JULY 2018 UPDATE: Tree Tribe has planted over 200,000 trees. Woot woot!
Tree Tribe is an outdoor lifestyle brand that plants 10 trees on every sale. We make eco friendly clothing and accessories and have a mission to make a positive impact on the world by promoting nature and spreading positive energy.
I started Tree Tribe in early 2015 with a goal to create a business that gives back to the Earth. I love ideas and starting companies! At the start, this was much like any other new project of mine – excitement, optimism, and getting in that creative zone that starting a new project gets you in. At the time I didn’t know it would evolve into much more than a side project, I was just taking a crack at creating a cool business.
When the idea struck me for what Tree Tribe would become, it was February 2015, 1 month after I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand on a 1 way ticket from New York City. The combination of being hungry in a new life adventure, plus the strong desire to connect passion with business, plus key connections I made with people in Chiang Mai, all led to the birth of Tree Tribe.
This business would be different than most of my previous ventures, because it’s a physical product business. I’d been a freelance web developer for the past few years, so naturally all of my projects were digital. Even though I was digital by trade, the real me is more of an Earth hippie, spending a lot of time amongst plants and trees, hanging out in nature and connecting with the universe via the natural world. My 3 passions are Earth, Health, and Fitness… and I’d dabbled in all of them, but hadn’t yet truly connected work with passion.
In 2008 – 2011 I was living in Ocean Beach, San Diego 1 block from the Pacific Ocean, where I had a chill backyard, a garden, tools, and space to create. I become fascinated with sustainable materials, and as a hobby built things out of bamboo, hemp, and wood. [pauses to reminisce on those days with a nostalgic smile…] I built a vermicomposting bin, some fencing, bamboo swords, jars, and other random things – just creating and enjoying the zen of it. I was also into solo backpacking in the forest, so combine those and it’s now clear that’s where the seed was planted for Tree Tribe.
Back to product 1 – bamboo sunglasses
Eco friendly bamboo sunglasses
How? Why? It’s a good representer of what I like: Sustainable materials, summer time, natural style, and kinda different. Through product research I also discovered that bamboo sunglasses were a rising trend, and spotted a market opportunity. I had a spreadsheet of about 10 different product ideas for this new business, and the bamboo sunglasses won out. This was March 2015 – I had a business idea, a product idea that I felt confident had demand, and was on the hunt for manufacturers. After a few weeks of searching and sampling, I found a great shop making quality wood and bamboo sunglasses that I could make any customizations – any shape, size, material. I was stoked! And then I learned the bamboo sunglasses float! Add another check to it being a representative product – now it’s ocean and water friendly 🙂
From Business Idea to Company
With my first product in production, I then focused on setting up the foundations of the business. My plan was to launch on Amazon.com, the biggest ecommerce platform in the world. I had recently learned the business model of Amazon FBA, and being a 1 man company living in Thailand, this made perfect sense, because I could send all my product to Amazon warehouses, they fulfill to customers automatically, and I just focus on marketing and branding. Nice. I also built a website, but not even an ecommerce website (yet), stage 1 for me was to get validation and test the market.
I also started working on the key ingredient – how I was going to give back to the Earth. I had known about 1% for the Planet, so they were on the radar, but I decided I wanted something more tangible, I wanted people to know exactly what happens when they buy a product from my business. So I looked to the treeeees – perfect symbols of health and happiness. I planned on planting a tree on every sale, but after some research I found reputable organizations that could plant trees for 10 cents each! So I said, “I’m gona go big, I’m gona plant 10 TREES on every sale”. Because why not? It’s a dollar per sale, and I can make 10x more positive impact by doing this. Sure it adds up, but it’s baked into the cost right from the start. I chose Trees for the Future, a company that had been around for over 2 decades, and planted over 100 million trees. They were also active on social media, have a great story, and I see they are clearly doing excellent work for both humanity and nature.
I like trees
As I built this up I was getting stoked! Things were falling into place, new ideas kept coming, ambition was getting stronger, and the deeper I got into it, the more I realized I had came to the path in my life where business intersects with passion… big time! I now had an eco startup that gives back to the Earth! This evolved from a side project to wanting to build a company. I decided to bring on a business partner, someone to bounce ideas off, someone to help grow the business, someone to share in the adventure. I spent some time thinking who I wanted to bring on as a partner, and as I narrowed it down, my friend Sharif from New York rose to the top of the list. We had met only about 2 years earlier, but had a strong vibe and had talked about doing some kind of project or business together. We had complementary skill sets, and he had a physical presence in the US, which turned out to be key for this business, since I’ve been a roaming nomad since I left the States. This was in April 2015 – I pitched the idea to Sharif, told him we were due to launch in June, and explained how I wanted to build a company that changes the world and does awesome things for the planet. Sharif’s a super positive dude as well, and he was on board!
