The new appointment with the MGIncontri, the series of conferences with companies and managers created to provide new insights to the participants of the Master in Business Administration, featured Federico Garcea, Co-Founder and CEO of Treedom. A fascinating project, which has seen our participants particularly involved, because many of them, as well as most of the faculty, gave, received or personally adopted a tree through Treedom.
A start-up under the banner of sustainability
We started from here. From how a start-up was born and grew in Italy. A story that, however, began further away, in Africa, where, back in 2002, Federico Garcea was, working on a project on biofuels. There, he realized how the process of deforestation was going on undisturbed and illegally, due to a system through which farmers were paid about 1,000 euros per hectare to cut down trees and deliver large quantities of valuable wood. And that’s how the question that led to the idea was born: what if it were possible to pay farmers to plant trees instead of cutting them down? It sounds so simple and that is exactly what Treedom does today, but from that question to a business model able to make it work it took many years and a lot of work. Today Treedom is the first platform that allows you to adopt a tree from a distance to be planted in Africa, Latin America, Asia or Italy. The development of trees, which can be purchased as gifts for friends, customers or as part of corporate social responsibility initiatives, can be monitored and followed online as part of the larger agroforestry project that the member contributes to achieve. The site aims to grow and expand worldwide, becoming the platform of reference for planting trees with the contribution of everyone, individuals and companies. An objective that is beneficial not only in terms of CO2 reduction, but also for the support it offers to local populations, to whom funding, assistance and training are provided to enrich biodiversity and protect the fertility and safety of the land. In this way it is possible to promote the general wellbeing of the local ecosystem while increasing the productivity of the soil and thus bringing the positive impact of the initiative also on a social level, as well as on the environmental one. The project choices, explained Garcea, are made taking into account the needs of those who must sustain themselves through the land involved and with a long-term vision that aims to make farmers economically independent.
A green gift that’s good for the planet
The idea of the gift, which the CEO of Treedom said came about almost by accident, turned out to be a winner: today over 80% of purchases on Treedom is in the form of a gift, the idea behind it being member get member based on which the next step after receiving the gift is to register on the platform to follow the diary of your tree. A virtuous business model that has allowed Treedom, which today has 3 million trees planted in 17 countries in the world, to become a Certified B Corporation, thus becoming part of the network of companies that stand out for the quality of performance from both environmental and social point of view. The process of internationalization has led Treedom to open, in addition to the Italian headquarters, new offices in the Netherlands, Germany, France and England. 80% of the managerial staff is made up of women, following the principle of D&I and enhancement of resources that is one of the pillars of the company. The rationale of compensating CO2 both at individual and corporate level is the basis of the choice to donate a tree or to buy one, but the user experience of Treedom does not stop there. Businesses, in particular, create company forests both to promote a green product or project and to try to change the culture within the company itself by encouraging sustainable actions through example. Treedom today counts more than 900 thousand users and over 8 thousand companies of various sizes, operating in different sectors. The goal for the future, said Garcea, is to open in the USA and Asia. In terms of funding, capital was raised twice: the first in 2016-2017 with 2.2 million euros raised from investors, entrepreneurs and family offices, while the second stage closed last year, with 10 million euros from Italian and international investors such as Exxor, FCA, Banca Generali and other Funds and influencers, investors and brand ambassadors such as the Elkann-Agnelli family, Juventus and the Italian Football National team captain Giorgio Chiellini and former Formula 1 driver Nico Rosberg.
An advanced business model, on the side of people and the environment
The first phase of the start-up had a fairly simple business model, which the CEO of Treedom illustrated in a few words: two partners, one of which remained in the field, in Cameroon, to create and manage the organization, ensuring that the trees were planted, and the other who returned to Italy to set up, launch and promote the platform. And the first obstacle: once the trees were planted, they were left to their own devices, in a context where there were often not even the skills, or the motivation, to take care of the planted trees. This prompted the two partners to revisit the business model. The initial model wasn’t scalable, there always needed to be a local presence, but most importantly there was a lack of motivation and trading for farmers and local NGOs to take care of the trees over time. So, they realized that there were thousands of NGOs on the ground that wanted to reforest but didn’t have the funds. Therefore, the business model was revised to involve NGOs active in each targeted location. At that point, it was no longer simply a matter of receiving a reimbursement for planting, but also of taking care of what had been planted, motivated by the fact that the trees would bear fruit that would thus represent a new source of income, while at the same time making the land safer and more fertile. Today, the various projects are coordinated by NGOs or cooperatives of farmers on site as project developers, based on a method that has since been standardized and is divided into 7 phases: project documentation, approval, forest plan, planting and geolocalization, remote monitoring, on-site verification and inclusion in the tree register. In the meantime, Treedom’s objectives have evolved, and the platform has grown on the front of digital innovation: all operations have been internalized and the value of B2C has grown. Today Treedom has a turnover of 14 million, of which 9 million come from the corporate world and 5 million from individuals. The model thus structured, with Treedom defining itself as “Tree Grower” and not simply “Tree Planter”, is able to ensure not only that trees are planted (an activity also carried out by other international organizations, such as Ecosia), but also that they are able to grow and improve the quality of life of local communities over time.
The power of Influencer Marketing
The first on Instagram was Camihawke, and then Treedom involved many other influencers, such as Fedez, Barbascura X, Maccio Capatonda, with a great response from the Italian market. For foreign markets, however, Garcea explained, we are still looking for the right solution. Influencers have had the advantage of contributing to raise awareness and conversion almost at the same time which, for an e-commerce “discovery” product like Treedom, has been very important. It wouldn’t have been possible, for example, to use Google because there was no search. “Today we have ads in Google, of course, and in Italy we almost take for granted that it is possible to give a tree as a present, but it is not so everywhere” explained Treedom’s CEO to the students who asked for details and asked questions also and especially about the Digital Marketing part. In Italy, the searches “give a tree as a present” are about 10 thousand per year, while in France about 150. Influencers, on the other hand, help and work for discovery products, and they are also happy to support a project linked to the environment and sustainability”.
From digital product to digital experience
Selling something intangible, an e-commerce that doesn’t send you anything. How was it possible to achieve this success in this way? The answer is a simple one to give, but more complicated to achieve: creating a digital experience and not just limited to the good old certificate, as was the case with Co2 compensation that already existed when Treedom was born. “Today, whoever buys a tree can follow its online diary, can get passionate about its history, can deepen the knowledge of a community and a region and can follow the project by connecting to the platform. This experience is customized to give value to those who choose Treedom” said Garcea. And Treedom aims to grow further: a club, a loyalty program and many other initiatives that will make the platform grow over time are among the plans of this sustainable and innovative company.