a fraternity.

Four months later, Dude Wipes were for sale on,, and a few other places. Then, last spring, Dude Products was accepted into the Incubation Station, giving Riley a “crash course” in the retail business and access to capital. (Last spring is also when Dude Products became a full-time job for Riley, who is known as the “chief executive dude” for the Chicago-based company.)

Most wipes are marketed toward women or babies, so chasing men could be lucrative. Dude Products wants to be a leader in the growing moist toilet tissue industry, a market already at $276 million in U.S. sales and projected to hit $1.2 billion by 2017. The company is also part of a second growing sector—the male-grooming industry, which is projected to be a $44.2 billion market globally by 2017.

“They’re both really good markets to be going into,” Riley said.

Dude Products plans to use the funding raised this summer to scale up manufacturing and support a real retail rollout, such as Walgreens stores in college towns or young neighborhoods, Riley said. By this time next year, Riley wants to see Dude Products have a national brand presence and be selling product in a chain of drugstores. Riley and his partners also hope to launch their next product, a durable wipe-based shower replacement.

For more about Riley’s company, visit the Dude Products website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.

Ryan Denham can be reached at