May 2015 was our big month. We had the product ready, we had the mission, and we were stoked! I don’t know whether it’s more excitement or anxiety when first launching a new business that you sunk a few grand in, but it was a buzz man. We started selling in late May on the Amazon marketplace to get the product out in front of buyers quicker – Amazon.com is the largest online marketplace in the world. Got a few sales in May, then BOOM June exploded! I mean, not like super exploded, but we sold 355 pairs of bamboo sunglasses in our first full month in business… with no brand recognition, and a brand new product… and we started with 400, so that was clear validation that we were in business.
Even cooler, we were getting comments, reviews, emails from customers saying how they love the mission and how they felt good knowing they’re helping plant trees. This still brings a teary smile when I think about how that felt the first time I heard it – I realized quickly this was a way to find my Tribe. These are people that share the love for the Earth and the desire to help out our planet and get involved in a larger cause. Now almost 2 years later, this same effect happens regularly, and it’s a key driver for me to continue hustling hard on growing this business as fast as possible, so that we can do even more good, and reach more people, and share these positive vibes with the world.
Coming up with a brand name is fun… and hard! As the vision for the company is forming, it’s important to have a name that vibes with that vision… forever. We brainstormed, we came up with words we liked and rapped on different ideas. I remember having dozens of potential names, and sketching different ideas and logo possibilities in my notebook. Words came up like “one world, ocean, zen, mind, revival, envision, trees”. We had already decided on planting trees, but weren’t sure about having “tree” in the name, and pondered whether we want to have a general name, or more specific. Then we started to think about where the business would go long term, whether we wanted to be a sunglasses company, an apparel company, or an outdoors company that does so much more than just make products (yes). We decided we wanted to build a global community, so the words “tribe”, “world”, and “global” came into play. Still, we couldn’t come up with something that we thought nailed it perfectly.
I spent a lot of time thinking on this, I knew I was at a key intersection in life where I had a business that allowed me to integrate my passion for the Earth. I wanted the name to resonate with that. We had went back and forth with so many names and concepts, it became a blur. Then I started to think, “what is the core of our business, and what are we trying to accomplish”. Well, we plant 10 trees for every sale, and we are trying to build a global tribe of people that vibe with the positive energy generated from trying to make the world a better place, and bringing the beauty of nature to more people. Then I started to really think about trees and how important they are (we would all be dead without them), and about how they’re just a symbol of health and happiness. They’re truly beautiful, diverse organisms that radiate positive energy. I also started to think about people, and the importance of banding together, living collectively on the planet, and the connection that we have with nature… then I fell asleep.
Then I woke up!
It was still dark, I had only slept for a couple hours, but I sat up and was buzzing hard with electricity booming through my brain. That same feeling you get when you’re in the zone, you’re creating, you’re just feeling good and your whole body follows suit with the excitement and roars to action. I said, “Tree Tribe” aloud to my quiet, empty bedroom. Then I smiled and said “yaaaaa, Tree Tribe”. I didn’t even have to write it down, it was instantly cemented in my memory forever. We had tossed around those 2 words in brainstorm, but never put them together for some reason. But after saying it, it just felt so right for this brand. I sent an email to Sharif and went back to bed.
At this point, we still didn’t know exactly what we wanted to be as a company, and honestly hadn’t yet conceived of our targeted niche audience. We were still thinking about having “everyone as your audience”, which just doesn’t work. I think Tree Tribe came to me because I was thinking about what I really wanted to do and who I wanted to vibe with, and it kept coming down to nature, the people that love the outdoors, people that literally hug trees like I do. Sharif got back and after I explained the grand vision I had, the exact audience, the exact people we want in our Tribe, the mission, and how we’re going to stand out and be different, he was on it and the Tree Tribe spark was lit! We had talked about spreading charities, but I think planting trees is the best thing you can do for the world, and having the word “tree” in the name is a daily reminder of why we do this, it ties us to the trees, and I’m stoked about that 🙂
I knew I wanted to start a social enterprise years ago, I just hadn’t yet come up with the right idea. I’ve always been into creating side projects, dabbling in many things, and I knew that if I could make one of these side projects also give back to the Earth and build a business, I’d be living with a huge sense of purpose. My 3 passions are nature, health, and fitness. It’s what I love, it’s what I think about every day, it’s what I want to help other people enjoy. I dabbled in health and fitness as a career in the past, and I’m always experimenting with different diet styles and fitness methods. But nature draws me in the most because I think about planetary destruction on a daily basis and I see the world getting less healthy (mentally and physically) as humans lose touch with nature. I feel a responsibility to help revive this by setting standards for materials being used in products (eco friendly materials), fighting against Earth destruction by planting trees, and promoting the outdoor lifestyle and celebrating the beauty and healing powers of nature.
