Back to Skewl

Well, I’m back to Skewl. Back to sitting in classes 2-4 hours of my waking day, paying about $1,000 a week to live on a beautiful campus, consuming food that consistently bloats any eater, and learning from “experts”. Although any effort exerted with schoolwork is only for a short-term GPA benefit, there is still some sort of intrinsic satisfaction from completing busy-work for different class topics designed to output a “well-rounded individual”.

My favorite class so far is called “Entrepreneurship & Enterprise”, which examines the deeper motivations of various entrepreneurs. What makes an entrepreneur tick? Along with this, we are tasked with reading the famous 1,200 page socio-economic epochal Atlas Shrugged. I’m just 20 pages in so far and cannot help but marvel at the excellent wordsmithing Ayn Rand produced.

Only 3 more semester of college left – but who’s counting? (I am). These 3 semesters I’ve committed to building my bottled tea business, called Treecup Tea. I’m excited for the possibilities of such a disruptive product – a forward thinking product that leverages both the consumer buying power and goodwill of the American market. But sometimes I think – maybe it’s too ahead of its time. Maybe it’s too behind it’s time. Maybe people will hate the tea and spit it out upon first sip (as a few people have done before when I hand them a sample). Maybe, I’m overestimating the environmental compassion consumers have. A lot of things can go wrong – but as I’ve learned, you don’t know unless you try. Plus, what’s the worst that can happen? Travis Kalanick, Uber founder, had his first venture sued for over 200 million dollars. He declared bankruptcy and pulled out of the concept. Things still turned out OK for Kalanick! Life goes on after failure.

One of the greatest men to exist in the Pittsburgh area – H.J. Heinz, founder of Heinz ketchup and other condiments, declared bankruptcy the first time he tried to start his condiment business back in the 1800’s. He had about $180,000 in liabilities and $100,000 in assets – not the most comfortable place to be! He went through small-town shame living in Sharpsburg, PA for several years before he tried again. But things turned out OK for Heinz!

I’ve thought about this before – the worst that could actually happen with my assumption of the consumer demand for Treecup Tea is that it flops and I have to get a day job! And hey – that’s your typical person’s best case scenario/sole ambition! Not a bad deal.

But really – how innovative is my idea? Well, there are actually many businesses that reforest the world through consumer purchases, as you’ll read in this blog post. Of these 10 businesses listed (and several other tree-planting plugs in the comments), the one that originally frightened me the most in similarity is the wine brand Trinity Oaks. It’s in the beverage space – how come I had never heard of it’s explosive growth, mass reforestation efforts, and philanthropic story?

I believe the answer lies in intention. As Simon Sinek would advice an entrepreneur/marketer – START WITH WHY. Every business knows what they do, many good businesses know how they do it, but few great businesses know WHY they do it. And from what I’ve observed – why are my fellow tree-planting businesses being “socially conscious”? I assume that it’s primarily to drive growth.

“The Golden Circle”

Consumers have x-ray vision nowadays. They can walk through the halls of Whole Foods, Walmart, and Champs-Élysées alike and tell the authentic product offerings from the phony. It’s one of our modernly acquired evolutions – just like any other defensive measure gained throughout the progression of human existence.

From the list of 10 products (mostly sold online, thus at full profit margins), the least expensive is a $8 shaving cream. The most expensive is a $400 surf board. Both plant one tree. To put this in perspective – Treecup Tea will MSRP between $3 – $3.50. We will plant one tree through our OWN tree nursery in Haiti (what I’ve found to be the most in-need area for trees in the world). In perspective, our brand uses 1/3 of our wholesale profit to plant the tree – the surf board company uses 1/100th of its profit. If you’re going to try to “tag on” a good cause just to sell more products, it will be a long-term flop if true intentions aren’t blatantly present. Authentic brands are built through authentic offerings, which is what I’m hoping to create over the next how-ever-many-years-it-takes.

“Social responsibility” has taken on a greater personal meaning as I continue to grow my understanding/empathy for socio-economic conditions around the world. Repairing environmental issues, specifically, is VERY expensive. For example, when I first saw that Pakistan was setting out to plant more than a billion trees through their Billion Tree Afforestation Project, the environmentalist in me said “HECK YEAH!”, but the businessman in me said “how much is it costing them?!” Pakistan describes trees as “green gold”, and invested $169 MILLION into the project since 2014. They planted over 1 billion already, costing them at most 17 cents each. Pakistan understands the bigger picture! After 10-15 years of growth, a single tree can be harvested and sold for over 600 times return (I’d like to see any banker-made investment package do that 😂). Over the time the tree grows – more animals, nutrients, and bugs will compoundly restore the land to higher-valued conditions. It’s exciting stuff in the grand scope of things!

So – yes, planting a lot of trees is expensive, yes. I firmly believe it will take a for-profit business with a valuable offering to fund such a feat. But if the enterprise is successful – then the long-term impact and footprint in Haiti and the earth will not be tenfold. It will be an over 600-fold return, which gets me excited AF.

On top of everything – the thing I admire the most about tree-planting is the non-obstructive nature of the cause. Many other NGO’s or cause-marketed products are tasked with building, providing glasses, or giving away shoes. This takes away work from the builders, glasses-makers, and shoe-sellers. In fact, our organization we work with doesn’t take away jobs from locals but PROVIDES awesome tree-planting jobs to some of the coolest people I’ve ever met. This way, helping other countries doesn’t hurt (as it oftentimes unintentionally does).

One of the coolest dudes I ever met (Haiti Friends tree-planter)

I’ll end this scatter-thoughted post with the words of my esteemed mentor/business partner; “I did the math one day of how many trees it would take to reforest Haiti to a generally ‘forested’ level. It will take about 123 million more trees.” – Ed, Director of Haiti Friends

Well, good news. Honest Tea (the most comparable tea competitor) sold over 100 million bottles last year. If they can do it, so can we! (And we can do it better).