Planting trees in Chiang Mai, Thailand
This is what I love, this is what I want to share with the world, and by creating a business that embodies all of this, I’m able to put this energy out into the world and connect with people that share this mindset. This also puts us in a position to inspire others to start a business that gives back, and I hope, to bring more awareness to the materials we use and consume. Our bamboo and wood sunglasses show people that we can use natural materials instead of plastic; using our stainless steel water bottles help prevent tons of single-use plastic bottles from being created and thrown away; our hemp and organic cotton t-shirts show that sustainable materials are super comfortable and high quality, and by choosing materials that don’t require chemicals and pesticides to be dumped into the Earth, we help prevent side effects like wasted soil, poisoned water, dangerous conditions for workers, death to bees (which are essential to our survival), and the mind space of using chemicals so much in our modern world.
I think social enterprise is the key to world happiness – the organization becomes mission driven to make a positive impact on the world, but also these types of businesses inspire other businesses, and at our core we’re all trying to spread positive energy. It’s been my dream to be a social entrepreneur, and achieving that goal has brought me both a sense of pride and purpose, but also a greater sense of responsibility. I was lucky enough to get invited to speak about social enterprise at the 2016 Nomad Summit – an annual conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand for digital nomads. This was less than a year after Tree Tribe launched, and we ha just hit 10,000 trees planted milestone. Me and Dylan (a former Tribe member) were in Chiang Mai and were asked to give a talk about Tree Tribe and social enterprise, so we crafted Social Enterprise: Why Giving Back is Awesome to tell our story and try to inspire other businesses to integrate a give back model into their business.
Speaking at the 2016 Nomad Summit
This was my first crack at public speaking and wow, what a cool experience! We put a lot of hours into preparation and practice, trying to craft a good story that also included key business lessons. We put a ton of effort into this, which was key in making the talk more fun and relaxing for us, which I think conveys into a presentation that contributes value and inspiration. It was really cool feeling the energy of the crowd and having the room filled with positive vibes. When I rewatch it, I relive it, but the video just doesn’t do justice on the positive energy that fills the room… there simply isn’t a technology yet that can capture the human energy that radiates collectively in events like this.
This was one of the best days of my life – and the continuation of people that tell me they were inspired really keeps it going and drives me to do more… people have even told me they started a business that gives back after they watched the talk, that’s awesome! Just makes me smile talking about it. And this, I realize, is what I want to be a part of my life and mission – I’ve smaller talks since then, sharing more of the connection with customers and collaborations, and I’d like to do more public speaking and work more on helping people start businesses with a social cause, and help them bring their ideas of changing the world to life. My ultimate goal is actually to start an organization that invests in eco startups and positive impact projects. Starting and growing Tree Tribe, oh man I’ve learned an insaaaaaane amount just in this 2 year journey so far, and while I already do some consulting, I’d love to be able to get into a position where I can build teams and have a large fund to work with and change the world for the better on a daily basis.
Tree Tribe is a core of 4 key players, and a handful of freelancers. We’ve built a strong foundation and clear goals, now it’s my mission to lead Tree Tribe to achieve these goals. I’ve been learning a lot about different types of eco friendly materials, and making connections with people that work with these materials. All of our products are made from eco friendly materials, that’s something I won’t compromise on, because at the same time, it gives us an opportunity to shed light on these materials, and by using them and creating with them, we help bring them closer to mainstream. Our Tribe wants more products – I created a survey a few weeks ago and got a lot of great feedback on our Tribe’s favorite things to do in nature, the type of outdoor gear they like, things they wish were eco friendly, and things they want to see us make. They want it, we’ll make it, because this is what I’ve worked so hard for – to find my Tribe, to find our Tribe, to connect with people and collectively spread positive energy into the world. This motivates me on such a high level that I’ve entered an even deeper level of ambition to bring more eco-products to life, plant more trees, connect with more people, and bring more smiles to the world.
March 2017 – 75,000 trees planted milestone
We’re working hard on growing our community and expanding our product line. We’re also looking to do more collaborations and get involved with cool adventurers. This actually happens organically quite often, people reaching out saying they vibe with what we’re doing and want to share our story. This is amazing and I’m super appreciative of it. We’ve started doing this now too, highlighting other brands that give back, and also highlighting people doing cool stuff like sailing the world and surfing, living out of a van, building a bamboo trike and riding 3,000km across 4 countries in Southeast Asia – these are all part of our Epic Adventure series – another way for us to spread the vibes and go after living life with adventure and purpose. This organic collaborative growth helps a lot and strengthens our brand and bonds with the people we want to vibe with. That part is great! When we have the cash to operate on a higher level, create more products, reach more people, do more cool things, AND continue connecting with amazing people, that’s when Tree Tribe will really be able to execute the mission on a massive scale. And about the cash struggle in product businesses, I just finished reading Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, and I gotta say it gave me some comfort knowing that they were strapped for cash for many years and went through the same battles that we go through. Relating on that level with the most successful apparel brand ever gives me an extra source of energy to charge through the tough times.
I’M SUPER STOKED ON THE FUTURE OF TREE TRIBE!!! Yes, that excited, seriously! I love this business, and I love our Tribe, I’ve always had this burning passion inside me to do something like this, and it’s funny thinking about it now, because I can remember for so many years feeling this passion inside of me just dying to find an outlet, and I knew that once I found that outlet, I would pour this energy into it like nothing I’ve ever done before, and thinking on this right now, I can feel that energy radiating around me, rather than locked inside of me. Energy is beautiful, I’m fascinated by it and I study it, always trying to feel it and connect with it. Oh ya, Tree Tribe’s future! I could write for days on the ideas and plans we have, but I’ll keep it brief.
For the short term, we’re working hard no creating more products for the outdoor lifestyle, while seeking new and interesting eco friendly materials that we can bring their story to life. We’ve planted about 80,000 trees so far and are shooting hard to hit that 100k milestone! We’re also trying to solve the issue of funding by doing a crowdfunding campaign and/or finding a strategic investment from someone that vibes with our mission, cares about the planet as much as we do, and can help us make a larger impact on the world and become a big change maker! I also want to grow our team larger, maybe set up an actual home base 😀 (we’re a team of travelers and nomads, banded together from different parts of the world)… or even better, I’d like to set up mobile home bases where we travel the world while working in coworking spaces, getting involved with local communities, and growing a unique company that does awesome things for the planet and becomes a beacon of positive energy to the world.
The BIG Future
It’s fun to dream big… and here’s my dream with this: I imagine a world where all business give back, not because they’re forced to, but because they see the benefit in it, and are compelled to help the world we live in, and possess a motivation greater than money. Because “money isn’t real George”, and it’s easy to get so caught up in our modern world where we’re staring at a screen all day, getting notifications from things that waste our time, collectively we’re spending too much money on junk, creating so much unnatural garbage, and I think as a species, we’re getting wayyyyy too far away from what is natural, what is healthy.
Nature is life. Nature gives us life, and happiness. Hiking in the forest, or overseeing a mountain range, or swimming in the ocean… these things remind us of the grand scale of life and I think connect us to our true self, to our ancient self, to a simpler time of enjoying life by interacting with friends and family, appreciating the natural beauty of the world, breathing clean air and drinking fresh water, eating organic fruit and vegetables that fill us with nourishment.
Digital detox – we need a word for it because it’s true, too much digital is toxic. And when toxic digital actions become habits, they slowly chip away and bring us further away from our true nature. Spending more time outdoors improves our health and happiness – physically and mentally. I feel so much joy just simply walking in the woods, or on a simple path without cars or technology, watching wildlife live their life, it naturally makes me smile, even just thinking about it I smile, and if I think about it on a deeper level, tears of joy will start to surface, life is beautiful. I want to share this feeling, and I want to inspire people to enjoy these feelings and connect with what’s really important in life.
These are the things that drive me, these are the ideas I want to share. Tree Tribe is so much more than a business that makes eco friendly products and plants trees – it’s also the idea of connecting with nature, connecting with friends, spreading positive energy, doing good in the world, being non-judgemental and open minded. Tree Tribe core values are Nature, Adventure, Travel, and Community – 4 words that mean so much to so many people, 4 things that I think lead to fulfillment in life. Tree Tribe’s big future is to inspire a higher fulfillment in life, and make the world a better place for everyone.
Thanks for reading my story.